Avoiding a Lawsuit: Deal with your guest’s problems, don’t pass the buck to someone who can only create a lawsuit.

As you prepare for the upcoming season, checking each piece of equipment and training staff, your personal pre-season checklist needs to be updated: how will you handle an emergency? Each member of your staff must be prepared, trained in First Aid and CPR and know how to respond to a crisis. But are you prepared for the responsibilities of making sure an injured guest will not sue you?

As you prepare for the upcoming season, checking each piece of equipment and training your staff, your personal pre-season checklist needs to be updated: how will you handle an emergency? Each member of your staff must be prepared, trained in First Aid and CPR and know how to respond to a crisis. But are you prepared for the responsibilities of making sure an injured guest will not sue you? This article will probably be the exact opposite of how you have approached problems in the past. I suggest, however, that you read and think, and then call your insurance agent.

Most times, we, the soon-to-be-defendant, place the idea of a lawsuit in the mind of an injured party. I was once involved in a lawsuit that started when the defendant called the plaintiff and offered to settle the lawsuit. The plaintiff hadn’t started a lawsuit, but like everyone today, had threatened to get an attorney. Because the defendant believed he had a lawsuit, the plaintiff called an attorney, and a lawsuit was started. Too often, we have been trained by our auto insurance cards to say nothing, get names and addressees, and tell the injured parties that our insurance companies or adjusters will call. Try this test. Get your staff together and ask them to say the first word that comes to mind after you say adjuster, settlement, claim, or insurance company. Eventually, the words remind them of money. We have, by following the advice of our insurance carriers, put the idea of money into the minds of injured parties.

By immediately bringing in third parties to handle problems, we remove the caring attitude on which the outdoor industry was founded and bring in strangers to handle a problem. Our care for the environment and its relationship with human’s dissolves when a human is injured by or in the environment. The majority of people that sue over an injury do not want money; they want their problems taken care of. Think about the last car accident you were involved in. Did you want a check or did you want your car fixed? If the inconvenience you encounter is eliminated, and you are returned to your situation prior to the accident, you won’t worry about the accident or getting money. Our first goal should be to place people in the position they were in before they were injured, not with money, but with the ability to get along, get well, and get back to the program.

How often do we shun an injured guest? Don’t shun them, get them back. Fulfill your commitment to provide them with the adventure and the relationship your course or brochure promised. This effort to bring back an injured participant will bring additional rewards.

When a guest is injured on a trip, he/she is dealing with an instructor and organization that he/she knows and trusts. The guests won’t worry about money. Put yourself in an injured party’s place. Who would you rather deal with, the guide and company with whom you have spent four days and have gotten to know and trust, or an adjuster that you don’t know? How would you feel if the people with whom you have just spent time building trust disappear? Don’t disappear.

Try this. When someone gets hurt, call your insurance agent, notify your attorney, and go to the hospital to tell them you are sorry that their vacation was ruined. Ask them if there is anything they need. Help them arrange special transportation home. Help them get back into the program or catch up with the trip. Give them a rain check, ask them to come back and use it, send them flowers, and help them get well. Double check their insurance form with the information from their medical release form (Outdoor Network, Winter 1990, Volume 1, Issue 8), make sure the deductible is covered under your liability med-pay, and help them recover. Why should they sue you? You are now a friend helping them, not someone who disappeared when the injury occurred to be replaced by a clipboard-carrying adjuster.

When you get mad at a friend, what do you feel? Anger. When you get mad at someone, you don’t know, you get an attorney. Prevent the lawsuit from arising by making an injured guest comfortable, make them like you, keep the adjuster who only talks money out of the equation. Insurance companies can only pay; they can’t eliminate the emotional problems. You can.

Too often, we are afraid of saying anything, for fear that it will come back and haunt us in a courtroom. That fear alienates us from someone we just spent days trying to get to know. We have to know our guests to help them get the most from the experience, and yet we run for cover when they get injured. A rafting company had an attorney that was injured on a rafting trip. The attorney was air-lifted out of the canyon and taken to the hospital. the staff visit her and made her hospital stay more comfortable. For the price of some flowers, and the time it cost to stop by and say hello before and after work, they made a friend. The attorney walked back into the canyon after she got well and rejoined the trip. She never sued.

