Pennsylvania No Duty Rule stops lawsuit by underage rider.

A minor with 12 years of riding and competing on dirt bikes could not sue the commercial operation after crashing on the course.

Hawkins v. Switchback MX, LLC, 339 F. Supp. 3d 543, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155249

State: Pennsylvania; United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Kameron Hawkins and Amber Lynn Durbin

Defendant: Switchback MX, LLC d/b/a Switchback Raceway

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and negligence per se

Defendant Defenses: Pennsylvania No Duty Rule (Assumption of the Risk)

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2019

Summary

The Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act specifically identifies downhill skiing and off-road riding as exempt from the comparative negligence act. In both those sports, the participant assumes the risk of their injuries due from the inherent risks of the sports.

Facts

Hawkins [plaintiff] began riding a dirt bike at the age of five or six.. He learned the ins and outs of dirt bike [motorized] riding from his father, who raced dirt bikes and often brought Hawkins to spectate at off-road races Hawkins began participating in races himself at “a young age” and even secured sponsorships. He testified that he was aware of the dangers of riding dirt bikes from early on in his experience, that his father instructed him to avoid jumps that “you don’t think you can handle,” and that he wore protective gear to guard against the risk of injury. He acknowledges that dirt bike riding is “a dangerous sport,” that “you could get hurt” on a dirt bike, and that a fall could cause “injury . . . or even death.” Despite his protective measures, Hawkins has suffered injuries in the past riding a dirt bike. Hawkins had been to Switchback on three prior occasions: once as a spectator, once as pit crew member for his friend Jonathan Franjko, and once as a rider.

The events preceding Hawkins’ accident on January 9, 2016 are disputed by the parties and not fully explored in the Rule 56 record. According to Hawkins, he arrived at Switchback with several friends and met with Brader, who asked them whether they had been to Switchback before. Hawkins relayed that, after the group responded affirmatively, Brader told them to sign in, accepted their payment, and provided them with wristbands to attach to their helmets to indicate they had been authorized to ride. He denied ever being asked to present identification and did not recall being asked his age.

Switchback’s account diverges considerably. According to Brader, Hawkins entered the indoor facility on January 9, 2016 with Franjko, who had a Switchback membership card. Brader did not recognize Hawkins and thought he appeared to be under the age of 18. Brader reported that he told Hawkins he needed to “take home a waiver and fill it out” and that he had to “bring [the waiver] out next time and join us another day.” Brader does not recall Hawkins signing in on Switchback’s sign-in sheet for January 9, 2016, but testified that he told Hawkins he “could not ride” without waiver and consent forms on file. Brader also testified that he does not know how Hawkins ultimately came to access the track on January 9, 2016. It is undisputed that Durbin did not execute a parental consent form allowing Hawkins to participate in dirt bike riding at Switchback.

On January 9, 2016, Hawkins somehow gained access Switchback’s indoor dirt bike racing track. Hawkins “attempted a jump, without enough speed,” on one of the track’s “table top jumps,” which caused the frame of his dirt bike to hit the ground and “flip [the] bike and Hawkins over.” According to Brader, it was only after this wreck that he became aware that Hawkins had accessed the track. Brader testified that Hawkins “didn’t look right” and that he offered to call an ambulance. Franjko confirmed that Brader asked “a couple times” whether Hawkins wanted medical attention. Hawkins left Switchback’s facility with his friends without receiving medical attention. Hawkins was subsequently treated for injuries including a lacerated kidney and pancreas, trauma to his spleen, a broken hip, a concussion, and post-concussion syndrome. The accident occurred four months before Hawkins’ 18th birthday.

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

The court first reviewed the requirements to prove a negligence claim in Pennsylvania.

Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must prove the “four basic elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. That is, plaintiffs must prove: (1) the existence of a legal duty requiring a certain standard of conduct; (2) breach of that duty by the defendant; (3) a causal connection between defendant’s breach and plaintiffs’ injury; and (4) actual loss or damages.

The court then reviewed the claims of the plaintiff as whether the defendant owed a duty to the minor plaintiff because the plaintiff assumed the risk of his injuries.

The defendant’s position was it had no duty to protect the plaintiff because of the inherent risk set out in the “no duty” rule in the Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act.

The plaintiff’s response to that argument was the negligence of the defendant was in allowing the plaintiff to access the track.

The court looked at the conflicting arguments by next reviewing assumption of the risk as applied in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act eliminated the defense of assumption of the risk in all areas except two when it enacted the statute. The two exemptions were downhill skiing and off-road vehicle riding. Meaning in those two situations, the no-duty rule retained the defense of assumption of the risk. The defendant has no duty to protect the plaintiff from the inherent risks of the sport of downhill skiing or off-road riding.

The court then reviewed whether assumption of the risk applied to minors. That is “the court must ask what the “particular minor plaintiff knows, sees, hears, comprehends, and appreciates” with respect to the risk involved.”

Under Pennsylvania law, to prove assumption:

…the court must find that the plaintiff (1) “consciously appreciated the risk” attending the activity, (2) assumed the risk of injury by nonetheless engaging in the activity, and (3) sustained an injury that was “the same risk of injury that was appreciated and assumed.”

A factor in determining whether or not a minor assumed the risk is the minor’s age and experience. In this case that worked for the defendant because the minor was only four months from turning eighteen at the time of the accident and had been riding for twelve years.

The court then defined inherent risk as a risk “which “cannot be removed without altering the fundamental nature” of the activity.”

The court broke down the inherent risks of off-road riding as identified in the statute, to see if the plaintiff’s injury landing on a table-top jump was inherent to the sport.

Common sense dictates that the risk of a fall or collision that does not involve another rider or object is equally inherent in the activity. Indeed, Hawkins’ own experience bears this out—he testified that his accident on January 9, 2016, was not his first; that he knew from personal experience that attempting jumps carried a certain risk; and that he wore protective gear in an attempt to mitigate that risk. We find that the risk of suffering serious injury when attempting a dirt bike jump is one which “cannot be removed without altering the fundamental nature” of dirt bike riding and is thus inherent in the activity.

We further conclude that reasonable persons could not debate whether Hawkins appreciated and knowingly assumed that risk. Hawkins was nearly 18 years old at the time of the accident and had been riding dirt bikes for more than 12 years. He was a vastly experienced rider. He was well aware that dirt bike riding carried the risk of serious injury and even death. Indeed, Hawkins acknowledged that a dirt bike presents a certain danger “even when the bike’s on the ground.” Given this unequivocal record testimony, we have little difficulty finding that this particular rider—plaintiff Kameron Hawkins—knew, appreciated, and assumed the risks attending off-road dirt bike riding.

For these reasons, the court found the minor, because of his age and experience assumed the risk of his injuries, and the defendant was not liable for those injuries because of the Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act.

So Now What?

Assumption of the risk in most states is the only defense you have to injuries a minor receives. Unless your state has a specific statute that identifies your activity as one with inherent risk a person assumes, you need to prove the minor in your case assumed those risks.

To do that you must maximize all the avenues to educate and document that education of a minor, in fact, all participants in your activity or business.

Post videos of your activity showing crashes, flips and falls on your website and social media. Point out possible risks on your site and social media. Then confirm in some way that the minor observed that information.

You can go so far as to ask the minor and/or the minor’s parents of their experience in the sport. Have they participated in the sport before, seen it on TV, participated for how many years, etc.

A release is your best defense to a lawsuit, but for minors, in those states where releases are not valid and or minors, assumption of the risk is your best and sometimes only defense.

For more information see:

States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue

States that do not Support the Use of a Release

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Hawkins v. Switchback MX, LLC, 339 F. Supp. 3d 543, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155249

Hawkins v. Switchback MX, LLC, 339 F. Supp. 3d 543, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155249

United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

September 12, 2018, Decided; September 12, 2018, Filed

CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:16-CV-1719

Reporter

KAMERON HAWKINS and AMBER LYNN DURBIN, Plaintiffs v. SWITCHBACK MX, LLC d/b/a SWITCHBACK RACEWAY, Defendant

Counsel:  [**1] For KAMERON HAWKINS, &, AMBER LYNN DURBIN, Plaintiffs: George R. Farneth , II, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Farneth Law Group, LLC, Wellsburg, WV.

For SWITCHBACK MX, LLC, doing business as, SWITCHBACK RACEWAY, Defendant: Michael John Pawk, Lutz & Pawk, Butler, PA.

Judges: Christopher C. Conner, Chief United States District Judge.

Opinion by: Christopher C. Conner

Opinion

[*545]  MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Kameron Hawkins (“Hawkins”) suffered injuries after he unsuccessfully attempted a jump while riding a dirt bike on an indoor course at defendant Switchback Raceway (“Switchback”). Hawkins and his mother, plaintiff Amber Lynn Durbin (“Durbin”), commenced this diversity action advancing three negligence claims against Switchback under Pennsylvania law. Before the court are the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History1

This personal injury lawsuit arises from physical injuries suffered by Hawkins following a dirt bike accident at Switchback’s off-road riding and racing facility in Butler, Pennsylvania. Switchback promotes and stages dirt bike races for participants of all skill levels. (Doc. 28 ¶ 1; Doc. 32 ¶ 2). Switchback’s website articulates [**2]  its waiver and consent policy as follows:

Dirtbike/ATV riding is dangerous. Accidents, injuries, and even death can occur. Ride at your own risk! All riders must sign a waiver before they will [be] permitted to ride. Minors will be required to have parental consent. During practice, there are limited to no flaggers. Please, ride safely.

There is no trespassing on Switchback property. Anyone caught trespassing will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

All minors that come without their legal parents they must have a NOTARIZED waiver to be able to ride. NO EXCEPTIONS.

(Doc. 30-9 at 1). Switchback’s track manager, Mark Brader (“Brader”), testified that,  [*546]  pursuant to this policy, a minor is not be permitted to ride without a signed parental consent form and waiver. (Brader Dep. 29:5-18, 42:13-21).2 He also testified that it was his responsibility to ensure that minors did not misrepresent their age or otherwise engage in efforts to improperly gain access to the track. (Id. at 56:4-8; see also Doc. 28 ¶ 10).

Hawkins began riding a dirt bike at the age of five or six. (Doc. 32 ¶ 4). He learned the ins and outs of dirt bike riding [**3]  from his father, who raced dirt bikes and often brought Hawkins to spectate at off-road races. (See id. ¶¶ 7-9; Hawkins Dep. 20:5-22:4 (“Hawkins Dep.”)). Hawkins began participating in races himself at “a young age” and even secured sponsorships. (Doc. 32 ¶ 6). He testified that he was aware of the dangers of riding dirt bikes from early on in his experience, that his father instructed him to avoid jumps that “you don’t think you can handle,” and that he wore protective gear to guard against the risk of injury. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8; Hawkins Dep. 21:20-22:21, 38:22-39:25, 133:3-12, 147:18-148:6). He acknowledges that dirt bike riding is “a dangerous sport,” that “you could get hurt” on a dirt bike, and that a fall could cause “injury . . . or even death.” (Hawkins Dep. 25:17-26:4, 38:13-21, 39:14-25, 147:18-148:6). Despite his protective measures, Hawkins has suffered injuries in the past riding a dirt bike. (Doc. 32 ¶ 14; see also Hawkins Dep. 38:22-39:25, 133:3-12). Hawkins had been to Switchback on three prior occasions: once as a spectator, once as pit crew member for his friend Jonathan Franjko (“Franjko”), and once as a rider. (Doc. 32 ¶ 28).

The events preceding Hawkins’ accident on January [**4]  9, 2016 are disputed by the parties and not fully explored in the Rule 56 record. According to Hawkins, he arrived at Switchback with several friends and met with Brader, who asked them whether they had been to Switchback before. (Hawkins Dep. 49:5-12). Hawkins relayed that, after the group responded affirmatively, Brader told them to sign in, accepted their payment, and provided them with wristbands to attach to their helmets to indicate they had been authorized to ride. (See id.) He denied ever being asked to present identification and did not recall being asked his age. (Id. at 133:13-23).

Switchback’s account diverges considerably. According to Brader, Hawkins entered the indoor facility on January 9, 2016 with Franjko, who had a Switchback membership card. (See Brader Dep. 56:9-18). Brader did not recognize Hawkins and thought he appeared to be under the age of 18. (See id. at 56:19-57:2). Brader reported that he told Hawkins he needed to “take home a waiver and fill it out” and that he had to “bring [the waiver] out next time and join us another day.” (Id. at 56:23-57:6). Brader does not recall Hawkins signing in on Switchback’s sign-in sheet for January 9, 2016, but testified that he [**5]  told Hawkins he “could not ride” without waiver and consent forms on file. (Id. at 76:12-77:1). Brader also testified that he does not know how Hawkins ultimately came to access the track on January 9, 2016. (Id. at 91:12-16). It is undisputed that Durbin did not execute a parental consent form allowing Hawkins to participate in dirt bike riding at Switchback. (Doc. 28 ¶ 12).

On January 9, 2016, Hawkins somehow gained access Switchback’s indoor dirt bike racing track. (See Doc. 28 ¶ 13; Doc.  [*547]  32 ¶¶ 1, 13, 31). Hawkins “attempted a jump, without enough speed,” on one of the track’s “table top jumps,” which caused the frame of his dirt bike to hit the ground and “flip [the] bike and Hawkins over.” (Doc. 32 11 13, 31). According to Brader, it was only after this wreck that he became aware that Hawkins had accessed the track. (See Brader Dep. 57:4-11). Brader testified that Hawkins “didn’t look right” and that he offered to call an ambulance. (Id. at 82:10-83:12). Franjko confirmed that Brader asked “a couple times” whether Hawkins wanted medical attention. (See Franjko Dep. 58:12-59:1). Hawkins left Switchback’s facility with his friends without receiving medical attention. (See Doc. 28 [**6]  ¶ 17; Doc. 39 ¶ 17). Hawkins was subsequently treated for injuries including a lacerated kidney and pancreas, trauma to his spleen, a broken hip, a concussion, and post-concussion syndrome. (Doc. 28 ¶ 18). The accident occurred four months before Hawkins’ 18th birthday. (See Doc. 32 ¶ 3).

Hawkins and Durbin commenced this lawsuit on November 15, 2016, asserting one claim of negligence each and one claim of negligence per se together. Plaintiffs contend that Switchback violated its internal policies and its legal duty of care by failing to ensure that Hawkins, a minor, did not access its facility without parental consent. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment on each of the plaintiffs’ claims. The motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any material fact” and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The burden of proof tasks the non-moving party to come forth with “affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings,” in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The court is to view [**7]  the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Thomas v. Cumberland County, 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. See Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

Courts are permitted to resolve cross-motions for summary judgment concurrently. See Lawrence v. City of Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008); see also Johnson v. Fed. Express Corp., 996 F. Supp. 2d 302, 312 (M.D. Pa. 2014); 10A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2720 (3d ed. 2015). When doing so, the court is bound to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party with respect to each motion. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Lawrence, 527 F.3d at 310 (quoting Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968)).

III. Discussion

Pennsylvania substantive law governs the negligence claims raised by the plaintiffs in this diversity action. See Maghakian v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., 171 F. Supp. 3d 353, 358 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (citing Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000)); see also Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938). Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must prove the “four basic  [*548]  elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages.” Perez v. Great Wolf Lodge of the Poconos LLC, 200 F. Supp. 3d 471, 478 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (quoting Loughran v. Phillies, 2005 PA Super 396, 888 A.2d 872, 874 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005)). That is, plaintiffs must prove: (1) the existence of a legal duty requiring a certain standard of conduct; (2) breach of that duty by the defendant; (3) a causal connection between defendant’s breach and plaintiffs’ injury; and (4) actual loss or damages. Id. (quoting Berrier v. Simplicity Mfg., Inc., 563 F.3d 38, 61 (3d Cir. 2009)).

