Sturm v. Weber (D. Colo. 2022)

Sturm v. Weber (D. Colo. 2022)

SANDRA STURM, and TIMOTHY STURM and SANDRA STURM, as parents and next friends of their minor child, HOLLY STURM Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEF WEBER a/k/a JOSEPH WEBER, KRABLOONIK, INCORPORATED, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 21-cv-0684-WJM-GPG

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 16, 2022

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

William J. Martínez United States District Judge

Plaintiffs Sandra Sturm individually, and Sandra and Timothy Sturm as parents and next friends of their minor child, Holly Sturm, (collectively, “the Sturms”) sue Defendants Josef Weber and Krabloonik, Incorporated (jointly, “Defendants”) for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and, in the alternative, premises liability pursuant to the Colorado Premises Liability Act (“CPLA”), Colorado Revised Statutes §13-21-115, for injuries sustained during a 2019 dogsledding accident in Snowmass Village, Colorado. (ECF No. 5.) This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 31.) Defendants make one argument- because the Sturms released Defendants of all claims for negligence, Plaintiffs cannot maintain this lawsuit as a matter of law. (ECF No. 31 at 2.) In support, Defendants attach signed copies of Krabloonik’s Participant Agreement, Release and Assumption of Risk (“Participant Agreement”) (ECF No. 31-1 at 3-4.)

Due to the early stage of the litigation at which the Motion was filed and the purely legal basis of Defendants’ argument, the record was not as robust as the Court would normally see on a motion for summary judgment. No doubt this in great part reflects the fact that the Motion was filed prior to the close of discovery. Given the legal nature of Defendants’ sole argument, and state of the record at the time the Motion was filed, the Court exercises its discretion to construe the Motion as a motion directed to the sufficiency of the factual allegations of Plaintiffs’ operative complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6) (“Construed Motion”). For the reasons set forth below, the Construed Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Krabloonik is a recreational dogsled operation in Snowmass Village, Colorado. (ECF No. 31 at 2.) Krabloonik employs “mushers” to steer the dogsleds during the rides it offers its customers. (See ECF No. 31 at 1-2.) Krabloonik’s dogsleds are not equipped with track-braking systems; instead, mushers are trained to use resistance and counterbalance to steer and control the speed of Krabloonik’s dogsleds. (ECF No. 32 at 11; ECF 38-1 at 2.) Josef Weber operated Sandra and Holly Sturm’s dogsled on March 11, 2019. (ECF No. 31 at 3 ¶¶ 6-7.)

Prior to embarking on the dogsled ride with Weber, Sandra and Timothy Sturm each signed a copy of Krabloonik’s Participant Agreement. (See ECF No. 31-1 at 3-4; ECF No. 31-2 at 10.) The parties agree that Sandra Sturm signed the Participation Agreement on her own behalf. (ECF No. 31 at 2.) The parties disagree, however, on whether the Participation Agreement signed by Timothy Sturm was properly signed on behalf of Holly Sturm. (See ECF No. 31 at 2; ECF No. 32 at 4.)

The Participant Agreement provides two spaces for signatures: one for customers 18 years of age and over to sign for themselves, and one for parents or guardians to sign on behalf of a minor. (ECF No. 31-1 at 3.) The section to be completed on behalf of a minor provides a large space with instruction to “print [the] minor’s name].” (Id.) Holly Sturm’s name does not appear on this line on either copy of the Participant Agreement completed by the Sturms. (Id. at 3-4.) The form completed by Timothy Sturm has “Timothy Whitney Holly” written at the bottom of the page on and near the line provided for the signature of the minor’s parent or guardian. (Id. at 3.)

The Participant Agreement included the following exculpatory provisions:

I hereby agree to release, indemnify, and discharge KKEN, [2]on behalf of myself, my spouse, my children, my parents, my heirs, assigns, personal representative and estate as follows:

1. I acknowledge that my participation in dog sled tour activities entails known and unanticipated risks that could result in physical or emotional injury, paralysis, death, or damage to myself, to property, or to third parties….

The risks include, among other things: . . . losing control of the dogs may result in collisions with other sleds and/or manmade and natural objects such as bridges, trees, rocks, cliffs, streams and other obstacles; . . . equipment failure; . . . I understand that sled dog touring is a wilderness activity that exposes me to all elements of the outdoors and natural surroundings.

Furthermore, KKEN employees have difficult jobs to perform. They seek safety, but they are not infallible. They might be unaware of a participant’s fitness or abilities. They might misjudge the weather or other environmental conditions. They may give incomplete warnings or instructions, and the equipment being used might malfunction.

2. I expressly agree and promise to accept and assume all of the risks existing in this activity. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks.

3. I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless KKEN from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity or my use of KKEN’s equipment or facilities, including any claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of KKEN….

By signing this document, I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against KKEN on the basis of any claim from which I have released herein.

I have had sufficient opportunity to read this entire document. I have read and understood it, and I agree to be bound by its terms….

In consideration of (print minor’s name) (“Minor”) being permitted by KKEN to participate in its activities and to use its equipment and facilities . . . I further agree to indemnify and hold harmless KKEN from any and all claims which are brought by, or on behalf of Minor . . . connected with such use or participation by Minor.

(ECF No. 31-1 at 3 (emphasis in original).)

According to his Musher Accident Report, Weber steered the dogsled into a rut, causing it to tip. (ECF No. 32-12.) When Weber attempted to level the dogsled, he fell off, leaving Sandra and Holly Sturm on a runaway sled. (Id.) Without Weber to break and steer, the dogsled did not come to a stop until it collided with a tree. (Id.) Plaintiffs claim that as a result of the collision, Holly Sturm suffered a broken leg that had to be surgically repaired and Sandra Sturm injured her elbow. (ECF No. 5 at 4 ¶¶ 22, 28.) Per the Amended Complaint, Holly Sturm also suffers from PTSD, mental stress, and anxiety as a result of the dogsledding incident. (Id. at 4 ¶ 22.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a cause of action for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The 12(b)(6) standard requires the Court to “assume the truth of the plaintiff’s well-pleaded factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). In ruling on such a motion, the dispositive inquiry is “whether the complaint contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Granting a motion to dismiss “is a harsh remedy which must be cautiously studied, not only to effectuate the spirit of the liberal rules of pleading but also to protect the interests of justice.” Dias v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 567 F.3d 1169, 1178 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Thus, ‘a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

III. ANALYSIS

In the Construed Motion Defendants argue that the Participation Agreement bars all of Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs argue that dismissal is inappropriate for two reasons: (1) under Colorado law, an exculpatory agreement cannot shield against willful and wanton acts or omissions; and (2) the Participation Agreement is invalid under Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370 (Colo. 1981).

A. Holly Sturm’s Claims

Timothy Sturm, as Holly Sturm’s parent, is permitted to waive negligence claims on her behalf. See C.R.S. § 13-22-107(3) (“A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.”) Therefore, the Court agrees with Defendants that the lack of Holly Sturm’s signature is irrelevant. Notwithstanding this fact, the Court cannot find as a matter of law that the Participation Agreement signed by Timothy Sturm is an effective release of his daughter’s claims. No name-let alone Holly’s-appears in the clearly marked space provided to identify the minor whose claims are being released, and neither party has explained to the Court who “Whitney” is. Therefore, the Court denies the Construed Motion with respect to Holly Sturm’s claims.

B. Sandra Sturm’s Claims

“Under Colorado law, ‘exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored,’ B & B Livery, Inc. v. Riehl, 960 P.2d 134, 136 (Colo. 1998), and it is well-established that such agreements cannot ‘shield against a claim for willful and wanton conduct, regardless of the circumstances or intent of the parties,’ Boles v. Sun Ergoline, Inc., 223 P.3d 724, 726 (Colo. 2010).” Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 883 F.3d 1243, 1249 (10th Cir. 2018). “But claims of negligence are a different matter. Colorado common law does not categorically prohibit the enforcement of contracts seeking to release claims of negligence.” Espinoza v. Ark. Valley Adventures, LLC, 809 F.3d 1150, 1152 (10th Cir. 2016).

“The determination of the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court to determine.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). Accordingly, the Colorado Supreme Court has instructed courts to consider the following four factors when determining the enforceability of an exculpatory agreement: “(1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language [collectively, the ‘Jones factors’].” Id. An exculpatory agreement “must satisfy all four factors to be enforceable.” Raup v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 734 Fed.Appx. 543, 546 (10th Cir. 2018).

1. Willful and Wanton Conduct

Plaintiffs argue that the exculpatory provisions of the Participation Agreement cannot be enforced in this instance because Plaintiffs’ injuries are the result of Defendants’ willful and wanton conduct. (ECF No. 32 at 8.) Defendants argue the Court cannot consider whether Defendants’ conduct was willful and wanton because Plaintiffs have not properly pleaded such conduct in the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 31 at 12.) Plaintiffs erroneously claim that they do not need to have pleaded willful and wanton conduct for the Court to consider their arguments.[3] (ECF No. 32 at 15-16; s ee Suddith v. Citimortgage, Inc., 79 F.Supp.3d 1193, 1198 n.2 (citing Jojola 55 F.3d 488, 494 (10th Cir. 1995)).) While Plaintiffs do not explicitly describe Defendants’ conduct as “willful and wanton” in the Amended Complaint (see ECF No. 5), the sufficiency of Plaintiffs’ pleading is determined by the presence (or lack) of facts rather than talismanic phrases. See Schneider, 493 F.3d at 1177.

The Court has reviewed the Amended Complaint, in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, with an eye for allegations that might sufficiently plead willful and wanton conduct. Under Colorado law, “[w]illful and wanton conduct is purposeful conduct committed recklessly that exhibits an intent consciously to disregard the safety of others.” Forman v. Brown, 944 P.2d 559, 564 (Colo.App. 1996). The Court finds only one allegation that can fairly be characterized as pleading conscious disregard for the safety of others. In their Second Claim for Relief (Negligence – Krabloonik, Inc.), Plaintiffs allege Defendant Krabloonik “put[] profit over safety by deliberately choosing to continue dog sledding trips on unsafe terrain and in unsafe weather conditions.” (ECF No. 5 at 8 ¶ 42.a.) Though this allegation is relatively thin, the Court finds that when considered in connection with the factual allegations relating to the icy terrain, lack of snow, and obstacles on the dogsled track, it is sufficient to plead willful and wanton conduct. Therefore, Defendants’ Construed Motion is denied with respect to Sandra Sturm’s Second Claim for Relief.

2. Validity of the Participation Agreement Under Jones

Defendants discuss each of the four Jones factors. (ECF No. 31 at 3-11.) In their Response, Plaintiffs only address the fourth Jones factor and concede that “[f]or recreational releases such as the one at issue here, the issue generally turns on the final Jones factor.” (ECF No. 32 at 17.) Given Plaintiffs’ concession, the Court concludes that the Participation Agreement satisfies the first three Jones factors, and therefore the Court need only address the fourth factor.

Under the fourth factor, “[t]he inquiry should be whether the intent of the parties was to extinguish liability and whether this intent was clearly and unambiguously expressed.” Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 785 (Colo. 1989). The Colorado Supreme Court has explained that “[t]o determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, [a court may] examine[ ] the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.'” Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004).

After carefully analyzing the Participation Agreement, the Court finds that it was the intent of the parties to extinguish liability, and this intent was clearly and unambiguously expressed. The language in the Participation Agreement is not overburdened with extensive or complex legal jargon, nor is the Participation Agreement inordinately long (less than a page) or unusually complicated. See Lahey v. Covington, 964 F.Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo. 1996) (concluding that a release agreement of “just over one page” was “short”).

Moreover, the Court finds that the organization of the Participation Agreement makes it highly unlikely that the exculpatory provisions could have been missed or reasonably misunderstood. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 468. The very top of the form reads, in bold font and all capital letters, “PARTICIPATION AGREEMENT, RELEASE AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” (ECF No. 31-1 at 3.) Sections of the Participation Agreement are written in bold font to draw the eye, including provisions highlighting the wide range of risks related to participation in the dogsled ride and releasing potential future claims alleging “negligent acts or omissions.” (Id.) Immediately above Sandra and Timothy Sturm’s signatures are two sentences whereby they acknowledged the opportunity to read the Participation Agreement in full and agreed that they had in fact read and understood it. (ECF No. 31-1 at 3-4.) The Court therefore finds that, under the standard articulated by the Colorado Supreme Court in Chadwick, the exculpatory provisions of the Participation Agreement were clear and unambiguous. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467-68.

Plaintiffs maintain that the Participation Agreement is not enforceable because the provisions do not contain “specific language making reference to specific risks, specific activities, and specifically waiving personal injury claims based on the activity being engaged in.” (ECF No. 32 at 18 (citing Wycoff v. Grace Church of the Assemblies of God, 251 P.3d 1260, 1265 (Colo.App. 2010)).) According to Plaintiffs, because the Participation Agreement does not explicitly reference the possibility of the precise course of events Plaintiffs allege occurred, [4] the exculpatory provisions therein are invalid. (ECF No. 32 at 18-22.)

Contrary to Plaintiffs’ argument, Colorado law does not require “that an exculpatory agreement describe in detail each specific risk that the signor might encounter. Rather, an exculpatory agreement bars a claim if the agreement clearly reflects the parties’ intent to extinguish liability for that type of claim.” Squires v. Breckenridge Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 715 F.3d 867, 873 (10th Cir. 2013); see also Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 785. Here, again, the Court finds that the exculpatory provisions of the Participation Agreement unambiguously reflect the parties’ intent to extinguish liability for Plaintiffs’ type of claims.

Plaintiffs also allege they were injured when Weber lost control of the dogsled Sandra and Holly Sturm were on, causing it to careen into a tree. (ECF No. 5 at 2 ¶¶ 89.) However, Plaintiff “expressly agree[d] and promise[d] to accept and assume all of the risks existing” in the dogsled ride, including “collisions with other sleds and/or manmade and natural objects such as . . . trees.”[5] (ECF No. 31-1 at 3.) Plaintiff alleges Krabloonik failed to install a braking system to help mushers control the speed of dogsleds (ECF No. 5 at 9 ¶ 42), but Plaintiffs expressly waived all “claims which allege negligent acts or omissions” by Defendants. (ECF No. 31-1 at 3 (emphasis in original).) Plaintiffs allege Weber lost control due to icy conditions and because the dogsled hit a rut (see ECF No. 5 at 3 ¶ 11); however, among the risks Plaintiffs agreed to accept and assume was the possibility that Weber might “misjudge the weather or other environmental conditions” and, again, they waived all claims alleging negligence. (ECF No. 31-1.) Thus, it is irrefutable that the Participation Agreement reflects an intent of the parties to extinguish liability for Plaintiffs’ type of claims, and that Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries are the type of injuries contemplated by the Participation Agreement.

For all these reasons, the Court finds that all four of the Jones factors are satisfied and that the exculpatory provisions of Participation Agreement are valid and enforceable as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Eby, 998 F.2d 858, 862 (10th Cir. 1993) (“If the plain language of the waiver is clear and unambiguous, it is enforced as a matter of law.”). In addition, the Court finds Plaintiffs’ claims fall within the scope of the enforceable Participation Agreement. Accordingly, dismissal of Sandra Stum’s claims, other than her Second Claim for Relief, is appropriate.

IV. CONCLUSION

Since the Construed Motion was briefed, discovery in this case has closed. In this Order the Court has considered and ruled on the Construed Motion solely in light of the pleading requirements of Rule 12(b)(6). As a result, the parties have not yet had the opportunity to fully brief the question, as it regards the claims not dismissed by the terms of this Order, of whether there are no genuine issues of material fact entitling the movant under Rule 56 to judgment as a matter of law. Therefore, the provisions of WJM Revised Practice Standards III.F.2 notwithstanding, the Court will grant Defendants leave to file a renewed motion under Rule 56 addressing all evidence in the record through the close of discovery, and directed solely to the remaining claims in this case.

For the reasons set forth above, the Court ORDERS as follows:

1. Defendants’ Construed Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 31) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as set forth above;

2. Defendants are granted leave to file a renewed motion for summary judgment by no later than July 15, 2022;

3. Plaintiffs shall file their response to Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, if any, by no later than August 5, 2022; and

4. Defendants shall file their reply in support of their renewed motion, if any, by no later than August 19, 2022.

———

Notes:

[1] The following facts are undisputed unless attributed to a party or otherwise noted. All citations to docketed materials are to the page number in the CM/ECF header, which sometimes differs from a document’s internal pagination.

[2] KKEN is defined as “Krabloonik Kennels, their agents, owners, officers, volunteers, participants, employees, and all other persons or entities acting in any capacity on their behalf” in the Participant Agreement. (ECF No. 31-1 at 3.)