The rafting company took a potentially devastating incident and turned it into a minor incident. Also, it was probably great advertising: “The trip was rough and exciting. I was injured, and the staff was super. I even hiked back in order to rejoin the trip.”

Clearing this with your insurance company will be the biggest hurdle. Walking into a hospital room and showing someone, you care will remind you of the first time you strapped on a climbing harness. Some of my clients and I have developed a program with the insurance companies that makes them less concerned. After an accident occurs, the insured, the insurance company, and I get on the phone and plan a procedure for helping the insured. Coverage is reviewed, and limits are set on the amount of money to be spent in covering the insured’s expenses and my fees. The insurance company is not left in the dark, and the insured knows that we are only a phone call away to answer questions and provide support. Call your insurance agent and find out how they feel about a program like this.

Next time one of your guests is injured, think about how they feel. They are probably a long way from home, alone, in a strange hospital. How much better would you feel if someone stopped by once in a while and asked about you? How more secure would you be if you knew you could call someone and ask them to pick up another book for you on their way home from work? How mad could you get if they sympathized with your injury, wanted you to get well, and wanted you to come back and see them again?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Family of slain girl would waive damages to learn more about what happened

Lawsuits are not money a lot of the time; they are about emotions, finding out why.

This is outside the area of Outdoor Recreation; however it has value to all of us. The family of a girl killed by a gunman in school has offered to waive damages if they can learn more about what happened.

It is a scary, chilling terrible story, but what is important is why this offer. They just want to know why and to try and make sure it does not happen again.

See Father of Claire Davis to district: Provide information, avoid lawsuit

More articles about this issue:

It’s Not Money                                                    http://rec-law.us/zxmmqy

Why do people sue? Not for the money.                 http://rec-law.us/A0866T

Serious Disconnect: Why people sue.                      http://rec-law.us/wm2cBn

Her life is permanently changed, but she really wants an apology       http://rec-law.us/yHjVn0

Money is important in some lawsuits, but the emotions that starts a lawsuit. http://rec-law.us/xbSs4M

A Church wants to apologize and the insurance company for the church panics. What else would you expect a church to do?                          http://rec-law.us/zI0FUI

Great article on why some corporate apologies fall short and they are not sincere                                                        http://rec-law.us/xb1uVb

Keep customers and turn possible plaintiffs into PR teams for you       http://rec-law.us/12maA6Q

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Strava wins lawsuit claim it was responsible for cyclist death

Hopefully, Strava can receive sanctions for defending against this stupid suit.

Background:

Strava is an online website where cyclists and/or runners can post their ride/run information, track changes, share their ride/run information and on certain sections of the country be rated as the “king” of the section. The plaintiff was king of the mountain which is the shortest amount of time to climb and descend.

The plaintiff lost his ranking as king of a mountain. He was attempting to regain this title when he was struck and killed by a car.

His family filed suit claim that Strava was liable.

Stupid right!

Strava filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the court. Simply, the deceased assumed the risk of his injuries, or in this case, the plaintiff assumed the risk of his death. “Plaintiff’s claim is precluded as a matter of law because Mr. Flint impliedly assumed the risks of bicycling…” and “that the defendant (Strava) has shown that bicycling is an inherent risky activity.”

As part of its defense, Strava countersued the plaintiffs. I was never able to find a specific statement as to the claims of the countersuit. The status of those claims is unknown. However, I hope they are still alive and Strava can recover its costs and attorney’s fees for defending this action.

This from a guy who hates lawsuits, but once in a while, for both sides, it should be done.

See Strava wins dismissal of civil suit over Berkeley deathor One-year-old lawsuit against Strava dismissed

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A default judgment does not mean you won, it means the other side lost

Whenever you see someone touting their win with a default, they are manipulating the

Differenty colored cycling jerseys as used in ...

system.