The parties’ [**8]  cross-motions for summary judgment concenter on two disputes: first, whether Switchback owed a legal duty of care to Hawkins in view of the no-duty rule set forth in Pennsylvania’s Comparative Negligence Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102, and second, whether Hawkins assumed the risk of injury, negating any duty of care, by engaging in an activity which he understood to be dangerous.3

A. Duty of Care

The parties offer competing perspectives of the applicable duty of care. Switchback maintains that it had no duty to protect Hawkins from risks inherent in off-road dirt bike riding. Switchback invokes the no-duty rule set forth in Pennsylvania’s Comparative Negligence Act, which provides that an operator of an off-road vehicle riding area—such as Switchback—”shall have no duty to protect riders from common, frequent, expected and nonnegligent risks inherent to the activity, including collisions with riders or objects.” 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102(b.3)(1). Switchback avers that the possibility of falling and suffering injury while engaged in off-road riding is an inherent, expected risk of the activity, and that the no-duty rule forecloses liability in this case.

Plaintiffs rejoin that the no-duty rule has no application here. They assert that [**9]  this case does not concern a duty to protect patrons from the risks of off-road riding once they have accessed the track, but instead concerns Switchback’s alleged negligence in allowing minors to access its facility in the first instance. Plaintiffs rely on the Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas’ decision in Emerick v. Fox Raceway, 68 Pa. D. & C. 4th 299 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. 2004), wherein the state court found that off-road riding area operators have a legal duty to develop and follow internal procedures to check a prospective rider’s age and to ensure minor riders do not access their facility without parental consent. Id. at 318. To hold otherwise, the court found, would be “contrary to good public policy.” Id.

Plaintiffs insist that the Emerick decision is on all fours with their claims. The trouble with Emerick is that it fails to engage with or even acknowledge the no-duty rule, which became law on July 15, 2004—a mere six days before the Emerick decision issued. Plaintiffs posit that the lack of discussion of the new rule suggests that the court deemed it inapplicable, given that the case before the court involved policies which allowed a plaintiff to sneak onto the track rather than the conditions of the track itself. Switchback, for its part, insists [**10]  that the court was either unaware of the new enactment or deemed it inapplicable because the accident at issue occurred before the statute’s effective date.

We cannot ascribe weight to the Emerick decision when it failed to engage with this transformative legislative enactment.  [*549]  The court’s opinion expressly states that it is grounded largely in public policy—but the state legislature six days prior explicitly and substantially transformed the Commonwealth’s negligence policy as concerns tort liability for operators of off-road riding areas. In our view, the failure of the Emerick court to account for the no-duty rule severely diminishes its value as precedent. Nonetheless, because we determine infra that the assumption of the risk doctrine negates any duty that Switchback may have had to protect Hawkins, we need not determine, as a matter of law, what duty of care remains for operators of off-road riding areas with respect to minors attempting to access their facilities.

B. Assumption of the Risk

Most tort claims in Pennsylvania are governed by the comparative negligence doctrine. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102(a). But the legislature expressly preserved assumption of the risk as a defense in two categories of activities: [**11]  off-road vehicle riding, see id. § 7102(b.3)(2), and downhill skiing, see id. § 7102(c)(2). Specifically, as pertains off-road vehicle riding areas, the Comparative Negligence Act states: “The doctrine of knowing voluntary assumption of risk shall apply to all actions to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or injury to person or property brought against any off-road vehicle riding area operator.” Id. § 7102(b.3)(2). The assumption of the risk doctrine operates to negate any legal duty ascribed to those plaintiffs seek to hold liable: “to the extent the injured plaintiff proceeded in the face of a known danger, he relieved those who may have otherwise had a duty, implicitly agreeing to take care of himself.” Montagazzi v. Crisci, 2010 PA Super 78, 994 A.2d 626, 635 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2010) (citing Carrender v. Fitterer, 503 Pa. 178, 469 A.2d 120, 124 (Pa. 1983)). The doctrine operates as a “no-duty” rule; that is, for those facilities for which the legislature preserved the assumption of the risk defense, the owner or operator “has no duty to protect the user from any hazards inherent in the activity.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1185-86 (Pa. 2010) (citations omitted).

Pennsylvania courts apply a subjective standard when determining whether a minor assumed the risk of a given activity. That is, the court must ask what the “particular minor plaintiff knows, sees, hears, comprehends, and appreciates” [**12]  with respect to the risk involved. Bjorgung v. Whitetail Resort, LP, 550 F.3d 263, 269 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Berman v. Phila. Bd. of Educ., 310 Pa. Super. 153, 456 A.2d 545, 550 (Pa. 1983)). To grant summary judgment based on an assumption of the risk defense, the court must find that the plaintiff (1) “consciously appreciated the risk” attending the activity, (2) assumed the risk of injury by nonetheless engaging in the activity, and (3) sustained an injury that was “the same risk of injury that was appreciated and assumed.” Zeidman v. Fisher, 2009 PA Super 161, 980 A.2d 637, 641 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009) (quoting Hadar v. Avco Corp., 2005 PA Super 326, 886 A.2d 225, 229 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005)). When reasonable minds could not disagree, the question of assumption of the risk is for the court. See Carrender, 469 A.2d at 124; see also M.D. v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., No. 14-CV-1576, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81392, 2015 WL 3866050, at *4 (M.D. Pa. 2015) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 469 cmt. e (Am. Law Inst. 1965)).

No court has explored the assumption of the risk doctrine in the context of off-road riding areas following the 2004 amendment to the Comparative Negligence Act. But several courts have interpreted the doctrine as pertains to downhill skiing. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that retention of the assumption of the risk doctrine in that context reflects the legislature’s intent that a ski resort  [*550]  owner owes no duty of care to patrons for any risk “‘inherent’ in downhill skiing.” Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339, 344 (Pa. 2000); see also Bjorgung, 550 F.3d at 268. Knowledge of the inherent risk has been deemed the sine qua non of an assumption of the risk defense. See M.D., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81392, 2015 WL 3866050, at *3. The plaintiff’s age and relative degree of experience [**13]  with the activity are relevant in determining whether that particular plaintiff was aware of a given risk. See id. (citing Bjorgung, 550 F.3d 263; Chepkevich, 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174; Hughes, 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339). We can conceive of no reason why these principles, developed in the analogous context of downhill skiing, should not apply with equal force to negligence claims involving off-road riding areas. Compare 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102(b.3)(1)-(2) with id. § 7102(c)(1)-(2).

We must first query whether the risk of falling during a jump and suffering serious injury is inherent in the activity of off-road riding. An “inherent risk” is one which “cannot be removed without altering the fundamental nature” of the activity. Bjorgung, 550 F.3d at 268-69 (quoting Crews v. Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 2005 PA Super 138, 874 A.2d 100, 105 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005)). The Comparative Negligence Act identifies “collisions with riders or objects” as risks inherent in off-road riding. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102(b.3)(1). Common sense dictates that the risk of a fall or collision that does not involve another rider or object is equally inherent in the activity. Indeed, Hawkins’ own experience bears this out—he testified that his accident on January 9, 2016, was not his first; that he knew from personal experience that attempting jumps carried a certain risk; and that he wore protective gear in an attempt to mitigate that risk. (Hawkins Dep. 38:22-39:25, 133:3-12, 147:24-148:6). We find that the [**14]  risk of suffering serious injury when attempting a dirt bike jump is one which “cannot be removed without altering the fundamental nature” of dirt bike riding and is thus inherent in the activity. See Bjorgung, 550 F.3d at 268-69 (quoting Crews, 874 A.2d at 105).

We further conclude that reasonable persons could not debate whether Hawkins appreciated and knowingly assumed that risk. Hawkins was nearly 18 years old at the time of the accident and had been riding dirt bikes for more than 12 years. He was a vastly experienced rider. He was well aware that dirt bike riding carried the risk of serious injury and even death. Indeed, Hawkins acknowledged that a dirt bike presents a certain danger “even when the bike’s on the ground.” (Hawkins Dep. 92:4-93:2). Given this unequivocal record testimony, we have little difficulty finding that this particular rider—plaintiff Kameron Hawkins—knew, appreciated, and assumed the risks attending off-road dirt bike riding.

Anticipating the defense’s strategy sub judice, plaintiffs contend that a minor cannot ever assume the risk of a particular activity, again invoking Emerick, in which the Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas held that, because a minor plaintiff is incapable of entering into a contract [**15]  and cannot expressly waive liability for a given activity, a minor cannot impliedly assume that same risk by his or her actions. Emerick, 68 Pa. D. & C. 4th at 319. The state court provided no precedent in support of this sweeping conclusion. In this respect, Emerick
runs counter to the great weight of authority in the state courts and in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals which have held consistently that a minor is capable of assuming the risk of a dangerous activity. See, e.g., Bjorgung, 550 F.3d at 268-69 (quoting Berman, 456 A.2d at 550); Montagazzi, 994 A.2d at 635-36; Berman, 456 A.2d at 550; see also Johnson v. Walker, 376 Pa. Super. 302, 545 A.2d 947, 949-50 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1988).

 [*551]  The undisputed Rule 56 record establishes beyond debate that Hawkins knew, appreciated, and assumed the risk of injury attending off-road dirt bike riding. He was an experienced dirt bike rider who was fully aware that attempting a jump on a dirt bike carried with it an inexorable risk of injury. And he proceeded to attempt a jump on Switchback’s indoor track notwithstanding that understood risk. Switchback accordingly had no duty to protect Hawkins on January 9, 2016. We will grant summary judgment to Switchback on Hawkins’ negligence claim. Because Durbin’s claim for economic damages is derivative of Hawkins’ individual claim, we will likewise grant summary judgment to Switchback on Durbin’s claim.

IV. Conclusion

We are [**16]  not unsympathetic to the serious injuries suffered by Hawkins. But the unequivocal fact remains that Hawkins—having more than a decade of experience riding on similar off-road tracks—voluntarily engaged in the dangerous sport of dirt bike riding knowing full well the risks of the activity. Switchback is not legally responsible for the injuries that Hawkins suffered at its facility. Accordingly, the court will grant summary judgment to Switchback on plaintiffs’ negligence claims. An appropriate order shall issue.

/s/ Christopher C. Conner

Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

United States District Court

Middle District of Pennsylvania

Dated: September 12, 2018

ORDER & JUDGMENT

AND NOW, this 12th day of September, 2018, upon consideration of the parties’ cross-motions (Docs. 27, 31) for summary judgment, and the parties’ briefs in support of and opposition to said motions, (Docs. 29, 33, 36, 38, 41), and for the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiffs’ motion (Doc. 27) for summary judgment is DENIED.

2. Defendant’s motion (Doc. 31) for summary judgment is GRANTED as follows:

a. Judgment is ENTERED in favor of defendant and against plaintiffs on [**17]  the negligence claims set forth in Counts I and II of plaintiffs’ complaint.

b. The negligence per se claim set forth in Count III of plaintiffs’ complaint is DISMISSED.

3. The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this case.

/s/ Christopher C. Conner

Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

United States District Court

Middle District of Pennsylvania

Dated: September 12, 2018


City not liable for injuries to BMX rider, riding in City Park on features built without city’s consent

The duty owed by the city to features, structures and changes to the park that the city did not make was low and protected by the recreational use statute in this case.

Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

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

Plaintiff: Jon L. Wilkerson

Defendant: The City of SeaTac

Plaintiff Claims: City breached the duty to use reasonable care in failing to maintain the park and “allowing man-made jumps to remain despite the . . . inherent danger the jumps posed.”

Defendant Defenses: No Duty, and Washington Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the City

Year: 2012

This is very sad; the plaintiff ended up a quadriplegic because of the accident. This also explains the lawsuit. There is so much money at stake when someone is rendered paralyzed or a quadriplegic that there is bound to be a lawsuit.

In this case, the plaintiff had just moved to the area. He inquired at a local shop where he could practice jumping in anticipation of his trip to Whistler in BC with some friends. The bike shop sent him to Des Moines Trail Park.

The Des Moines Creek Trail Park is a 96-acre woodland preserve open to the public for recreational use. The City of SeaTac (City) owns and operates the portion of the park located within the City, 1 including dirt mounds in the park that bicyclists use as bike jumps. The dirt jumps, known as “the Softies,” are located about a quarter-mile off a paved trail in the park. The City did not create or maintain the dirt jumps.

The plaintiff considered himself an excellent mountain biker and BMX rider. He was used to doing ramps and jumps.

The area was built by people other than the city. It was known as “the softies” by locals. Around 5 pm one day, the plaintiff went to the park to ride. He rode several jumps and scouted them all out before jumping them. He picked out a gap jump, deciding other jumps were outside of his skill set.  While riding the gap jump he crashed and rendered himself a quadriplegic.

The plaintiff could not move and laid calling for help for several hours before passing out.  Approximately 1 AM the next day the city reported the plaintiff’s car in the parking lot. Around 11 am, two cyclists found the plaintiff and notified EMS.

While in a rehabilitation hospital the plaintiff stated: “…that although he was an experienced mountain biker, as he went over the jump, he came down “wrong” because he” ‘was a bit out of practice’ ” and ” ‘a little too bold.’

The plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the city. The trial court dismissed the claims based on the city’s motion for summary judgment, and this appeal followed.

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

The appellate court first looked at the defense provided by the Recreational Use Statue of Washington. Chapter 4.24  Special Rights of Action and Special Immunities.

Under Washington’s law a landowner is immune from liability for injuries upon his land unless the injury is “caused by a known dangerous artificial latent condition “for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.”

To establish the City was not immune from suit under RCW 4.24.210, Wilkerson must show the City charged a fee for the use of the land, the injuries were intentionally inflicted, or the injuries were sustained by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which no warning signs were posted. Davis,

The issue then came down to whether or not the jumps were a latent condition. There are four elements the plaintiff must prove to show the jumps were a latent condition.

Each of the four elements of a known dangerous artificial latent injury-causing condition must be present in order to establish liability under the recreational land use statute. “If one of the four elements is not present, a claim cannot survive summary judgment.”

The definition of latent under Washington Law is “means” ‘not readily apparent to the recreational user.”

In determining whether the injury-causing condition is latent, the question is not whether the specific risk is readily apparent but, instead, whether the injury-causing condition itself is readily apparent.

The plaintiff’s experts argued that the approach which was described as an S-curve was a latent condition. However, the court distinguished that argument by stating there was a difference between a latent condition and a patent condition that had latent dangers.

The condition itself must be latent.” While the court expressly acknowledged that “it may not have occurred to Van Dinter that he could injure himself in the way he did,” the court concluded that “this does not show the injury-causing condition — the caterpillar’s placement — was latent. . . . The caterpillar as well as its injury-causing aspect — its proximity to the grassy area — were obvious.”

Nor did the fact that the plaintiff did not appreciate the risk caused by the approach change the condition of the land.

The plaintiff then argued that his secondary injury, lying in the park all-night, suffering hypothermia that required additional surgeries and hospitalizations were not covered by the recreational use statute.