[3] Plaintiffs also argue that, if the Court finds their pleading insufficient, they can amend under Rule 15. However, Plaintiffs have not requested leave to amend. Even if the Court construes this argument as a motion for leave to amend their complaint, Plaintiffs’ mid-brief request directly violates D.C.COLO.LCivR 7.1(d)’s admonition that “[a] motion shall not be included in a response or reply to the original motion. A motion shall be filed as a separate document.” It also contradicts the undersigned’s more explicit instructions in his Revised Practice Standard III.B. Therefore, the Court considers this argument no further.

[4] Plaintiffs stress that Krabloonik was on notice from prior incidents that certain risks might materialize. (See, e.g., ECF No. 32 at 18) (“[In the Participation Agreement” there is a complete lack of discussion on numerous specific safety risks which Krabloonik was well aware of prior to the incident.”).)

[5] Plaintiff argues that this provision is not specific enough to effectively waive liability because it indicates that losing control of dogs, rather than mushers falling off the dogsled, can lead to collisions with trees. (ECF No. 32 at 18-19.) The Court disagrees. The portion of the Participation Agreement containing this phrase is merely a set of examples, and not an exhaustive, itemized list of potential harms being disclaimed. The Participation Agreement provides that claims arising from collisions with objects resulting in injury are among the types of claims the parties intended to extinguish. Under Jones and Chadwick, this is enough.

———


Minnesota Appellate court upholds a release signed by a mother for a child’s injuries

Court also upheld the settlement agreement signed by the parents was valid to prohibit a claim by the minor after turning age 18

Justice v. Marvel, LLC, 965 N.W.2d 335 (Minn. App. 2021)

State:
Minnesota, Court of Appeals of Minnesota

Plaintiff: Carter Justice

Defendant: Marvel, LLC d/b/a Pump It Up Parties

Plaintiff Claims: negligently failed to cover the landing surface of the fall zone surrounding the inflatable

Defendant Defenses: Settlement and Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2021

Summary

The plaintiff was injured as a minor at an indoor recreation facility. The parents settled with the facility at the time of the injury. When the minor reached the age of majority in Minnesota he sued the facility. The Appellate court upheld the release signed by the parent to stop the minors claims and the settlement agreement.

Facts

In February 2007, Justice attended a friend’s birthday party at an indoor amusement facility in the city of Plymouth. The facility, known as Pump It Up, was owned and operated by Marvel, L.L.C. Upon entering the facility, Justice’s mother, Michelle Sutton, was asked to sign, and did sign, a form agreement….

During the party, while playing on an inflatable obstacle course, Justice fell approximately six feet and hit his head on the carpeted floor. He was taken to a hospital, where he received treatment.

In September 2007, Sutton and her husband, Steve Sutton, who is Justice’s step-father, entered into a written agreement with Marvel. The one-page agreement states that the Suttons had incurred unreimbursed medical expenses as a result of Justice’s head injury and that Marvel agreed to pay $1,500 of those expenses. The agreement provided that, if no new medical complications arose within six months, the Suttons would “execute a full and complete release and discharge of any and all claims” against Marvel. The Suttons did not thereafter execute such a release.

In June 2018, after Justice had turned 18 years old, he commenced this action against Marvel.

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

This is the first case I’ve found in the recreation community where a minor sued upon reaching the age of majority for an injury the minor received years before. Injured minors are the lawsuits that seem to hang on forever. In some cases, you want the parents to present a claim so you can deal with it and not possible wait tent to fifteen years for the minor to turn 18 (or 19 or 21 dependent on the state See The age that minors become adults.) to sue on their own.

The defendant had two defenses. 1. The release that the mother had signed for her son at the time of the injury (pre-injury release). 2. The release the mother and father had signed at the time of the injury to settle the claim (post injury release).

The court looked at the basic issues surrounding a parents’ right to raise a child and whether this right includes the right to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

His first argument for voiding the release is also unique. After his mother signed the release, Minnesota passed a statute to regulate amusement parks like this and in the process lost the right to have a parent sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Nonetheless, the existence of a parent’s fundamental right “to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of his or her children,” implies that a parent has authority to act on behalf of a minor child when interacting with third parties. The United States Supreme Court has recognized as much: “Most children, even in adolescence, simply are not able to make sound judgments concerning many decisions, including their need for medical care or treatment. Parents can and must make those judgments. This principle is based on “a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions.” Furthermore, the law recognizes that “natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children. The Supreme Court stated in Parham that a parent’s authority to make health-care decisions on behalf of a minor child is limited only in atypical situations, such as if the parent has neglected or abused the child.

(This has been adopted by all states, yet most State Supreme Courts do not believe that a parent has the right to sign away a child’s right to sue. They can provide medical care to the child that might kill them, but they can’t allow them to be injured.)

The court then reviewed all the ways that the state of Minnesota has by statute given parents the right to control the child upbringing. The court then made this statement supporting the right of a parent to sign away the right to sue.

In light of these statutes, and in the absence of any law that either forbids parents from entering into contracts on behalf of their minor children or limits their ability to do so, it is clear that a parent generally has authority, on behalf of a minor child, to enter into an agreement that includes an exculpatory clause.

The next issue was a statute posted after the release was signed would void the release.

Three years after the plaintiff’s mother signed the release, Minnesota enacted Minn. Stat. 184B.20 Inflatable Amusement Equipment. The statute had a specific provision which voided releases signed by a parent for a minor.

Subd. 5. Insurance required; waiver of liability limited.

(b) A waiver of liability signed by or on behalf of a minor for injuries arising out of the negligence of the owner or the owner’s employee or designee is void.

The plaintiff argued that this statute should be used to void a release. However, a basic tenet of the law is “No law shall be construed to be retroactive unless clearly and manifestly so intended by the legislature.” Even if the legislature intends for a law to retroactive it is very rarely upheld as valid. No business could continue if at any time in the future the law could change making the action or business illegal.

The plaintiff then argued the release was void because it was “overly broad and contrary to public policy.” Minnesota law follows the law in most other states on interpreting an overly broad release and public policy issues.

“A clause exonerating a party from liability will be strictly construed against the benefited party.” “If the clause is either ambiguous in scope or purports to release the benefited party from liability for intentional, willful or wanton acts, it will not be enforced.” Id. In addition, an exculpatory clause is unenforceable if it “contravenes public policy.”

Minnesota has a two prongs test to determine if a contract violates public policy.

The test focuses on two factors: “(1) whether there was a disparity of bargaining power between the parties (in terms of a compulsion to sign a contract containing an unacceptable provision and the lack of ability to negotiate elimination of the unacceptable provision)” and “(2) the types of services being offered or provided (taking into consideration whether it is a public or essential service).”

The plaintiff argued the release was a violation of public policy because his mother could not negotiate the release and as such he would not have been permitted to attend the birthday party if she had not signed the release. This argument might work for a real necessity, however in recreation cases it fails because the services can always be obtained elsewhere.

Justice contends that there was a disparity in bargaining power because there was no opportunity for his mother to negotiate the terms of the exculpatory clause and because he would not have been permitted to attend the birthday party if his mother had not signed the form agreement. Justice’s contention is not legally viable. “Even though a contract is on a printed form and offered on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, those facts alone do not cause it to be an adhesion contract.” More is required. The agreement must relate to a “necessary service,” and there also “must be a showing … that the services could not be obtained elsewhere.”

But the supreme court has recognized that “contracts relating to recreational activities do not fall within any of the categories where the public interest is involved,” on the ground that they are not “services of great importance to the public, which were a practical necessity for some members of the public.”

The release was found to not violate public policy because:

…exculpatory clause is not contrary to public policy because there was no bargaining-power disparity and because Marvel did not provide “an essential or public service.”

The next argument was the scope of the release was too broad because the language tries to stop claims for “intentional, willful or wanton acts.” However, the release itself only referred to claims for negligence. However, this was not enough of a restriction under Minnesota law the court concluded.

Marvel’s exculpatory clause does not make any reference to claims of “ordinary negligence” or simply “negligence.” Rather, it expansively refers to “any and all claims,” which means that it purports to release Marvel from claims arising from its intentional, willful or wanton acts. Thus, Marvel’s exculpatory clause is overly broad.

The court concluded the language of the release was overly broad when it did language in the release purported to release the defendant from more than simple negligence claims. The court then examined whether this issue was enough to void the release.

The court in a prior decision, repeated here found that although the language of the release may purport to cover greater than ordinary negligence, a release under Minnesota law could only release from ordinary negligence. So, no matter what the release said or was interpreted to say, it could not protect from simple negligence claims.

We reasoned that “any term in a contract which attempts to exempt a party from liability for gross negligence or wanton conduct is unenforceable, not the entire contract. ” (emphasis added) (quotation and alteration omitted). In light of Anderson, Marvel’s exculpatory clause is enforceable to the extent that Justice asserts a claim of ordinary negligence, but it is unenforceable to the extent that Justice asserts a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence.

Overly broad language, concerning the extent of the protection provided by the release, did not void the release.

Finally, the court reviewed the plaintiff’s argument that the post injury release signed by the plaintiff’s parents to settle their claims at the time of the injury was not valid. The plaintiff argued legal technical claims about the signing and validity of the release, which the court rejected.

The district court did not err by granting Marvel’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that Justice’s sole claim of ordinary negligence is barred by the exculpatory clause that his mother signed on his behalf. In light of that conclusion, Justice’s argument that the district court erred by denying his motion to amend the complaint to add a request for punitive damages is moot.

So Now What?

One of the confusing points of this case is why did the amusement industry allow Minn. Stat. 184B.20 Inflatable Amusement Equipment to be passed. It provided no protection for the industry or operators, placed a mandatory insurance requirement and worst voided the use of a release for a minor in one of the few states where a minor can have a parent sign away their rights.

The two other issues, the signing of a release by a parent to stop the claims of a child, which is not moot for inflatable amusement devices, and the concept of a minor suing after his parents have settled a claim, after reaching the age of majority are rare and decided by the court in a manner that upholds the validity of a contract.

If settlement and post injury release signed by the parents had been thrown out, this would create a nightmare of litigation. No one would settle any claim of a minor until the minor reached the age of majority since any settlement might be void. No matter how badly a parent might want to pay medical bills or move on, no insurance company would offer a payment knowing they could be sued later.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Who am I

Jim Moss

I’m an attorney specializing in the legal issues of the Outdoor Recreation Industry

I represent Manufactures, Outfitters, Guides, Reps, College & University’s, Camps, Youth Programs, Adventure Programs and Businesses

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Minn. Stat. 184B.20 Inflatable Amusement Equipment (Minnesota Statutes (2022 Edition))

Minn. Stat. 184B.20 Inflatable Amusement Equipment (Minnesota Statutes (2022 Edition))

§ 184B.20. INFLATABLE AMUSEMENT EQUIPMENT

Subdivision 1. Definitions.

(a) For purposes of this section, the terms defined in this subdivision have the meanings given.

(b) “Commercial use” means regular use of an inflatable for profit by an owner at a permanently located facility:

(1) to which the general public is invited; or

(2) which the owner makes available at that facility for private parties or other events.

“Commercial use” does not include use of an inflatable (i) at a carnival, festival, fair, private party, or similar venue at a location other than the permanently located facility, or (ii) at a facility where the use of the inflatable is incidental to the primary use of the facility.

(c) “Inflatable” means an amusement device, used to bounce or otherwise play on, that incorporates a structural and mechanical system and employs a high-strength fabric or film that achieves its strength, shape, and stability by tensioning from internal air pressure.

(d) “Owner” means a person who owns, leases as lessee, or controls the operation of an inflatable for commercial use.

(e) “Person” has the meaning given in section 302A.011, subdivision 22.

(f) “Supervisor” means an individual stationed within close proximity to an inflatable during its use, for the purpose of supervising its safe use.

(g) “Trained” means that an individual has received instruction in how to supervise the safe use of inflatables in accordance with industry and ASTM standards.

Subd. 2. Prohibition.

No owner shall provide an inflatable for commercial use in this state by others unless the owner complies with this section.

Subd. 3. Protection against injuries from falls.

An inflatable that is in commercial use must be placed in a manner that complies with ASTM Standard F 2374.07, adopted by the American Society for Testing and Materials, including any future updates to that standard.

Subd. 4. Supervision by trained person required.

No owner of an inflatable shall allow commercial use of the inflatable unless a trained supervisor is present in close proximity to the inflatable and is actively supervising its use. The ratio of supervisors to inflatables must comply with ASTM Standard F 2374.07, as referenced under subdivision 3.

Subd. 5. Insurance required; waiver of liability limited.

(a) An owner of an inflatable that is subject to subdivision 2 shall maintain liability insurance covering liability for a death or injury resulting from commercial use of the inflatable with limits of no less than $1,000,000 per occurrence and $2,000,000 aggregate per year. The insurance shall also include medical payments coverage of no less than $5,000 per occurrence, which may be limited to injuries incurred while using an inflatable, including getting on or off of the inflatable. The insurance must be issued by an insurance company authorized to issue the coverage in this state by the commissioner of commerce, and must be kept in force during the entire period of registration. In the event of a policy cancellation, the insurer will send written notice to the commissioner of labor and industry at the same time that a cancellation request is received from or a notice is sent to the insured.

(b) A waiver of liability signed by or on behalf of a minor for injuries arising out of the negligence of the owner or the owner’s employee or designee is void.

Subd. 6. Registration required.

An owner of an inflatable that is subject to subdivision 2 must obtain and maintain a current registration with the commissioner of labor and industry. The registration information must include the name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address of the owner, the street address of each facility at which the owner regularly provides inflatables for commercial use in this state by others, and a current insurance certificate of coverage proving full compliance with subdivision 5. The commissioner shall issue and renew a certificate of registration only to owners who comply with this section. The commissioner shall charge a registration fee of $100 for a two-year registration designed to cover the cost of registration and enforcement. Fee receipts must be deposited in the state treasury and credited to the construction code fund. The registration certificate shall be issued and renewed for a two-year period. The registrant shall promptly notify the commissioner in writing of any changes in the registration information required in this subdivision.

Subd. 7. Enforcement.

The commissioner of labor and industry shall enforce this section and may use for that purpose section 326B.082 and any powers otherwise available to the commissioner for enforcement purposes, including suspension or revocation of the person’s registration and assessment of fines.

Source:

2010 c 347 art 3s 2


Justice v. Marvel, LLC, 965 N.W.2d 335 (Minn. App. 2021)

Justice v. Marvel, LLC, 965 N.W.2d 335 (Minn. App. 2021)

965 N.W.2d 335

Carter JUSTICE, Appellant,
v.
MARVEL, LLC d/b/a Pump It Up Parties, Respondent.

A20-1318

Court of Appeals of Minnesota.

Filed July 19, 2021
Granted in part October 19, 2021

Mahesha P. Subbaraman, Subbaraman, P.L.L.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Patrick W. Michenfelder, Throndset Michenfelder, L.L.C., St. Michael, Minnesota (for appellant)

Joseph A. Nilan, Daniel A. Ellerbrock, Jacob T. Merkel, Gregerson, Rosow, Johnson & Nilan, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

Matthew J. Barber, Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Minnesota Association for Justice)

Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and Gaïtas, Judge.

OPINION

JOHNSON, Judge

When he was seven years old, Carter Justice attended a birthday party at a business that provided inflatable amusement equipment on which children were allowed to jump, climb, and play. Before entering the party, Justice’s mother signed a form agreement that included an exculpatory clause that released the business from any and all claims she and Justice might have based on his use of the inflatable amusement equipment. During the party, Justice fell off an inflatable obstacle course and hit his head on the floor, which caused him a head injury.

When Justice was 18 years old, he sued the business that hosted the birthday party. The district court denied Justice’s motion to amend the complaint to seek punitive damages. The district court later granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that the exculpatory clause signed by Justice’s mother is valid and enforceable. We conclude that the district court did not err by granting the motion for summary judgment. Therefore, we affirm.

FACTS

In February 2007, Justice attended a friend’s birthday party at an indoor amusement facility in the city of Plymouth. The facility, known as Pump It Up, was owned and operated by Marvel, L.L.C. Upon entering the facility, Justice’s mother, Michelle Sutton, was asked to sign, and did sign, a form agreement that stated as follows:

In consideration of being allowed to enter into the play area and/or participate in any party and/or program at Pump It Up of Plymouth, MN, the undersigned, on his or her own behalf, and/or on behalf of the participant(s) identified below, acknowledges, appreciates and agrees to the following conditions:

I represent that I am the parent or legal guardian of the Participant(s) named below …

….

I, for myself and the participant(s) nanied below, hereby releaseMARVEL, LLC, dba Pump It Up of Plymouthfrom and against any and all claims, injuries, liabilities or damages arising out of or related to our participation inthe use of the play area and/or inflatable equipment. (Emphasis added.)

During the party, while playing on an inflatable obstacle course, Justice fell approximately six feet and hit his head on the carpeted floor. He was taken to a hospital, where he received treatment.

