Louisiana does not allow the use or releases. A trampoline park tried to use an assumption of risk agreement with an arbitration clause and liquidated damage’s clause which the LA Supreme Court found to be a contract of Adhesion.

If you are going to have check boxes, then every paragraph has to have check boxes.

Duhon v. Activelaf, LLC and Lloyds, London, 2016-0818 (La. 10/19/16); 2016 La. LEXIS 2089

State: Louisiana, Supreme Court of Louisiana

Plaintiff: James Duhon

Defendant: Activelaf, LLC, D/B/A Skyzone Lafayette and Underwriters at Lloyds, London

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Mandatory Arbitration

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2016

Summary

Louisiana does not allow the use of a release so amusement and recreation businesses always scramble to find ways to protect themselves. However, you can go too far.

This trampoline park had an arbitration clause hidden in a paragraph. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined that made the agreement and adhesion contract and voided the agreement.

Facts

The plaintiff sued. The defendant filed a motion to require mandatory arbitration as required under the agreement. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed. The defendant appealed the trial court decision to the appellate court which upheld the mandatory arbitration clause. The plaintiff appealed, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed the appellate court and held the arbitration clause was not enforceable.

Louisiana does not allow the use of a release. See States that do not Support the Use of a Release. Louisiana Civil Code Art. 2004 (2015) voids all releases.

The contract, as explained by the court, has terms that become important in this decision’s analysis. The contract included a video and photography release, allowed the defendant to email the signors, waives the signor’s right to sue, mandatory arbitration clause and a liquidated damage’s clause requiring the signor to pay the defendant $5,000 if the plaintiff sued.

Three paragraphs then had boxes next to them had that to be checked. The rest of the paragraphs did not.

The total issues of the agreement, the fact the important clauses were not identified, and only three paragraphs required check boxes were of issue before the court.

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

The court found that signing the agreement electronically did not mean anything.

As an initial matter, we note the electronic nature of the Agreement in this case is of no legal consequence and does not fundamentally change the principles of contract. Louisiana law gives legal effect to both electronic contracts and signatures. We interpret and analyze the terms of the Agreement using the same rules that we would apply to oral and written contracts.

Louisiana law, like federal law, favor arbitration clauses. Arbitration does not require on the court system, allows hiring of an agreeable arbiter by the parties, is much cheaper and much quicker than a trial.

The plaintiff argued the agreement in this case was adhesive. If a contract is found to be an adhesion contract, the contract is void. The court defined an adhesion contract as:

Broadly defined, a contract of adhesion is a standard contract, usually in printed form, prepared by a party of superior bargaining power for adherence or rejection of the weaker party. Often in small print, these contracts sometimes raise a question as to whether or not the weaker party actually consented to the terms.

The court stated that just because a contract was a standard form contract does not immediately mean it was an adhesion contract. “Therefore, we are not willing to declare all standard form contracts adhesionary; rather, we find standard form serves merely as a possible indicator of adhesion.”

The court then looked at other cases and came up with the following test to determine if the arbitration clause in a contract was adhesionary. The court must look at:

(1) the physical characteristics of the arbitration clause, (2) the distinguishing features of the arbitration clause, (3) the mutuality of the arbitration clause, and (4) the relative bargaining strength of the parties.

The test is not a definitive test, but one that the court must use and apply to all arbitration clauses and evaluate each clause.

Using those four requirements the court looked at the clause in this agreement.

The first problem the court found was the arbitration clause was hidden in the agreement. There was no check box for the paragraph which contained the clause, no heading, no bold type, nothing to indicate there was an important clause in the paragraph.

However, the lack of distinguishing features and the specific placement of the arbitration clause serve to conceal the arbitration language from Sky Zone patrons. The Agreement is structured with check boxes next to the first three paragraphs, followed by five additional paragraphs without corresponding check boxes.

Additionally, the paragraph containing the arbitration clause contained several different legal points. Consequently, the court thought the arbitration clause was hidden in the agreement and difficult to find.

Thus, looking at the Agreement as a whole, the arbitration language appears to be the only specific provision not relegated to a separate paragraph or set apart in some explicit way. Here, the two-sentence provision mandating arbitration is camouflaged within the confines of an eleven-sentence paragraph, nine of which do not discuss arbitration. The effect of the placement of the arbitration language is to cloak it within a blanket of boilerplate language regarding rules and risks of participating in the Sky Zone activities.

Consequently, the court held the plaintiff did not consent to the arbitration clause.

The court then went on to find more issues with the agreement. The court found there was no mutuality in the arbitration clause. Meaning the plaintiff was bound to arbitrate and the defendants were not.

The court was also disturbed when it found a punitive provision which required an injured patron, if they sued, to pay the defendant $5,000.00 within sixty days of filing a lawsuit. The $5,000 would earn interest at 12% per year.

Even more troublesome in this case is the punitive provision compelling patrons to pay Sky Zone liquidated damages of $5,000 within sixty days should the patron file suit, with legal interest added at 12% per year. Sky Zone has no mutual obligation in the Agreement.

The court found the arbitration clause was adhesionary and unenforceable.