Secondary injuries were not covered under Wisconsin’s Recreational Use Statute. However, the language in the Wisconsin statute differs from the language in the Washington statute.

By contrast, RCW 4.24.200-.210 grants a broader immunity to landowners “who allow members of the public to use [their lands] for the purposes of outdoor recreation.” RCW 4.24.210(1); (because landowner “open[ed] up the lands for recreational use without a fee,” and thereby “brought itself under the protection of the immunity statute,” landowner was immune from liability regardless of whether “a person coming onto the property may have some commercial purpose in mind”).

The court held the immunity provided by the Washington Recreational Use Statute was broadly written and covered the secondary injuries the plaintiff suffered.

The plaintiff then argued the city was willful and wanton or intentional because the city knew that other cyclists had been injured at the park. This argument stemmed from the plaintiff asserting that “that the government’s failure to” ‘put up signs and ropes’ ” was deliberate and the government” ‘knew or should have known’ ” of the dangerous condition.”

However, the court found that this did not rise to the level of willful or wanton or intentional negligence.

Here, as in Jones, there is no dispute that the City did not create the dirt jumps or S-curve approach. While the alleged failure of the City to “bulldoze the Softies” or post warning signs may constitute negligence, it is not willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use immunity statute.

The plaintiff next argued the defendant had a duty to supervise and patrol the park.

Wilkerson also claims the City assumed a duty to supervise and patrol the park. Wilkerson points to the sign the City posted in the parking lot and the failure to take some action after the City employee saw his car in the parking lot at 1:00 a.m. The sign posted at the entry to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park parking lot stated:

However, this argument also failed because if there was a duty, it was owed to the general public, not to the plaintiff specially.

“Under the public duty doctrine, no liability may be imposed for a public official’s negligent conduct unless it is shown that the duty breached was owed to the injured person as an individual and was not merely the breach of an obligation owed to the public in general (i.e., a duty to all is a duty to no one).”

Because the record shows that the City did not assume a duty or make express assurances to Wilkerson, the public duty doctrine bars his claim that the City owed him a duty of care.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court, and the dismissal of the lawsuit was affirmed.

So Now What?

It is sad when any activity renders someone, especially a young person, a quadriplegic. However, sometimes, you have to accept the fact you screwed up, or misjudged the jump, as the plaintiff admitted to in the rehab hospital and live with your mistakes.

If you are such a person, but as much disability, health and life insurance that you can afford, it may be the only way to stay somewhat better off than what the government can provide.

From the stand point of the defendant city, you need to understand your duty and your level of duty to features, additions or other things that are added to a park or city property without your permission or without you exercising control over the situation.

Not all cities can escape liability when a group of people add to a park.

 

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Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

Jon L. Wilkerson, Appellant, v. The City of SeaTac, Respondent.

No. 66524-3-I

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE

2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

April 17, 2012, Oral Argument

November 5, 2012, Filed

NOTICE:

As amended by order of the Court of Appeals March 27, 2013. RULES OF THE WASHINGTON COURT OF APPEALS MAY LIMIT CITATION TO UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS. PLEASE REFER TO THE WASHINGTON RULES OF COURT.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reported at Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 171 Wn. App. 1023, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2614 (2012)

Reconsideration denied by, Modified by Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 797 (Wash. Ct. App., Mar. 27, 2013)

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Appeal from King County Superior Court. Docket No: 09-2-23226-1. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 12/10/2010. Judge signing: Honorable Michael C Hayden.

CORE TERMS: jump, recreational, latent, land use, bike, landowner, gap, summary judgment, immunity, dirt, speed, wanton, injury-causing, willful, trail, pitch, lead-in, user, parking lot, “appreciate”, creek, softies, owed, mountain, readily apparent, artificial, recreation, channel, posted, stump

COUNSEL: Noah Christian Davis, In Pacta PLLC, Seattle, WA, for Appellant(s).

Francis Stanley Floyd, Nicholas L. Jenkins, Floyd Pflueger & Ringer PS, Seattle, WA; Mary E. Mirante Bartolo, City of Seatac, Seatac, WA; Mark Sterling Johnsen, City of Seatac Legal Dept, Seatac, WA, for Respondent(s).

JUDGES: AUTHOR: Ann Schindler, J. WE CONCUR: Anne Ellington, JPT., C. Kenneth Grosse, J.

OPINION BY: Ann Schindler

OPINION

¶1 Schindler, J. — Jon Wilkerson challenges the decision on summary judgment to dismiss his lawsuit against the City of SeaTac based on the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210. We affirm.

FACTS

¶2 The Des Moines Creek Trail Park is a 96-acre woodland preserve open to the public for recreational use. The City of SeaTac (City) owns and operates the portion of the park located within the City, 1 including dirt mounds in the park that bicyclists use as bike jumps. The dirt jumps, known as “the Softies,” are located about a quarter-mile off a paved trail in the park. The City did not create or maintain the dirt jumps.

1 The City of Des Moines and [*2] the Port of Seattle own and operate other portions of the park.

¶3 In June 2006, 30-year-old Jon Wilkerson moved from Arkansas to Kent, Washington to work as a physical therapist. Wilkerson had plans to go mountain biking at Whistler in British Columbia with friends in July. Wilkerson testified that he considered himself an “experienced mountain biker” and had previously used BMX 2 and mountain bikes to do ramp and dirt jumps.

2 (Bicycle motocross.)

¶4 About a week after moving to Kent, Wilkerson went to a bike shop to buy a new helmet. Wilkerson asked the bike shop manager “about nearby parks that had dirt jumps — where I could ride my bike and practice making jumps in anticipation of [the] bike trip to Whistler with friends.” The bike shop manager told Wilkerson about the Des Moines Creek Trail Park and the “BMX style dirt jump[s],” and “told [him] how to get to [the Softies].”

¶5 On June 21, Wilkerson drove to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. Wilkerson arrived at the park between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. and parked his Ford Expedition in the parking lot located at South 200th Street. Wilkerson left his cell phone in his car. Wilkerson testified that he went to the park that day to train and “work[] [*3] on jumps that I knew that I would need to be able to clear at Whistler. . . . I was working that day to prepare to do more advanced techniques at Whistler.”

¶6 After riding around the park for about 30 to 45 minutes on “single [bike] track trails,” Wilkerson testified that he followed the directions he received from the bike shop manager to get to the Softies. Wilkerson said he “rode down a ravine, crossed a creek, walked [his] bike up and the softies were on the right.” When he arrived at the Softies, no one else was there.

¶7 Wilkerson testified that he examined the dirt jumps and understood the importance of the “approach speed,” as well as the condition of the track and the height and pitch of the jumps. Wilkerson said that he rode his bike over the jumps to “try some of them out” before selecting a smaller “gap jump.” Wilkerson said he decided the other jumps “weren’t within my skill set” because they were “too steep” and “too close together,” and concluded the smaller gap jump was “within my skill set.”

¶8 The dirt jump Wilkerson selected contained “two mounds with a gap in between.” Wilkerson testified that he inspected the jump before attempting it, and rode down the approach to check [*4] the pitch and surface composition.

Q But you did check the jump out before you went off of it, correct?

A I did.

Q And, you rode down and actually, with the intention of checking it out before you went off of it, correct?

A I did.

Q And, you were looking for things like the pitch of the jump, correct?

A Yes.

Q You were looking to see if the composition of the surfaces was adequate, correct?

A Yes.

Q You were looking to see if the jump was safe before you went off of it, correct?

A Yes.

¶9 Wilkerson testified that he concluded “there was enough of a grade to [carry] me into [sic] with a moderate to fast amount of speed.” Wilkerson admitted that it had been at least a couple of years “since I’d done a gap jump.” But Wilkerson said that he had no concerns about his ability to accomplish the jump.

¶10 In his declaration in opposition to summary judgment, Wilkerson states he “reviewed” the jump, including “the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok,” but “did not take a practice ‘run in.'” The declaration states, in pertinent part:

14. I then rode over to a smaller jump (which had a crevice or drop in the middle) called a gap jump and felt that it was well within my “skill set”;

15. I then generally reviewed the jump, including the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok;

16. That is, looking at the jump itself, it looked fine for me to take;

17. I did not measure the gap width, nor the pitch of the jump nor the pitch of the landing;

… .

23. I also did not take a practice “run in” leading up to the jump because I had no reason to think that there was some danger to me from the approach to the jump or that the approach would be problematic or prevent me from clearing the jump.

¶11 Wilkerson testified that he “gauged the speed to be appropriate for the gap” and approached the jump “moderate to fast, the speed needed to get over the gap.” Wilkerson missed the jump and “[t]umbled forward” over the front of the bike. Wilkerson testified, in pertinent part:

On the back side of the jump for some reason my back wheel didn’t make it all the way over the berm of the back side of the jump. So, [*5] it impacted the top of the berm, rebounded and knocked me over the front of the bicycle.

¶12 Wilkerson hit the ground head-first and landed on his back five or six feet beyond the jump. Wilkerson was unable to move. Wilkerson called for help for some time before losing consciousness.

¶13 At about 1:00 a.m., a City employee reported seeing Wilkerson’s car in the parking lot. Two bicyclists found Wilkerson at about 11:00 a.m. and called 911. Emergency personnel immediately responded and transported Wilkerson to Harborview Medical Center. Wilkerson suffered from hypothermia and went into cardiac arrest. During “life-saving efforts,” Wilkerson’s lung was lacerated. Wilkerson successfully underwent surgery for the laceration. The doctors at Harborview diagnosed Wilkerson with a C4-C6 vertebra fracture. Wilkerson is quadriplegic.

¶14 After an assessment in Arkansas in September 2006, Wilkerson participated in the program at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Texas. During the assessment, Wilkerson said that although he was an experienced mountain biker, as he went over the jump, he came down “wrong” because he ” ‘was a bit out of practice’ ” and ” ‘a little too bold.’ ”

¶15 Wilkerson filed a lawsuit [*6] against the City alleging the City breached the duty to use reasonable care in failing to maintain the park and “allowing man-made jumps to remain despite the . . . inherent danger the jumps posed.” The complaint also alleged the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report Wilkerson’s vehicle “to authorities.” Wilkerson claimed the failure to report seeing his car in the parking lot caused him to suffer hypothermia and injury to his lungs. The City denied the allegations and asserted a number of affirmative defenses, including immunity under the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210.

¶16 The City filed a motion for partial summary judgment to dismiss the claim that the City breached the duty to remove the dirt jumps. The City argued that because there was no evidence of a known dangerous artificial latent condition, the claim was barred by the recreational land use statute.

¶17 Wilkerson argued there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the approach to the gap jump was a known dangerous artificial latent condition. Wilkerson also argued that the City’s failure to remove, redesign, or maintain the dirt jumps was “willful and wanton conduct [that] rises to [*7] the level of intentional conduct.”

¶18 In support of his argument that the approach to the gap jump was a latent condition, Wilkerson submitted the declarations of Samuel Morris, Jr., a professional mountain bike racer; Lee Bridgers, the owner of a company that conducts mountain bike jumping clinics; and his own declaration. 3

3 In support of his assertion that the approach to the gap jump was a “known” and “dangerous” condition, Wilkerson submitted excerpts from the deposition of the City’s Acting Fire Chief and incident reports of bicycle accidents.

¶19 In his declaration, Wilkerson states that he did not “see[] or appreciate[] the S-curved, angled lead-in to the jump.” Morris states that in his opinion,

it was not the jump itself that caused Jon to crash, but the curvy nature of the lead-in, or approach, to the jump, which more probably than not reduced his speed enough to prevent him from successfully completing the jump. . . . While Jon testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would mostly likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and [*8] the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. These conditions would not be apparent to a rider of Jon’s skill level.

¶20 Bridgers testified that the cause of the crash was the “lack of speed due to the twists and turns in the approach.”

[T]he curvy lead-in to the jump prevented Jon from successfully attaining the speed necessary to complete the jump and was the primary cause of Jon’s injury.

Bridgers stated that in his opinion, Wilkerson did not appreciate the S-curve approach.

While the S-curve after the berm is not visibly dramatic, it affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump and therefore has a significant impact on the rider’s ability to successfully clear the jump, especially on a first attempt. This is something that Jon obviously did not notice or appreciate and which clearly had an impact on his ability to make the jump.

¶21 The court granted the motion for partial summary judgment. Even assuming the effect of the S-curve approach to the jump was not readily apparent to Wilkerson, the court concluded it was not a latent condition. The court ruled that as a matter of law, the inability to appreciate the [*9] risk does not constitute a latent condition.

So for purposes of the summary judgment, I am assuming that the trail, the approach leading to the jump was curved in some fashion such that it would have limited the speed of a biker who arrived at the jump site.

I am going to further conclude, for purposes of the summary judgment, that it would not have been readily apparent to the biker that he could not acquire sufficient speed to clear the jump.

[T]here is no testimony that you couldn’t see the path. The path was there. The path was not submerged; it was not invisible. Whether it was straight or curved, it was the path that one could see.

. . . .

[T]here are no cases where the courts have said you can look directly at it, you can see what is there to be seen, and the inability to appreciate the risk posed constitutes latency. I didn’t see any cases like that.

I find as a matter of law that the lead up, whether it was curved or straight, is not the latent condition required under the statute, and it does not abrogate the statutory immunity.

¶22 The court also concluded there was no evidence that the City acted with willful and wanton disregard for a danger posed by the Softies.

I would also suggest [*10] that there is no evidence here that would rise to the level of willful and wanton disregard, if indeed that is the standard in Washington.

I will accept for a summary judgment proposition that the city knew or should have known these jumps were out there, they knew or should have known that they were dangerous and there have been prior accidents, and that they did not go in and sign it or remov[e them i]s not the standard for recreational use immunity.

¶23 The “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Recreational Use Immunity” dismisses the claim that “the City of SeaTac owed [Wilkerson] a duty to protect him from his failed mountain bike jump” at the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. The court denied Wilkerson’s motion for reconsideration.

¶24 The City then filed a motion for summary judgment dismissal of Wilkerson’s claim that the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report seeing Wilkerson’s vehicle in the parking lot. The City argued that the recreational land use statute and the public duty doctrine barred these claims.

¶25 Wilkerson argued the recreational land use statute did not apply to the cardiac and lung injuries he suffered as a result of remaining in [*11] the park overnight because he was no longer engaged in recreation. Wilkerson also argued that the City assumed a duty to users of the park to exercise reasonable care in patrolling the park.

¶26 The court granted summary judgment. The court ruled that the recreational land use statute barred Wilkerson’s claim that the City was liable for the injuries Wilkerson suffered as a result of the crash. The court’s oral ruling states, in pertinent part:

I mean to suggest that a landowner is immune from someone using their land for recreation, but if they get hurt, then a new duty arises to come take care of them and to use reasonable efforts to make sure they are safe after they are injured, as opposed to being safe before they are injured, really stretches it too far.

[T]o suggest the landowner has a duty not to protect the person from injury, but to treat them after they are injured, or to be alert to the fact of injury, even though they are not alert to prevent the injury, makes no sense.

So I am ruling that in the circumstances of having failed to detect him injured on site and failed to having brought medical services to him fast enough, the city is still acting in its capacity as landowner.

The [*12] “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Duty to Rescue” dismisses Wilkerson’s claim that the City “owed him a duty to supervise and rescue him sooner.” 4

4 Wilkerson filed a motion to compel the City to produce discovery, which the court denied. Wilkerson appeals the order denying the motion to compel but does not assign error to the order or address it in the briefs. Accordingly, the issue is waived. RAP 10.3(a)(4); Hollis v. Garwall, Inc., 137 Wn.2d 683, 689 n.4, 974 P.2d 836 (1999).