In September 2007, Sutton and her husband, Steve Sutton, who is Justice’s step-father, entered into a written agreement with Marvel. The one-page agreement states that the Suttons had incurred unreimbursed medical expenses as a result of Justice’s head injury and that Marvel agreed to pay $1,500 of those expenses. The agreement provided that, if no new medical complications arose within six months, the Suttons would “execute a full and complete release and discharge of any and all claims” against Marvel. The Suttons did not thereafter execute such a release.

In June 2018, after Justice had turned 18 years old, he commenced this action against Marvel. He alleged that Marvel had “negligently failed to cover the landing surface of the fall zone surrounding the inflatable.” In March 2020, Justice moved to amend the complaint to add a request for punitive damages. In April 2020, the district court denied the motion to amend.

In May 2020, Marvel moved for summary judgment on the ground that Justice’s claim is barred by the exculpatory clause that his mother signed and, in addition, by the post-injury agreement that both of the Suttons signed. In August 2020, the district court granted the motion for summary judgment, reasoning that Justice’s claim is barred by the pre-injury exculpatory clause. Justice appeals.

ISSUE

Did the district court err by granting Marvel’s motion for summary judgment based on the exculpatory clause that Justice’s mother signed on his behalf when he was a minor child?

ANALYSIS

On appeal, Justice makes two arguments. First, he argues that the district court erred by granting Marvel’s motion for summary judgment. Second, he argues that the district court erred by denying his motion to amend the complaint to add a request for punitive damages. We begin by addressing his first argument, which is dispositive of the appeal.

A district court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.01. A genuine issue of material fact exists if a rational trier of fact, considering the record as a whole, could find for the nomnoving party. Frieler v. Carlson Mktg. Grp., Inc., 751 N.W.2d 558, 564 (Minn. 2008). This court applies a de novo standard of review to the district court’s legal conclusions on summary judgment and views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted. Commerce Bank v.
West Bend Mut. Ins. Co., 870 N.W.2d 770, 773 (Minn. 2015).

Justice argues that the district court erred on the ground that the exculpatory clause is invalid and unenforceable for five reasons. First, he argues that a pre-injury exculpatory clause releasing claims arising from the use of inflatable amusement equipment is void as a matter of law pursuant to a statute that was enacted after Justice’s mother signed Marvel’s exculpatory clause. Second, he argues that a parent does not have authority to agree to a pre-injury exculpatory clause on behalf of a minor child and that any such agreement is not binding on the child after he becomes an adult. Third, he argues that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is invalid and unenforceable because it is overly broad or arguably overbroad and in violation of public policy. Fourth, he argues that the post-injury agreement abrogated or modified the pre-injury exculpatory clause. And fifth, he argues that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Marvel engaged in greater-than-ordinary negligence. We will consider each of Justice’s arguments but in a different order.

A. Parental Authority

Justice argues that a parent does not have authority to agree to a pre-injury exculpatory clause on behalf of a minor child and that any such agreement is not binding on the child after he becomes an adult.1 Neither party has cited any Minnesota caselaw that is directly on point, and we are unaware of any such caselaw.2

The district court ruled in favor of Marvel on this issue by stating that “a parent may sign a waiver on behalf of a child under the laws of Minnesota.” In support of this statement, the district court quoted the following sentence in SooHoo v. Johnson, 731 N.W.2d 815 (Minn. 2007) : “A parent’s right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of his or her children is a protected fundamental right.” Id. at 820 (citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 2060, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000) ). The supreme court’s statement in SooHoo was made in the context of analyzing an argument that a custodial parent of a minor child has a constitutional right to substantive due process with respect to governmental interference with the parent-child relationship. Id. There was no issue in that case concerning a parent’s authority to enter into a contract on behalf of a minor child. See
id. at 819-26.

Nonetheless, the existence of a parent’s fundamental right “to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of his or her children,” id. at 820, implies that a parent has authority to act on behalf of a minor child when interacting with third parties. The United States Supreme Court has recognized as much: “Most children, even in adolescence, simply are not able to make sound judgments concerning many decisions, including their need for medical care or treatment. Parents can and must make those judgments.” Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584, 603, 99 S. Ct. 2493, 2505, 61 L.Ed.2d 101 (1979). This principle is based on “a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions.” Id. at 602, 99 S. Ct. at 2504. Furthermore, the law recognizes that “natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children.” Id. (citing 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries of the Law of England 447 (Legal Classics Library 1983) (1769); 2 James Kent, Commentaries on American Law 190 (1827)). The Supreme Court stated in Parham that a parent’s authority to make health-care decisions on behalf of a minor child is limited only in atypical situations, such as if the parent has neglected or abused the child. Id. at 604, 99 S. Ct. at 2505.

Several Minnesota statutes recognize by implication that a parent generally is authorized to enter into agreements with third parties on behalf of a minor child. For example, in matters related to education, the legislature has recognized that parents have authority to make binding decisions on behalf of their minor children. See, e.g., Minn.Stat. §§ 120A.22, subds. 4-5, 8, 120A.3 8, 120B.07 (2020). Similarly, in the context of medical care, the legislature has provided for only a limited number of situations in which a parent’s consent to the medical treatment of a minor child is unnecessary, thereby implying that, in all other situations, a parent’s agreement or consent is necessary. For example, a minor child “may give effective consent to personal medical, dental, mental and other health services” only if the minor child is “living separate and apart from parents or legal guardian … and is managing personal financial affairs.” Minn. Stat. § 144.341 (2020). In addition, a health-care provider may give emergency treatment to a minor child without parental consent only if “the risk to the minor’s life or health is of such a nature that treatment should be given without delay and the requirement of consent would result in delay or denial of treatment.” Minn. Stat. § 144.344 (2020). Each of these statutes presupposes that a parent generally has authority to make decisions on behalf of a minor child.

The legislature’s recognition of a parent’s authority to enter into an agreement on behalf of a minor child also is reflected in two recent statutes that are especially pertinent to this case. In 2010, the legislature passed, and the governor signed, a bill to regulate inflatable amusement equipment in various ways. 2010 Minn. Laws ch. 347, art. 3, § 2, at 46 (codified at Minn. Stat. § 184B.20 (2020) ). One provision of the statute (which is discussed further below in part B) broadly prohibits exculpatory clauses with the following language: “A waiver of liability signed by or on behalf of a minor for injuries arising out of the negligence of the owner or the owner’s employee or designee is void.” Minn. Stat. § 184B.20, subd. 5(b) (emphasis added). The italicized language in section 184B.20 would be unnecessary unless another person—such as a parent—has authority to sign a waiver of liability on behalf of a minor child. Also, in 2013, the legislature and the governor enacted a law to, among other things, prohibit exculpatory clauses that purport to release claims of greater-than-ordinary negligence in the context of consumer services, including recreational activities. 2013 Minn. Laws ch. 118 (codified at Minn. Stat. § 604.055 (2020) ). The statute applies to agreements entered into by “a minor or another who is authorized to sign or accept the agreement on behalf of the minor. ” Minn. Stat. § 184B.20, subd. 2 (emphasis added). Again, the italicized language impliedly recognizes that, in the absence of the statute, another person—such as a parent—may be authorized to sign agreements of that type, which is the same general type of agreement as the exculpatory clause in this case.

In light of these statutes, and in the absence of any law that either forbids parents from entering into contracts on behalf of their minor children or limits their ability to do so, it is clear that a parent generally has authority, on behalf of a minor child, to enter into an agreement that includes an exculpatory clause.

Justice contends that a parent should not be permitted to bind his or her minor child to an exculpatory clause after the child becomes an adult because a minor child who independently enters into a contract may avoid the contract after reaching adulthood. See
Kelly v. Furlong, 194 Minn. 465, 261 N.W. 460, 466 (1935) ; Goodnow v. Empire Lumber Co., 31 Minn. 468, 18 N.W. 283, 284-85 (1884) ; Dixon v. Merritt, 21 Minn. 196, 200 (1875). This rule of law exists “for the protection of minors, and so that they shall not be prejudiced by acts done or obligations incurred at a time when they are not capable of determining what is for their interest to do.” Goodnow, 18 N.W. at 284. For that reason, “the law gives them an opportunity, after they have become capable of judging for themselves, to determine whether such acts or obligations are beneficial or prejudicial to them, and whether they will abide by or avoid them.” Id. at 284-85. But that rationale simply does not apply if an adult parent signed an exculpatory clause on behalf of a minor child. An adult parent is presumed to be competent to make decisions on behalf of a minor child and to act in the child’s best interest. See
Parham, 442 U.S. at 602, 99 S. Ct. at 2504. Such a parent may balance the relevant considerations and either elect to sign an exculpatory clause on behalf of a minor child and thereby obtain the benefits of doing so or elect to not sign it and thereby forego any such benefits.

Justice also contends that a parent should not be permitted to sign an exculpatory clause on behalf of a minor child before any injury occurs because a parent is not permitted to settle a pending lawsuit on behalf of a minor child after a child has been injured, unless a district court approves. Justice refers to a statute that authorizes a parent to “maintain an action for the injury of a minor son or daughter” and also provides, “No settlement or compromise of the action is valid unless it is approved by a judge of the court in which the action is pending.” Minn. Stat. § 540.08 (2020). Justice’s contention fails to recognize the differences between the two situations. Section 540.08 guards against the risk that a parent might enter into an improvident settlement that is not in the minor child’s best interests or the risk that a parent might be motivated by an intent to use settlement proceeds for improper purposes. Such risks are especially ripe after a child has been injured and a civil action has been commenced and settled. But such risks are not present and are unlikely to arise in the more common situation in which a parent is presented with an exculpatory clause and no injury has yet occurred. In that situation, there is no immediate prospect of a settlement that is contrary to a minor child’s best interests.

Justice contends further that this court held in O’Brien Entertainment Agency, Inc. v. Wolfgramm, 407 N.W.2d 463 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Aug. 12, 1987), that a parent’s agreement on behalf of his minor children was unenforceable. We disagree with Justice’s interpretation of our opinion in O’Brien
. The opinion states that a father of six children signed a contract, but the opinion does not clearly state that the father signed the contract on behalf of his children. Id. at 465-66. Absent from the court’s reasoning is any statement that the father purported to enter into the contract on behalf of his children. See
id. at 466-67. We concluded that the statute of frauds barred the breach-of-contract claim against the children because none of the children signed the contract. Id. at 466. Thus, our opinion did not address the question whether a parent may enter into a contract on behalf of a minor child.

In sum, various provisions of Minnesota law recognize that a parent may enter into an agreement on behalf of a minor child. Recent statutory enactments clearly indicate that the legislature has assumed that a parent is authorized to sign an exculpatory clause—including an exculpatory clause concerning the use of inflatable amusement equipment—on behalf of a minor child. Justice has not cited any Minnesota authority for the proposition that a parent may not enter into an agreement on behalf of a minor child.

Thus, the district court did not err by reasoning that Justice’s mother was authorized to sign Marvel’s exculpatory clause on Justice’s behalf.

B. Section 184B.20

Justice also argues that section 184B.20 of the Minnesota Statutes, which was enacted in 2010, voids the exculpatory clause that his mother signed in 2007 because the statute voids all waivers of claims based on injuries caused by the use of inflatable amusement equipment.

As noted above, section 184B.20 provides, “A waiver of liability signed by or on behalf of a minor for injuries arising out of the negligence of the owner or the owner’s employee or designee is void.” Minn. Stat. § 184B.20, subd. 5(b). The session law that led to the codification of this statute states that the law “is effective August 1, 2010.” 2010 Minn. Laws ch. 347, art. 3, § 2, at 46. The district court rejected Justice’s argument that section 184B.20 voids Marvel’s exculpatory clause on the grounds that Justice’s mother signed the exculpatory clause before the statute’s effective date and that the legislature did not intend for the statute to apply retroactively.

” ‘No law shall be construed to be retroactive unless clearly and manifestly so intended by the legislature.’ ” In re Individual 35W Bridge Litigation, 806 N.W.2d 811, 819 (Minn. 2011) (A09-1776) (hereinafter 35W Bridge (A09-1776)
) (quoting Minn. Stat. § 645.21 (2010) ). One way in which the legislature may indicate its intent for a law to operate retroactively is to use the term “retroactive.” Duluth Firemen’s Relief Ass’n v. City of Duluth, 361 N.W.2d 381, 385 (Minn. 1985).

Justice does not argue that the legislature intended the statute to apply retroactively. Instead, he contends that the statute’s application in this case would be a prospective application, not a retroactive application. But the supreme court has stated, “A statute operates retroactively if it affects rights, obligations, acts, transactions and conditions which are performed or exist prior to the adoption of the statute.” 35W Bridge (A09-1776), 806 N.W.2d at 819-20 (quotation omitted). If section 184B.20 were applied to this case, it would affect the parties’ respective rights and obligations concerning events—the signing of Marvel’s exculpatory clause and Justice’s head injury—that occurred more than three years before the effective date of the statute. Such an application would result in a retroactive application of the statute because it would affect rights and obligations that were pre-existing when the statute became effective. See id.

Justice attempts to avoid a retroactive characterization by relying on Tapia v. Leslie, 950 N.W.2d 59 (Minn. 2020), in which the supreme court concluded that a 2014 statutory amendment governed a 2017 application for a permit to carry a pistol. Id. at 63. In Tapia, the relevant statute was amended three years before the application for a permit, which was the operative event. Id. In this case, the statute was enacted three years after Justice’s mother agreed to the exculpatory agreement. Thus, Tapia is distinguishable from this case.

Justice also contends that the application of section 184B.20 in this case would not impair any vested rights belonging to Marvel. The existence of vested rights may, in certain circumstances, defeat the intended retroactive application of a statute if retroactive application would be unconstitutional. See
In re Individual 35W Bridge Litigation, 806 N.W.2d 820, 829-33 (Minn. 2011) (A10-0087); Peterson v. City of Minneapolis, 285 Minn. 282, 173 N.W.2d 353, 357-58 (1969) ; Yaeger v. Delano Granite Works, 250 Minn. 303, 84 N.W.2d 363, 366-67 (1957) ; Holen v. Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro. Airports Comm’n, 250 Minn. 130, 84 N.W.2d 282, 287 (1957) ; K.E. v. Hoffman, 452 N.W.2d 509, 512-13 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. May 7, 1990). This understanding of vested rights is apparent in Larson v. Independent School District No. 314, 305 Minn. 358, 233 N.W.2d 744 (1975), the case on which Justice primarily relies in his principal brief. In Larson, the supreme court concluded that the retroactive application of a rule of civil procedure, as intended, did not “deprive[ ] defendants of vested rights of property and privacy in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.Id. at 748 (emphasis added). Outside the context of land use and zoning, the vested-rights doctrine simply does not affect the determination of whether a statute is intended to have retroactive application. Cf . Interstate Power Co. v. Nobles County Bd. of Commissioners, 617 N.W.2d 566, 575-78 (Minn. 2000) (citing cases). Because we have determined that the legislature did not intend for section 184B.20 to apply retroactively, the vested-rights doctrine is not relevant.

Thus, the district court did not err by reasoning that section 184B.20 does not apply retroactively to Justice’s mother’s agreement to Marvel’s exculpatory clause.

C. Marvel’s Exculpatory Clause

Justice also argues that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is unenforceable on the grounds that it is overly broad and contrary to public policy.

“A clause exonerating a party from liability will be strictly construed against the benefited party.” Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 923 (Minn. 1982). “If the clause is either ambiguous in scope or purports to release the benefited party from liability for intentional, willful or wanton acts, it will not be enforced.” Id. In addition, an exculpatory clause is unenforceable if it “contravenes public policy.” Yang v. Voyagaire Houseboats, Inc., 701 N.W.2d 783, 789 (Minn. 2005) (citing Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 923 ).

1. Public Policy

Justice contends that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is unenforceable on the ground that it is contrary to public policy.

The supreme court has prescribed a “two-prong test” to determine whether an exculpatory clause is contrary to public policy. Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 923. The test focuses on two factors: “(1) whether there was a disparity of bargaining power between the parties (in terms of a compulsion to sign a contract containing an unacceptable provision and the lack of ability to negotiate elimination of the unacceptable provision)” and “(2) the types of services being offered or provided (taking into consideration whether it is a public or essential service).” Id. In this case, the district court determined that Marvel’ s exculpatory clause is not contrary to public policy because there was no bargaining-power disparity and because Marvel did not provide “an essential or public service.”

Justice contends that there was a disparity in bargaining power because there was no opportunity for his mother to negotiate the terms of the exculpatory clause and because he would not have been permitted to attend the birthday party if his mother had not signed the form agreement. Justice’s contention is not legally viable. “Even though a contract is on a printed form and offered on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, those facts alone do not cause it to be an adhesion contract.” Id. at 924. More is required. The agreement must relate to a “necessary service,” and there also “must be a showing … that the services could not be obtained elsewhere.” Id. at 924-25. Consequently, there is no disparity in bargaining power, for purposes of the Schlobohm public-policy analysis, if a consumer has the choice to simply forego the activity. See
Beehner v. Cragun Corp., 636 N.W.2d 821, 827-28 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Feb. 28, 2002); Malecha v. St. Croix Valley Skydiving Club, Inc., 392 N.W.2d 727, 730 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Oct. 29, 1986). There is no evidence in the summary-judgment record that the services Marvel provided were unavailable else where, and we may presume that Justice was not compelled to participate in the birthday party because the provision of inflatable amusement equipment is not a necessary service. Thus, as in Schlobohm and Malecha, there was no disparity in bargaining power, as required for a conclusion that an exculpatory clause is contrary to public policy.

