Yulissa Rodriguez v. Brownstone Exploration & Discover Park, LLC
SUPERIOR COURT OF CONNECTICUT, JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF FAIRFIELD AT BRIDGEPORT
2017 Conn. Super. LEXIS 844
May 4, 2017, Decided
May 4, 2017, Filed
NOTICE: THIS DECISION IS UNREPORTED AND MAY BE SUBJECT TO FURTHER APPELLATE REVIEW. COUNSEL IS CAUTIONED TO MAKE AN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION OF THE STATUS OF THIS CASE.
CORE TERMS: special defenses, assumption of risk, inherent risks, abolished, own negligence, contractual, legal sufficiency, risks inherent, relieve, legal doctrine, legally insufficient, duty of care, present case, statutory prohibition, legislatively, conceptually, exculpatory, sustaining, pre-injury, favorable, releasing, struck, admit, risky, participating
JUDGES: [*1] Edward T., Krumeich, J.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Plaintiff Yulissa Rodriguez has moved to strike the First and Second Special Defenses in the answer of defendant Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park, LLC, arguing that they are barred under C.G.S. §52-572h(l), which provides: “[t]he legal doctrine . . . of . . . assumption of risk in actions to which this section is applicable [is] abolished.” Plaintiff asserts that the special defenses that are labeled “Waiver” and “Release” are, in actuality, based on assumption of risk because they purport to relieve defendant of liability for risks inherent in the activity, which by statute is not a valid defense in this negligence action. For the reasons stated below, the motion to strike the First and Second Special Defenses is denied.
Standards for Deciding a Motion to Strike Special Defenses
“‘A party wanting to contest the legal sufficiency of a special defense may do so by filing a motion to strike.’ Barasso v. Rear Still Hill Road, LLC, 64 Conn.App. 9, 13, 779 A.2d 198 (2001); Practice Book §10-39(a).2 ‘A motion to strike admits all facts well pleaded; it does not admit legal conclusions or the truth or accuracy of opinions stated in the pleadings.’ . . . Faulkner v. United Technologies Corp., 240 Conn. 576, 588, 693 A.2d 293 (1997). ‘In ruling on a motion to strike, the court must accept as true the facts alleged in the special defenses and [*2] construe them in the manner most favorable to sustaining their legal sufficiency.’ . . . Doe v. Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 317 Conn. 357, 398, 119 A.3d 462 (2015). ‘On the other hand, the total absence of any factual allegations specific to the dispute renders [a special defense] legally insufficient.’ . . . Smith v. Jackson, Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury, Docket No. CV-14-6024411-S (August 21, 2015, Roraback, J.) (59 Conn. L. Rptr. 864, 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2191). Finally, ‘the trial court is limited to considering the grounds specified in the motion [to strike].’ Meredith v. Police Commission, 182 Conn. 138, 140, 438 A.2d 27 (1980).” Pritsker v. Bowman, 2017 Conn. Super. LEXIS 190, 2017 WL 811609 *2 (Conn.Super. 2017) (Bellis, J.).
The Court May Not Review Material Outside the Pleading in Deciding a Motion to Strike
Plaintiff urged the court to consider the quoted excerpts from the contract alleged in the special defenses in the context of the entire contract, which plaintiff appended to her brief. In ruling on a motion to strike a court is required “to take the facts to be those alleged in the special defenses in the manner most favorable to sustaining their legal sufficiency.” Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Douglas, 221 Conn. 530, 536, 606 A.2d 684 (1992). The Court is not free to consider those portions of the contract that are not alleged nor attached as an exhibit to the answer. See generally Mercer v. Cosley, 110 Conn.App. 283, 292, 955 A.2d 550 (2008) (speaking motion to strike is improper).
The First Special Defense States the Defense of Waiver
In this action plaintiff claimed she was injured while using [*3] a rope swing at defendant’s park. Both sides referred the Court to Segal v. Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, LLC, 2014 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1183, 2014 WL 2696775 *2 (Conn.Super. 2014) (Roche, J.), a similar case brought against the same defendant in which Judge Roche struck a special defense based on assumption of risk: “‘[T]he doctrine [of assumption of risk] was a product of the industrial revolution, designed to insulate employers to the greatest possible extent by defeating the claims of their injured workers.’ Donahue v. S.J. Fish & Sons, Inc., Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. CV-539920-S (September 18, 1995, Blue, J.) (15 Conn. L. Rptr. 569, 570, 1995 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2618) [1995 WL 562216]. ‘Traditionally, the doctrine provided a defendant with a complete defense to a claim of negligence that centered on the conduct of the plaintiff . . . [T]he assumption of risk variants fall generally into two separate categories: (1) a negligence defense that the plaintiff’s conduct operated so as to relieve the defendant of a duty of care with regard to the plaintiff; and (2) a negligence defense that, while conceding that the defendant owed a duty of care and breached that duty, precludes recovery by the plaintiff because the plaintiff was aware of the defendant’s negligence and the risk thereby created, but nevertheless chose to confront such risk.’ . . . Blondin v. Meshack, Superior Court, [*4] judicial district of New Haven, Docket No. CV-08-5018828-S (October 2, 2008, Lager, J.) [46 Conn. L. Rptr. 396, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2512] [2008 WL 4635882]. However, “[t]he harsh doctrine . . . is plainly `morally unacceptable’ in modern times . . . The majority of states have altered or abolished it, either legislatively or by judicial decision . . . [T]he Connecticut legislature has statutorily abolished the doctrine in negligence cases.” Donahue v. S.J. Fish & Sons, Inc., supra, 15 Conn. L. Rptr. at 570, 1995 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2618. General Statutes §52-572h(l) states: “The legal doctrines of last clear chance and assumption of risk in actions to which this section is applicable are abolished.” In the present case, accordingly, the defendant’s second special defense is legally insufficient because the doctrine of assumption of the risk has been legislatively abolished with regard to negligence claims. The plaintiffs’ motion to strike the defendant’s second special defense is, therefore, granted.”