Considering the lack of mutuality together with the obscure placement of the arbitration language in the Agreement, and in comparison to the contract in Aguillard, we are compelled to find the arbitration clause in the Sky Zone Agreement is adhesionary and unenforceable.

The case could proceed to trial.

The decision had two short concurring decisions and one dissenting decision.

So Now What?

Here three items doomed the defendant. The first was the check boxes. Electronically, the check boxes do not provide the same problems as with a paper agreement. However, having three check boxes next to relatively unimportant clauses and no check boxes next to the clause at issue disturbed the court and found it an attempt to hide the arbitration clause from signors.

The second was the fact a major clause in a contract was hidden. It was mixed in a paragraph with other legal clauses and not pointed out as an important clause.

The third was the clause requiring the plaintiff to pay the defendant if they filed suit. Honestly, this one caught me off guard. There was no legal basis for it. Nothing was required by a party to do or not to do such as sue and lose. Filing a lawsuit was going to cost the plaintiff $5,000.

Arbitration clauses are good in those states that do not recognize a release. See States that do not Support the Use of a Release. You do not want to use an arbitration clause if you are in a state where releases are valid. Arbitration does not allow motions; you just go to a hearing. When you have the opportunity to win by using the release, the arbitration clause may set you up for a longer fight. Also, arbitrators are more than likely to split decisions, providing some benefit to both sides of the arbitration.

Many state laws encouraging arbitration clauses also limit the types of damages an arbitrator can award. Many do not allow an arbitrator to award punitive damages. If you are in a recreation industry where damages may be excessive, arbitration may provide a benefit.

A release allows you to win without having to pay the plaintiff anything. If you have a state that supports a release, use a release.

Arbitration clauses require more work than simply requiring arbitration. You need to define what type of arbitration, where and how the rules will be applied. You just can’t require it without knowing what you are getting yourself into.

For other cases looking at Louisiana law on releases and recreation see:

Louisiana does not allow the use of a release so great training of its patrons saved this climbing wall.

Louisiana State University loses climbing wall case because or climbing wall manual and state law.

Articles looking at arbitration clauses in outdoor recreation.

Tennessee still does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue, but might enforce a jurisdiction and venue clause, maybe an arbitration clause.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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States that do not Support the Use of a Release

The most changes in this form have occurred in the last year over the last ten years.

Assumption of the risk is your best defense in these states

These states do not allow a recreational business or program to use a release to stop litigation.

State

Citation

Issues/Article

Releases are Void

Louisiana

C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.

Montana

MCA § 27-1-701

Liability for negligence as well as willful acts. Except as otherwise provided by law, everyone is responsible not only for the results of his willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property or person except so far as the latter has willfully or by want of ordinary care brought the injury upon himself.

Virginia

Johnson’s Adm’x v. Richmond and Danville R.R. Co., 86 Va. 975, 11 S.E. 829 (1890)

Except for Equine Activities Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited

Oregon

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

Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.

Use of a Release is Restricted

Arizona

Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53

 

New Mexico

Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332;2002 NMCA 60;48

P.3d 70;2002 N.M. App. 39;41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25

State created Equine Liability Statute so no need for release

West Virginia

Kyriazis v. University of West Virginia; 192 W. Va. 60; 450 S.E.2d 649;

1994 W. Va. LEXIS 161

 

Use of Releases is Probably Void

Connecticut

Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) and Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, Et Al., 280 Conn. 153; 905 A.2d 1156; 2006

Conn. LEXIS 330

 

Mississippi

Turnbough v. Ladner, 754 So. 2d 467; 1999 Miss. LEXIS 375

Mississippi Supreme Court makes it almost impossible to write a release that is enforceable because the court does not give direction as to what it wants.

Wisconsin

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy

Wisconsin

Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Company, et al., 2016 WI 20; 2016 Wisc. LEXIS 121

Wisconsin Supreme Court voids another release because it violates public policy. Public Policy as defined in Wisconsin requires the ability to bargain before signing the release.

Vermont

Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd, 164 Vt 329; 670 A.2d 795; 1995 Vt. Lexis 127

 

Specific uses of Releases are Void

Alaska

Sec. 05.45.120(a).  Use of liability releases

A ski area operator may not require a skier to sign an agreement releasing the ski area operator from liability in exchange for the right to ride a ski area tramway and ski in the ski area. A release that violates this subsection is void and may not be enforced.

Hawaii

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511 (D. Haw. 2004)

Found that Hawaii statute § 663-1.54. Recreational activity liability prevented the use of a release

New York

General Obligation Law § 5-326. Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

Every covenant, agreement or understanding in or in connection with, or collateral to, any contract, membership application, ticket of admission or similar writing, entered into between the owner or operator of any pool, gymnasium, place of amusement or recreation, or similar establishment and the user of such facilities, pursuant to which such owner or operator receives a fee or other compensation for the use of such facilities, which exempts the said owner or operator from liability for damages caused by or resulting from the negligence of the owner, operator or person in charge of such establishment, or their agents, servants or employees, shall be deemed to be void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.

 

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States that do not Support the Use of a Release

Assumption of the risk is your best defense in these states

These states do not allow a recreational business or program to use a release to stop litigation.

State

Citation

Issues/Article

Releases are Void

Louisiana

C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.