Justice also contends that the type of services offered by Marvel causes its exculpatory clause to be incompatible with public policy. He likens Marvel’s services to the “[t]ypes of services thought to be subject to public regulation,” such as “common carriers, hospitals and doctors, public utilities, innkeepers, public warehousemen, employers and services involving extra-hazardous activities.” Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 925. But the supreme court has recognized that “contracts relating to recreational activities do not fall within any of the categories where the public interest is involved,” on the ground that they are not “services of great importance to the public, which were a practical necessity for some members of the public.” Id. at 926. Subsequent opinions have relied on this principle in concluding that the use of an exculpatory clause in connection with a recreational activity is not contrary to public policy. See
Anderson v. McOskar Enterprises, Inc., 712 N.W.2d 796, 802 (Minn. App. 2006) (health club); Beehner, 636 N.W.2d at 829 (horseback riding); Malecha, 392 N.W.2d at 730 (skydiving). A business that provides inflatable amusement equipment is well within the category of recreational activities for which exculpatory clauses are not prohibited.

Justice counters that providing inflatable amusement equipment is the type of service that is “generally thought suitable for public regulation,” Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 925, because it now is, in fact, regulated by statute, as of 2010. See Minn. Stat. § 184B.20; 2010 Minn. Laws ch. 347, art. 3, § 2, at 46. Furthermore, he contends that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is contrary to public policy because the legislature has declared that all exculpatory clauses concerning inflatable amusement equipment are void. To rely on section 184B.20 for purposes of the Schlobohm public-policy analysis would be, in effect, to apply the statute retroactively. We have already concluded that section 184B.20 does not apply retroactively to an exculpatory clause that was signed before the statute’s effective date. See supra part B. Accordingly, Justice cannot rely on section 184B.20 to establish that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is contrary to public policy in the sense described in Schlobohm.

Thus, the district court did not err by reasoning that Marvel’s exculpatory clause does not violate public policy.

2. Scope of Release

Justice contends that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is unenforceable on the ground that it purports to release Marvel from claims arising from Marvel’s intentional, willful or wanton acts. Justice alternatively contends that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is unenforceable on the ground that it is ambiguous with respect to whether it releases Marvel from claims arising from Marvel’s intentional, willful or wanton acts.

Exculpatory clauses are permissible but not favored and, thus, are “strictly construed against the benefited party.” Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 923. An exculpatory clause is unenforceable if it is “either ambiguous in scope or purports to release the benefited party from liability for intentional, willful or wanton acts.” Id.

By signing Marvel’s exculpatory clause, Justice’s mother agreed, on her own behalf and on behalf of Justice, to “release … MARVEL, LLC, … from and against any and all claims, injuries, liabilities or damages.” (Emphasis added.) The plain language of this clause purports to release claims of both ordinary negligence and greater-than-ordinary negligence, including claims based on intentional, willful or wanton acts. Marvel contends that its exculpatory clause is similar to exculpatory clauses in other cases in which the appellate courts concluded that the clauses were limited to ordinary negligence. In each of those cases, however, the exculpatory clause expressly referred to claims of “negligence,” which provided the appellate courts with a basis for concluding that the clauses were limited to claims of ordinary negligence. See
Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 922-23 ; Anderson, 712 N.W.2d at 799, 801 ; Malecha, 392 N.W.2d at 728-30 ; see also Beehner, 636 N.W.2d at 825-27. But Marvel’s exculpatory clause does not make any reference to claims of “ordinary negligence” or simply “negligence.” Rather, it expansively refers to “any and all claims,” which means that it purports to release Marvel from claims arising from its intentional, willful or wanton acts. Thus, Marvel’s exculpatory clause is overly broad.

3. Effect of Overbreadth

Having determined that Marvel’s exculpatory clause is overly broad, we must consider the consequences of that determination. The question arises whether Marvel’s exculpatory clause is completely unenforceable, even with respect to claims of ordinary negligence, or unenforceable only to the extent that Justice asserts a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence. Justice contends that an overly broad exculpatory clause is “invalid,” without discussing more specifically the nature or extent of its invalidity. Marvel argues only that the exculpatory clause is valid, without making any alternative argument about whether or how this court should apply the exculpatory clause if it is invalid.

This court considered this precise issue in Anderson, in which we characterized a health club’s exculpatory clause as “arguably ambiguous.” 712 N.W.2d at 801. The plaintiff had asserted only a claim of ordinary negligence. Id. We stated that it “would subvert the parties’ manifested intent” to conclude that the plaintiffs ordinary-negligence claim was not barred by a release that clearly released such a claim. Id. We reasoned that “any term in a contract which attempts to exempt a party from liability for gross negligence or wanton conduct is unenforceable, not the entire contract.Id. (emphasis added) (quotation and alteration omitted). In light of Anderson, Marvel’s exculpatory clause is enforceable to the extent that Justice asserts a claim of ordinary negligence, but it is unenforceable to the extent that Justice asserts a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence. See id. ; see also
ADT Security Services, Inc. v. Swenson, 276 F.R.D. 278, 300-01 (D. Minn. 2011) (concluding that overly broad nature of exculpatory clause “limit[s] its applicability to claims which do not implicate willful and wanton negligence or intentional behavior”).

Thus, the district court did not err by enforcing Marvel’s exculpatory clause and concluding that it released Justice’s claim of ordinary negligence, even though the clause is overly broad.

D. Greater-than-Ordinary Negligence

Justice argues that he has introduced evidence that is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Marvel engaged in greater-than-ordinary negligence. In response, Marvel argues that Justice did not preserve this argument because he did not present it to the district court.

Marvel is correct. Justice did not argue to the district court that Marvel’s summary-judgment motion should be denied on the ground that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Marvel engaged in greater-than-ordinary negligence. The district court expressly stated in its order that “Plaintiffs claims are based solely on negligence, and there is no claim by Plaintiff nor evidence in the record to suggest that Defendant or its employees acted willfully, intentionally or wantonly.” Justice is making a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence for the first time on appeal. In that situation, an appellate court generally will not consider an argument that was forfeited because it was not presented to the district court. Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) ; Doe 175 v. Columbia Heights Sch. Dist., 842 N.W.2d 38, 42-43 (Minn. App. 2014).

Justice contends that he adequately preserved a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence by pleading his claim broadly. He also contends that he raised an issue of greater-than-ordinary negligence in his motion to amend the complaint to add a request for punitive damages. Regardless of how Justice pleaded his claim or claims in his complaint, and regardless of the arguments he made with respect to a different motion, he had an obligation to oppose Marvel’s summary-judgment motion by submitting and citing admissible evidence in support of all of his claims and by presenting all of his legal arguments for denying the motion. See
DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69-71 (Minn. 1997) ; Hunt v. IBM Mid Am. Emps. Fed. Credit Union, 384 N.W.2d 853, 855-56 (Minn. 1986) ; Molde v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 781 N.W.2d 36, 44 (Minn. App. 2010) ; Fontaine v. Steen, 759 N.W.2d 672, 676 (Minn. App. 2009). But Justice did not mention a claim of. greater-than-ordinary negligence in his memorandum of law in opposition to Marvel’s motion.

Thus, we will not consider Justice’s argument that the district court should have denied Marvel’s summary-judgment motion with respect to a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence. See
Thiele, 425 N.W.2d at 582 ; Doe 175 , 842 N.W.2d at 42-43.

E. Post-Injury Agreement

Justice argues that the district court erred by reasoning that the agreement signed by his mother and step-father in September 2007, after Justice was injured, does not abrogate or modify the exculpatory clause.

The September 2007 agreement provides, in relevant part,

As of the date of this Agreement, Carter Justice seems to have recovered completely from the Accident and has been removed from any restrictions by his attending physician(s). Parents agree that if there are no new medical complications arising as a result of the Accident within six months following the date of this Agreement they will execute a full and complete release and discharge of any and all claims against [Marvel] stemming from the Accident.

Justice argued to the district court that this post-injury agreement abrogated the exculpatory clause on the ground that the parties “agreed to substitute a new contract” for the exculpatory clause. The district court rejected the argument, reasoning that the post-injury agreement does not abrogate or modify the exculpatory clause because it does not refer to the exculpatory clause and because it states that it is not “an admission of any fault or legal liability.”

On appeal, Justice contends that the post-injury agreement abrogates the exculpatory clause because the post-injury agreement is specifically related to Justice’s head injury, Justice’s mother and step-father agreed to release claims arising from Justice’s head injury only if certain conditions were present, and the conditions stated in the post-injury agreement were not present. In response, Marvel contends that the post-injury agreement did not modify the exculpatory clause because the agreement does not refer to the waiver and because it was entered into by Justice’s mother and step-father on their own behalf but not on behalf of Justice.

Justice’s argument requires us to interpret the post-injury agreement, which is a contract. “The primary goal of contract interpretation is to determine and enforce the intent of the parties.” Travertine Corp. v. Lexington-Silverwood, 683 N.W.2d 267, 271 (Minn. 2004). “Where there is a written instrument, the intent of the parties is determined from the plain language of the instrument itself.” Id. If a contract is clear and unambiguous, courts should apply the plain language of the contract and “not rewrite, modify, or limit its effect by a strained construction.” Id. This court applies a de novo standard of review to a district court’s interpretation of a contract. Id.

The district court correctly interpreted the post-injury agreement. It is an agreement between Marvel and Justice’s mother and step-father but not between Marvel and Justice, the two parties to this case. It does not refer to the pre-injury exculpatory clause in any way. It provided for the possibility of “a full and complete release and discharge of any and all claims against [Marvel] stemming from” Justice’s injury. If such a release had been signed, it would have provided Marvel with an additional defense to Justice’s claim. But Justice’s mother and step-father never signed the release that was contemplated by the post-injury agreement. The absence of a second release does not in any way alter the release contained in the exculpatory clause that was signed by Justice’s mother on the day of Justice’s injury.

Thus, the district court did not err by reasoning that the post-injury agreement does not abrogate or modify the exculpatory clause.

DECISION

The district court did not err by granting Marvel’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that Justice’s sole claim of ordinary negligence is barred by the exculpatory clause that his mother signed on his behalf. In light of that conclusion, Justice’s argument that the district court erred by denying his motion to amend the complaint to add a request for punitive damages is moot.

Affirmed.

——–

Notes:

1 Marvel contends that Justice did not preserve this argument by presenting it to the district court. Marvel’s contention is colorable because Justice presented the issue to the district court in a somewhat indirect manner. But the district court determined that the issue was presented, stating that it “was addressed in the [parties’] memoranda and is therefore worth clarifying.” Accordingly, the argument is sufficiently preserved for appellate review.

2 The Minnesota Association for Justice has filed an amicus brief supporting Justice’s position. The association notes that a person may void a contract that he or she entered into as a minor, contends that compensation of children who are tort victims is an important objective, and asserts that courts in 17 other states do not enforce parental waivers of minors’ claims. Our research indicates that courts in other states have resolved the issue in various ways. Courts in some states have enforced exculpatory clauses signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child. See, e.g.,
Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738, 745-47 (2002) ; BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714, 80 A.3d 345, 353-55 (2013) ; Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St.3d 367, 696 N.E.2d 201, 206-07 (1998). Courts in other states have not enforced such exculpatory clauses. See, e.g., Woodman ex rel. Woodman v. Kera, LLC, 486 Mich. 228, 785 N.W.2d 1, 8 (2010) ; Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart, 37 P.3d 1062, 1066 (Utah 2001) ; Scott v. Pacific W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wash.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6, 10-12 (1992).

——–


A Parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue in New Jersey, however, a parent can agree to arbitrate the minor’s claims.

Another trampoline park case where the plaintiffs are required to arbitrate their claim even though the release which included the arbitration clause was not enforceable in New Jersey.

Johnson v. Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in Springfield (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2021)

State: New Jersey

Plaintiff: David Johnson, an infant by his guardian ad litem, Shalonda Johnson, and Shalonda Johnson, individually

Defendant: Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in Springfield, Sky Zone, LLC, Sky Zone Franchise Group, LLC, and Go Ahead and Jump 4, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release required arbitration of the claims

Holding: For the defendants, claims must be arbitrated

Year: 2021

Summary

The New Jersey Supreme Court held Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323 (2006), that a parent could not sign away a minor’s right to sue. See However, in Hojnowski the court stated a parent could agree to arbitrate a minor’s claims. This decision of the injuries received at a trampoline park held the same decision. When signing the release, the mother agreed to arbitration of any claims.

Facts

On July 14, 2018, ten-year-old David and his mother visited the Park. Before they were permitted entry, however, a Park employee apprised Johnson she was required to sign a “Participation Agreement, Release and Assumption of Risk” (the Agreement) on an electronic tablet. On August 15, 2018, plaintiffs again visited the Park and, while jumping on a trampoline, David seriously injured his leg. The appellate record did not include evidence of whether Johnson executed a second waiver.

The Agreement is presented to the patrons at a kiosk in the form of an electronic document. The patrons are expected to read it and acknowledge their consent to be bound by the terms contained therein by placing an electronic “checkmark” and entering certain personally identifying information. Defendants argue David’s mother placed an electronic checkmark where indicated, and thus acknowledged she understood and agreed “to arbitrate any dispute as set forth in this section” and waived “[her] right, and the right(s) of [her] minor child(ren) . . . to maintain a lawsuit against [defendants] . . . for any and all claims covered by this Agreement.”

The mother filed a lawsuit for herself and her son. The defendant argued the arbitration clause in the release should apply. That would remove the litigation from the state court system and have a neutral arbitrator decide the case. Normally arbitrators do not hand out damages to the extend a jury would. The court agreed, leading to this appeal.

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

The argument was quite simple. The plaintiff argued that since the New Jersey Supreme Court had decided that a parent could not sign away a minor’s right to sue, that the release, including the arbitration clause should be thrown out.

The plaintiff first argued there was no real notice because the plaintiff had checked a box on the electronic form and that was not enough notice required to alert the plaintiff that she was going to have to arbitrate any claim. The defense countered that the plaintiff has completed the form giving the defendant a lot of contact information.

In response, defense counsel argued Johnson did a great deal more than merely place a checkmark on a section of an electronic document. “We don’t just have the electronic signatures. We have her name, her address, her phone number, her date of birth . . . it’s not merely that you have [Janay’s] certification.

The plaintiff then argued the arbitration clause was ambiguous and unenforceable as a matter of law.

As a matter of public policy, our Supreme Court has upheld arbitration as a “favored means of dispute resolution.” Hojnowski, 187 N.J. at 342. The Court has consistently endorsed a “strong preference to enforce arbitration agreements, both at the state and federal level.” In determining whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists, we will apply “state contract-law principles.” Hojnowski, 187 N.J. at 342. Guided by these principles, “[a]n arbitration agreement is valid only if the parties intended to arbitrate because parties are not required ‘to arbitrate when they have not agreed to do so.

The statement that the arbitration clause is only valid if the parties intended to arbitrate is good for arbitration clauses and contracts. The court also found the language requiring arbitration was not ambiguous or unenforceable.

Mutuality of assent is the hallmark of an enforceable contract. Thus, the initial inquiry is whether the parties actually and knowingly agreed to arbitrate their dispute. To reflect mutual assent to arbitrate, the terms of an arbitration provision must be “sufficiently clear to place a consumer on notice that he or she is waiving a constitutional or statutory right . . . .” “No particular form of words is necessary to accomplish a clear and unambiguous waiver of rights.” If, “at least in some general and sufficiently broad way,” the language of the clause conveys arbitration is a waiver of the right to bring suit in a judicial forum, the clause will be enforced.

The court went further to state:

The language in the arbitration clause states plaintiffs were “agreeing to arbitrate any dispute as set forth in this section” and were “waiving [their] right . . . to maintain a lawsuit.” It sets forth, “[b]y agreeing to arbitrate, [plaintiffs] understand that [they] will NOT have the right to have [their] claim[s] determined by a jury.” This language clearly and unambiguously puts plaintiffs on notice that they are waiving the right to a jury trial and the right to pursue their claims in a court of law. This part of the Agreement is therefore enforceable.

The plaintiff then argued that forcing her to sign an exculpatory contract of adhesion right before a birthday party was a violation of the doctrines of procedural and substantive unconscionability.