Lately, a lot of press releases and articles have been written about “winning” lawsuits when the other side does not show up. Nobody won a lawsuit in that situation; the

other side lost. You only win when you can present your evidence to a court of law AND rebut the evidence presented by your opponent.

Failing to appear may mean you lost the lawsuit; it may also mean you don’t want to spend the money in a case you can’t win. (See Lance Armstrong not arbitrating.) It may mean that the cost of winning or defending is more than the other side can win or that the winning side can never get its money. (See Floyd Landis and the UCI.)Lance Armstrong

It does not mean that the person who shows up to court, and wins does not win as much as it does not support all the allegations, statements and their positions. Nor does it mean that the loser admits to everything the winner is now proclaiming.

It’s understandable to the masses, but crap JOURNALISTS SHOULD FIGURE THIS OUT and write what really occurred, not just what the winning press release says.

Hint Hint Velonews and BRAIN and CyclingNews.com

At the same time, if you are sued, show up and fight. In the US, in a courtroom, you have a fair chance if you have any defense and if nothing else you can probablyLandis at the 2006 Tour of California

negotiate a lower amount to what you may owe. Arbitration where the other side makes the rules, foreign courts that can never come back to the US to get anything, smile and have a beer.

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You cannot answer a question by filing a lawsuit.

Man suing for answers on how his wife died.

Here is the quote from the article: “Grieving husband Colin Cross is taking legal action in his quest for answers as to how his wife died in Mexico

Arch of Cabo San Lucas

Arch of Cabo San Lucas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

earlier this month.”

A San Diego attorney suing a Mexican company for a Canadian. That set of circumstances alone will probably prevent any real resolution. On top of that, how are you going to collect from a Mexican defendant.

Finally, lawsuits don’t answer questions. Lawsuits move money around.

See Man takes legal action in wife’s Mexico scuba death

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Jurisdiction in Massachusetts allows a plaintiff to bring in Salomon France to the local court.

Lafond v. Salomon North America Inc. et al, Superior Court County of Suffolk, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Although not a Precedent setting decision, it is indicative of where the courts are going.

This is a decision in the trial court of Massachusetts over ski bindings. The bindings broke injuring the plaintiff while he was skiing in Utah. He sued Salomon in the US and Salomon SAS, the French parent company based on Annecy France. The retailer, Bob Smith’s Wilderness House was brought in as a third party defendant.

The defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, or what is referred to as a Rule 12(b)(2) motion. A Motion to Dismiss is granted only if the pleadings of the plaintiff do not state a legal claim or the defendant can’t be sued in this case. No evidence is reviewed by the court; it is purely a simple legal argument based on the laws of procedure.

Salomon SAS argued that it had no business in France, did no business in any country other than with Salomon North America based in Ogden Utah. Therefore, because it did no business in Massachusetts, it should not be brought into the litigation in Massachusetts.

So?

English: Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Image via Wikipedia

The plaintiff claimed it went to the Salomon SAS website to research different bindings. The Salomon SAS website directed the plaintiff to the third party defendant Bob Smith’s Wilderness House as a retailer the plaintiff could from whom he could purchase the bindings.

The broken bindings were replaced by Salomon, although it is not known in the motion if it was Salmon SAS or Salomon North America.

The issue is whether court has the legal right to require a defendant to submit to its jurisdiction. The limits or requirements the court must follow are set usually set out in a long-arm  statute. That is the name given to the statute that controls whether the long arm of the law can extend outside of the state.

To exercise out of state jurisdiction over a defendant located in another state or country the defendant must have engaged in “purposeful and successful solicitation of business from Massachusetts residents.”

A website alone is not enough to bring a foreign or out of court defendant into the jurisdiction of a Massachusetts court. However, because the plaintiff identified the store where he purchased the bindings based on his actions on the Salomon SAS website that was enough to subject the foreign defendant to the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts court.