Montana

MCA § 27-1-701

Liability for negligence as well as willful acts. Except as otherwise provided by law, everyone is responsible not only for the results of his willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property or person except so far as the latter has willfully or by want of ordinary care brought the injury upon himself.

Virginia

Johnson’s Adm’x v. Richmond and Danville R.R. Co., 86 Va. 975, 11 S.E. 829 (1890)

Except for Equine Activities Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited

Oregon

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

Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.

Use of a Release is Restricted

Arizona

Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53

 

New Mexico

Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332;2002 NMCA 60;48

P.3d 70;2002 N.M. App. 39;41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25

State created Equine Liability Statute so no need for release

West Virginia

Kyriazis v. University of West Virginia; 192 W. Va. 60; 450 S.E.2d 649;

1994 W. Va. LEXIS 161

 

Use of Releases is Probably Void

Connecticut

Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) and Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, Et Al., 280 Conn. 153; 905 A.2d 1156; 2006

Conn. LEXIS 330

 

Wisconsin

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy

Wisconsin

Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Company, et al., 2016 WI 20; 2016 Wisc. LEXIS 121

Wisconsin Supreme Court voids another release because it violates public policy. Public Policy as defined in Wisconsin requires the ability to bargain before signing the release.

Vermont

Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd, 164 Vt 329; 670 A.2d 795; 1995 Vt. Lexis 127

 

Specific uses of Releases are Void

Alaska

Sec. 05.45.120(a).  Use of liability releases

A ski area operator may not require a skier to sign an agreement releasing the ski area operator from liability in exchange for the right to ride a ski area tramway and ski in the ski area. A release that violates this subsection is void and may not be enforced.

Hawaii

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511 (D. Haw. 2004)

Found that Hawaii statute § 663-1.54. Recreational activity liability prevented the use of a release

New York

General Obligation Law § 5-326. Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

Every covenant, agreement or understanding in or in connection with, or collateral to, any contract, membership application, ticket of admission or similar writing, entered into between the owner or operator of any pool, gymnasium, place of amusement or recreation, or similar establishment and the user of such facilities, pursuant to which such owner or operator receives a fee or other compensation for the use of such facilities, which exempts the said owner or operator from liability for damages caused by or resulting from the negligence of the owner, operator or person in charge of such establishment, or their agents, servants or employees, shall be deemed to be void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.

 

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Louisiana Civil Code

Louisiana Civil Code

Book 3. Of the different modes of acquiring the ownership of things

Code Title 4. Conventional obligations or contracts

Chapter 8. Effects of conventional obligations

Section 4. Damages

La. C.C. Art. 2004 (2015)

Art. 2004. Clause that excludes or limits liability

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party.

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.


States that do not Support the Use of a Release

Assumption of the risk is your best defense in these states

These states do not allow a recreational business or program to use a release to stop litigation.

State

Citation

Issues

Releases are Void

Louisiana

C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.

Montana

MCA § 27-1-701

Liability for negligence as well as willful acts. Except as otherwise provided by law, everyone is responsible not only for the results of his willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property or person except so far as the latter has willfully or by want of ordinary care brought the injury upon himself.

Virginia

Johnson’s Adm’x v. Richmond and Danville R.R. Co., 86 Va. 975, 11 S.E. 829 (1890)

Except for Equine Activities Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited

Use of a Release is Restricted

Arizona

Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53

 

New Mexico

Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332;2002 NMCA 60;48

P.3d 70;2002 N.M. App. 39;41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25

 

West Virginia

Kyriazis v. University of West Virginia; 192 W. Va. 60; 450 S.E.2d 649;

1994 W. Va. LEXIS 161

 

Use of Releases is Probably Void

Connecticut

Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) and Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, Et Al., 280 Conn. 153; 905 A.2d 1156; 2006

Conn. LEXIS 330

 

Oregon

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

Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.

Wisconsin

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy

Vermont

Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd, 164 Vt 329; 670 A.2d 795; 1995 Vt. Lexis 127

 

Specific uses of Releases are Void

Alaska

Sec. 05.45.120(a).  Use of liability releases

A ski area operator may not require a skier to sign an agreement releasing the ski area operator from liability in exchange for the right to ride a ski area tramway and ski in the ski area. A release that violates this subsection is void and may not be enforced.

Hawaii

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511 (D. Haw. 2004)

Found that Hawaii statute § 663-1.54. Recreational activity liability prevented the use of a release

New York

General Obligation Law § 5-326. Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

Every covenant, agreement or understanding in or in connection with, or collateral to, any contract, membership application, ticket of admission or similar writing, entered into between the owner or operator of any pool, gymnasium, place of amusement or recreation, or similar establishment and the user of such facilities, pursuant to which such owner or operator receives a fee or other compensation for the use of such facilities, which exempts the said owner or operator from liability for damages caused by or resulting from the negligence of the owner, operator or person in charge of such establishment, or their agents, servants or employees, shall be deemed to be void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Louisiana court holds a tubing operation is not liable for drowning or failure to properly perform CPR. Court finds (or confuses) both no duty owed to prove negligence and assumption of the risk on the part of the deceased.

Louisiana is one state that does not allow the use of a release. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.) This limits the possible defenses in LA.