ANALYSIS

¶27 Wilkerson contends the trial court erred in dismissing his negligence claims against the City under the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, and the court erred in concluding that the statute barred his claim for “hypothermia and cardiac and lung injuries.”

¶28 We review summary judgment de novo and consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hearst Commc’ns, Inc. v. Seattle Times Co., 154 Wn.2d 493, 501, 115 P.3d 262 (2005). Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bulman v. Safeway, Inc., 144 Wn.2d 335, 351, 27 P.3d 1172 (2001). [*13] A party cannot rely on allegations in the pleadings, speculation, or argumentative assertions that factual issues remain. White v. State, 131 Wn.2d 1, 9, 929 P.2d 396 (1997).

¶29 The recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, grants immunity to landowners for unintentional injuries to recreational users of the land.

¶30 The statute modifies a landowner’s common law duty in order “to encourage landowners to open their lands to the public for recreational purposes.” Davis v. State, 144 Wn.2d 612, 616, 30 P.3d 460 (2001). Because the recreational land use statute is in derogation of common law, it is strictly construed. Matthews v. Elk Pioneer Days, 64 Wn. App. 433, 437, 824 P.2d 541 (1992).

¶31 Under RCW 4.24.200, the purpose of the recreational land use statute is to

encourage owners or others in lawful possession and control of land and water areas or channels to make them available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon and toward persons who may be injured or otherwise damaged by the acts or omissions of persons entering thereon. [5]

5 The legislature amended the statute several times between 2006 and 2012. Laws of 2006, ch. 212, § 6; [*14] Laws of 2011, ch. 53, § 1; Laws of 2011 ch. 171, § 2; Laws of 2011 ch. 320, § 11; Laws of 2012 ch. 15, § 1. The amendments are not pertinent to this appeal.

¶32 Under RCW 4.24.210, a landowner is immune from liability for unintentional injuries unless the injury is caused by a known dangerous artificial latent condition “for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.” RCW 4.24.210 states, in pertinent part:

(1) [A]ny public or private landowners . . . or others in lawful possession and control of any lands whether designated resource, rural, or urban, or water areas or channels and lands adjacent to such areas or channels, who allow members of the public to use them for the purposes of outdoor recreation, which term includes, but is not limited to, . . . bicycling, . . . without charging a fee of any kind therefor, shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to such users.

. . . .

(4)(a) Nothing in this section shall prevent the liability of a landowner or others in lawful possession and control for injuries sustained to users by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.

¶33 To establish the City was not immune [*15] from suit under RCW 4.24.210, Wilkerson must show the City charged a fee for the use of the land, the injuries were intentionally inflicted, or the injuries were sustained by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which no warning signs were posted. Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.

¶34 Here, there is no dispute that the Des Moines Creek Trail Park was open to the public for recreational purposes and no fee was charged. The parties dispute whether the injury-causing condition was latent. Each of the four elements of a known dangerous artificial latent injury-causing condition must be present in order to establish liability under the recreational land use statute. Ravenscroft v. Wash. Water Power Co., 136 Wn.2d 911, 920, 969 P.2d 75 (1998). “If one of the four elements is not present, a claim cannot survive summary judgment.” Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.

¶35 Wilkerson asserts there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the S-curve lead-in was a latent condition, and whether a recreational user would recognize the danger of the S-curve approach. Wilkerson contends the S-curve “lead-in to the jump” caused his injuries.

¶36 For purposes of the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.210, [*16] “latent” means ” ‘not readily apparent to the recreational user.’ ” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924 (quoting Van Dinter v. City of Kennewick, 121 Wn.2d 38, 45, 846 P.2d 522 (1993)). In determining whether the injury-causing condition is latent, the question is not whether the specific risk is readily apparent but, instead, whether the injury-causing condition itself is readily apparent. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924. A landowner will not be held liable where a patent condition posed a latent, or unobvious, danger. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. Although latency is a factual question, when reasonable minds could reach but one conclusion from the evidence presented, summary judgment is appropriate. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 47.

¶37 Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Wilkerson, as a matter of law, the S-curve lead-in was not a latent condition. At most, the S-curve approach is a patent condition that “posed a latent, or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.

¶38 In Van Dinter, the Washington Supreme Court addressed the difference between a latent condition and a latent danger. In Van Dinter, Van Dinter struck his eye on a protruding metal antenna of a caterpillar-shaped [*17] playground toy located next to the grassy area at the park where he was engaged in a water fight. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter stated that “he did not realize someone on the grass could collide with any part of the caterpillar.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter asserted “a condition is latent for purposes of RCW 4.24.210 if its injury-producing aspect is not readily apparent to the ordinary recreational user,” and argued that “while the caterpillar was obvious, its injury-causing aspect was not.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 45.

¶39 The court disagreed with Van Dinter and held that “RCW 4.24.210 does not hold landowners potentially liable for patent conditions with latent dangers. The condition itself must be latent.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. While the court expressly acknowledged that “it may not have occurred to Van Dinter that he could injure himself in the way he did,” the court concluded that “this does not show the injury-causing condition — the caterpillar’s placement — was latent. . . . The caterpillar as well as its injury-causing aspect — its proximity to the grassy area — were obvious.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.

¶40 Here, Wilkerson’s experts testified that the [*18] danger posed by the S-curve approach was not “obvious” to “beginning to intermediate” bike jumpers.

[T]he S-curve . . . affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump . . . . It is my opinion that the dangers posed by the S-curved lead-in to the jump were not obvious for [Wilkerson] and other beginning to intermediate jumpers. [6]

6 (Emphases added.)

¶41 Morris testified that it was unlikely that Wilkerson or other jumpers would “consider . . . the effect that the approach would have.”

While [Wilkerson] testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would most likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. [7]

7 (Emphases added.)

¶42 The testimony that Wilkerson did not “appreciate” the danger of the S-curve approach to the jump does not establish a latent condition. As in Van Dinter, at most, Wilkerson’s failure to “appreciate” the S-curve lead-in “shows that the present situation is one in which a patent condition posed a latent, [*19] or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.

¶43 The cases Wilkerson relies on, Ravenscroft and Cultee v. City of Tacoma, 95 Wn. App. 505, 977 P.2d 15 (1999), are distinguishable. In Ravenscroft, a man was injured when the boat he was riding in hit a rooted tree stump submerged in a channel of water that formed part of a dam reservoir. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 915. The driver of the boat testified that “he saw nothing that would indicate the presence of any submerged objects or hazards in the direction he was traveling.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 916. Other witnesses testified that other boats had hit the stumps. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 925.

¶44 The court identified the injury-causing condition as the “man-created water course, containing a submerged line of tree stumps” that was “created by [the Washington Water Power Company] cutting down trees, leaving stumps near the middle of a water channel, then raising the river to a level which covered the stumps.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 923. The court concluded that summary judgment was not appropriate because “[t]he record does not support a conclusion that the submerged stumps near the middle of the channel were obvious or visible as [*20] a matter of law.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 926.

¶45 In Cultee, a five-year-old girl rode a bicycle on a road with an eroded edge that was partially flooded by the Hood Canal tidal waters. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 509. The girl fell into the water and drowned at a point where the road and the eroded edge were covered by two to four inches of muddy water and the adjacent fields were covered with several feet of water. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 510. The court held there were material issues of fact about whether the condition that killed the girl was “the depth of the water alone, or a combination of the muddy water obscuring the eroded edge of the road and an abrupt drop into deep water;” and whether ” ‘recreational users’ would have been able to see the edge of the road, given that it was eroded and covered with a two-to-four-inch layer of muddy water.” Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 523.

¶46 Wilkerson also argues that the trial court erred in concluding the recreational land use statute bars his claim for cardiac and lung injuries. Wilkerson argues the statute does not apply to the injuries he suffered after he missed the jump because he was not “engaged in recreation” or “using” the land when he suffered [*21] cardiac and lung injuries.

¶47 Wilkerson relies on Wisconsin law in support of his argument that the recreational land use statute does not apply to secondary injuries. But unlike RCW 4.24.210(1), the Wisconsin statute predicates landowner immunity on recreational use. The Wisconsin statute states, in pertinent part: “[N]o owner . . . is liable for . . . any injury to . . . a person engaging in recreational activity on the owner’s property.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b). By contrast, RCW 4.24.200-.210 grants a broader immunity to landowners “who allow members of the public to use [their lands] for the purposes of outdoor recreation.” RCW 4.24.210(1); see also Gaeta v. Seattle City Light, 54 Wn. App. 603, 608-10, 774 P.2d 1255 (1989) (because landowner “open[ed] up the lands for recreational use without a fee,” and thereby “brought itself under the protection of the immunity statute,” landowner was immune from liability regardless of whether “a person coming onto the property may have some commercial purpose in mind”).

¶48 Next, Wilkerson argues that the City’s willful and wanton or intentional conduct precludes immunity under the recreational land use statute because the City knew that other bicyclists [*22] had been injured. Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299 (9th Cir. 1982), does not support Wilkerson’s argument.

¶49 In Jones, the plaintiff went to Hurricane Ridge located in Olympic National Park as part of a church-sponsored event. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff was severely injured while riding on an inner tube at Hurricane Ridge. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff sued the church and the federal government. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The jury returned a verdict against the church but found the plaintiff was also negligent. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the federal government under Washington’s recreational land use statute on the grounds that the plaintiff did not establish the government’s conduct was willful or wanton. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300-01. 8

8

The evidence established that the extent of the danger was not actually or reasonably known to the Government. Its failure to put up signs and ropes was negligence which proximately contributed to the plaintiff’s accident but it did not constitute “an intentional failure to do an act” nor was it “in reckless disregard of the consequences.”

Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304 (internal quotation marks [*23] omitted).

¶50 On appeal, the plaintiff argued the court erred in concluding the government’s conduct was not willful or wanton under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The plaintiff asserted that the government’s failure to ” ‘put up signs and ropes’ ” was deliberate and the government ” ‘knew or should have known’ ” of the dangerous condition. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304.

¶51 The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305. The Court distinguished cases that involved specific acts of the government that create a dangerous condition, and held that ” ‘[w]anton misconduct is not negligence since it involves intent rather than inadvertence, and is positive rather than negative.’ ” Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305 n.21 (quoting Adkisson v. City of Seattle, 42 Wn.2d 676, 687, 258 P.2d 461 (1953)). Because the government did not create the injury-causing condition, and the ” ‘impact of tubing and the inherent dangers . . . were not apparent to the public or the Government,’ ” the Court concluded the failure to put up signs or ropes was not intentional and willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.

We agree with the district court that, [*24] “While it was negligence on the Government’s part not to put up signs or ropes, its failure to do so does not rise to the status of willful and wanton conduct under the law of Washington.”

Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.

¶52 Here, as in Jones, there is no dispute that the City did not create the dirt jumps or S-curve approach. While the alleged failure of the City to “bulldoze the Softies” or post warning signs may constitute negligence, it is not willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use immunity statute.

¶53 Wilkerson also claims the City assumed a duty to supervise and patrol the park. Wilkerson points to the sign the City posted in the parking lot and the failure to take some action after the City employee saw his car in the parking lot at 1:00 a.m. The sign posted at the entry to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park parking lot stated:

Park is patrolled by City of SeaTac Police Department . . .

Park is operated by City of SeaTac Parks & Recreation Department . . .

. . . .

Park is closed from dusk to dawn unless otherwise posted

. . . .

Parking . . . is only permitted during park hours.

. . . .

Unauthorized vehicles will be impounded.

¶54 But in order to establish liability, Wilkerson must show there [*25] is a duty owed to him and not a duty owed to the public in general. Babcock v. Mason County Fire Dist. No. 6, 144 Wn.2d 774, 785, 30 P.3d 1261 (2001).

“Under the public duty doctrine, no liability may be imposed for a public official’s negligent conduct unless it is shown that the duty breached was owed to the injured person as an individual and was not merely the breach of an obligation owed to the public in general (i.e., a duty to all is a duty to no one).”

Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785 (quoting Taylor v. Stevens County, 111 Wn.2d 159, 163, 759 P.2d 447 (1988) 9). Because the record shows that the City did not assume a duty or make express assurances to Wilkerson, the public duty doctrine bars his claim that the City owed him a duty of care. Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785-86.

9 (Internal quotation marks and citation omitted.)

¶55 We affirm dismissal of Wilkerson’s lawsuit against the City.

Grosse, J., and Ellington, J. Pro Tem., concur.

After modification, further reconsideration denied March 27, 2013.


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

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

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

State: Michigan, Court of Appeals of Michigan

Plaintiff: Marvin Marshall and Christine Marshall

Defendant: v Boyne USA, Inc.,

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

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

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The court reversed the trial court decision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

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

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

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#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, Marvin Marshall, Christine Marshall, v Boyne USA, Inc., Terrain Park, Half-Pipe, Half Pipe, Jump, Michigan Ski Safety Act, Skier Safety Act,

 


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

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

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

No. 301725

COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN

2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 928

May 15, 2012, Decided

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

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

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

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

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

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

OPINION

Per Curiam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/s/ David H. Sawyer

/s/ Henry William Saad

CONCUR BY: HOEKSTRA

CONCUR

Hoekstra, P.J., (concurring).

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

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

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

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

/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra


Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy. Less than a week later the lawsuits are being filed in droves.

This is a monumental decision that will affect all recreational activities in Oregon, not just ski areas. A decision that will give injured plaintiffs of any recreational activity the opportunity to void releases for any number or reasons.

Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort, 2014 Ore. LEXIS 994

State: Oregon Supreme Court

Plaintiff: Myles A. Bagley, Al Bagley, and Lauren Bagley

Defendant: Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in the design, construction, maintenance, and inspection of the jump in the terrain park.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2014

Prior Article written about the Appellate Decision in this Case: Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18

The facts of this case have been copies from Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18.

This is a rare review of release or contract law because the odds are against it. A contract is voidable by the minor when the minor signs the contract. However, if the contract is, in effect, when the minor reaches the age of majority, the minor can either disaffirm the contract which puts the parties back in the position before the contract was signed or if he or she fails to do that he or she takes advantages of the benefits of the contract and continues to use it the contract is in force.

To determine the age of majority or the age a minor becomes an adult in each state see The age that minors become adults.

The minor signed a season pass release at the defendant ski area. His father signed a minor release and indemnity agreement. Two weeks later and before the plaintiff had started snowboarding, he turned 18. Once he started snowboarding, after reaching age 18, he boarded at the defendant’s resort 26 different days, and his pass was scanned 119 times.

Going through the terrain park where he seemed to spend most of his time, the plaintiff was injured on a jump which resulted in permanent paralysis.

The minor and his parents sued the resort. The trial court dismissed his complaints after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release the minor had signed.

The court also brought out in this case, signs posted at lifts terminals which restated the ticket was a release of liability. Oregon is the only court that had held that a lift ticket purchased to ski was a release. See Silva v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55942.

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

The court first stated it had not reviewed releases in decades. The court then reviewed the legal importance of contracts.

It is a truism that a contract validly made between competent parties is not to be set aside lightly. (“When two or more persons competent for that purpose, upon a sufficient consideration, voluntarily agree to do or not to do a particular thing which may be lawfully done or omitted, they should be held to the consequences of their bargain.”). The right to contract privately is part of the liberty of citizenship, and an important office of the courts is to enforce contractual rights and obligations. (so stating). As this court has stated, however, “contract rights are [not] absolute; * * * [e]qually fundamental with the private right is that of the public to regulate it in the common interest.”