We next address plaintiffs’ arguments attacking the enforcement of the arbitration clause based on the doctrines of procedural and substantive unconscionability. In essence, plaintiffs argue requiring Johnson to read and sign an ambiguous contract of adhesion immediately before a birthday party left her with no other choice but to assent.

In New Jersey there is a four-part test to determine if an agreement is a contract of adhesion.

[I]n determining whether to enforce the terms of a contract of adhesion, [a court] look[s] not only to the take-it-or-leave-it nature or the standardized form of the document but also to [(1)] the subject matter of the contract, [(2)] the parties’ relative bargaining positions, [(3)] the degree of economic compulsion motivating the “adhering” party, and [(4)] the public interests affected by the contract.

The court’s response was they could not find anything in the agreement that rose to the level that the contract was a contract of adhesion under New Jersey law.

Although the case is not over, any damages will probably significantly reduce by requiring arbitration.

So Now What?

This is the second decision that is almost identical to this one. Can a release in New Jersey at a trampoline park require the parent to arbitrate the minor’s claim. See New Jersey does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue so a binding arbitration agreement is a good idea, if it is written correctly. This decision does not mention the decision is Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206 which is almost identical in the facts.

There are two ways to limit damages in a state that does not allow a parent to sign a release giving up a minor’s right to sue. Assumption of the risk agreements and the defense of assumption of the risk. Did the parent AND the minor knowingly and voluntarily enter into the risk that caused the injury. This is only valid if you can prove the minor knew or you provided the minor with the education or knowledge to knowingly and voluntarily assume the risk. Voluntary is the easy part proving the minor knew of the risk is difficult.

Arbitration then is the next defense in this ladder to reduce damages. Most states do not allow an arbitrator to award more than the basic damages. Punitive damages cannot be awarded by arbitrators. Also, arbitrators are not over come by emotion or other factors that would influence them into awarding large damages.

Before putting an arbitration clause in your agreement, you need to determine two things.

  1. Is arbitration better than the court system in your state. If your state supports the use of a release, a release gets you out of a case without any damages. Even though arbitration will generally not give the plaintiff large awards, they usually award something.
  2. Are there benefits to arbitration in your state that outweigh other means of resolving the dispute.

In those states that do not support a parent signing away a minor’s right to sue, arbitration is probably a good result. See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Johnson v. Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in Springfield (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2021)

Johnson v. Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in Springfield (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2021)

DAVID JOHNSON, an infant by his guardian ad litem, SHALONDA JOHNSON, and SHALONDA JOHNSON, individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
SKY ZONE INDOOR TRAMPOLINE PARK IN SPRINGFIELD, SKY ZONE, LLC, SKY ZONE FRANCHISE GROUP, LLC, and GO AHEAD AND JUMP 4, LLC, Defendants-Respondents.

No. A-2489-20

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 6, 2021

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued November 10, 2021

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-5446-20.

Edward M. Colligan argued the cause for appellants (Colligan & Colligan attorneys; Edward M. Colligan, on the brief).

Kelly A. Waters argued the cause for respondents (Wood Smith Henning & Berman, attorneys; Kelly A. Waters, of counsel and on the brief; Jill A. Mucerino and Sean P. Shoolbraid, on the brief).

Before Judges Fuentes, Gilson, and Gooden Brown.

PER CURIAM

David Johnson, a child under the age of eighteen, was injured while visiting a trampoline park owned and operated by Sky Zone, LLC, Sky Zone Franchise Group, LLC and Go Ahead and Jump 4, LLC (collectively, Park or defendants). Shalonda Johnson, individually and as guardian ad litem of her minor son (collectively, plaintiffs), [1] filed a civil action against defendants in the Superior Court, Law Division, in Union County, seeking compensatory damages. In lieu of filing a responsive pleading, defendants moved before the Law Division to enforce an arbitration clause contained in an electronic document Johnson signed as a condition of being permitted to enter the Park. After considering the arguments of counsel and the exhibits submitted, the Law Division judge assigned to the case granted defendants’ motion to enforce the arbitration clause and dismissed the case with prejudice in an order entered on March 24, 2021.

In this appeal, plaintiffs argue the arbitration clause contained in this electronic general liability release contract is unenforceable. After reviewing the record presented to the Law Division judge, we affirm the part of the order enforcing the arbitration clause, vacate the dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice, and remand for the court to stay judicial proceedings related to this case pending the outcome of the arbitration.[2]

I.

A.

On July 14, 2018, ten-year-old David and his mother visited the Park. Before they were permitted entry, however, a Park employee apprised Johnson she was required to sign a “Participation Agreement, Release and Assumption of Risk” (the Agreement) on an electronic tablet. On August 15, 2018, plaintiffs again visited the Park and, while jumping on a trampoline, David seriously injured his leg.[3] The appellate record did not include evidence of whether Johnson executed a second waiver.

The Agreement contains a general release provision “intended to release and provide other benefits, legal protections and consideration” to defendants. For example, it contains an “acknowledgement of potential injuries” provision, which places patrons on notice that “participating in trampoline and other activities is inherently and obviously dangerous.” The Agreement also includes a “voluntary assumption of risk acknowledgment” provision, which informs patrons that they “are participating voluntarily at [their] own risk” and could suffer “significant bodily injuries” or “die or become paralyzed, partially or fully, through their use of the Sky Zone facility and participation in Sky Zone activities.”

Finally, the Agreement contains a “release of liability” section, which requires patrons to “forever, irrevocably and unconditionally release, waive, relinquish, discharge from liability and covenant not to sue [Sky Zone]” for

any and all claims . . . of whatever kind or nature, in law, equity or otherwise, . . . related to or arising, directly or indirectly, from [their] access to and/or use of the Sky Zone [f]acility, . . . including, without limitation, any claim for negligence, failure to warn or other omission, . . . personal injury, . . . [or] bodily harm . . . .

The enforceability of these exculpatory provisions are not part of this appeal. We express no opinion as to whether these exculpatory provisions are enforceable under our State’s common law, as expressed by our Supreme Court in Stelluti v. Casapenn Enters., LLC, 203 N.J. 286 (2010), and Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323 (2006).

The dispositive issue in this appeal concerns the enforceability of the section in the Agreement entitled, in part, “arbitration of disputes.” The Agreement is presented to the patrons at a kiosk in the form of an electronic document. The patrons are expected to read it and acknowledge their consent to be bound by the terms contained therein by placing an electronic “checkmark” and entering certain personally identifying information. Defendants argue David’s mother placed an electronic checkmark where indicated, and thus acknowledged she understood and agreed “to arbitrate any dispute as set forth in this section” and waived “[her] right, and the right(s) of [her] minor child(ren) . . . to maintain a lawsuit against [defendants] . . . for any and all claims covered by this Agreement.” This section also provides the following recitation of the rights plaintiffs agreed to waive as a precondition to enter the Park and participate in the activities available therein:

By agreeing to arbitrate, I understand that I will NOT have the right to have my claim determined by a jury, and the minor child(ren) above will NOT have the right to have claim(s) determined by a jury. Reciprocally, [the Sky Zone defendants] waive their right to maintain a lawsuit against [plaintiff] . . . for any and all claims covered by this [a]greement, and they will not have the right to have their claim(s) determined by a jury. ANY DISPUTE, CLAIM OR CONTROVERSY ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO MY OR THE CHILD’S ACCESS TO AND/OR USE OF THE SKY ZONE PREMISES AND/OR ITS EQUIPMENT, INCLUDING THE DETERMINATION OF THE SCOPE OR APPLICABILITY OF THIS AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE, SHALL BE BROUGHT WITHIN ONE YEAR OF ITS ACCRUAL (i.e., the date of the alleged injury) FOR AN ADULT AND WITHIN THE APPLICABLE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR A MINOR AND BE DETERMINED BY ARBITRATION IN THE COUNTY OF THE SKY ZONE FACILITY . . . BEFORE ONE ARBITRATOR. THE ARBITRATION SHALL BE ADMINISTERED BY [JUDICIAL ARBITRATION AND MEDIATION SERVICES (JAMS)] PURSUANT TO ITS RULE 16.1 EXPEDITED ARBITRATION RULES AND PROCEDURES. JUDGMENT ON THE AWARD MAY BE ENTERED IN ANY COURT HAVING JURISDICTION. THIS CLAUSE SHALL NOT PRECLUDE PARTIES FROM SEEKING PROVISIONAL REMEDIES IN AID OF ARBITRATION FROM A COURT OF APPROPRIATE JURISDICTION. This [a]greement shall be governed by, construed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of New Jersey, without regard to choice of law principles. Notwithstanding the provision with respect to the applicable substantive law, any arbitration conducted pursuant to the terms of this [a]greement shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C., Sec. 1-16). I understand and acknowledge that the JAMS Arbitration Rules to which I agree are available online for my review at jamsadr.com, and include JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules & Procedures; Rule 16.1 Expedited Procedures; and, Policy On Consumer Minimum Standards Of Procedural Fairness.

[(Emphasis in original).]

The Agreement also contained a merger and a severability clause, in which Johnson acknowledged: “I have had sufficient opportunity to read this entire document. I have read and understood and voluntarily agree to be bound by its terms.” The clause further provided:

This [a]greement constitutes and contains the entire agreement between [Sky Zone] and [plaintiffs] relating to the . . . use of the Sky Zone Facility. There are no other agreements, oral, written, or implied, with respect to such matters. . . . If any term or provision of this [agreement] shall be held illegal, unenforceable, or in conflict with any law governing this [agreement] the validity of the remaining portions shall not be affected thereby. B.

Plaintiffs filed their personal injury complaint against defendants on August 13, 2020. The Law Division entered default against defendants on December 28, 2020, for failure to file a timely responsive pleading. On January 8, 2021, defendants’ counsel notified plaintiffs’ counsel he intended to file a motion to dismiss the complaint in lieu of an answer pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e), based on plaintiffs’ failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The attorneys thereafter entered into a Consent Agreement, stating in relevant part:

This matter having come before the [c]ourt upon the Consent of the parties, whereby the parties consent, stipulate, and agree that the default entered against Defendants, SKY ZONE FRANCHISE GROUP, LLC and GO AHEAD AND JUMP 4, LLC, be vacated and the time for Defendant to Answer or Otherwise Plead be extended until January 30, 2021 . . . .

[(Strikethrough in original).]

Plaintiff’s counsel unilaterally struck “or Otherwise Plead” from the Consent Order. On February 2, 2021, the Law Division accepted the Consent Agreement and vacated the default. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and compel arbitration on January 30, 2021. Defendants’ motion came for oral argument before the Law Division on March 24, 2021. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued the arbitration clause presented to Johnson was unenforceable based on both the obscure, technical language used in the document, and by presenting it as part of an electronic document in a kiosk located outside the Park’s entrance. Plaintiff’s counsel also emphasized the circumstances under which Johnson allegedly waived her son’s constitutional right to a jury trial: “[M]y client went in July [2018] to be a guest at a birthday party. The . . . defense . . . alleges that she signed this Agreement at that time and at that time, they’re saying that she signed an agreement that was good forever.”

In response, defense counsel argued Johnson did a great deal more than merely place a checkmark on a section of an electronic document. “We don’t just have the electronic signatures. We have her name, her address, her phone number, her date of birth . . . it’s not merely that you have [Janay’s] certification. You have identifiers that Skyzone would not have gotten without the plaintiff.” The reference made by defense counsel to “Janay’s certification” relates to Michael Janay, the Managing Member of defendant Go Ahead and Jump 4, LLC., who averred:

As a matter of business practice, all patrons who enter the Park for the first time are required to electronically sign a Participant Agreement, Release and Assumption of Risk . . . at a kiosk, or online, as a pre-condition to entry. Patrons are not permitted entry into the Park unless a Participation Agreement has been executed on their behalf and there are signs throughout the Park indicating the same. . . . [A]ll patrons who enter the Park are required to provide a valid email address when electronically signing the Participation Agreement.

. . . [O]nce the Participation Agreement is electronically signed, a copy of the executed Participation Agreement is sent to the email address provided by the patron.

. . . .

Based on the information provided, a copy of this Participation Agreement was sent to Shalonda Johnson’s email following Shalonda Johnson’s execution of the Participation Agreement at the Park on July 14, 2018. As indicated, Shalonda Johnson listed her son David Johnson[, ] who is the Minor[-]Plaintiff, and another minor Kevin Johnson. On that basis, Shalonda Johnson, David Johnson, and Kevin Johnson were permitted entry into the Park on July 14, 2018.

After considering the arguments of counsel, the motion judge granted defendants’ motion on March 24, 2021. The judge explained the basis of his decision in a Statement of Reasons attached to the order.

II.

Against this factual backdrop, plaintiffs argue the arbitration agreement is ambiguous and unenforceable as a matter of law. We reject these arguments and affirm the part of the Law Division’s Order upholding the enforceability of the arbitration clause. Because the Law Division’s decision to enforce this arbitration provision is purely a question of law, our standard of review is de novo. Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., 244 N.J. 119, 131 (2020); see also Kernahan v. Home Warranty Adm’r of Fla., Inc., 236 N.J. 301, 316 (2019) (“Whether a contractual arbitration provision is enforceable is a question of law, and we need not defer to the interpretative analysis of the trial . . . court[] unless we find it persuasive.”).

As a matter of public policy, our Supreme Court has upheld arbitration as a “favored means of dispute resolution.” Hojnowski, 187 N.J. at 342. The Court has consistently endorsed a “strong preference to enforce arbitration agreements, both at the state and federal level.” Hirsch v. Amper Fin. Servs., LLC, 215 N.J. 174, 186 (2013). In determining whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists, we will apply “state contract-law principles.” Hojnowski, 187 N.J. at 342. Guided by these principles, “[a]n arbitration agreement is valid only if the parties intended to arbitrate because parties are not required ‘to arbitrate when they have not agreed to do so.'” Kernahan, 236 N.J. at 317 (quoting Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 478 (1989)).

Mutuality of assent is the hallmark of an enforceable contract. Thus, the initial inquiry is whether the parties actually and knowingly agreed to arbitrate their dispute. To reflect mutual assent to arbitrate, the terms of an arbitration provision must be “sufficiently clear to place a consumer on notice that he or she is waiving a constitutional or statutory right . . . .” Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Grp., L.P., 219 N.J. 430, 443 (2014). “No particular form of words is necessary to accomplish a clear and unambiguous waiver of rights.” Id. at 444. If, “at least in some general and sufficiently broad way,” the language of the clause conveys arbitration is a waiver of the right to bring suit in a judicial forum, the clause will be enforced. Id. at 447. “The key . . . is clarity.” Barr v. Bishop Rosen & Co., 442 N.J.Super. 599, 607 (App. Div. 2015).

Here, plaintiffs claim the arbitration clause is ambiguous and therefore unenforceable because it contains “void, inaccurate, misleading and ambiguous language . . . .” and “confusing lower[-]case passages and all upper[-]case bold passages.” Plaintiffs argue Hojnowski, 187 N.J. at 327, “prohibits a parent of a minor child from releasing the child’s potential tort claims arising out of the use of a commercial recreational facility.” According to plaintiffs, JAMS, the named forum in the arbitration provision, is “not permitted to conduct arbitration in New Jersey” and thus the agreement should fail. We disagree.

The language in the arbitration clause states plaintiffs were “agreeing to arbitrate any dispute as set forth in this section” and were “waiving [their] right . . . to maintain a lawsuit.” It sets forth, “[b]y agreeing to arbitrate, [plaintiffs] understand that [they] will NOT have the right to have [their] claim[s] determined by a jury.” This language clearly and unambiguously puts plaintiffs on notice that they are waiving the right to a jury trial and the right to pursue their claims in a court of law. This part of the Agreement is therefore enforceable. See Flanzman, 244 N.J. at 137-38 (citing Atalese, 219 N.J. at 444-45).

Plaintiffs’ reliance on Hojnowski is misplaced. Writing for a unanimous Court, then Justice Zazzali[4] made clear “permitting arbitration of a minor’s claims is consistent with New Jersey case law discussing the enforceability of arbitration agreements that affect the rights of children.” 187 N.J. at 343. Here, plaintiff’s mother signed the Agreement that included an arbitration clause.

The unavailability of JAMS does not render the arbitration clause unenforceable. Although the parties agree JAMS is not available to arbitrate this case, the Agreement contains a severability clause that states: “If any term or provision of this [agreement] shall be held illegal, unenforceable, or in conflict with any law governing this [agreement] the validity of the remaining portions shall not be affected thereby.” Severability clauses “are indicative of the parties’ intent that the agreement as a whole survives the excision of an unenforceable provision.” Arafa v. Health Express Corp., 243 N.J. 147, 169 n.2 (2020). As the Supreme Court explained in Flanzman:

No New Jersey statutory provision or prior decision has elevated the selection of an “arbitral institution” or the designation of a “general process for selecting an arbitration mechanism or setting” to the status of essential contract terms, without which an arbitration agreement must fail.