There are numerous other tests the court must review to subject a foreign business the jurisdiction of the court. However, this one act of directing the plaintiff to a local retailer was enough to subject the defendant to the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts court.

So Now What?

This is a crap decision. When a website brings you into court, a website alone, the purpose of long arm statutes has faded considerably.

However, this is just the first step in a long line of steps before the case is decided. Rarely is a Rule 12(b)(2) motion granted. Motions for Summary Judgment, other defense motions and a trial are all next, then appeals. Hopefully, an appellate court will look at this say the original decision must be overturned.

What can you do? In this case, maybe not a lot can be done, but there are something’s that might assist in some circumstances.

In every sale or contract, put into the agreement a jurisdiction and indemnification clause. You can use them in retail sales agreements with consumers, to some extent.

You also might consider an indemnification agreement between your US based distributor and yourself if you are a foreign, non US based, manufacture. The agreement would say that you would be 100% indemnified for any US based lawsuits, other than product recalls. This might encourage US plaintiff’s not to drag you into a US court.

Make sure your agreement with your US based distributor is not a big target for lawsuits. Identify when the inventory transfers to the US subsidiary and when payment is owed for the inventory.

Set up a defense program with your US Distributor, Reps and all retailers. The program should incorporate the use of a release. The program should make sure three things happen to help eliminate several of the issues in this case.

1.       It requires the use of a release by all parties at all times. You can even put one on your website. Releases are not 100% effective in product liability cases, but their jurisdiction and venue clauses may at least get the suit back to your home state.

2.      The agreement identifies who shall be protected who and for what reasons. The manufacture of a product in a product liability claim is going to be holding the bag in most cases so this is not a big deal. More importantly it keeps the retailer in your camp in litigation and prevents the embarrassment of brining in the retailer as a third party defendant, making them mad and making you look bad, that occurred in this case.

3.      It requires the retailer to notify you immediately of any problems so you can get ahead of the curve.

4.      It puts you in control of your litigation destiny and makes you look like the good guy when you are sued to all distributors and retailers in the industry.

For more cases on Jurisdiction and Venue see:

The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers

Four releases signed and all of them thrown out because they lacked one simple sentence!

A Recent Colorado Supreme Court Decision lowers the requirements to be brought into the state to defend a lawsuit.

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Lucas v Norton Pines Athletic Club, Inc., 2010 Mich. App. LEXIS 1066

Lucas v Norton Pines Athletic Club, Inc., 2010 Mich. App. LEXIS 1066

 

Clinton Lucas and Robyn Lucas, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v Norton Pines Athletic Club, Inc., and David Swinburne, Defendants-Appellees.

 

No. 289685

 

Court of Appeals of Michigan

 

2010 Mich. App. LEXIS 1066

 

 

June 10, 2010, 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.

 

PRIOR HISTORY:  [*1]

Muskegon Circuit Court. LC No. 08-45745-NO.

 

CORE TERMS: misconduct, reckless, climbing, eye contact, recreational activity, climber, ordinary negligence, climb, auto-belay, protocol, harness, general negligence, wilful, posted, rock, assumption of risk, wanton negligence, negligence claims, citation omitted, co-participant, coparticipant, indifference, recklessness, casts, Climbing Wall Rules, acknowledgement, initiating, routine, tether, staff

 

JUDGES: Before: OWENS, P.J., and O’CONNELL and TALBOT, JJ.

 

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

Plaintiffs appeal as of right from the grant of summary disposition in favor of defendants pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). We affirm.

This appeal arises from an accident that occurred at defendant Norton Pines Athletic Club (hereinafter “the Club”). Plaintiff Clinton Lucas (hereinafter “plaintiff”) suffered injuries after falling approximately 20 feet from the Club’s indoor rock climbing wall. At the time of the accident David Swinburne, an employee of the club, was monitoring the climbing wall.