The only contracts that will not be enforced, according to this decision, are those that are contrary to law, morality or public policy.

It is elementary that public policy requires that * * * contracts [between competent parties], when entered into freely and voluntarily, shall be held sacred and shall be enforced by the courts of justice, and it is only when some other overpowering rule of public policy * * * intervenes, rendering such agreement illegal, that it will not be enforced.

The court then looked at what issues surrounding or in a contract will void a contract based on a public policy issue. It is not that a contract may be harsh to one party to the contract. “…[t]he test is the evil tendency of the contract and not its actual injury to the public in a particular instance…” However, the court then did a 180-degree turn and stated that in this case:

Thus, for the sake of convenience–if not doctrinal convergence–we address the parties’ public policy arguments in the context of our analysis of whether, in the particular circumstances of this case, enforcement of the release would be unconscionable.

The court then proceeded to build its argument on why this contract was a violation of public policy. It first divided public policy into two types procedural or substantive.

Procedural unconscionability refers to the conditions of contract formation and focuses on two factors: oppression and surprise.

Oppression exists when there is inequality in bargaining power between the parties, resulting in no real opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract and the absence of meaningful choice. Surprise involves whether terms were hidden or obscure from the vantage of the party seeking to avoid them.

Generally speaking, factors such as ambiguous contract wording and fine print are the hallmarks of surprise.

In contrast, the existence of gross inequality of bargaining power, a takeit- or-leave-it bargaining stance, and the fact that a contract involves a consumer transaction, rather than a commercial bargain, can be evidence of oppression.

Substantive unconscionability was then defined as how the terms of the contract are viewed.

… generally refers to the terms of the contract, rather than the circumstances of formation, and focuses on whether the substantive terms contravene the public interest or public policy.

Either issue, whether the issues in how the contract was created, procedural unconscionability, or the terms of the agreement itself, substantive unconscionability, can void a contract.

The court then went to review the contract in light of any legislation related to the activity. Although Oregon has a Skier Responsibility Act, the court did not find it was instructive in this case.

The court did find that under Oregon law, it could void a release if the results would be harsh. “Finally, this court has held that another factor for determining whether an anticipatory release may be unenforceable is the possibility of a harsh or inequitable result for the releasing party.”

The court then listed the ways a contract could be voided under Oregon law.

We glean from those decisions that relevant procedural factors in the determination of whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable include whether the release was conspicuous and unambiguous; whether there was a substantial disparity in the parties’ bargaining power; whether the contract was offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis; and whether the contract involved a consumer transaction.

Relevant substantive considerations include whether enforcement of the release would cause a harsh or inequitable result to befall the releasing party; whether the releasee serves an important public interest or function; and whether the release purported to disclaim liability for more serious misconduct than ordinary negligence.

The court refused to provide details or procedures that would void a contract. Rather the court relied on a “totality of the circumstances” test. This means it provides great leeway for a court to determine if the facts swayed a judge, not whether the facts met any set requirements.

Nothing in our previous decisions suggests that any single factor takes precedence over the others or that the listed factors are exclusive. Rather, they indicate that a determination whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable must be based on the totality of the circumstances of a particular transaction.

The court then compared the ways it had found (created) to void a contract under Oregon law to the present situation.

This was not an agreement between equals. Only one party to the contract-defendant-was a commercial enterprise, and that party exercised its superior bargaining strength by requiring its patrons, including plaintiff, to sign an anticipatory release on a take-it-or-leave-it basis as a condition of using its facilities.

This analysis completely ignored the fact the contract covered recreational activities that most other states have found remove the take it or leave it bargaining issue. The exception being Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2. See Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy.

The court found because the plaintiff had no opportunity to negotiate the terms or cost then there was an inequality of bargaining power between the plaintiff and the defendant. “Simply put, plaintiff had no meaningful alternative to defendant’s take-it-or-leave-it terms if he wanted to participate in downhill snowboarding.

The court found this alone was not enough to void the release. The court then looked at whether the results of enforcing the contract would be harsh and found this to be true.

As pertinent here, we conclude that the result would be harsh because, accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured. And that harsh result also would be inequitable because defendant, not its patrons, has the expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards of its own creation on its premises, and to guard against the negligence of its employees.

This analysis completely ignores the issue of whether or not the plaintiff could have examined the jump or had gone over the jump before. The defendant had introduced evidence that the season pass had been used dozens of times prior to the accident.

The court then ignored the Oregon Skier Responsibility Law and stated that even though the act had reduced the liability of a ski area it had not changed its common law liability for those conditions that are not inherent in the activity.

Skier Responsibility Law provides that “[t]o the extent an injury is caused by an inherent risk of skiing, a skier will not recover against a ski area operator; to the extent an injury is a result of [ski area operator] negligence, comparative negligence applies

The court summed up its analysis to this point stating.

In short, because (1) accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured; and (2) defendant, not its patrons, had the expertise and opportunity–indeed, the common law duty–to foresee and avoid unreasonable risks of its own creation on its business premises, we conclude that the enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result, a factor that militates against its enforcement.

The court then looked at whether a ski area served an important public interest or function. The court found it did by adding an exception to the essential public service requirement stating that serving the public was enough.

However, like other places of public accommodation such as inns or public warehouses, defendant’s business premises–including its terrain park–are open to the general public virtually without restriction, and large numbers of skiers and snowboarders regularly avail themselves of its facilities. To be sure, defendants’ business facilities are privately owned, but that characteristic does not overcome a number of legitimate public interests concerning their operation

Because the public was invited to ski, the release violated Oregon Public Policy.

Accordingly, we reject defendant’s argument that the fact that skiing and snowboarding are “non-essential” activities compels enforcement of the release in this case. Instead, we conclude that defendant’s business operation is sufficiently tied to the public interest as to require the performance of its private duties to its patrons

The court then looked at the legal issues in a way I have never heard of before. The court accepted the plaintiff’s argument that the release was intended to prevent claims for negligence as well as for gross negligence, reckless, or intentional conduct. Although the court did not accept the argument in this case, it left the argument open for future cases.

The court summed up its opinion over a page and a half. The fact the release was written broadly caused the court’s concern.

That said, the release is very broad; it applies on its face to a multitude of conditions and risks, many of which (such as riding on a chairlift) leave defendant’s patrons vulnerable to risks of harm of defendant’s creation

However, the entire basis of its analysis was the court did not like the fact this injured plaintiff would not recover.

In the ultimate step of our unconscionability analysis, we consider whether those procedural and substantive considerations outweigh defendant’s interest in enforcing the release at issue here.

So Now What?

This case not only opened up lawsuits against ski areas but turned any recreation provider into a target. In just two weeks since the decision came down several high-dollar lawsuits have been filed in Oregon. See Mt. Hood Meadows snowboarder claims teen slammed into her, sues teen’s parents for $955,000 and Fallen tree causes Portland mountain bike racer to crash, fracture neck, $273,000 suit says.

By stating that any provider was subject to the public policy exception to releases, the court effectively found that anyone injured by a recreation provider could have their releases voided.

If you are Oregon and have a release you may want to put in that the release is only for claims of ordinary negligence. This violates every principal I have espoused over the years, but here the court found that failing to have such a clause may make an argument for voiding a release.

This decision is stretched to reach its decision, and it is written quite vaguely and broadly giving future plaintiff’s dozens of ways of voiding a release. Catastrophic injuries are going to be more likely, based on this analysis, to void a release; however, those are the ones that attract the money.

Oregon ski area ticket prices are going to increase because Oregon ski area insurance is going up.  

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Court writes clear decision a jump in a terrain park is an open and obvious risk

If you practice law in this area, you should hold on to this decision because of its statements on the risks of a terrain park.

Anderson v Boyne USA, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1725

Plaintiff: Patrick N. Anderson

Defendant: Boyne USA, Inc.,

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Michigan Ski Area Safety Act

Holding: for the defendant

This is a pretty simple Michigan case applying the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act (SASA) to an injury in a terrain park.

The plaintiff was paralyzed after go off a jump at a terrain park. The plaintiff sued, and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act. The motion was granted the plaintiff appealed. The appellate court upheld the trial court decision.

The plaintiff went off the jump the previous day. On the second day of skiing, when he was injured, he had not inspected the jump. The plaintiff knew that the features of the park would change over time, including overnight.

Summary of the case

What is striking and great about this case is the court’s frankness in describing the terrain park and its risks. The Michigan Ski Area Safety Act, MCL 408.342 provides:

(1) While in a ski area, each skier shall do all of the following:

(a) Maintain reasonable control of his or her speed and course at all times.

(b) Stay clear of snow-grooming vehicles and equipment in the ski area.

(c) Heed all posted signs and warnings.

(d) Ski only in ski areas which are marked as open for skiing on the trail board described in section 6a(e).

(2) Each person who participates in the sport of skiing accepts the dangers that inhere in that sport insofar as the dangers are obvious and necessary. Those dangers include, but are not limited to, injuries which can result from variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots; rocks, trees, and other forms of natural growth or debris; collisions with ski lift towers and their components, with other skiers, or with properly marked or plainly visible snowmaking or snow-grooming equipment.

As long as the risks or hazards of skiing are open and obvious to the sport, then the statute provides immunity to the ski area from suit.

Based on the statute, the Michigan Supreme court in another case (of the same name Anderson) found there were two types of inherent dangers in skiing: natural and unnatural hazards. The court then applied a legal principle, ejusdem generis which states: “general terms include those “of the same kind, class, character, or nature as those specifically enumerated.” Application of this principal provided a greater number of risks, more than those just listed in the statute.

Once hazards fall within the covered category, only if they are unnecessary or not obvious is the ski operator liable.” Id. The Court stated that the Legislature enacted the statute to remove these matters “from the common-law arena” and to grant immunity to ski-area operators. Id. Therefore, the reasonableness of the placement of the shack was not a consideration for the fact-finder.

The court found the jump in the terrain park was a hazard of skiing, even if created by the ski area; it was still a “variation in the terrain that a snowboarder would expect to see if he or she entered a terrain park. The court continued with this great statement.

Even if the jump were not inside the terrain park, it would still be a danger inherent in the sport of skiing; a snowboarder accepts the risks associated with snowboarding, regardless of whether he is snowboarding down a slope or performing tricks in a terrain park.

The court then went further and stated:

While it is true one can snowboard without jumps, a snowboarder enters a terrain park expecting to use jumps, rails, and boxes. Without those features, there would not be a terrain park. If a snowboarder did not want to use those features, he or she would not enter a terrain park. Instead, the snowboarder would simply propel down a ski hill. Therefore, a jump is a necessary feature of a terrain park.

There were signs posted at the entrance of the terrain park stating that skiers were responsible for familiarizing themselves with the terrain throughout its use, especially because the features change constantly due to snow conditions, weather, and usage. The jump was not a hidden feature of the park, and plaintiff would have seen it had he heeded all posted signs and warnings, as required by the statute.

The court looked at the plaintiff’s final argument that the jump was not obvious because the plaintiff was not aware of the dangerous it created by being improperly constructed. The plaintiff had an expert witness who opined that the jump could have been constructed in a “safer way.”

The court stated whether there was a safer way to make the jump was irrelevant. The statute removed this issue from litigation.

So Now What?

There are two statements by the court that you need to remember, and hopefully apply in your state. The first is:

Even if the jump were not inside the terrain park, it would still be a danger inherent in the sport of skiing; a snowboarder accepts the risks associated with snowboarding, regardless of whether he is snowboarding down a slope or performing tricks in a terrain park.

The creation of the terrain park or creating features in the terrain park does nothing to change the risks of skiing. The fact the feature is in a terrain park provides greater notice and ability to see and understand the risks to a skier or boarder. However, a jump, in or out of a terrain park, is still a risk to be assumed by someone on the slope.

The second is:

Without those features, there would not be a terrain park. If a snowboarder did not want to use those features, he or she would not enter a terrain park. Instead, the snowboarder would simply propel down a ski hill. Therefore, a jump is a necessary feature of a terrain park.

A terrain park is a hill without jumps, ramps, rails, half-pipes and other features. Without those features there is no terrain park. If you enter a terrain park there are going to be jumps, ramps, rails, half-pipes and other features.

Both of these would require that the language of your states Ski Area Statute is written similarly to Michigan’s. However both create great legal language for arguing that when you enter the terrain park you assume the risks of everything in the terrain park, even if you don’t understand or fail to inspect the features in it. But for the signs and ropes, a terrain park is no different from any other part of the ski slope.

This court put in an appeal the things many people have been saying for years.

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You have to be prepared way before trial, and you have to win at trial, because judges are given wide discretion in controlling your chances on appeal.

Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc., 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2506

This case significantly changed the ski industry.

This decision out of the Washington Appellate Court offers value in understanding some issues that occur at trial. It also offers an example of how much control a judge has in a trial and why a judge really can control the outcome of your trial if you are not prepared.

The plaintiff in this case was an experienced skier who had gone over the table-top  jump at issue before. There is conflicting testimony on how fast the plaintiff was skiing; however, he landed far down the hill beyond the landing zone. The injuries rendered him a quadriplegic. The case was taken to trial, and the jury found the plaintiff 55% liable and the ski area 45% liable. The jury awarded $30 million in damages, resulting in a $14 million-dollar  recovery for the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued “alleging that it designed and built an unreasonably dangerous ski jump, and that it failed to close the jump or to warn of its dangers.” The defense argued that the risk was an inherent part of skiing, and the plaintiff was negligent and therefore, the cause of his injuries.

Summary of the case

Washington like all other states has comparative negligence. However, unlike the majority of the states, this is a pure comparative negligence state. That means the jury awards an amount and decides what percentage each party to the litigation is at fault. In the majority of states if the plaintiff is more than 50% or 51% at fault the plaintiff recovers nothing. This is not true in Washington. The percentage is applied to the damages, and the plaintiff receives that percentage of the damages. 45% of $30 million is about $14 million.

Washington has a Skier Safety Statute. However, it is very weak and does not define the risks of skiing. In this case, the statute provided very little benefit to the defendant.

The majority of the decision focuses on the jury instructions. Jury instructions are the actual written instructions the jury takes with them into the jury room that explain the law. The legal issues and definitions are each on a separate on a piece of paper that is numbered. By reading through the instructions in numerical order the jury is helped to decide the legal issues or more importantly decide how the facts apply to the law.

Some states have pre-printed jury instructions. Federal courts and several states the jury instructions are created by the parties and the judge. In both cases, the opposing attorneys and judge creates the final instructions that the jury will read.

The judge is given wide discretion in creating jury instructions and unless the jury instructions are plain wrong, they are rarely overturned. That was the case here. The defendant argued several issues with the jury instructions, and the appellate court found none of the issues were so great as to be wrong. The judge has vast discretion to determine the jury instructions.

“The court need not include specific language in a jury instruction, so long as the instructions as a whole correctly state the law.”

Washington Skier Safety Act does not have any definitions for terrain parks or jumps. Like many ski area acts, Washington’s has not been updated to keep up with the changes in the sport.

This left the defendant with a tough burden of proving the risks of jumping in a terrain park was an inherent risk of skiing.