Parveen v. Tiki Tubing, LLC, 2011 1477 (La.App. 1 Cir. 03/23/12); 2012 La. App. Unpub. LEXIS 115

Date of the Decision: March 23, 2012

Plaintiff: Neelam Parveen, Individually and on Behalf of Mansoor Raja and their Minor Children

Defendant: Tiki Tubing, LLC and Abc Insurance Company

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, duty to maintain the river so that its guests would not be injured by the river’s vices and defects, a duty to train Tiki employees in emergency rescue and life-saving procedures, and a duty to properly warn Tiki customers of the hazards associated with tubing on the Amite River. Also failure of the employees of the defendant to perform CPR properly.

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: for the defendant tubing livery

The plaintiff is the husband of the deceased and mother of their children.

The defendant was a tubing rental (livery) operation on the Amite River in Louisiana. For the fee the defendant provides parking, a bus ride to the put in, tubes and a beach entry and exit. The Amite River is advertised by the defendant on it’s website at 1” to 3” deep with 6”-8” holes. The river is slow moving and smooth.

The defendant also states “Tiki . . . and its affiliates assume no liability for personal injury or loss of personal property.” The defendant provides life jackets free of charge however customers are not required to wear them. No one was aware of a prior drowning on the river. No employees of the defendant were trained in life saving or first aid or CPR.

The deceased was accompanied by two other companions. One of the three printed the other names on the release. The deceased did not sign the release. The three were also given safety instructions.

The men started leaving their tubes and swimming downstream for a short distance before waiting for the current to bring their tube to them. At some point the deceased went under the surface and did not come up. Eventually an employee found the deceased and got him to the surface.

A companion started CPR and was assisted by four other people including some employees of the defendant.

The plaintiff filed suit which was dismissed after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

The court outlined the plaintiff’s claims as:

Broadly stated, the plaintiff maintains that Tiki had custody of the tubing route on the Amite River and, accordingly, that Tiki owed its patrons a duty to maintain the river so that its guests would not be injured by the river’s vices and defects, a duty to train Tiki employees in emergency rescue and life-saving procedures, and a duty to properly warn Tiki customers of the hazards associated with tubing on the Amite River.

The plaintiff also alleges that once Tiki employees involved themselves in attempted life-saving procedures on Raja, those employees assumed a duty to perform those life-saving measures properly.

Under Louisiana law a tort is defined as:

The elements of a cause of action in tort are fault, causation, and damage. The existence of a legal duty and a breach of that duty are prerequisites to any determination of fault. Although the determination of whether to assign a legal duty is fact-specific, the issue of whether there is a duty ultimately is a question of law.

The court found that to prove her case the plaintiff must prove:

(1) Tiki is the custodian of the portion of the Amite River that includes the tubing route; (2) that portion of the Amite River is defective and that the defect presented an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) Tiki knew or should have known of the defect; (4) the plaintiff was damaged by the defect; and (5) Tiki could have prevented the damage to the plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable care, which Tiki failed to exercise.

Failure to prove one element defeats the plaintiff’s claims.

The court first looked at whether or not the defendant had control over the river to be liable for it. The court defines this as the defendant having custody and control over the river. To determine whether the defendant had the requisite custody and control the court held it had to consider:

(1) whether the person bears such a relationship as to have the right of direction and control over the thing; and (2) what, if any, kind of benefit the person derives from the thing. “The person who has custody or garde of a thing is he who has the legal duty to prevent its vice or defect from harming another.” This court has held that a state-owned river cannot be in the custody of a landowner.

Even if the plaintiff could prove the defendant’s “custody” of the river, the plaintiff would also have to prove that the river section at issue was defective.

This court has held that the “existence of a hole in a natural lake, that renders the depth of the lake deeper than other portions, would not, ipso facto, constitute a defective. Further, “variations in water depth within natural swimming areas are standard.” Citing this court in Johnson, the Fourth Circuit has concluded that there is no distinction between a hole in a lake and a drop off in a river. The plaintiff fails to establish that the deeper pocket in this natural body of water constitutes a defect for purposes of Article 2317.1.

The conditions of the river at the time of the decedents drowning were all conditions that under Louisiana law were inherent risks and thus assumed by the deceased.

The court next looked the risks of tubing.

Tubing has been defined as an activity that is obviously and inherently dangerous. Drowning because of currents is a natural and inevitable risk to swimmers in a natural body of water. When a risk is obvious, there is no duty to warn or protect against it.

The court concluded the deceased voluntarily left this tube to swim in the river without a life jacket.

The court then looked at the issue of failure to perform CPR properly. Under Louisiana law if a person voluntarily undertakes a “task that he otherwise has no duty to perform, he must nevertheless perform that task in a reasonable or prudent manner.

Although the plaintiff’s expert witness stated that CPR was performed improperly, no one was able to claim that the actions of the defendant employees were “unreasonable, imprudent, or, more importantly, a cause-in-fact of Raja’s death or that there was a reasonable probability that proper CPR would have been lifesaving in these circumstances.”

The court found since no one could point that a specific employee or employees had done something wrong in performing CPR then that claim must also fail.