To the contrary, the [New Jersey Arbitration Act (NJAA)] makes clear that its default provision for the selection of an arbitrator may operate in the absence of contractual terms prescribing such procedures. See N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-11(a). The NJAA reflects the Legislature’s intent that the parties’ omission of an arbitrator or arbitral organization, or their failure to set forth the method by which they will choose an arbitrator in the event of a dispute, will not preclude the enforcement of their agreement. Ibid.

[244 N.J. at 139.]

The arbitration clause at issue here must be interpreted in accordance with New Jersey law and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The FAA and the NJAA provide for a court-appointed arbitrator if the designated arbitrator is unavailable. Id. at 141. The arbitration clause enables the parties to seek from a court “provisional remedies in aid of arbitration.” The language in the Agreement does not show the parties intended to forego arbitration if JAMS is unavailable. The designation of JAMS was not integral to the enforcement of the arbitration clause. Thus, the unavailability of JAMS does not invalidate the arbitration clause.

We next address plaintiffs’ arguments attacking the enforcement of the arbitration clause based on the doctrines of procedural and substantive unconscionability. In essence, plaintiffs argue requiring Johnson to read and sign an ambiguous contract of adhesion immediately before a birthday party left her with no other choice but to assent. Our Supreme Court has described the factors that constitute the doctrines of procedural and substantive unconscionability:

The defense of unconscionability, specifically, calls for a fact-sensitive analysis in each case, even when a contract of adhesion is involved. [The] Court has recognized that contracts of adhesion necessarily involve indicia of procedural unconscionability. [The Court has] identified, therefore, four factors as deserving of attention when a court is asked to declare a contract of adhesion unenforceable.

[I]n determining whether to enforce the terms of a contract of adhesion, [a court] look[s] not only to the take-it-or-leave-it nature or the standardized form of the document but also to [(1)] the subject matter of the contract, [(2)] the parties’ relative bargaining positions, [(3)] the degree of economic compulsion motivating the “adhering” party, and [(4)] the public interests affected by the contract. [Delta Funding Corp. v. Harris, 189 N.J. 28, 39-40 (2006) (internal citations omitted) (quoting Rudbart v. N. Jersey Dist. Water Supply Comm’n, 127 N.J. 344, 356 (1992)).]

Here, plaintiffs merely recycle their arguments relying on the Agreement’s alleged ambiguity without applying or analyzing the factors established by the Court in Delta Funding. We discern no basis, in fact or in law, to conclude this arbitration provision is substantively unconscionable. Finally, plaintiffs’ allegations that defendants acted intentionally and recklessly have no basis in fact and are not worthy of further comment by this court. Plaintiffs’ remaining argument lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written decision. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

The order of the Law Division upholding the enforceability of defendants’ arbitration clause is affirmed. However, we vacate the part of the order that dismisses plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice and remand the matter to the Law Division to stay any judicial proceedings related to this case pending the outcome of the arbitration. GMAC, 205 N.J. at 584 n.7; N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-7(g).

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction. ———

Notes:

[1] In the interest of clarity, we will occasionally also refer to plaintiffs by their names; we will refer to the child by his first name and his mother by her last name. No disrespect is intended.

[2] Although an order entered by the Law Division compelling or denying arbitration is appealable to this court as of right, pursuant to Rule 2:2-3(a)(3), the trial court must stay any judicial proceeding pending the outcome of the arbitration. The court may also limit the stay to arbitrable claims if other claims are severable. GMAC v. Pittella, 205 N.J. 572, 584 n.7 (2011) (citing N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-7(g)).

[3] In a certification submitted to the motion judge, Johnson averred the injury damaged “the growth plate in my son’s leg . . . and his leg did not continue to grow properly. He has undergone surgery to shorten the opposite leg and may need additional treatment in the future.”

[4] In October 2006, Governor Jon Corzine appointed Justice Zazzali to succeed Deborah T. Poritz as Chief Justice. Chief Justice Zazzali served in this capacity until June 17, 2007, when he reached the mandatory retirement age for all members of the New Jersey Judiciary.

———


Push a release too far, in a state that is not sure Releases should be valid, and you provide the court with the opportunity to void releases and indemnification in the state.

Non-mother brought a group of kids to climbing gym and signed release for the kids. One was hurt, and the climbing wall sued the non-mother for indemnification in the release for the damages of the injured child.

Cannon v. Rock Climb Fairfield, LLC, 2020 Conn. Super. LEXIS 261

State: Connecticut; Superior Court of Connecticut

Plaintiff: Cindy Cannon PPA Emma Cannon (minor)

Defendant: Rock Climb Fairfield, LLC, Carabiners Fairfield, LLC and Matthew Conroy

Defendant Third Party Plaintiffs: Kate Licata, Indemnifier

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in supervising the rock climbing activities

Defendant Defenses: release and indemnification

Holding: For the Defendant Third Party Plaintiff, Indemnifier

Year: 2020

Summary

When litigating a case, you don’t look to the future effects of what you are doing. You look at winning. That is the only thing, your client and the client’s insurance company want. That is the only thing as an attorney you are allowed to do. You must represent the client and win.

In this case, the defendant used every argument they could to try to win, and not only lost the case, but voided releases for recreation in the state an eliminated any value the indemnification clause might have had in a release.

Facts

The case arises from an incident where the minor plaintiff, Emma Cannon, fell from a climbing wall at the Rock Climb defendant’s indoor rock climbing facility located in Fairfield, Connecticut. The minor plaintiff claims she sustained personal injuries. On behalf of her minor child, Cindy Cannon instituted the present action alleging the facility, its agents and employees were negligent in supervising the rock climbing activities, thereby causing the minor plaintiff’s injuries. The defendants have filed an answer and eight special defenses to the amended complaint.

Thereafter, the Rock Climb defendants filed an apportionment complaint against the defendant Kate Licata, who brought the minor plaintiff, Emma Cannon, and several other girls to the facility for a group birthday party event. The apportionment complaint is dated February 6, 2019. The apportionment complaint alleges that Licata was negligent in numerous ways and seeks an apportionment of liability and damages as to Licata for the percentage of negligence attributable to her. The apportionment complaint is not the subject of the motion for summary judgment that is presently before the court. The Rock Climb defendants also filed a cross claim against Licata alleging contractual and common-law indemnity. The cross claim, which is the subject of Licata’s motion for summary judgment, is dated February 22, 2019.

The cross claim alleges that the Rock Climb defendants, who are the third-party plaintiffs, require all invitees to its facility to complete a “Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk” form before participating in rock climbing activities. If the participant is a minor, the form must be signed by the minor’s parent or court-appointed guardian, which Licata was not. The release form contains language to the effect that the parent or guardian of the minor has explained the inherent risks of the activity to the minor and the minor understands the said risks and that the minor, nonetheless, wishes to participate in the activities. The release form further provides that “the parent of the minor visitor . . . forever discharge, and agree to indemnify . . . Carabiners Fairfield, LLC, its agents, owners, officers, volunteers, employees, and all other persons or entities acting in any capacity on its behalf . . . from any and all claims, suits, demands, causes of action, which are in any way connected with my or the minor visitor’s visit to the RCF activity site . . . My agreement of indemnity is intended to include claims arising out of losses suffered by me (an adult climber or parent) or the child and losses caused by me or the child. The agreements of indemnity and release include claims of negligence . . . of a Released Party.” The Rock Climb defendants allege that Licata completed an online version of the Release form and electronically signed it on behalf of the minor plaintiff Emma Cannon on October 3, 2016. Thus, Licata is contractually obligated to defend and indemnify the Rock Climb defendants for the injuries and damages resulting from Emma Cannon’s fall at the Rock Climb defendants’ facility pursuant to General Statutes §52-102a.5

The Rock Climb defendants also allege Licata is liable for common-law indemnification, claiming that any injuries sustained by the minor plaintiff were proximately caused, in whole or part, by Licata’s negligence and carelessness in multiple ways. Among these allegations are failing to supervise and monitor the minor; failing to instruct the minor; and failing to warn the minor of the dangerous nature and risks of the activity. Lastly, the Rock Climb defendants argue that a substantial amount of discovery remains outstanding and various issues of fact are yet to be settled, and therefore, it argues that Licata’s summary judgment motion should be denied.

The defendant argued on appeal that:

Licata argues that she was not given any opportunity to negotiate the terms of the Release document, which was presented to her on a “take or leave it” basis.

It was the Rock Climb defendants who were responsible for training Licata and/or the minor plaintiff to ensure safe rock climbing, as Licata claims she did not possess the knowledge, experience or authority to ensure the rock climbing facility was in a safe condition.

Additionally, Licata argues she was not in control of the situation on the date in question, and the cross claim does not even allege she was in control of the situation. Therefore, any claim for common-law indemnification also fails as a matter of law.

These three arguments made by the defendant are critical in how the court viewed the situation and more importantly the realities of using this type of document in a recreation case.

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

The court first set out the requirements to win a motion for summary judgment. In doing so it defined the term “a material fact.” “A material fact is a fact that will make a difference in the result of the case….”

“[a] genuine issue has been variously described as a triable, substantial or real issue of fact . . . and has been defined as one which can be maintained by substantial evidence . . . Hence, the genuine issue aspect of summary judgment procedure requires the parties to bring forward before trial evidentiary facts, or substantial evidence outside the pleadings, from which the material facts alleged in the pleadings can warrantably be inferred.

Summary judgment will not be granted if there is a material fact in question. So knowing the definition is important since most summary judgement claims revolve around whether there is a material fact that must be adjudicated.

The court then looked at the indemnification clause in the release; contractual indemnification. Under Connecticut law, indemnification is defined as:

Indemnity involves a claim for reimbursement in full from one who is claimed to be primarily liable.” “A party may bring an indemnification claim based on the terms of an indemnity agreement . . . [A]llegations of contractual indemnification must be supported by the terms of the contract or the contract itself . . . Under Connecticut law, to state a contract-based indemnification claim, the claimant must allege either an express or implied contractual right to indemnification

Indemnification agreements are contracts and as such construed under the principles of contract law.

The essential elements for a cause of action based on breach of contract are (1) the formation of an agreement, (2) performance by one party, (3) breach of the agreement by the opposing party, and (4) damages . . . [and] causation

Additionally, for a contract to be valid, there must be mutual assent between the parties to create a contract and the parties to the contract must be reasonably clear.

The court then looked at the indemnification language in the release in this case.

Paragraph 3 is titled “Release and Indemnity. That paragraph notes that the signor of the agreement is an adult visitor or parent of a minor visitor and that the signor releases and discharges and agrees to indemnify the RCF defendants from all claims, suits, demands or causes of action, which are connected to the minor’s visit to and participation in, RCF activities. The agreement is intended to include claims arising out of losses suffered by the child and losses caused by the signor or the child. By signing the agreement, the signor agrees to indemnify and release claims of negligence of the RCF defendants.

Lastly, paragraph 5 of the Release notes that the signor acknowledges that if the minor visitor for whom the signor has signed their signature, is hurt and files a lawsuit, the signor will protect the released and indemnified RCF defendants from any claims of the minor visitor.

The court did point out, but did not act upon the issue that release was not signed by anyone at the gym.

The court then looked at release law in Connecticut. The Supreme Court of Connecticut set forth three requirements for a release in a recreational activity to be valid.

(1) the societal expectation that family oriented activities will be reasonably safe; (2) the illogic of relieving the party with greater expertise and information concerning the dangers associated with the activity from the burden of proper maintenance of the snowtubing run; and (3) the fact that the release at issue was a standardized adhesion contract, lacking equal bargaining power between the parties, and offered to the plaintiff on a “take it or leave it” basis.

The court then found that the release in this case violated public policy in Connecticut.

We conclude that, based on our decision in Hanks, the totality of the circumstances surrounding the recreational activity of horseback riding and instruction that was offered by the defendants demonstrates that the enforcement of an exculpatory agreement in their favor from liability for ordinary negligence violates public policy and is not in the public interest. First, similar to the situation at issue in Hanks, the defendants in the present case provided the facilities, the instructors, and the equipment for their patrons to engage in a popular recreational activity, and the recreational facilities were open to the general public regardless of an individual’s ability level. Indeed, the defendants acknowledged that, although the release required riders to indicate their experience level, it also anticipated a range in skills from between “[n]ever ridden” to “[e]xperienced [r]ider,” and that the facility routinely had patrons of varying ability levels. Accordingly, there is a reasonable societal expectation that a recreational activity that is under the control of the provider and is open to all individuals, regardless of experience or ability level, will be reasonably safe.

Meaning, a release cannot be used to protect the provider of a recreational activity that is open to the public and requires skill because there is a general expectation that those activities are safe. On top of that, the plaintiff lacked any knowledge, experience or skill to determine if the defendants’ facility were in good working order or safe.

To the contrary, it was the defendants, not the plaintiff or the other customers, who had the “expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards, and to guard against the negligence of their agents and employees. They alone [could] properly maintain and inspect their premises, and train their employees in risk management.” In particular, the defendants acknowledged that they were responsible for providing their patrons with safe horses, qualified instructors, as well as properly maintained working equipment and riding surfaces.

The court looked at the statements from the guest’s point of view and found it illogical that the guest could make those judgements.

As we concluded in Hanks, it is illogical to relieve the defendants, as the party with greater expertise and information concerning the dangers associated with engaging in horseback riding at their facility, from potential claims of negligence surrounding an alleged failure to administer properly the activity.

The defendant also argued the release was an adhesion contract.

Specifically, we have noted that the most salient feature of adhesion contracts is that they are not subject to the normal bargaining processes of ordinary contracts, and that they tend to involve a standard form contract prepared by one party, to be signed by the party in a weaker position, usually a consumer, who has little choice about the terms.

Because the plaintiff could not negotiate the release provisions, and her only option was not to participate, because of that, the court concluded the contract was an adhesion contract.

The court circled back to the knowledge and skill of the guest by looking at the facts, that the guests and injured child did not bring any equipment or provided any training, guidance and/or supervision to the children under the third party plaintiff’s care.

Neither the minor plaintiff or Licata provided any of the equipment to be used. Licata, herself, did not provide training, guidance or supervision to the minors, including the minor plaintiff. Licata possessed no special knowledge regarding rock climbing or bouldering activities including training and safety procedures other than an initial orientation by RCF employees. Maklad testified at her deposition that the orientation lasted only five to ten minutes. The RCF defendants/third-party plaintiffs admit that there was zero expectation that Licata would “train and guide climbers” or to inspect various facility equipment. RCF argues that they did expect that parents and guardians would supervise children.

Because the third party plaintiff had no knowledge or skill concerning climbing, she could not have been supervising the children while climbing, it does not matter whether or not she was “adequately supervising” the children because she could not. This created another whole in the indemnification argument and another issue that must be decided by the trial court.

This brought the court back to the indemnification issue.

To hold a third party liable to indemnify one tortfeasor for damages awarded against it to the plaintiff for negligently causing harm to the plaintiff, a defendant seeking indemnification must establish that: (1) the third party against whom indemnification is sought was negligent; (2) the third party’s active negligence, rather than the defendant’s own passive negligence, was the direct, immediate cause of the accident and the resulting harm; (3) the third party was in control of the situation to the exclusion of the defendant seeking reimbursement; and (4) the defendant did not know of the third party’s negligence, had no reason to anticipate it, and reasonably could rely on the third party not to be negligent.”

The definition in Connecticut basically ruled out the third party plaintiff as a possible indemnifier for the gym.

“Our Supreme Court has defined exclusive control of the situation, for the purpose of a common-law indemnification claim, as exclusive control over the dangerous condition that gives rise to the accident.”

Since the third party defendant did not have any control over the situation because she lacked the knowledge, experience and skill to climb or supervise anyone else climbing and because she, and the children went to the gym because of the gym’s knowledge, skill, ability to see risks and the gym had the needed equipment, there could not be indemnification.

On top of that, because the court found the climbing gym had done such a poor job of prosecuting it’s indemnification claim the court found the claim had been abandoned.

The third-party plaintiffs, the RCF defendants, have produced little to no credible evidence; nor have they alleged or argued that Licata was in control of the situation to the exclusion. “Where a claim is asserted in the statement of issues but thereafter receives only cursory attention in the brief without substantive discussion or citation of authorities, it is deemed to be abandoned.”

That means the indemnification claim could not be brought back up at trial.

So Now What?

There is a dozen interesting statements found in this release that when brought to the light of reality will cause or should cause concern for the way some releases are written. Not legal as much as how the assumptions on how the law would work when applied to the facts which the court rejected.

  1. Having signor of the release accept the equipment and facility as is or to be in good shape, was determined to be a joke. The signor was coming to the facility for their expertise and had no expertise to make that determination on their own.

You don’t want to have your release thrown out because a clause in the release, no matter who it protects is false.