Washington applies the landowner test to the duty owed to patrons at a ski area. Because the skier is there for the financial benefit of the ski area, the skier is a business invitee which the ski area owes “a duty to a skier to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the invitees, unless it is known or obvious.” The Appellate Court quoted from the Restatement of Torts to support its opinion, which places a very high burden upon a ski area.

An invitee is entitled to expect that the possessor will take reasonable care to ascertain the actual condition of the premises and, having discovered it, either to make it reasonably safe by repair or to give warning of the actual condition and the risk involved therein.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343, cmt. d (1965).

The defendant argued that a notice on a whiteboard was sufficient to warn of the dangers. However, the court found otherwise. The plaintiff’s experts also opined that there should have been an entrance to the jump so skiers could not get so much speed. That was supported by 15 incidents reports the plaintiff placed  into evidence of injuries from people landing beyond the jump landing zone. This was reduced from 66 the plaintiff had originally tried to have admitted.

If you keep paperwork showing a problem, you better also have paperwork showing what you did about the problem.

The ski area also argued they were not required to create a start point or place a sign there because the speed that a skier entered a jump was up to the skier.

The court, however, did make some statements from a skier’s perspective that seemed at odds with reality.

Lifts further contends that it had no duty to warn Salvini because he had used the jump before and was fully aware of its condition. This argument is not persuasive. Salvini’s previous use of the jump would not necessarily put him on notice that its design could increase the risk of severe injury from overshooting. Whether the jump’s deficiencies were “known and obvious” and whether Salvini should have anticipated the harm is a question of fact for the jury.

.. . . .

The trial court rejected most of the 66 incident reports offered by Salvini because it found that they were not sufficiently similar, and it admitted only “[t]hose accident reports documenting an injury occurring as a result of overshooting the jump in question, on either skis or snowboards (which go slower than skis.) … .” CP at 2635. If overshooting was a problem for slower moving snowboarders, it is reasonable to expect it to be a problem for skiers as well.

The first issue is that using a jump does not give you notice that the jump is dangerous seems to be at odds with reality. The issue that if you go over a jump and do not realize that it has increased dangers over skiing on flat terrain does not seem logical. Anytime you are going faster than you feel comfortable or above the ground without holding on to something seems to indicate an increase in risk that should be obvious to everyone.

At the same time, after you have done something dangerous enough times, enough being a different number for everyone, you become accustomed to the risk. However, being able to deal with the risk does not mean that you have totally lost the ability to understand or appreciate the risk.

The second is the court’s statement about snowboards going slower than skiers which does not seem to be supported in the opinion and could be argued in a lot of cases is as irrelevant. It is the skill of the person wearing the board or skis that have more of an influence on the speed rather than the implement itself.

This decision is a nasty one for ski areas. $14 million is a lot of money, especially for a small area and a small insurance pool

So Now What?

You cannot create risks just because every other competitor is doing it. If you state does not have the laws, or you do not have either the skills and knowledge or the defenses to deal with the risk you are over your head.

Find out what your competitors are doing. How they are approaching the risk. In this case, what fencing they are using, how they are building their features and who they are allowing in the features.

There were some very interesting things that occurred with this trial; however, that is the system we have in the US, and sometimes you get screwed.

Plaintiff: Kenneth Salvini

Defendant: Ski Lifts, Inc. (dba Snoqualmie Summit Ski Area)

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: inherent risks and signage

Holding: for the plaintiff

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Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc., 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2506

Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc., 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2506

Kenneth Salvini et al., Individually, Respondents, v. Ski Lifts, Inc., Appellant.

NO. 60211-0-I

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE

2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2506

October 20, 2008, Filed

NOTICE: Rules of the Washington Court of Appeals may limit citation to unpublished opinions. Please refer to the Washington Rules of Court.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reported at Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc., 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2529 (Wash. Ct. App., Oct. 20, 2008)

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Appeal from King County Superior Court. Docket No: 05-2-13652-9. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: May 31, 2007. Judge signing: Honorable Laura Inveen.

COUNSEL: Counsel for Appellant(s): William Robert Hickman, Pamela A. Okano, Reed McClure, Ruth Nielsen, Nielsen Law Office Inc PS, Wendy E Lyon, Riddell Williams PS, Seattle, WA; James W. Huston, Morrison & Foerster, LLP, San Diego, CA; Beth S. Brinkmann, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Morrison & Foerster, LLP, Washington, DC.

Counsel for Respondent(s): John Robert Connelly Jr., Connelly Law Offices, James Walter Beck, Gordon Thomas Honeywell, Tacoma, WA; Philip Albert Talmadge, Tukwila, WA.

JUDGES: Authored by Linda Lau. Concurring: Marlin Appelwick, Ronald Cox.

OPINION BY: Linda Lau

OPINION

¶1 Lau, J. — While attempting a terrain park ski jump at a ski area, Kenneth Salvini was severely injured. Salvini and his parents brought a negligence action against the owner-operator Ski Lifts, Inc. The jury found Salvini 55 percent responsible and Ski Lifts 45 percent responsible. Ski Lifts appeals, arguing that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on duty, inherent risk, and signage, and that it admitted prejudicial and irrelevant evidence of prior accidents. We conclude that [*2] the jury instructions were proper and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of prior accidents for the limited purpose of notice. Accordingly, we affirm.

FACTS

¶2 Ski Lifts owns and operates Snoqualmie, a ski area that features downhill skiing and a terrain park filled with artificial jumps and structures. Among these features are “table top” jumps, which have a takeoff ramp, a flat deck section, and a landing slope. To jump a table top successfully, a skier must approach the takeoff ramp with sufficient speed to launch into the air and clear the deck while maintaining enough control to land upright on the landing slope. “Overshooting” occurs when the skier lands past the end of the landing slope.

¶3 At approximately 7 P.M. on February 11, 2004, Kenneth Salvini arrived at Snoqualmie with his father and some friends. It was night, and the snow was rough, icy, and hard. After spending about an hour skiing at the Alpental downhill area, the main ski lift broke down. They then moved to the Summit Central downhill area. Salvini and a friend took a lift to the top of the mountain and skied over to the terrain park. A message hand written in light blue pen on a whiteboard [*3] sign posted near the lift read, “Terrain park Tip of the Week: Most injuries in the terrain park are as a result of the rider out-jumping the landing. Thanks, your friendly Ski Patrol.” Ex. 7. A Ski Lifts employee testified that the message was posted following several overshooting incidents. But Salvini and his friend did not see the sign.

¶4 Salvini, an experienced skier, decided to try a table top jump in the lower part of the terrain park–one that he had successfully jumped while skiing the previous week. Salvini testified that his goal was to approach the jump with “enough speed to make sure [he] cleared the deck.” Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (Mar. 22, 2007) at 83. Ski Lifts asserted that Salvini approached the jump at an excessively high speed, but Salvini presented evidence that his speed was within the range expected at a ski jump. He lost control, rotated backwards, “overshot” the landing ramp, and landed on his back onto a flat or nearly flat area. Salvini is now a quadriplegic.

¶5 Salvini and his parents filed a negligence action against Ski Lifts, alleging that it designed and built an unreasonably dangerous ski jump and that it failed to close the jump or to warn of [*4] its dangers, thereby exposing him to an extreme risk of serious injury beyond the risks inherent in the sport. Ski Lifts asserted that it was not negligent and that Salvini’s injuries were solely the result of the inherent risks of the sport and Salvini’s own negligence.

¶6 Ski Lifts filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence of prior accidents at the terrain park. Salvini responded with a motion to admit 66 prior incident reports. After reviewing the incident reports, the trial court admitted 15 reports for “the limited issue of notice” but excluded the remainder because they were not substantially similar. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 2632-35. 1 At Ski Lifts’ request, the trial court instructed the jury that the reports were admitted “for the limited purpose of showing that defendant had notice that people had overshot the landing of the jump on which the plaintiff was injured.” CP at 2672.

1 The court originally admitted 16 incident reports, but this was later reduced to 15.

¶7 The jury found Salvini 55 percent at fault and Ski Lifts 45 percent at fault. The jury also found that Salvini had suffered approximately $ 30 million in damages, resulting in a judgment against Ski Lifts of approximately [*5] $ 14 million. The trial court denied Ski Lifts’ motion for a new trial. Ski Lifts now appeals.

ANALYSIS

Jury Instruction on Inherent Risk

¶8 Ski Lifts argues that the trial court erred in refusing to give its proposed jury instruction. The instruction stated: “An inherent risk of a sport is one that cannot be eliminated without fundamentally changing the nature of the sport or chilling vigorous participation in the sport.” CP at 2578. Alleged errors of law in jury instructions are reviewed de novo. Barrett v. Lucky Seven Saloon, Inc., 152 Wn.2d 259, 266, 96 P.3d 386 (2004). Whether to give a particular jury instruction, however, is within the trial court’s discretion. Boeing Co. v. Key, 101 Wn. App. 629, 632, 5 P.3d 16 (2000). “Jury instructions are sufficient if they allow the parties to argue their theories of the case, do not mislead the jury and, when taken as a whole, properly inform the jury of the law to be applied.” Hue v. Farmboy Spray Co., 127 Wn.2d 67, 92, 896 P.2d 682 (1995). “The trial court is given considerable discretion in deciding how the instructions will be worded.” Goodman v. Boeing Co., 75 Wn. App. 60, 73, 877 P.2d 703 (1994), aff’d, 127 Wn.2d 1020, 890 P.2d 463 (1995).

¶9 Chapter 79A.45 RCW [*6] generally sets forth the responsibilities of skiers and ski area operators. 2 The statute “modifies, but is generally consistent with, the common law.” Codd v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 45 Wn. App. 393, 397, 725 P.2d 1008 (1986). It provides that “[b]ecause of the inherent risks in the sport of skiing all persons using the ski hill shall exercise reasonable care for their own safety.” RCW 79A.45.030(6). “A defendant simply does not have a duty to protect a sports participant from dangers which are an inherent and normal part of a sport.” Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 500, 834 P.2d 6 (1992). But “[a]lthough the statute imposes both primary and secondary duties on skiers, it ‘does not purport to relieve ski operators from all liability for their own negligence.'” Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. 519, 524, 984 P.2d 448 (1999) (quoting Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 500). Risks caused by negligent provision of dangerous facilities are not “inherent” in a sport. Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 498.

2 Nothing in the statute specifically addresses terrain park ski jumping.

10 Washington’s ski statute does not define “inherent risk.” 3 The language of Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction is drawn from [*7] an intermediate California appellate court decision, Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co., 118 Cal. App. 4th 577, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 370 (2004). In Vine, a snowboarder who was seriously injured on a terrain park ski jump brought a negligence action against the ski area. The ski operator, arguing that it owed no duty to protect Vine against inherent risks, requested the following instruction on assumption of risk:

“The defendant has no duty to eliminate, reduce or make safer the inherent risks of injury which arise from the nature of the sport of recreational snowboard jumping or the manner in which it is conducted. An inherent risk of a sport is one that cannot be eliminated without fundamentally changing the nature of the sport or chilling vigorous participation in the sport.

“The defendant is under a duty to use ordinary care not to increase the risks to a snowboarder over and above those inherent in the sport. The defendant is under a duty to refrain from constructing a jump for use by the public which, by design, poses an extreme risk of injury.

“A failure to fulfill such duty is negligence.”

Id. at 594 n.5.

3 In contrast, some states have enacted ski safety statutes that define “inherent risks” [*8] and/or “inherent danger” of skiing with particularity. See, e.g., Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 33-44-103(3.5) (West); Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. 408.342(2) (LexisNexis); 32 Me. Rev. Stat. Ann § 15217.

11 The trial court ruled that the primary assumption of risk doctrine did not apply because snowboarding does not inherently require jumps that are designed in such a way as to create an extreme risk of injury. Id. at 590. Thus, the court instructed the jury on ordinary negligence and contributory negligence but not on assumption of the risk. Id. at 595-97, 603.

12 The California appellate court held that the instructions were erroneous regarding the duty of care owed by the ski operator.

Nowhere was the jury informed that Bear Valley owed Vine no duty to protect her from the risks inherent in snowboard jumping. Indeed, the instructions suggested just the opposite, since it was obviously foreseeable that the inherent risks of riding a snowboard over the jump built by Bear Valley might result in injury.

Id. at 596. The court reasoned, “It is fundamentally unfair for a snowboarding injury case to go to a jury without any instruction on assumption of the risk.” Id. at 603.

13 Ski Lifts argues that under the reasoning [*9] of Vine, the trial court’s failure to give Ski Lifts’ proposed jury instruction defining the inherent risks of terrain park jumping deprived it of the ability to argue that the risks that caused Salvini’s accident were inherent in the sport and that he was responsible for his own injury. Salvini contends that the jury instructions given by the trial court were an accurate statement of the law and that Ski Lifts’ proposed additional instruction was unnecessary for Ski Lifts to argue its theory of the case.

14 We disagree with Ski Lifts. In Vine, the trial court declined to instruct the jury on the inherent risks of the sport, which erroneously precluded the jury from considering assumption of the risk. Here, in contrast, the trial court did instruct the jury on Salvini’s assumption of the risks that are an inherent and normal part of terrain park jumping. Instruction 16 stated,

A skier jumping in a terrain park assumes the dangers that are inherent in the sport of terrain park jumping. The ski area has no duty to protect a skier from dangers that are an inherent and normal part of jumping in a terrain park.

The ski area has a duty not to unduly enhance the risk of jumping in a terrain park [*10] beyond the risks inherent in the sport.

CP at 2674.

¶15 Instruction 16 properly informed the jury of Washington law, was not misleading, and permitted Ski Lifts to argue that the conditions and risks that caused Salvini’s injuries were an inherent and normal part of the sport. 4 During closing statements, Ski Lifts argued to the jury:

So what do we need to know in order to decide what is an inherent part of this sport? And what we know and what everybody has talked about is jumping is a fundamental activity, that’s what it is about. …

… Jumps are not safe, because ‘safe’ means free from injury or danger, free from risk, and we have to start out with the premise that this is an inherently dangerous activity; it is not free from risk. You can’t design out the risk, that’s part of jumping. …

… Talking about landing on your feet, landing on your landing gear, and absorbing the shock of a jump. That’s inherent in jumping, and that’s what is most important. …

… Two inherent dangers, everyone talked about it, losing control and falling. Those are things that come along with the sport.

… What we have to look at is what’s normal of [sic] this sport, and that the jumpers have [*11] the responsibility, they can choose their speed, depending on what they want to do. … And that’s why there is no starting point. That’s not a decision the ski area is making … , it is a decision the skier needs to make for themselves.

… .

The jump itself. Again, we talk first about what is normal to the sport. And the people who build the jump are telling you this is what’s normal for the sport. This is what all of the ski areas are doing, this is how the jumps are built. …

We have some other things that factor in to this particular table top and the choices that are available. And this is all part of what is normal in the sport. We have the jump itself, we have the two different landings, we have the half pipe off to the right, we have other jumps below, two take offs on that jump, and lots of room to go around on either side. … And those are things that we don’t have a duty to change because that’s an inherent and normal part of the sport. …

… .

… Because “normal” for a ski area includes people going to the first aid room for a whole variety of reasons, not to minimize it. But to say it is a risky sport and accidents happen, and you have to get back to [*12] the first part of our instruction, which is, there are inherent dangers … . And they are athletes and they are human and they did something different, and it ended up in injury. And nobody wants that to happen, but we can’t take that away and still have the sport, because what we have is something that is inherently dangerous and people are doing it because they want to. …

… .