The court upheld the trial courts motion for summary judgment with this statement.” Despite not being a good swimmer, Raja willingly entered the river without a life jacket and chose to swim away from his tube. It was Raja’s own imprudent actions that led to his tragic death.”

So Now What?

Louisiana law came from the Napoleonic code. Consequently the laws in Louisiana are generally different, other than the protections afforded by the US constitution. Louisiana does not allow the use of a release to stop claims.

C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.

See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.

Here the court seemed to combine the issue to find the defendant owed no duty to the deceased and the deceased assumed the risk of the activity which lead to his death, without using the terms specifically.

 

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Parveen v. Tiki Tubing, LLC, 2011 1477 (La.App. 1 Cir. 03/23/12); 2012 La. App. Unpub. LEXIS 115

Parveen v. Tiki Tubing, LLC, 2011 1477 (La.App. 1 Cir. 03/23/12); 2012 La. App. Unpub. LEXIS 115

Neelam Parveen, Individually and on Behalf of Mansoor Raja and their Minor Children Versus Tiki Tubing, LLC and Abc Insurance Company

NO. 2011 CA 1477

COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA, FIRST CIRCUIT

2011 1477 (La.App. 1 Cir. 03/23/12); 2012 La. App. Unpub. LEXIS 115

March 23, 2012, Judgment Rendered

NOTICE: NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION.

PLEASE CONSULT THE LOUISIANA RULES OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE FOR CITATION OF UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Writ denied by Parveen v. Tiki Tubing, LLC, 90 So. 3d 1063, 2012 La. LEXIS 1798 (La., June 15, 2012)

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

On Appeal from the 21st Judicial District Court, in and for the Parish of Livingston, State of Louisiana. District Court No. 128,216. The Honorable Elizabeth P. Wolfe, Judge Presiding.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: Nicholas M. Graphia, Monroe, La., Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant, Neelam Parveen, individually and on behalf of Mansoor Raja and their minor children.

C. David Vasser, Jr., Baton Rouge, La., Counsel for Defendant/Appellee, Tiki Tubing, L.L.C.

JUDGES: BEFORE: CARTER, C.J., PARRO AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

OPINION BY: CARTER

OPINION

[Pg 2] CARTER, C.J.

The plaintiff appeals the summary judgment dismissing her suit for damages arising from the drowning death of her husband. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Tiki Tubing, L.L.C. (Tiki) is a commercial enterprise located on the banks of the Amite River. During peak summer months, Tiki employs 10-15 full time employees. For a fee, Tiki provides customers with parking, tube rental, a bus ride upstream, and a beach entry and exit on the river. The tubing route on the Amite River takes approximately four hours to complete. The Tiki website describes the Amite River as “smooth and slow moving and … 1 to 3 feet deep with a few deeper holes from [*2] 6 to 8 feet deep.” The website continues: “All bodies of water have some inherent risks. Tiki . . . and its affiliates assume no liability for personal injury or loss of personal property.” The tubers are grouped together at the Tiki hut and bused upstream to the ingress point on the river. At this point, the tubers select their tubes and enter the water.

According to John Fore, the managing member of Tiki, there are no warning signs posted at the hut or along the river. Tiki provides life jackets free of charge to customers; however, customers are not required to wear them. Neither Fore nor the Tiki employees were aware of any prior drowning on the tubing route. There are no lifeguards or rescuers on staff, and employees are not trained in water safety or in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Tiki employees do not travel the river with the tubers, and there is no emergency equipment along the river route or at the Tiki [Pg 3] facility. Tiki does hire off-duty Livingston Parish Deputies as independent contractors to assist with crowd control, public drinking, drugs, broken glass, and unlocking of cars. The deputies are not posted on the tubing route; they are not hired to handle medical [*3] emergencies.

On June 21, 2009, 37-year-old Mansoor Raja and two of his friends decided to tube the Amite River. Raja had never tubed before, and after reading about Tiki from its internet website, Raja, Akhlaq Akhtar, and Tariq Mehmood drove to the facility. The group was presented with a liability waiver at the hut, and Akhtar printed all three men’s names on the bottom of the sheet.1 Although Raja was with Akhtar when Akhtar completed the form, Raja did not read or sign the waiver. Akhtar remembered the men being given a document containing safety instructions and that this information also was posted on a board. According to Akhtar, all three men read the instructions, which specifically mentioned the availability of life jackets. Akhtar asked the other men if they needed life jackets, but the general consensus was that the water would not be deep enough and that the life jackets were not needed. The waiver sheet is the only “warning” at the Tiki facility.

1 The waiver is entitled “Participant’s Agreement, Release, and Assumption of Risk.” The bottom of the form has multiple lines upon which customers write their names.

The three men boarded the bus, rode upstream, retrieved their tubes, [*4] and entered the river. According to Akhtar, Raja and Mehmood were playing around and getting caught in trees in the water. Akhtar tried to rush the other two men along so that they would not get separated from the group. The water was shallow, and Raja and Mehmood were leaving their tubes and [Pg 4] swimming freely in the river. The three men continued in this fashion for 15 to 20 minutes.