  1. Having the signor of the release agree that they are in control of the children they bring to the gym was found ridiculous for the same reasons.
  2. The Indemnification clause was not written to follow Connecticut law and as such was found to be worthless.
    1. Worse when argued by the defendant gyms, it was found the language, and their arguments were so futile as to be abandoned.
  3. The release placed so many burdens, which the signor could not get around; the release was found to be void because it violated public policy.

I have yet to read a case where an indemnification clause has been upheld in a release, unless the circumstances were very odd and the parties knowledgeable about what they were agreeing too.

Are there situations where there is a need, and you can properly write an indemnification clause in a release. Yes. However, the injured part will be indemnifying you not for your losses, but for the losses you incur when their actions involve a third party.

An example might be you are billed for the cost of search and rescue under your permit or concession agreement to find the lost guest. A well-written indemnification clause can be used to recover for the costs of these expenses, because the defendant did not cause the loss and is not trying to recover for its losses, only the losses the guest has made the defendant liable for.

The three arguments made by the defendant set forth in the summary will soon be present in many third party defenses I predict. They are simple yet set forth the reality of the people signing the indemnification clauses. Uniformly, the courts have struck down indemnification clauses when used to recover money for a plaintiff’s claim.

For more articles on Indemnification Clauses see:

Indemnification between businesses requires a contract outlining the type of indemnification and a certificate of insurance from one party to the other so the insurance company knows it is on the hook.

New Jersey does not support fee shifting provisions (indemnification clauses) in releases in a sky-diving case.

Indemnification agreements? What are you signing?

One case where an indemnification agreement was upheld:

A federal district court in Massachusetts upholds indemnification clause in a release.

This case will have far reaching effect in other states.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

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

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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

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How Long Should I hold onto Releases/Assumption of the risk Forms

There are several factors you need to find out before you can identify the exact number of years to hold on to contracts, assumption of the risk forms and releases. However, with modern technology, it does not matter anymore, hold onto them forever.

The old method

When boxes of releases were common, we used to calculate how long you should hold onto documents. The calculation relied on two major factors: The statute of limitations for a tort in your state and the age of the participant or person signing the document.

In most states, the statute of limitations for torts is two or three years. For an adult, you would hold on to a release for the statute of limitations plus one year. That plus one year is ” in case” (also translated meaning lawyer paranoia). That means in Colorado three years after an event, trip or whatever had ended you can shred the documents.

If the person was a minor, no matter if the minor signed it or their parent, you hold onto the document for the number of years until the minor turns eighteen (19 in Mississippi and 21 in Nebraska). (See The age that minors become adults.) You add those years to the statute of limitations.

As an example

Statute of Limitations in Colorado is two years for a tort.    2

Minor was 14 at the time of his injury: 18-14 =    4

One year just in case.    1

You would hold onto that release for seven years.    7

The reason for this is the minor can sue once he reaches the age of 18, until the statute of limitations runs. 99% of lawsuits for minors are started immediately, but you never know when a minor might decide that mom, and dad missed the boat when college tuition is needed.

However, sorting releases and assumption of the risk agreements signed by minors from those signed by adults was time consuming so the length of time to hold onto a release became forever. It was easier to collect and store the files then it was to sort them.

New Method = Forever, but a lot faster and easier

Scan the releases into a PDF file and store them on several hard drivers, thumb drives or in the cloud forever. You DO NOT need to sort them by name or separate them out into individual files. Just store them by date.

So, everyone who went Whitewater rafting on June 2, 2019 would be in the PDF dated 6.2.19. If you needed the release, you can just pull up the file and search or do a manual scan for the right release. Since a copy of the original is as good as the original, you do not need to keep the original. Colorado Rules of Evidence 1002; Federal Rules of Evidence 1002.

The exception to this rule would be if you know that someone was injured. You then need to go through a multi-step process.

  1. Scan the releases, including the one signed by the injured party and store them like all other releases. You do this with all the participants on the trip or program. You may need to contact the other parties as witnesses and having them in the same group as the injured party makes the other people at the event or on the boat easy to find.
  2. Collect all other necessary data that may be important years later. Examples of this might include:
    1. A roster of participants at the event
    2. A roster of staff attending the event
    3. All witness lists.
    4. All information and marketing material used to promote the event.
    5. Copy of the Weather report, water level, snow report, etc. for the day
    6. Program, Handouts, Agenda’s etc.
    7. Maintenance logs for equipment used in the event.
    8. Training, certifications, etc., of all staff for the activity
    9. Any photographs/videos of the activity
      1. Any photographs/videos from before the activity
      2. Any photographs/videos from after the activity
    10. Map of the area, as current as possible
    11. Etc.
  3. Take this information you have collected and scan it all into an electronic format.
    1. Send copies to your attorney(s)
    2. Send copies to your insurance company

      Tell them it is for safe keeping.

  4. Make paper copies of all paper and send a complete set of copies to your insurance company and attorney. Ask both what to do with the originals.
    1. Keep one good set of copies for yourself if you are told to send the originals to the insurance company or attorney, if not keep the originals.

For paper files, I suggest using a file or folder color that will attract attention, so they are not thrown out by accident. Red, Orange or Yellow good colors of files or folder colors to use. Keep the paperwork in a closed folder or envelope. Put everything in and seal it shut so nothing can fall out and the store this file somewhere so everyone knows where it is and why. If you find more information after you have sealed the first envelope or folder, create a second one, and write 1 of 2 and 2 of 2 on them. Put a large rubber band around both or secure them some way, so they do not get separated. Always right the last name of the injured party and the date on the outside so they don’t have to be opened to determine what files they contain.

After 10 years, you can shred these files.

Instead of having a warehouse full of releases or a back wall of your office with an additional 12 inches of insulation, you can have a hard drive of all the necessary documents needed in case of litigation.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2018 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

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

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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E.M. v. House of Boom Ky., LLC (In re Miller), 2019 Ky. LEXIS 211, 2019 WL 2462697

E.M. v. House of Boom Ky., LLC (In re Miller), 2019 Ky. LEXIS 211, 2019 WL 2462697

In Re: Kathy Miller, as Next Friend of Her Minor Child, E.M.

v.

House of Boom Kentucky, LLC

No. 2018-SC-000625-CL

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 13, 2019

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY LOUISVILLE DIVISION CASE NO. 3:16-CV-332-CRS

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Grover Simpson Cox Grover S. Cox Law Office Vanessa Lynn Armstrong U.S. District Court

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Anthony M. Pernice Reminger Co., LPA

COUNSEL FOR AMICUS CURIAE KENTUCKY JUSTICE ASSOCIATION: Kevin Crosby Burke Jamie Kristin Neal Burke Neal PLLC

OPINION

VANMETER, JUSTICE

By order entered February 14, 2019, this Court granted the United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky’s request for certification of law on the following issue:

Is a pre-injury liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child enforceable under Kentucky law?

After careful consideration, we hold that such a waiver is unenforceable under the specific facts of this case.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

House of Boom, LLC (“House of Boom”) is a for-profit trampoline park located in Louisville, Kentucky. The park is a collection of trampoline and acrobatic stunt attractions. On August 6, 2015, Kathy Miller purchased tickets for her 11-year-old daughter, E.M., and her daughter’s friends to go play at House of Boom. Before purchasing the tickets, House of Boom required the purchaser to check a box indicating that the purchaser had read the waiver of liability. The waiver reads:

(1) RELEASE OF LIABILITY: Despite all known and unknown risks including b[u]t not limite[d] to serious bodily injury, permanent disability, paralysis and loss of life, I, on behalf of myself, and/or on behalf of my spouse, minor child(ren)/ward(s) hereby expressly and volun[]tarily remise, release, acquit, satisfy and forever discharge and agree not to sue HOUSE OF BOOM, including its suppliers, designers, installers, manufacturers of any trampoline equipment, foam pit material, or such other material and equipment in HOUSE OF BOOM’S facility (all hereinafter referred to as “EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS”) and agree to hold said parties harmless of and from any and all manner of actions or omission(s), causes of action, suits, sums of money, controversies, damages, judgments, executions, claims and demands whatsoever, in law or in equity, including, but no[t] limited to, any and all claim[s] which allege negligent acts and/or omissions committed by HOUSE OF BOOM or any EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS, whether the action arises out of any damage, loss, personal injury, or death to me or my spouse, minor child(ren)/ward(s), while participating in or as a result of participating in any of the ACTIVITIES in or about the premises. This Release of Liability, is effective and valid regardless of whether the damage, loss or death is a result of any act or omission on the part of HOUSE OF BOOM and/or any EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS.

The agreement goes on to state:

1. By signing this document, I understand that I may be found by a court of law to have forever waived my and my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) right to maintain any action against HOUSE OF BOOM on the basis of any claim from which I have released HOUSE OF BOOM and any released party herein and that I have assumed all risk of damage, loss, personal injury, or death to myself, my spouse and/or my minor child(ren)/wards(s) and agreed to indemnify and hold harmless HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS from and against any all losses, liabilities, claims, obligations, costs, damages and/or expenses whatsoever paid, incurred and/or suffered by HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS as a result of the participation in ACTIVITIES in or about the facility by myself, my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) and/or claims asserted by myself, my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) against HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS related to such participation in ACTIVITIES. I have had a reasonable and sufficient opportunity to read and understand this entire document and consult with legal counsel, or have voluntarily waived my right to do so. I knowingly and voluntarily agree to be bound by all terms and conditions set forth herein.

The above waiver includes language that, if enforceable, would release all claims by (1) the individual who checked the box, (2) her spouse, (3) her minor child, or (4) her ward against House of Boom. Once Miller checked the box, E.M. participated in activities at House of Boom. She was injured when another girl jumped off a three-foot ledge and landed on E.M’s ankle, causing it to break. Miller, as next friend of her daughter, sued House of Boom for the injury. House of Boom, relying on Miller’s legal power to waive the rights of her daughter via the release, moved for summary judgment. The Western District of Kentucky concluded that House of Boom’s motion for summary judgment involved a novel issue of state law and requested Certification from this Court which we granted. Both parties have briefed the issue and the matter is now ripe for Certification.

II. Analysis.

The question before this Court is whether a parent has the authority to sign a pre-injury exculpatory agreement on behalf of her child, thus terminating the child’s potential right to compensation for an injury occurring while participating in activities sponsored by a for-profit company. Although an issue of first impression in the Commonwealth, the enforceability of a pre-injury waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child has been heavily litigated in a multitude of jurisdictions. House of Boom categorizes these decisions in as those that enforced the waiver and those that did not, but the decisions of those jurisdictions more accurately fall into four distinct categories: (1) jurisdictions that have enforced a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity;[1] (2) jurisdictions that have enforced waivers between a parent and a non-profit entity;[2] (3) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity unenforceable;[3] and (4) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a non-profit entity unenforceable.[4]House of Boom is a for-profit trampoline park, and eleven out of twelve jurisdictions that have analyzed similar waivers between parents and for-profit entities have adhered to the common law and held such waivers to be unenforceable.[5]

Pre-injury release waivers are not per se invalid in the Commonwealth but are generally “disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying on them.” Hargis v. Baize, 168 S.W.3d 36, 47 (Ky. 2005) (citation omitted). We analyze these agreements for violations of public policy. See Cobb v. Gulf Refining Co., 284 Ky. 523, 528, 145 S.W.2d 96, 99 (1940) (citing Restatement of Contracts § 575). The relevant public policy here is whether a parent has the authority to enter into an exculpatory agreement on their child’s behalf, negating any opportunity for a tort claim-a child’s property right-if House of Boom’s negligence causes injury to the child.

The general common law rule in Kentucky is that “parents ha[ve] no right to compromise or settle” their child’s cause of action as that “right exist[s] in the child alone,” and parents have no right to enter into contracts on behalf of their children absent special circumstances. Meyer’s Adm’r v. Zoll, 119 Ky. 480, 486, 84 S.W. 543, 544 (1905); see also Wilson v. Wilson, 251 Ky. 522, 525, 65 S.W.2d 694, 695 (1933) (“[W]hile the mother might enter into a contract regarding her rights, she could not contract away the rights of her unborn child[]”);GGNSC Stanford, LLC v. Rome, 388 S.W.3d 117, 123 (Ky. App. 2012) (“In light of the limited authority granted to custodians by KRS[6] 405.020 and KRS 387.280, we cannot conclude they are permitted to contractually bind their wards without formal appointment as guardians[]”). Thus, we must determine whether Kentucky public policy supports a change in the common law that would protect for-profit entities from liability by enforcing pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of their children. First, KRS 405.020 provides that “[t]he father and mother shall have the joint custody, nurture, and education of their children who are under the age of eighteen (18).” However, this grant of custody and a parent’s right to raise their child, choose the child’s educational path, and make healthcare decisions on a child’s behalf has never abrogated the traditional common law view that parents have no authority to enter into contracts on behalf of their child when dealing with a child’s property rights, prior to being appointed guardian by a district court. Scott v. Montgomery Traders Bank & Trust Co., 956 S.W.2d 902, 904 (Ky. 1997).

In Scott, the parent at issue attempted to settle her child’s tort claim and fund a trust with the settlement funds without being appointed guardian by a district court. Id. This Court held that

[i]t is fundamental legal knowledge in this state that District Court has exclusive jurisdiction “. . . for the appointment and removal of guardians . . . and for the management and settlement of their accounts” and that a person must be appointed as guardian by the Court in order to legally receive settlements in excess of $10, 000.00.

Id. (quoting KRS 387.020(1), KRS 387.125(b)) (emphasis added). Additionally, our precedent dictates that even when acting as next friend, a minor’s parent has no right to compromise or settle a minor’s claim without court approval or collect the proceeds of a minor’s claim.[7] Metzger Bros. v. Watson’s Guardian, 251 Ky. 446, 450, 65 S.W.2d 460, 462 (1933). Thus, finding no inherent right on the part of a parent to contract on behalf of their child, the remaining question is whether public policy demands enforcement of these contracts within the Commonwealth.

House of Boom’s initial public policy argument is that a parent’s fundamental liberty interest “in the care and custody of their children” supports enforcing a for-profit entity’s pre-injury liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child. Morgan v. Getter, 441 S.W.3d 94, 112 (Ky. 2014) (citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 2060, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000) (“The liberty interest … of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children-is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court[]”). Although this Court recognizes a parent’s fundamental liberty interest in the rearing of one’s child, this right is not absolute, and the Commonwealth may step in as parens patraie[8] to protect the best interests of the child. See Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 390 (“the question whether a parent may release a minor’s future tort claims implicates wider public policy concerns and the parens patriae duty to protect the best interests of children[]”); see also Cooper, 48 P.3d at 1235 n. 11 (parental release of child’s right to sue for negligence is “not of the same character and quality as those rights recognized as implicating parents’ fundamental liberty interest in the ‘care, custody and control’ of their children[]”). House of Boom argues that the parens patriae doctrine “is difficult to defend in a post-Troxel world.” However, if Troxel is read to grant parents the decision to enter into pre-injury liability waivers, then, logically, our court-appointed guardian statutes and statutes restricting a parent’s ability to settle claims post-injury would also infringe upon a parent’s fundamental liberty interest. As litigation restrictions upon parents have remained a vital piece of our Commonwealth’s civil practice and procedure, we do not recognize a parent’s fundamental liberty interest to quash their child’s potential tort claim.

House of Boom next argues that public policy concerns surrounding post-injury settlements between parents and defendants are not present when a parent is signing a pre-injury release waiver (signing in the present case being checking a box on an I phone), and therefore, the state only needs to step in to protect the child post-injury, not pre-injury. First, we note that since Meyer’s Adm’r and Metzger Bros., this Court and the legislature have protected minor’s rights to civil claims. See KRS 387.280. Indeed, “children deserve as much protection from the improvident compromise of their rights before an injury occurs [as our common law and statutory schemes] afford[] them after the injury.” Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 387. As summarized in Hawkins, 37 P.3d at 1066,

[w]e see little reason to base the validity of a parent’s contractual release of a minor’s claim on the timing of an injury. Indeed, the law generally treats preinjury releases or indemnity provisions with greater suspicion than postinjury releases. See Shell Oil Co. v. Brinkerhoff-Signal Drilling Co., 658 P.2d 1187, 1189 (Utah 1983). An exculpatory clause that relieves a party from future liability may remove an important incentive to act with reasonable care. These clauses are also routinely imposed in a unilateral manner without any genuine bargaining or opportunity to pay a fee for insurance. The party demanding adherence to an exculpatory clause simply evades the necessity of liability coverage and then shifts the full burden of risk of harm to the other party. Compromise of an existing claim, however, relates to negligence that has already taken place and is subject to measurable damages. Such releases involve actual negotiations concerning ascertained rights and liabilities. Thus, if anything, the policies relating to restrictions on a parent’s right to compromise an existing claim apply with even greater force in the preinjury, exculpatory clause scenario.

The public policy reasons for protecting a child’s civil claim pre-injury are no less present than they are post-injury, and we are unpersuaded by House of Boom’s arguments to the contrary.