… But what we know is that at the end of the day, it was not the ski area that caused the accident, it was the behavior of the jumper. And not in a critical way, because this is what is part of the sport. And that’s why it is an inherent risk, because it is very dangerous. And it starts out that way. And the ski area did not do anything to increase that danger. It is a normal jump and it is a normal activity. … The people that developed it told you what it was about, and the skier assumes the dangers that are inherent in the sport, and assumes what is part of the normal sport. Not a different sport, but this sport. And we don’t have a duty to make it a different sport. … What is this sport about? It is about the risk of falling and being injured. It is about speed and control and snow conditions [*13] and choices. And that’s all a normal part of the sport.

VRP (Apr. 4, 2007) at 6-46.

4 Salvini argues that Ski Lifts failed to preserve any error on inherent risks of ski jumping because it proposed and received instruction 16, which was a correct statement of the law. We disagree. Ski Lifts specifically took exception below to the trial court’s refusal to give an additional proposed definition of “inherent risk,” which it now contends was necessary for the jury to understand that phrase. This was sufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review under CR 51(f).

¶16 “Whether to define a phrase is a matter of judgment to be exercised by the trial court.” Goodman, 75 Wn. App. at 76. Under the instructions given, Ski Lifts could and did define the inherent and normal risks very broadly in crafting its argument to the jury. Ski Lifts’ additional instruction defining “inherent risk” was unnecessary and superfluous. 5 And when applied to this case, the definition is self-evident and obvious. The jury attributed 55 percent of the fault for the accident to inherent risk and Salvini’s own negligence. It is entirely speculative to conclude that the jury did not understand “inherent risk” or that [*14] the verdict would have been different if Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction had been given. 6 The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give a proposed instruction derived from California common law that was unnecessary to allow Ski Lifts to fully argue its theory of the case.

5 See Goodman, 75 Wn. App. at 76 (upholding trial court’s refusal to give a jury instruction defining the phrase “continuing violation” where the definition was self-evident and obvious when applied to facts of case).

6 In the special verdict form, the jury answered, “Yes” to the following question: “Was one or more of the inherent risks of jumping in a terrain park a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries?”

Jury Instruction on Duty to Discover Dangerous Conditions

¶17 Ski Lifts argues that instruction 15 misstated the duty owed by a ski area operator regarding the discovery and elimination of dangers, thereby erroneously holding Ski Lifts to an improperly broad duty to protect Salvini.

¶18 Instruction 15 stated,

The operator of a ski area owes its customers a duty to exercise ordinary care. This includes the exercise of ordinary care to provide reasonably safe facilities and to maintain in a reasonably safe [*15] condition those portions of the premises that such person is expressly or impliedly invited to use or might reasonably be expected to use. The operator of a ski area owes a duty to its customers to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the skier unless it is known or obvious.

CP at 2673. (Emphasis added.)

¶19 Ski Lifts objects only to the final, italicized sentence of the instruction, which was added at Salvini’s request over Ski Lifts’ objection. 7 This sentence was drawn directly from the Scott decision, which describes the duty of care for ski area operators. “A skier is a business invitee of a ski area operator. The operator owes a duty to a skier to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the invitees, unless it is known or obvious.” Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 500 (footnotes omitted). The Scott court further specified, “[T]he plaintiff assumes the dangers that are inherent in and necessary to the particular sport or activity” and that “[w]hile participants in sports are generally held to have impliedly assumed the risks inherent in the sport, such assumption of risk does not preclude [*16] a recovery for negligent acts which unduly enhance such risks.” Id. at 501 (third emphasis added).

7 Ski Lifts argues that instruction 15 misstated Washington law by failing to reference “unreasonably” dangerous conditions. Salvini contends that Ski Lifts failed to preserve this argument because it did not propose inserting the word “unreasonably” into the instruction. But Ski Lifts did object to instruction 15 on the ground that “the law would indicate that we don’t have a duty unless it is unreasonably dangerous. So I believe that the dicta from Scott that has been added to the WPIC instruction is not appropriate.” VRP (Apr. 3, 2007 P.M.) at 11. Accordingly, Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction was essentially the same as instruction 15, but without the final sentence taken from Scott. This sufficiently informed the trial court of the point of law in dispute to preserve for appellate review the issue of whether instruction 15 properly stated the duty owed by ski operators to skiers. Falk v. Keene Corp., 113 Wn.2d 645, 657-58, 782 P.2d 974 (1989). CR 51(f) does not require a party to additionally propose an alternative instruction under similar circumstances. Joyce v. State Dep’t of Corrections, 155 Wn.2d 306, 324-25, 119 P.3d 825 (2005).

¶20 Ski [*17] Lifts argues that the final sentence of instruction 15 misstated the duty of care for providers of an inherently dangerous activity such as terrain park ski jumping because, unlike Scott, it failed to specify that the duty was limited only to “unreasonably” dangerous conditions–those that “unduly enhance” the inherent risks. According to Ski Lifts, the omission of the word “unreasonably” from the jury instruction mistakenly informed the jury that Ski Lifts’ legal duty was to eliminate all dangers to terrain park ski jumpers–a standard that is impossible to meet. Ski Lifts further contends that instruction 16 was insufficient to cure the defect in instruction 15 regarding Ski Lifts’ duty of care for three reasons. First, it is not clear that the “unduly enhance” language of instruction 16 operates to limit instruction 15’s reference to “dangerous conditions.” Second, it was contradictory and confusing to instruct the jury that Ski Lifts was responsible for “dangerous conditions” (instruction 15) while also instructing it that Salvini assumed the dangers inherent in terrain jumping (instruction 16). Third, under the reasoning of Vine, the jury could not determine comparative fault [*18] without an instruction specifically defining the inherent risks assumed by Salvini.

¶21 We disagree with Ski Lifts and hold that instructions 15 and 16 properly instructed the jury on Washington law. “The court need not include specific language in a jury instruction, so long as the instructions as a whole correctly state the law.” Boeing Co. v. Key, 101 Wn. App. 629, 633, 5 P.3d 16 (2000).

¶22 Instruction 15 accurately summarized the well-established duty of care owed by ski area operators to skiers. Washington courts have adopted with approval the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343 (1965), which sets forth the duties a possessor of land owes to an invitee. Iwai v. State, 129 Wn.2d 84, 95, 915 P.2d 1089 (1996). Section 343 states,

Dangerous Conditions Known to or Discoverable by Possessor A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his invitees by a condition on the land if, but only if, he

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

(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, [*19] and

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

¶23 The ski operator owes an affirmative duty of care to the skier, as a business invitee, to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection and repair them or warn the invitees of the hazard unless it is known or obvious. See, e.g., Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 500; Brown, 97 Wn. App. at 524; Codd, 45 Wn. App. 396-97. Consistent with this standard, instruction 15 also stated that the ski area operator’s duty is to provide “reasonably safe facilities” and to maintain them in a “reasonably safe condition.” Furthermore, instruction 16–to which Ski Lifts did not object–specified that a ski area has no duty to protect against “dangers that are an inherent and normal part of jumping in a terrain park” and that “[t]he ski area has a duty not to unduly enhance the risk of jumping in a terrain park beyond the risks inherent in the sport.”

¶24 Together, these instructions accurately summarized the law, allowed Ski Lifts to argue its theory of the case, and were not contradictory, confusing, or misleading. Ski Lifts could, and did, argue that the risks of the jump were known and obvious. Ski Lifts could, and did, argue [*20] that Salvini’s injuries resulted from the inherent risks of the sport. And the trial court gave an instruction on comparative fault to which Ski Lifts did not object. As discussed above, Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction defining “inherent risk” was unnecessary to allow Ski Lifts to fully argue all of its claims. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to omit the final sentence from instruction 15.

Jury Instruction on Failure to Warn

¶25 Ski Lifts argues that Salvini offered no evidence of proximate cause to support his claim that Ski Lifts was liable on a failure to warn theory. Instruction 15 informed the jury that Ski Lifts had a duty to “discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the skier unless it is known or obvious.” Instruction 17 stated, “A statute relating to ski areas provides: All signs for instruction of the public shall be bold in design with wording short, simple, and to the point. All such signs shall be prominently placed.” 8 Relying primarily on products liability cases, Ski Lifts contends that proof of proximate cause on a failure to warn theory requires the plaintiff to show that he would have read and [*21] heeded an adequate warning. Because instructions 15 and 17 invited the jury to find Ski Lifts liable for failure to warn in the absence of evidence that Salvini would have behaved differently had he received better warnings, Ski Lifts contends that there was insufficient evidence to support these instructions. 9 We disagree.

8 RCW 79A.45.010(1).

9 We also note that during closing arguments, Ski Lifts did not contend that Salvini had failed to provide sufficient evidence of proximate cause on a failure to warn theory.

¶26 As a preliminary matter, we note that Ski Lifts objected to the final sentence of instruction 15 on the ground that it misstated the premises liability standard of care for ski area operators. But it did not object to instruction 15 on the ground that it erroneously instructed the jury on a failure-to-warn theory. Nor did Ski Lifts mention instruction 15 when it objected to instruction 17 on the ground that there was no evidence of proximate cause to support it. CR 51(f) requires that counsel state distinctly the matter to which he objects and the grounds for that objection so that the court may correct any error before instructing the jury. Because Ski Lifts did not apprise [*22] the trial court of the point of law in dispute, it waived any claimed error regarding instruction 15 or its interplay with instruction 17 in the context of this argument. Falk v. Keene Corp., 113 Wn.2d 645, 657-58, 782 P.2d 974 (1989).

¶27 Ski Lifts’ argument misconstrues the purpose of instruction 17 in this premises liability case. Salvini claimed that Ski Lifts “was negligent in the design, construction, and maintenance of the terrain park jump on which [he] was injured.” CP at 2960 (instruction 2). To establish an action for negligence, a plaintiff must show (1) the existence of a duty, (2) breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) proximate cause. Iwai, 129 Wn.2d at 96. In premises liability cases, a landowner’s duty of care is governed by the entrant’s common law status as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Soc., 124 Wn.2d 121, 128, 875 P.2d 621 (1994). Here, the parties do not dispute that Salvini was a business invitee of Ski Lifts.

¶28 “The duty owed by the possessor to the invitee derives from the entrant’s expectation that the possessor has exercised due care to make the premises reasonably safe.” The Law of Premises Liability (3d ed.) [*23] § 4.1, at 75 (2001). This duty may be fulfilled by an appropriate warning or other affirmative action to remedy the danger. Id. “An invitee is entitled to expect that the possessor will take reasonable care to ascertain the actual condition of the premises and, having discovered it, either to make it reasonably safe by repair or to give warning of the actual condition and the risk involved therein.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343, cmt. d (1965).

¶29 Salvini contended that Ski Lifts was negligent under this common law premises liability standard. And Ski Lifts could satisfy its duty to protect its customers from unreasonably dangerous conditions by providing adequate warnings. Instruction 17 went directly to Ski Lifts’ defense that it had met this duty. This instruction properly allowed the jury to evaluate the reasonableness of the warnings provided in light of the statutory signage requirements and the degree to which Salvini was comparatively at fault for failing to see the whiteboard sign.

¶30 Both parties presented evidence at trial regarding the reasonableness and adequacy of the warning signs. Expert witnesses Dr. Richard Gill and Richard Penniman testified extensively regarding the [*24] inadequacy of Ski Lifts’ warning signs. Salvini testified that he did not see the whiteboard sign. Salvini’s skiing companion and Salvini’s father, as well as several Ski Lifts employees, also testified that they did not see the sign. Expert witnesses Helge Lien and Richard Penniman testified that Ski Lifts should have designated a starting point for the jump to prevent skiers from gaining too much speed and overshooting the jump. Salvini argued in closing that the jump was not reasonably safe and that the signage failed to warn of the specific hazard known to Ski Lifts. He did not contend that Ski Lifts was additionally liable on a separate failure-to-warn theory.

¶31 Ski Lifts introduced photographs of its warning signs into evidence, and the photos were shown to the jury. Ski Lifts employees Dan Brewster and Bryan Picard 10 testified regarding the location and content of the warning signs. Ski Lifts’ expert witness Elia Hamilton testified that the warning signs at the entrance of the terrain park were “absolutely” appropriate. Ski Lifts relied on the signage evidence to argue in closing that Salvini was adequately warned. 11 Ski Lifts also argued that it had no duty to post signs designating [*25] a starting point because that choice is part of the skier’s responsibility. “‘[P]rejudicial error occurs where the jury is instructed on an issue that lacks substantial evidence to support it.'” Manzanares v. Playhouse Corp., 25 Wn. App. 905, 910, 611 P.2d 797 (1980) (quoting Haynes v. Moore, 14 Wn. App. 668, 672, 545 P.2d 28 (1975)). There was ample evidence to support giving instruction 17. 12

10 Bryan Picard was employed by Ski Lifts at the time of Salvini’s accident, but no longer employed by Ski Lifts at the time of trial.

11 “Another part of the responsibility code, observe all posted signs and warnings. The information is there. We can’t make people read signs, we can’t make people do anything, these are choices. But the signs are there, and this is part of the skiers’ responsibility.” VRP (Apr. 4, 2007 A.M.) at 9.

12 To the extent Ski Lifts contends that instruction 15 in combination with instruction 17 presented a separate inadequate warning theory of liability, Ski Lifts’ failure to request a clarifying special verdict form requiring the jury to indicate which theories of liability the jury relied upon precludes it from raising such an argument on appeal. See Davis v. Microsoft Corp., 149 Wn.2d 521, 539-40, 70 P.3d 126 (2003).

¶32 Ski [*26] Lifts further contends that it had no duty to warn Salvini because he had used the jump before and was fully aware of its condition. This argument is not persuasive. Salvini’s previous use of the jump would not necessarily put him on notice that its design could increase the risk of severe injury from overshooting. Whether the jump’s deficiencies were “known and obvious” and whether Salvini should have anticipated the harm is a question of fact for the jury. Degel v. Majestic Mobile Manor, Inc., 129 Wn.2d 43, 54, 914 P.2d 728 (1996). The jury instructions properly allowed Ski Lifts to argue that the alleged defect was known or obvious, while also allowing Salvini to argue that it was not.

Evidence of Prior Accidents

¶33 Ski Lifts argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence and testimony regarding 15 prior incidents of overshooting the same jump at which Salvini was injured. The court ruled that these incident reports were not admissible “as substantive evidence of the existence of a dangerous condition,” but that they were sufficiently similar “to put Ski Lifts on notice of a potential defect to warrant further inquiry into the design of the jump, or the reasonableness [*27] of the signage in light of the multiple injuries caused as a result of overshooting the landing of the jump in question.” CP at 2635. Ski Lifts moved the court for a limiting instruction on the admission of prior incident reports. The trial court granted Ski Lifts’ motion and gave a limiting instruction.

Exhibits 154, 155, 160, 161, 163, 165, 166, 167, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175 and 176 are accident reports. These accident reports have been admitted into evidence for the limited purpose of showing that defendant had notice that people had overshot the landing of the jump on which the plaintiff was injured. You are not to infer anything beyond notice by admission of these prior accidents.

CP at 2672 (instruction 14).

¶34 “A trial court’s decision admitting or excluding evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion, which occurs only when the exercise of discretion is manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds or reasons.” Kimball v. Otis Elevator Co., 89 Wn. App. 169, 172-73, 947 P.2d 1275 (1997).