When initiating their membership with the Club, plaintiffs executed a Participant Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement that provided, in relevant part, for a “release and . . . discharge” of the Club and its employees from any claims of injury “which may occur from any cause during such participation and/or use of the facilities.” The Release also included a specific acknowledgement that the member assumed the risk of participation in activities at the Club. However, the Release specifically did not cover claims “arising from the willful or wanton negligence of Norton Pines Athletic  [*2] Club or its officers, agents, or employees.” In addition before engaging in climbing of the rock wall, each member of the Club was required to execute a Climbing Wall Release of Liability, which also included an acknowledgement regarding the assumption of risk of the member in participating in this activity and discharged the Club and its employees “from any and all claims, demands, actions, or causes of action on account of injury or death to myself . . . which may occur from any cause during such participation and/or use of the facilities.” The Club also posted Climbing Wall Rules and Regulations, which required each member climbing the rock wall to wear a harness that must be attached with metal carabiners to tethers that descend from an auto-belay, or safety mechanism, which are secured to the wall. A climber’s release of his or her grip from the climbing wall engages the auto-belay mechanism, which serves to lower the climber in a slow and safe manner to the ground. The Club’s posted Climbing Wall Rules require that “[o]nly a Norton Pines staff member is allowed to hook and unhook climber to and from the belay,” and “[o]nly a Norton Pines staff is allowed to check the safety of  [*3] equipment after it is put on.”

Plaintiff was an experienced climber and had developed a routine or practice with Swinburne that would permit plaintiff to secure his own clip onto the harness and ascend the wall after making eye contact with Swinburne to visually verify that plaintiff’s harness was properly attached to the auto-belay system. On the day of plaintiff’s fall, he and Swinburne had followed this routine a number of times. However, on his last climb, plaintiff ascended the wall without clipping the harness to the auto-belay system or making eye contact with Swinburne to indicate that he was initiating his climb. Swinburne was in the vicinity, but reading a magazine when plaintiff commenced his climb. Plaintiff lost his grip on the wall and, without attachment to the safety mechanism, fell approximately 20 feet to the ground, incurring injuries.

Plaintiffs filed suit against both Swinburne and the Club alleging several counts of general negligence and reckless misconduct. Defendants sought summary disposition, pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7) and (C)(8), arguing there was no genuine issue of material fact based on plaintiff’s assumption of risk and the execution of valid releases  [*4] and waivers. The trial court initially granted summary disposition only on plaintiffs’ general negligence claims and denied defendants’ request for the dismissal of plaintiffs’ reckless misconduct claim. On reconsideration the trial court subsequently dismissed plaintiffs’ reckless misconduct claim and this appeal ensued.

Initially, we note that the various waivers and releases signed by plaintiffs precluded his claims of ordinary negligence. Specifically, “A contractual waiver of liability also serves to insulate against ordinary negligence, but not gross negligence.” Xu v Gay, 257 Mich App 263, 269; 668 NW2d 166 (2003), citing Lamp v Reynolds, 249 Mich App 591, 594; 645 NW2d 311 (2002). Notably, the various releases signed by plaintiffs indicate a waiver of liability for general negligence but not “willful or wanton negligence” or misconduct, which is defined in case law as being established “if the conduct alleged shows an intent to harm or, if not that, such indifference to whether harm will result as to be the equivalent of a willingness that it does.Xu, 257 Mich App at 269 n 3 (citation omitted).

Plaintiffs have pleaded only general negligence and reckless misconduct. On appeal,  [*5] plaintiffs do not challenge the dismissal of their general negligence claims but assert error in the trial court’s grant of summary disposition on their claim of reckless misconduct. Plaintiffs contend that the trial court erred in limiting their claim of reckless misconduct only to injuries caused by a “co-participant” in a recreational activity rather than applying this standard to encompass all recreational activities as implied in Ritchie-Gamester v City of Berkley, 461 Mich 73, 89 n 9; 597 NW2d 517 (1999), which provided:

 

We recognize that we have stated this standard broadly as applying to all “recreational activities.” However, the precise scope of this rule is best established by allowing it to emerge on a case-by-case basis, so that we might carefully consider the application of the recklessness standard in various factual contexts.