On the river trip, Raja was “getting excited.” He would leave his tube, swim downstream with the current, then wait for his tube to float to him. Raja did this four or five times. The men stopped to take a photograph, after which Raja said he would swim just one more length. Suddenly, while swimming ahead of his tube, Raja disappeared under the water. Then, Mehmood began having trouble in the water. Akhtar floated toward his friends and was able to help Mehmood get hold of the tube and out of the water. Raja, however, panicked and was unable to grasp the tube. According to Akhtar, the water was “too far deep” and moving much faster underneath the surface. Akhtar did not leave his tube in an attempt to pull Raja from the water because, according to Akhtar, the water was too deep and the current would [*5] have pulled him under too. Akhtar explained: “If you go to somebody who’s drowning, he’ll take you with him even if you are [a] good swimmer….”

Other floaters, noticing the commotion, began calling for help; the authorities were alerted with a call to 911, and another tuber ran toward the ingress point where several employees were working to notify them that someone was “lost.” Christopher Seese, a teenage employee of Tiki, stated that he first thought someone had simply gotten off his tube and run off. Upon realizing there was a problem, three employees ran to the scene. Fifteen to twenty tubers were sitting on the beach, and several tubers were swimming around in the deeper area of the river. The employees immediately entered the river. It took Christopher five to ten minutes to [Pg 5] locate Raja in the eight-foot-deep pocket in the river by dragging his foot in the water. Raja’s body was resting against a submerged log. According to Christopher, the current in the pocket was no stronger than the rest of the river; however, the water was deeper. It was estimated that it took an additional three to four minutes to get Raja out of the water and onto the shore.

Raja was brought to [*6] the shore, and another tuber was the first to attempt CPR. Because he was on the opposite side of the river, Akhtar estimated that it took him ten minutes to get to Raja after he was pulled from the water. Upon reaching shore, Akhtar observed that the unidentified tuber was performing CPR incorrectly, so Akhtar took over.2 Akhtar blew air into Raja’s chest, and Tiki employee Jacob Bourgeois assisted with chest compressions. Ultimately, four different people performed chest compressions on Raja, assisting Akhtar with CPR until the rescue helicopter arrived. According to Akhtar, Raja’s pulse was restored and he was warm to the touch prior to the arrival of paramedics and being airlifted to a hospital. Raja’s death certificate indicates he died the next day, June 22, 2009.

2 Akhtar explained that he had received training in CPR during military service.

Raja’s surviving spouse, Neelam Parveen, filed this wrongful death and survival action for damages against Tiki and its insurer, alleging Tiki’s negligent acts and omissions were a proximate cause of Raja’s death. After answering the petition, Tiki filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging Tiki did not breach any legal duty to Raja. Subsequent [*7] to the filing of Tiki’s motion for summary judgment, but prior to the hearing on the motion, the trial court granted the plaintiff leave to file a supplemental and amending [Pg 6] petition for damages. Therein the plaintiff alleged that she was entitled to punitive damages under general maritime law in that Tiki’s conduct was grossly negligent, reckless, and wanton. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed an opposition to Tiki’s motion for summary judgment, with attachments thereto, as well as a supplemental opposition.

Following a hearing, the trial court granted Tiki’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff’s claims against Tiki were dismissed with prejudice. The plaintiff appeals, asserting several arguments in support of her position that summary judgment was improperly granted.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A motion for summary judgment is a procedural device used to avoid a full-scale trial when there is no genuine issue of material fact. All Crane Rental of Georgia, Inc. v. Vincent, 10-0116 (La. App. 1 Cir. 9/10/10), 47 So. 3d 1024, 1027, writ denied, 10-2227 (La. 11/19/10), 49 So. 3d 387. Summary judgment is properly granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions [*8] on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966B. Summary judgment is favored and designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966A(2).

Appellate courts review evidence de novo under the same criteria that govern the trial court’s determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. All Crane, 47 So. 3d at 1027. On a motion for summary judgment, the burden of proof is on the mover. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966C(2) [Pg 7]. If, however, the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the matter that is before the court on the motion, the mover’s burden does not require that all essential elements of the adverse party’s claim, action, or defense be negated. Id. Instead, the mover must point out to the court that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party’s claim, action, or defense. Id. Thereafter, the adverse party must produce factual evidence sufficient to establish that he will be able to satisfy his evidentiary [*9] burden of proof at trial. Id. If the adverse party fails to meet this burden, there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the mover is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966C(2); All Crane, 47 So. 3d at 1027.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court’s role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter but, instead, to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. All Crane, 47 So. 3d at 1027. A court cannot make credibility decisions on a motion for summary judgment. Id. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must assume that all of the witnesses are credible. Id. Factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence must be construed in favor of the party opposing the motion, and all doubt must be resolved in the opponent’s favor. Id. Whether a particular fact in dispute is “material” for summary judgment purposes is viewed in light of the substantive law applicable to the case. Richard v. Hall, 03-1488 (La. 4/23/04), 874 So. 2d 131, 137.