¶35 In a negligence case, other accidents and injuries are inadmissible to show a general lack of care or negligence, but may be admissible on other, more limited issues if the conditions [*28] are sufficiently similar and the actions are sufficiently numerous. 13 5 Karl B. Tegland, Washington Practice: Evidence § 402.11, at 304 (2007) (citing Panitz v. Orenge, 10 Wn. App. 317, 322, 518 P.2d 726 (1973)). Evidence of prior accidents which occurred under substantially similar circumstances is admissible for the purpose of demonstrating a dangerous condition or notice of a defect. Davis v. Globe Mach. Mfg. Co., 102 Wn.2d 68, 77, 684 P.2d 692 (1984). Turner v. City of Tacoma, 72 Wn.2d 1029, 1036, 435 P.2d 927 (1967).

13 Some courts have recently relaxed the substantial similarity requirement when the evidence is offered for the purpose of showing notice. 5 Tegland, supra, § 402.11 (Supp. 2008).

¶36 The admitted reports need not be identical, only substantially similar. See, e.g., Seay v. Chrysler Corp., 93 Wn.2d 319, 324, 609 P.2d 1382 (1980) (upholding admission of evidence of other accidents involving same type of car chassis); Blood v. Allied Stores Corp., 62 Wn.2d 187, 189, 381 P.2d 742 (1963) (upholding exclusion of reports that showed “no similarity”); Miller v. Staton, 58 Wn.2d 879, 884-85, 365 P.2d 333 (1961) (upholding admission of evidence of previous fights in a tavern); [*29] O’Dell v. Chi., Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pac. R.R.., 6 Wn. App. 817, 826, 496 P.2d 519 (1972) (upholding admission of evidence of other near-accidents at same railroad crossing).

¶37 Ski Lifts first argues that Salvini failed to establish that the prior incidents were substantially similar to his situation because 13 of the 15 incident reports involved snowboarders, not skiers, and because the two reports involving skiers occurred under different conditions. We disagree. The trial court rejected most of the 66 incident reports offered by Salvini because it found that they were not sufficiently similar, and it admitted only “[t]hose accident reports documenting an injury occurring as a result of overshooting the jump in question, on either skis or snowboards (which go slower than skis.) … .” CP at 2635. If overshooting was a problem for slower moving snowboarders, it is reasonable to expect it to be a problem for skiers as well. Admitting evidence of prior accidents that occurred at the same table top jump, whether they involved skiers or snowboarders, was not an abuse of discretion.

¶38 Ski Lifts argues that the trial court’s limiting instruction was a confusing and meaningless restriction on [*30] the use of the evidence. 14 But Ski Lifts did not assign error to this limiting instruction and has therefore waived any objection to it. 15 Barrett v. Lucky Seven Saloon, Inc., 152 Wn.2d 259, 281, 96 P.3d 386 (2004). Indeed, Ski Lifts asked the court to read the limiting instruction immediately before the prior incident evidence was presented to the jury and to include it among the court’s instructions to the jury. The court granted both requests.

14 Ski Lifts appears to challenge both the giving and the language of the limiting instruction. “A limiting instruction is available as a matter of right. If evidence is admissible only for a limited purpose and an appropriate limiting instruction is requested, the court may not refuse to give the instruction.” 5 Tegland, supra, § 105.2 (2007) (interpreting ER 105).

15 The limiting instruction requested and proposed by Ski Lifts contained a final sentence stating, “You are not to infer from these accident reports that the defendant was negligent.” CP at 2637. Salvini requested that the court remove that sentence and replace it with, “[Y]ou are not to infer anything beyond notice by admission of these prior accidents.” 1 Transcript of Proceedings (TR) (Mar. 12, 2007) at 28. [*31] The trial court agreed with Salvini and modified Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction accordingly. Ski Lifts did not object.

¶39 Ski Lifts argues that the prior incidents should not have been admitted for the purpose of notice, because it conceded that it was aware of overshooting incidents. “Evidence of similar accidents is inadmissible to prove notice, if there is no question that there was notice, or if notice is not a disputed issue in the case.” 5 Tegland, supra, at 306 (citing Hinkel v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 6 Wn. App. 548, 555-56, 494 P.2d 1008 (1972)); Porter v. Chicago, M., P. & P.R. Co., 41 Wn.2d 836, 842, 252 P.2d 306 (1953). We disagree.

[T]he fact that evidence is undisputed does not, alone, make the evidence inadmissible. Undisputed evidence may be valuable background information or other information that the jury, in fairness, ought to hear.

Thus, as a general rule, a party cannot frustrate the introduction of evidence by offering to stipulate to the underlying facts.

5 Tegland, supra, at 469. See, e.g., State v. Pirtle, 127 Wn.2d 628, 652, 904 P.2d 245 (1995); State v. Rice, 110 Wn.2d 577, 598-99, 757 P.2d 889 (1988); the plaintiff is not bound to stipulate to the issue unless its probative [*32] value is substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice. Pirtle, 127 Wn.2d at 653.

¶40 The issue in this case went beyond the mere fact that Ski Lifts had notice of overshooting. The prior incident reports were probative of the extent and nature of the notice, which went directly to the question of whether Ski Lifts met its duty of care based on what it knew. Salvini is not categorically bound from introducing evidence of substantially similar prior overshooting incidents merely because Ski Lifts admitted it knew that they were occurring.

¶41 Ski Lifts also contends that the evidence was not probative of notice of a design defect because overshooting incidents are common. But evidence of prior accidents goes directly to the issue of whether Ski Lifts exercised reasonable care in light of what it knew about the performance of this particular table top jump. Therefore, it had probative value.

¶42 Ski Lifts argues that the incident reports should have been excluded under ER 403, which provides that relevant evidence “may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury … .” The burden of showing prejudice [*33] is on the party seeking to exclude the evidence. Carson v. Fine, 123 Wn.2d 206, 225, 867 P.2d 610 (1994); 5 Tegland, supra, § 403.2 at 435.

[T]he exercise of discretion in balancing the danger of prejudice against the probative value of the evidence is a matter within the trial court’s discretion and should be overturned only if no reasonable person could take the view adopted by the trial court. A trial judge, not an appellate court, is in the best position to evaluate the dynamics of a jury trial and therefore the prejudicial effect of a piece of evidence.

State v. Posey, 161 Wn.2d 638, 648, 167 P.3d 560 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

¶43 Ski Lifts argues that any probative value was outweighed by the extreme prejudicial effect, because Salvini’s counsel and expert witnesses referenced the incident reports not just to demonstrate notice, but also to show that the jump was improperly designed and unreasonably dangerous. But although Ski Lifts lodged “a continuing objection regarding the accident reports,” 1 TR (Mar. 12, 2007) at 51, it never objected to Salvini’s closing argument or trial testimony that allegedly went beyond the limited purpose of notice. Rather, it raised this issue [*34] for the first time in its motion for a new trial. To challenge a trial court’s admission of evidence on appeal, a party must raise a timely and specific objection at trial. State v. Gray, 134 Wn. App. 547, 557, 138 P.3d 1123 (2006), review denied, 160 Wn.2d 1008 (2007). ?To be timely, the party must make the objection at the earliest possible opportunity after the basis for the objection becomes apparent.” Id. at 557 n.27. By failing to object at trial, a party waives any claim that the evidence was erroneously admitted. ER 103(a)(1); State v. Warren, 134 Wn. App. 44, 57-58, 138 P.3d 1081 (2006), review granted, 161 Wn.2d 1001 (2007).

¶44 Because Ski Lifts did not timely object to the improper argument and testimony, Ski Lifts waives any challenge to it now on appeal. “‘The purpose of a motion in limine is to dispose of legal matters so counsel will not be forced to make comments in the presence of the jury which might prejudice his presentation.'” State v. Sullivan, 69 Wn. App. 167, 170-71, 847 P.2d 953 (1993) (quoting State v. Kelly, 102 Wn.2d 188, 193, 685 P.2d 564 (1984)). But when a party who prevails on a motion in limine later suspects a violation of that ruling, that party has a [*35] duty to bring the violation to the court’s attention to allow the court to decide what remedy, if any, to direct. A.C. ex rel Cooper v. Bellingham Sch. Dist., 125 Wn. App. 511, 525, 105 P.3d 400 (2004). As one court explained,

[W]here the evidence has been admitted notwithstanding the trial court’s prior exclusionary ruling, the complaining party [is] required to object in order to give the trial court the opportunity of curing any potential prejudice. Otherwise, we would have a situation fraught with a potential for serious abuse. A party so situated could simply lie back, not allowing the trial court to avoid the potential prejudice, gamble on the verdict, and then seek a new trial on appeal.

Sullivan, 69 Wn. App. at 172.

¶45 Here, while the court ruled that Salvini would be allowed to present evidence of prior incidents for the limited issue of notice, Ski Lifts was still required to object when Salvini’s counsel elicited improper testimony in violation of the motion in limine so the court could attempt to cure any resulting prejudice. By failing to do so, Ski Lifts waived review of this issue. In addition, Ski Lifts’ nonspecific continuing objection was insufficient to preserve the issue [*36] for appellate review. State v. Boast, 87 Wn.2d 447, 451, 553 P.2d 1322 (1976); State v. Saunders, 132 Wn. App. 592, 607, 132 P.3d 743 (2006).

¶46 Ski Lifts further contends that the evidence was prejudicial because the jury might have improperly punished Ski Lifts for being a bad actor or improperly inferred that the jump must have been defective. We disagree. As discussed above, Ski Lifts successfully moved for a limiting instruction, which was read to the jury at the time the evidence was presented and was included in the court’s instructions to the jury. “A jury is presumed to follow the court’s instructions and that presumption will prevail until it is overcome by a showing otherwise.” Carnation Co. v. Hill, 115 Wn.2d 184, 187, 796 P.2d 416 (1990) (curative instructions); see also State v. Lough, 125 Wn.2d 847, 864, 889 P.2d 487 (1995) (limiting instructions). And the trial court also instructed the jury in instruction 1 that “[i]t is your duty to decide the facts of the case based on the evidence presented to you during this trial” and that “[y]ou must not let your emotions overcome your rational thought process. You must reach your decision based on the facts proved to you and on [*37] the law given to you, not on sympathy, bias, or personal preference.” CP at 2657-59. Therefore, Ski Lifts’ arguments that the jury might have misused the evidence or that it might have improperly punished Ski Lifts are purely speculative.

¶47 In sum, we conclude that the jury instructions accurately stated the law, were not misleading, allowed Ski Lifts to argue its theory of the case, and were supported by substantial evidence. We further conclude that the prior incident reports were properly admitted. Accordingly, we affirm.

Cox and Appelwick, JJ., concur.

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Decision explains the liability in New Hampshire of a land owner allowing kids to sled on their land

Reed v. National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 2010 DNH 18; 706 F. Supp. 2d 180; 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9236

Decision was a rare case were lawsuit was not brought until after the injured minorHistory of the Boy Scouts of America reached age 18

In this decision, the plaintiff was an 11-year-old Boy Scout a camping trip. During the camp out the trip went sledding on a hill at a local Boy Scout Council camp. The

camp was not owned by a council that was not the chartering council of the scout troop. While sledding, the boys built a jump. Around lunch time the adult leaders left to go prepare lunch leaving the scouts unattended.

The court noted that this was in violation of the Guide to Safe Scouting, a set of procedures developed by the BSA to keep kids safer. (Safer, kids get hurt, it is part of growing up.)

The plaintiff sued the council that owned the camp, Boston Minuteman Council, the landowner and the National Council, BSA. The National Council grants charters to local groups, councils in a specific geographic area to offer the Scouting program to youth in their area. The local council, in this case Daniel Webster Council issued a charter to the group of parents who ran the troop the plaintiff was part of.

The court took note of the fact that neither volunteers scoutmasters nor the local council Daniel Webster Council.

The plaintiff was only 11 and the youngest scout on the camp out. He had watched other scouts go over the jump and fall. He had gone over the jump once when the scoutmaster was present and fell on his back but did not suffer any injuries. After the adult, volunteers left the area the plaintiff went over the jump again breaking his leg.

Summary of the case

The case has two major parts in the decision. The first is the decision over the land owner’s liability. The second is a motion in limine over the future or potential earnings and medical bills of the plaintiff. For the purpose of this article, the second part of the discussion will be ignored because it is not relevant.

The first point of interest in this decision is one sentence. The plaintiff did not sue until after he had turned age 18. Under the law a minor, someone under the age of 18 can sue by and through their parents in most states, any time after their injury, or they can wait until they turn age 18 and sue then. The parental lawsuit has a statute of limitation, in NH two years, because it is an adult suit on behalf of the minor child. The minor child when he reaches the age of majority, 18, then also has two years to sue after turning age 18.

The defendant land owner filed this motion for summary judgment based on the New Hampshire Recreational Use statute and fact the risk was an open and obvious danger.

The New Hampshire recreational use statute protects land owners from lawsuits brought by people who are using the land for free. The exception to the rule is if the injury to the plaintiff was caused intentionally by the land owner.

508:14  Landowner Liability Limited.

I. An owner, occupant, or lessee of land, including the state or any political subdivision, who without charge permits any person to use land for recreational purposes or as a spectator of recreational activity, shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage in the absence of intentionally caused injury or damage.

II. Any individual, corporation, or other nonprofit legal entity, or any individual who performs services for a nonprofit entity, that constructs, maintains, or improves trails for public recreational use shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage in the absence of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

III. An owner of land who permits another person to gather the produce of the land under pick-your-own or cut-your-own arrangements, provided said person is not an employee of the landowner and notwithstanding that the person picking or cutting the produce may make remuneration for the produce to the landowner, shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage to any person in the absence of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by such owner.

The plaintiff argued the defendant land owner should be held liable because only scouts were allowed on the land; therefore, the land was not open to the public, part of the statute. Court held that the statute had latitude or a land owner would lose all control over his or her land. The court held that the landowner could not be held liable because it was protected by the New Hampshire recreational sue statute.

The second defense brought by the landowner was the “open and obvious” defense.

“a defendant generally has no duty to warn and instruct a plaintiff of obvious dangers about which the plaintiff’s knowledge and appreciation equal the defendant’s.”

The “open and obvious” defense is similar to an assumption of risk defense. If you can see or understand the dangerous situation on the land, then the landowner has no duty to warn you of the dangers.

The open and obvious defense requires that the dangerous condition be recognizable by the reasonable person. In the case of a minor the reasonable person test is changed to a reasonable person of the same age, intelligence and experience. A jump created by the other youth would have been obvious to the plaintiff even at age 11. Jumps are made to throw people into the air. Many courts have found that sledding and snowboarding over jumps is something a person of the plaintiff’s age, intelligence and experience should recognize so the court found that the defendant did not owe a duty to warn of the dangers of sledding or snowboarding over a jump.

So Now What?

This is an interesting and odd case. Not suing the local council or the scoutmasters is confusing. Waiting until the plaintiff turned 18 is even more confusing.

However, you can gain a few things from this case.

1.      If you are a volunteer unit leader understand the rules by which the parent organization expects you to operate and do not violate those rules.

2.    If you are a landowner who knows that people use your land for free without charging them for it, do two things.

a.     Make sure your state recreational use statute is broad enough to protect you from litigation.

b.    Make sure your liability policy provides you with coverage for allowing people to use your land.

Please, do NOT stop people from using your land, Please!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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