Defendant has not asserted a defense of assumption of risk, but rather alleged that plaintiff signed a document entitled “Assumption of Risk, Release of Liability, Waiver of Claims & Arbitration Agreement” in which “the plaintiff agreed to waive all claims against [defendant] . . . arising out of the inherent risks of participating in programs and events operated by [defendant] . . .”1 The First Special Defense alleged [*5] “[a]ny injuries sustained by the plaintiff while using the ‘Blob’ activity at [defendant] . . . arose out of the inherent risks of this activity.”
1 This is a classic contract of adhesion that is not bargained for but accepted by the consumer as a condition for his or her participation in the activity. Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 328-29, 333, 885 A.2d 734 (2005).
“Waiver is the voluntary relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege.” Brown v. City of Hartford, 160 Conn.App. 677, 698, 127 A.3d 278 (2015). See also Benedetto v. Proprietors of the Commons at Mill River, Inc., 2014 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2322, 2014 WL 5356665 *8 (Conn.Super. 2014) (Vitale, J.), contractual waiver as special defense).
Connecticut courts have recognized that pre-injury waiver as a defense to a claim based on inherent risks from an activity is not the same as a waiver of a claim of defendant’s own negligence. See e.g., Hanks, 276 Conn. at 326, 335; Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts of Connecticut, Inc., 265 Conn. 636, 643-44, 829 A.2d 827 (2003). In Hyson, the Supreme Court distinguished between release of liability for risks inherent in an activity and exculpation of a party’s own negligence:
In keeping with the well-established principle, however, that `[t]he law does not favor contract provisions which relieve a person from his own negligence’ . . . we conclude that the better rule is that a party cannot be released from liability for injuries resulting from its future negligence in the absence of language that expressly so provides. The release signed in the present case illustrates the need for such a rule. A person of ordinary intelligence reasonably could believe that, by signing this release, he or she was releasing the defendant only [*6] from liability for damages caused by dangers inherent in the activity of snow tubing. A requirement of express language releasing the defendant from liability for its negligence prevents individuals from inadvertently relinquishing valuable legal rights.
In Jagger v. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, Inc., 269 Conn. 672, 687-88, 849 A.2d 813 & nn. 17-22 (2004), the Supreme Court differentiated between pre-injury release from inherent risks of an activity, defined by reference to a dictionary definition of “inherent” as “structural or involved in the constitution or essential character of something,” from release of negligence that involves the exercise of some control over the activity and/or conditions by defendant. In Hanks, 276 Conn. at 741, the Supreme Court cited the definition of inherent risk in Jagger, 269 Conn. at 692: “inherent risks . . . are innate to the activity, [and] ‘are beyond the control of the [recreational] operator’s exercise of reasonable care.'”
In Segal, 2014 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1183, 2014 WL 2696775 *8, the same court that had struck the assumption of risk special defense, declined to strike the waiver special defense; the court assumed the allegation that plaintiff had waived risks inherent in the activity was true as alleged, and concluded that the provision was exculpatory because it expressly included defendant’s negligence. [*7]
The language of the waiver provision here is limited to “the inherent risks of this activity” and is not broad enough to exculpate defendant for its own negligence. A contractual waiver of liability for inherent risks from an activity is not conceptually the same thing as assumption of risk from participation in a risky activity. Defendant has failed to show that the waiver special defense is the same as the assumption of risk defense abolished by C.G.S. §52-572h(l). Stated otherwise, defendant has failed to show the statutory prohibition extended to waiver by contract. The motion to strike the First Special Defense is denied.
The Second Special Defense States the Defense of Release
The Segal Court also refused to strike the release defense for the same reasons it did not strike the waiver special defense. 2014 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1183, 2014 WL 2696775 *8. The release special defense here also alleges the contractual release “arising out of the inherent risks of participation in the Programs . . .”2 A contractual release of liability for inherent risks from an activity is not conceptually the same thing as assumption of risk from participation in a risky activity. Defendant has failed to show that the release special defense is the same as the assumption [*8] of risk defense abolished by C.G.S. §52-572h(l). Stated otherwise, defendant has failed to show the statutory prohibition extended to releases by contract. The motion to strike the Second Special Defense is denied.
2 This may be an exculpatory provision since it includes “the instruction received while participating in the Programs,” which is subject to control of the operator. Plaintiff has not moved to strike on this ground.