 

Contrary to plaintiffs’ position, the Court’s ruling in Ritchie-Gamester was very specific, stating in relevant part:

 

[W]e conclude that coparticipants in a recreational activity owe each other a duty not to act recklessly. Because the trial court properly concluded that plaintiff could not show that defendant violated this standard, summary disposition  [*6] was proper. [Id. at 95 (emphasis added).]

 

Based on the factual circumstances of this case, there is no basis to assert reckless misconduct as a basis for imposition of liability as Swinburne is merely the employee of a venue housing a recreational activity and not a coparticipant. Accordingly, the trial court correctly found that the case at hand is not analogous to Ritchie-Gamester and properly dismissed plaintiffs’ claim of reckless misconduct.

Further, even if Swinburne could be construed as a co-participant, his failure to act does not rise to the level of reckless misconduct, which is defined as:

 

One who is properly charged with recklessness or wantonness is not simply more careless than one who is only guilty of negligence. His conduct must be such as to put him in the class with the wilful doer of wrong. The only respect in which his attitude is less blameworthy than that of the intentional wrongdoer is that, instead of affirmatively wishing to injure another, he is merely willing to do so. The difference is that between him who casts a missile intending that it shall strike another and him who casts it where he has reason to believe it will strike another, being indifferent whether  [*7] it does so or not.” [Behar v Fox, 249 Mich App 314, 319; 642 NW2d 426 (2002) (citations omitted).]

 

There was no evidence presented of any affirmative or assertive behaviors by Swinburne to support an assertion of reckless conduct. At most, Swinburne was negligent because he was inattentive to plaintiff’s activity at the initiation of his climb. Swinburne’s complicit participation with plaintiff in ignoring the rules and regulations for the rock-climbing wall could only be construed as ordinary negligence based on their having established a mechanism or procedure to assure plaintiff’s safety while climbing. While the procedure followed deviated from the Club’s policy it does not evidence a level of willfulness or indifference necessary to establish reckless misconduct.

Plaintiffs also contend that the trial court erred by making findings of fact and failing to construe the evidence most favorably to the party opposing summary disposition. A trial court may not make findings of fact or weigh credibility in deciding a motion for summary disposition, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the nonmovant. Amerisure Ins Co v Plumb, 282 Mich App 417, 431; 766 NW2d 878 (2009).  [*8] Defendants sought summary disposition in accordance with MCR 2.116(C)(7). In deciding a motion based on that sub-rule, a trial court may consider “affidavits, depositions, admissions, or other documentary evidence” that would be admissible at trial. MCR 2.116(G)(2); Odom v Wayne Co, 482 Mich 459, 466; 760 NW2d 217 (2008).

Specifically, plaintiffs argue that the trial court erroneously found, as an undisputed fact, that plaintiff and Swinburne had adopted an “eye contact protocol” and that reasonable minds could not conclude that Swinburne’s behavior had exceeded ordinary negligence. According to plaintiffs, acceptance of the use of an “eye contact protocol” is contrary to the facts established by the record based on the Club having established and posted a formal procedure for securing climbers in its “Climbing Wall Rules & Regulations” coupled with Swinburne’s acknowledgment that this policy was mandatory and that he lacked the authority to override or ignore that policy.

Swinburne and plaintiff both admitted that the procedure they had adopted using eye contact was a deviation from the Club’s written rules. However, Swinburne and plaintiff also testified that they believed the “eye [*9] contact protocol” was appropriate due to plaintiff’s climbing experience and because it achieved the intended goal of verifying that plaintiff was properly attached to the tether. The trial court properly considered this evidence and construed it in a light most favorable to plaintiff. The only reasonable construction of the evidence was that Swinburne and plaintiff had developed their own protocol to insure that plaintiff was securely attached to the safety mechanism, albeit contrary to the Club’s rules and regulations. This did not comprise improper fact-finding by the trial court.

Affirmed.

/s/ Donald S. Owens

/s/ Peter D. O’Connell

/s/ Michael J. Talbot