[Pg 8] DISCUSSION

The plaintiff advances several theories of recovery for the alleged negligence or gross negligence of Tiki. [*10] Broadly stated, the plaintiff maintains that Tiki had custody of the tubing route on the Amite River and, accordingly, that Tiki owed its patrons a duty to maintain the river so that its guests would not be injured by the river’s vices and defects, a duty to train Tiki employees in emergency rescue and life-saving procedures, and a duty to properly warn Tiki customers of the hazards associated with tubing on the Amite River. The plaintiff also alleges that once Tiki employees involved themselves in attempted life-saving procedures on Raja, those employees assumed a duty to perform those life-saving measures properly.

The elements of a cause of action in tort are fault, causation, and damage. Seals v. Morris, 410 So. 2d 715, 718 (La. 1981). The existence of a legal duty and a breach of that duty are prerequisites to any determination of fault. Id. Although the determination of whether to assign a legal duty is fact-specific, the issue of whether there is a duty ultimately is a question of law. Bowman v. City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge, 02-1376 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/9/03), 849 So. 2d 622, 627, writ denied, 03-1579 (La. 10/3/03), 855 So. 2d 315. The inquiry is whether the plaintiff [*11] has any law–statutory, jurisprudential, or arising from general principles of fault– to support her claim. Faucheaux v. Terrebonne Consol. Government, 615 So. 2d 289, 292 (La. 1993); Fredericks v. Daiquiris & Creams of Mandeville, L.L.C, 04-0567 (La. App. 1 Cir. 3/24/05), 906 So. 2d 636, 639, writ denied, 05-1047 (La. 6/17/05), 904 So. 2d 706.

[Pg 9] Under Louisiana Civil Code article 2317, “[w]e are responsible, not only for the damage occasioned by our own act, but for that which is caused by the act of persons for whom we are answerable, or of the things which we have in our custody.” Louisiana Civil Code article 2317.1 modifies Article 2317 and provides in pertinent part:

[The] custodian of a thing is answerable for damage occasioned by its ruin, vice, or defect, only upon a showing that he knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of the ruin, vice, or defect which caused the damage, that the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that he failed to exercise such reasonable care.

The plaintiff alleges that in accordance with Article 2317.1, Tiki, as custodian3 of the tubing route on the Amite River, owed a duty to its patrons [*12] to employ safety measures to prevent drowning and to discover any unreasonably dangerous condition and to either correct the condition or warn of its existence. In order to prevail on a claim of negligence under Articles 2317 and 2317.1, the plaintiff will have the ultimate burden at trial of proving by a preponderance of the evidence each of the following elements: (1) Tiki is the custodian of the portion of the Amite River that includes the tubing route; (2) that portion of the Amite River is defective and that the defect presented an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) Tiki knew or should have known of the defect; (4) the plaintiff was damaged by the defect; and (5) Tiki could have prevented the damage to the plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable care, which Tiki failed to exercise. See Riggs v. Opelousas General Hosp. Trust Authority, 08-591 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/5/08), 997 So. 2d 814, 817. Failure to prove any one of these elements will defeat the [Pg 10] plaintiff’s claim and thus establish the defendant’s entitlement to summary judgment. See Grogan v. Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Inc., 07-1297 (La. App. 3 Cir. 4/16/08), 981 So. 2d 162, 165.

3 There are no allegations or evidence [*13] suggesting that Tiki owned the area of the river, or the land abutting that portion of the river, in which Raja drowned.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has instructed that determining who has custody of a thing is a fact-driven determination. Dupree v. City of New Orleans, 99-3651 (La. 8/31/00), 765 So. 2d 1002, 1009. Courts should consider: (1) whether the person bears such a relationship as to have the right of direction and control over the thing; and (2) what, if any, kind of benefit the person derives from the thing. Dupree, 765 So. 2d at 1009. “The person who has custody or garde of a thing is he who has the legal duty to prevent its vice or defect from harming another.” Id. at 1009. This court has held that a state-owned river cannot be in the custody of a landowner. See Tobey v. State, 454 So. 2d 144, 145 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1984) (a tubing accident did not result from any condition of the land).

Even if the plaintiff were to establish that material issues of fact remain in dispute regarding custody of the tubing route on the Amite River, the plaintiff also must prove that the portion of the Amite River at issue suffered from a vice or defect in order to recover damages under Articles 2317 [*14] and 2317.1. A defect is defined as a condition that creates an unreasonable risk of harm. Moory v. Allstate Ins. Co., 04-0319 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/11/05), 906 So. 2d 474, 480, writ denied, 05-0668 (La. 4/29/05), 901 So. 2d 1076. The record establishes that Raja drowned in an area of the river described as a drop or a deep pocket. This court has held that the “existence of a hole in a natural lake, that renders the depth of the lake deeper than other portions, would not, ipso facto, constitute a defective [Pg 11] condition.”4 Johnson v. City of Morgan City, 99-2968 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/22/00), 787 So. 2d 326, 330-31, writ denied, 01-0134 (La. 3/16/01), 787 So. 2d 315. Further, “variations in water depth within natural swimming areas are standard.” Johnson, 787 So. 2d at 330. Citing this court in Johnson, the Fourth Circuit has concluded that there is no distinction between a hole in a lake and a drop off in a river. Sevin v. Parish of Plaquemines, 04-1439 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/27/05), 901 So. 2d 619, 623-24, writ denied, 05-1790 (La. 1/27/06), 922 So. 2d 550. The plaintiff fails to establish that the deeper pocket in this natural body of water constitutes a defect for purposes of Article 2317.1.

4 Moreover, [*15] not every defect gives rise to statutory liability under Articles 2317 and 2317.1. Ruschel v. St. Amant, 11-78 (La. App. 5 Cir. 5/24/11), 66 So. 3d 1149, 1153. The defect must be of such a nature as to constitute a dangerous condition that reasonably would be expected to cause injury to a prudent person using ordinary care under the circumstances. Ruschel, 66 So. 3d at 1153.

The plaintiff argues that Tiki had a duty to provide an adequate and correct warning to customers regarding the dangers of tubing and the depth and current of the Amite River, and also had a duty to post lifeguards along the tubing route.5 Tubing has been defined as an activity that is obviously and inherently dangerous. See Tobey, 454 So. 2d at 146. Drowning because of currents is a natural and inevitable risk to swimmers in a natural body of water. See Hall v. Lemieux, 378 So. 2d 130, 132 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1979), [Pg 12] writ denied, 381 So. 2d 1220 (La. 1980). When a risk is obvious, there is no duty to warn or protect against it. Moory, 906 So. 2d at 478. Akhtar described Raja as “not a good swimmer.”6 Despite his limited swimming abilities and knowing that the water was over his head in parts, Raja voluntarily [*16] left his tube to swim freely in the river without a life jacket, allowing the current to carry him away from his tube.

5 Louisiana’s general negligence liability provision is found in Louisiana Civil Code article 2315. Louisiana courts have adopted a duty-risk analysis in determining whether to impose liability under Article 2315. Pinsonneault v. Merchants & Farmers Bank & Trust Co., 01-2217 (La. 4/3/02), 816 So. 2d 270, 275. In order for liability to attach under a duty-risk analysis, the plaintiff must prove five separate elements: (1) the defendant had a duty to conform his or her conduct to a specific standard of care (the duty element); (2) the defendant failed to conform his or her conduct to the appropriate standard of care (the breach of duty element); (3) the defendant’s substandard conduct was a cause-in-fact of the plaintiff’s injuries (the cause-in-fact element); (4) the defendant’s substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries (the scope of protection element); and (5) actual damages (the damage element). Pinsonneault, 816 So. 2d at 275-76.

6 During the few times that Akhtar and Raja swam together in a pool, Raja would swim one pool length at a time, keeping [*17] his head out of the water the entire time. Raja would go in water over his head; however, he would hold onto a “pipe.”

Finally, citing to Harris v. Pizza Hut of La., Inc., 455 So. 2d 1364 (La. 1984), the plaintiff argues that Tiki assumed a duty when its employees attempted life-saving measures on Raja and then breached that duty by improperly performing CPR on Raja. In Harris, the supreme court held that a restaurant had a duty, once it hired a security guard, to have that guard protect patrons from the criminal activities of third persons in a reasonable and prudent manner. Id. at 1369. This court has recognized that the negligent breach of an assumed duty may create civil liability. McGowan v. Victory and Power Ministries, 99-0235 (La. App. 1 Cir. 3/31/00), 757 So. 2d 912, 914. If a person voluntarily or gratuitously undertakes a task that he otherwise has no duty to perform, he must nevertheless perform that task in a reasonable or prudent manner. McGowan, 757 So. 2d at 914; see La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2315.

Tiki employees acknowledged having no formal CPR training. Akhtar stated that he had been trained in CPR, and Akhtar was performing breathing assistance on Raja, while several [*18] others–including Tiki employees–assisted with chest compressions on Raja. The affidavit of the [Pg 13] plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Adam Broussard, set forth the CPR guidelines and concluded that, based on Jacob’s deposition, “the responders did not correctly perform CPR.” Dr. Broussard’s affidavit establishes that early CPR “performed correctly is the single most important intervention that can be performed in the field by a lay person.”

Raja was pulled from the water after being submerged for at least ten minutes. Akhtar stated that when Raja was brought up to the surface, he was not moving and not conscious. Akhtar began breathing into Raja with the assistance of four others, who took turns doing chest compressions. Akhtar observed that after the second person’s turn with chest compressions, Raja was warm to the touch and a pulse was discernible. Although Dr. Broussard’s affidavit establishes that CPR was performed improperly, his affidavit does not establish that the efforts of Tiki employees were unreasonable, imprudent, or, more importantly, a cause-in-fact of Raja’s death or that there was a reasonable probability that proper CPR would have been lifesaving in these circumstances.

CONCLUSION

The [*19] plaintiff failed to produce factual evidence sufficient to establish that she would be able to meet her burden at trial of proving by a preponderance of the evidence all of the elements of a cause of action in negligence or gross negligence. Despite not being a good swimmer, Raja willingly entered the river without a life jacket and chose to swim away from his tube. It was Raja’s own imprudent actions that led to his tragic death. See Sevin, 901 So. 2d at 624. For the above-stated reasons, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Tiki [Pg 14] Tubing, L.L.C, dismissing the suit filed against it by Neelam Parveen, individually and on behalf of Mansoor Raja and their minor children. Costs of this appeal are assessed to the plaintiff, Neelam Parveen.

AFFIRMED.

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