Lastly, House of Boom argues that enforcing a waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child to enter a for-profit trampoline park furthers the public policy of encouraging affordable recreational activities. In making this argument, House of Boom relies on the decisions of states that have enforced these waivers between a parent and a non-commercial entity. Granted, this Commonwealth has similar public policy to these jurisdictions to “encourage wholesome recreation for boys and girls” and to limit liability for those volunteering, in a variety of ways, to increase recreational and community activities across the Commonwealth. Wilson v. Graves Cty. Bd. Of Educ, 307 Ky. 203, 206, 210 S.W.2d 350, 351 (1948); see also KRS 162.055 (granting limited immunity to school districts for allowing the public to use school grounds for “recreation, sport, academic, literary, artistic, or community uses”); KRS 411.190(2) (“[t]he purpose of this section is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes[]”). However, the same public policy implications that apply when dealing with the voluntary opening of private property or a school district’s limited immunity allowing community use of school property do not apply when dealing with a commercial entity.

A commercial entity has the ability to purchase insurance and spread the cost between its customers. It also has the ability to train its employees and inspect the business for unsafe conditions. A child has no similar ability to protect himself from the negligence of others within the confines of a commercial establishment. “If pre-injury releases were permitted for commercial establishments, the incentive to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of minor children would be removed.” Kirton, 997 So.2d at 358. Accordingly, no public policy exists to support House of Boom’s affordable recreational activities argument in the context of a commercial activity.[9]

HI. Conclusion.

Under the common law of this Commonwealth, absent special circumstances, a parent has no authority to enter into contracts on a child’s behalf. Based upon our extensive research and review of the relevant policy in this Commonwealth and the nation as a whole, we find no relevant public policy to justify abrogating the common law to enforce an exculpatory agreement between a for-profit entity and a parent on behalf of her minor child.[10] Simply put, the statutes of the General Assembly and decisions of this Court reflect no public policy shielding the operators of for-profit trampoline parks from liability.

All sitting. All concur.

———

Notes:

[1] Maryland’s highest court is the only judicial body to enforce these waivers when one of the parties is a for-profit entity. However, Maryland’s court rules allow parents to “make decisions to terminate tort claims” without “judicial interference.” BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. v. Rosen, 80 A.3d 345, 356-57 (Md. 2013) (citing Md. Code Ann. § 6-205). Kentucky does not have a similar provision in our court rules, statutes, or judicial decisions.

[2] See Kelly v. United States, 809 F.Supp.2d 429, 437 (E.D. N.C. 2011) (waiver enforceable as it allowed plaintiff to “participate in a school-sponsored enrichment program that was extracurricular and voluntary[]”); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647, 649-50 (Cal.Ct.App. 1990) (upholding a pre-injury release executed by a father on behalf of his minor child which waived claims resulting from an injury during a school sponsored activity); Sharon v. City of Newton, 769 N.E.2d 738, 747 (Mass. 2002) (upholding a public school extracurricular sports activities waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 205 (Ohio 1998) (holding that public policy supporting limiting liability of volunteer coaches and landowners who open their land to the public “justified] giving parents authority to enter into [pre-injury liability waivers] on behalf of their minor children!]”).

[3] See In re Complaint of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 403 F.Supp.2d 1168, 1172-73 (S.D. Fla. 2005) (where “a release of liability is signed on behalf of a minor child for an activity run by a for-profit business, outside of a school or community setting, the release is typically unenforceable against the minor[]”); Simmons v. Parkette Nat’l Gymnastic Training Ctr., 670 F.Supp. 140, 144 (E.D. Pa. 1987) (invalidating a pre-injury release waiver signed by a parent in adherence with the “common law rule that minors, with certain exceptions, may disaffirm their contracts [based on] the public policy concern that minors should not be bound by mistakes resulting from their immaturity or the overbearance of unscrupulous adults[]”); Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co., 48 P.3d 1229, 1237 (Colo. 2002) (“[T]o allow a parent to release a child’s possible future claims for injury caused by negligence may as a practical matter leave the minor in an unacceptably precarious position with no recourse, no parental support, and no method to support himself or care for his injury[]”), superseded by statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-22-107(3)); Kirton v. Fields, 997 So.2d 349, 358 (Fla. 2008) (invalidating agreement between parent and for-profit ATV park, but limiting the holding to “injuries resulting from participation in a commercial activity[]”); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 634 N.E.2d 411, 414 (111. 1994) (invalidating waiver between parent and for-profit horse riding stable); Woodman ex. rel Woodman v. Kera LLC, 785 N.W.2d 1, 16 (Mich. 2010) (holding, in a case against a for-profit inflatable play area, that state common law indicated that enforcement of a waiver signed by parent was “contrary to the established public policy of this state” and that the legislature is better equipped for such a change in the common law); Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 901 A.2d 381, 386 (N.J. 2006) (“the public policy of New Jersey prohibits a parent of a minor child from releasing a minor child’s potential tort claims arising out of the use of a commercial recreational facility[]”); Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. v. Mallison, 354 P.2d 800, 802 (Or. 1960) (invalidating an indemnity provision in a settlement agreement-after settlement the child sustained further injury-in part because a parent’s duty to act “for the benefit of his child [is] not fully discharged where the parent enters into a bargain which gives rise to conflicting interests[]”); Blackwell v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC, 523 S.W.3d 624, 651 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) (in holding a parent-signed waiver unenforceable, the court held that Tennessee had no public policy supporting the “desire to shield the operators of for-profit trampoline parks from liability[]”); Munoz u. IUaz Inc., 863 S.W.2d 207, 210 (Tex. App. 1993) (“in light of this state’s long-standing policy to protect minor children, the language, ‘decisions of substantial legal significance’in section 12.04(7) of the Family Code cannot be interpreted as empowering the parents to waive the rights of a minor child to sue for personal injuries[]”); Hawkins v. Peart, 37 P.3d 1062, 1066 (Utah 2001) (concluding that “a parent does not have the authority to release a child’s claims before an injury”); Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 834 P.2d 6, 11-12 (Wash. 1992) (“Since a parent generally may not release a child’s cause of action after injury, it makes little, if any, sense to conclude a parent has the authority to release a child’s cause of action prior to an injury[]”).

[4] See Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 143 A.2d 466, 468-69 (Conn. 1958) (invalidating a waiver signed by a child’s parents allowing the child to attend Boy Scout camp); Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252, 259 (Iowa 2010) (invalidating a pre-injury release waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child attending a school sponsored field trip because of Iowa’s “strong public policy favoring the protection of children’s legal rights”).

[5] While a slight majority of jurisdictions support enforceability in the context of a non-profit recreational activity, non-profits and volunteer youth sports raise different public policy concerns which we need not address in this opinion today.

[6] Kentucky Revised Statutes.

[7] The legislature has sought fit to slightly change this portion of the common law and has authorized parents to receive funds less than $10, 000, but those settlements must be approved by a court before the funds may be paid to a parent in custody of a child. KRS 387.280. Thus, a parent, based merely on custody, still maintains no right to negotiate a settlement on behalf of their child.

[8] See Parens Patriae, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th. ed 2014) (“The state regarded as a sovereign; the state in its capacity as provider of protection to those unable to care for themselves”); see also KRS 600.010(2)(a) (the Commonwealth should “direct its efforts to promoting protection of children”); Giuliani v. Gutter, 951 S.W.2d 318, 319 (Ky. 1997) (relevant public policy existed to support the enlargement of children’s legal rights under the common law derived from KRS 600.010(2)(a)’s directive to protect children).

[9] As previously noted, the question of whether public policy exists to require enforcement of parent-signed, pre-injury waivers in a non-commercial context is not before this Court today, and thus we make no determination on the issue.

[10] House of Boom retains the ability to urge change in the common law by petitioning the General Assembly to enact a statute that supports a parent’s ability to waive their child’s legal rights. See Alaska Stat. § 09.65.292 (2004) (“a parent may, on behalf of the parent’s child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence against the provider of a sports or recreational activity in which the child participates to the extent that the activities to which the waiver applies are clearly and conspicuously set out in the written waiver and to the extent the waiver is otherwise valid. The release or waiver must be in writing and shall be signed by the child’s parent[]); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-22-107(3) (2003) (“A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence[]”).

———


Marino v. Morrison, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2016 NY Slip Op 31876(U

Marino v. Morrison, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2016 NY Slip Op 31876(U

Michael Marino, an infant under the age of 18, by his Mother and Natural Guardian, Elena Marino, and Elena Marino, Individually, Plaintiffs,

v.

Richard Morrison, Jr, Carmela Morrison and Richard Bedrosian, Defendants.

No. 2016-31876

Index No. 10-11831

CAL. No. 15-00738OT

Supreme Court, Suffolk County

September 8, 2016

Unpublished Opinion

MOTION DATE 9-15-15

ADJ. DATE 3-1-16

SURIS & ASSOCIATES, P.C. Attorney for Plaintiffs.

JOHN T. McCARRON, PC Attorney for Defendant C. Morrison.

PENINO & MOYNIHAN, LLP Attorney for Defendant Bedrosian.

PRESENT: Hon. PETER H. MAYER, Justice

PETER H. MAYER, J.S.C.

Upon the reading and filing of the following papers in this matter: (1) Notice of Motion/Order to Show Cause by defendant Carmela Morrison, dated August 19, 2015, and supporting papers; (2) Notice of Cross Motion by defendant Richard Bedrosian, dated August 19, 2015, and supporting papers; (3) Affirmation in Opposition by plaintiffs, dated December 1, 2015, and supporting papers; (4) Reply Affirmations by defendants, dated February 28, 2016 and January 4, 2016, and supporting papers; (and after hearing counsels’ oral arguments in support of and opposed to the motion); and now

UPON DUE DELIBERATION AND CONSIDERATION BY THE COURT of the foregoing papers, the motion is decided as follows: it is

ORDERED that the motion (seq. 001) by defendant Carmela Morrison and the motion (seq, 002) by defendant Richard Bedrosian are consolidated for purposes of this determination; and it is

ORDERED that the motion by defendant Carmela Morrison for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against her is granted; and it is further

ORDERED that the motion by defendant Richard Bedrosian for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against him is granted.

This action was commenced by plaintiff to recover damages for injuries infant plaintiff Michael Marino allegedly sustained as a result of an accident involving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on July 28. 2009. The complaint alleges that Mr. Marino was a passenger on the rear seat of the ATV, that he was caused to be ejected from the ATV, and that the accident took place on property located behind the address known as 29 Buckingham Drive, Dix Hills, New York. Elena Marino individually asserts a derivative claim for loss of love, services, companionship, and household support. Defendant Richard Bedrosian asserts cross claims against defendant Richard Morrison, Jr., who has tailed to appear in this action.

Defendant Carmela Morrison now moves for summary judgment in her favor on the grounds that she is exempt from liability pursuant to General Obligations Law §9-103. that Mr. Marino assumed the risk inherent in the activity, and that plaintiffs lack knowledge as to the location of the alleged accident or the manner in which it occurred. In support of her motion, Ms. Morrison submits copies of the pleadings and transcripts of the deposition testimony of Michael Marino, Richard Bedrosian, and herself.

Defendant Richard Bedrosian also moves for summary judgment in his favor on the grounds that he is exempt from liability pursuant to General Obligations Law § 9-103, plaintiffs lack knowledge as to the location of the alleged accident or die maimer in which it occurred, and he had no knowledge that Mr. Marino was present on his property, and Mr. Marino assumed the risk inherent in the activity. In support of his motion, he submits copies of the pleadings and transcripts of the deposition testimony of himself and Michael Marino.

At his deposition, infant plaintiff Michael Marino testified that, on the date in question, he was 15 years old and was spending time at the house of his school friend, Richie Morrison. Mr. Marino indicated that Mr. Morrison’s father purchased an ATV for Mr. Morrison “a few years” prior, which was parked on the premises next to a shed. Mr. Marino explained that he, Mr. Morrison, and Mr. Morrison’s cousin were waiting for a few friends to arrive at Morrison’s house. Mr. Marino testified that at some point, after it had gotten dark outside and when Mr. Morrison’s parents were not home, Mr. Morrison and his cousin began drinking liquor they had stolen from Mr. Morrison’s parents’ liquor cabinet, Mr. Marino explained that the young men had been playing video games in Mr. Morrison’s basement for a number of hours, but eventually went into the backyard, at which time Mr. Morrison and Mr. Morrison’s cousin began driving the ATV in question around the backyard of the premises. Mr. Marino, upon being offered a ride on the ATV, stated that he climbed aboard and sat behind Mr. Morrison and that neither one of them wore a helmet. Mr. Marino testified that after he sat down on the ATV, Mr. Morrison began driving it on the premises and the next thing he remembers is waking up in a basement with people “picking branches out of [his] head.” He stated that although they started out riding the ATV in Mr. Morrison’s backyard, due to his losing consciousness he is unable to identify exactly where the accident took place. Mr. Marino testified that he later came to learn from “mutual friends” that the accident occurred due to the ATV’s brakes failing, the ATV hitting something, and he and Mr. Morrison being thrown off the ATV. Mr. Marino further testified that he was later informed by his friend, Peter Frisina, that he, too, was injured in a similar way on that same ATV.

Regarding his experience with ATVs. Mr. Marino testified that his father owned one and he had both driven it and been a passenger on it “since [he] was young, ” Mr. Marino stated that neither Carmela Morrison nor Richard Bedrosian ever gave him permission to ride on Mr. Morrison’s ATV, and that neither parent was aware of any alcohol consumption by the young men.

At her deposition, Carmela Morrison testified that her partner, Richard Bedrosian, owns the subject premises. She further testified that she was not home at the time of the alleged ATV accident, but was told by various parties that, contrary to plaintiffs’ allegations, Mr. Marino had been the driver of the ATV and that her son was the rear passenger. Ms. Morrison indicated that she had taken her son and Mr. Marino to the beach earlier in the day with Mr. Marino’s mother’s permission. She stated that at approximately 6:00 p.m., after they all had returned to the subject premises, she left the house in order to attend a networking event. She explained that she asked Mr, Marino if his mother was coming to pick him up and he said “yes.” She informed him that he was welcome to stay to eat some pizza that she had recently ordered. She testified that she then left the young men at the premises with Mr. Morrison’s 20-year-old sister, Kristina, who was preparing to go out and was not present at the time of the accident. Carmela Morrison indicated that at approximately 8:00 p.m. she received a call saying that there had been an accident at the premises and she went home immediately. When asked whether her son obtained permission from her to use the ATV on the date in question, she replied “[a]bsolutely not.” Regarding prior accidents involving the ATV, Ms. Morrison testified that a few months prior to the date in question, Mr. Morrison’s friend, Peter, was driving it, fell off of it, and sustained scratch to his face. She further testified that after Peter’s fall, she “took the key and gave it to Bedrosian and said T don’t want this ATV used at alt.'”

At his deposition, Richard Bedrosian testified that he is the owner of the subject premises, but does not know exactly where the accident in question occurred, although he was told by his girlfriend, Carmela Morrison, that it happened “off property, ” on state land behind his backyard. He stated that his property is approximately 1.9 acres in size, completely fenced, with the backyard consuming % of that land. Of that backyard, he explained, Vi of it is ungroomed woods. Regarding the ATV in question, Mr. Bedrosian testified that it was a Christmas gift from Mr. Morrison’s biological father, defendant Richard Morrison, Jr., to Mr. Morrison, which he received approximately seven months before the accident. Mr. Bedrosian testified that he strongly disapproved of the ATV being on his property, but was told by Mr. Morrison’s father that he had no place to store it. Mr. Bedrosian indicated that Mr. Morrison would occasionally drive it around the backyard in circles or into the wooded area, but that Mr. Morrison’s father promised Mr. Bedrosian that he would take Mr. Morrison to off-premises locations to ride it and, based on that proviso, Mr. Bedrosian allowed the ATV to be stored on his property. Mr. Bedrosian testified that Mr. Morrison was forbidden from operating it if he or Carmela Morrison were not home.

Regarding the date in question, Mr. Bedrosian testified that he was told by Carmela Morrison, Mr. Morrison, and Tony Yacende that Mr. Marino was the driver of the ATV at the time and that Mr. Morrison was the passenger. Also, Mr. Bedrosian explained that no one was permitted to operate the ATV on the date in question because he had taken its only key and put it in a desk in his home office- a location that was “off limits to everybody.”

A party moving for summary judgment must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact (Nomura Asset Capital Corp. v Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, 26 NY3d 40, 19 N.Y.S.3d 488 [2015]; Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 N.Y.2d 320, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 [1986]). If the moving party produces the requisite evidence, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial of the action (Nomura, supra; see also Vega v Restani Constr. Corp., 18 N.Y.3d 499, 942 N.Y.S.2d 13 [2012]). Mere conclusions or unsubstantiated allegations are insufficient to raise a triable issue (Daliendo v Johnson, 147 A.D.2d 312, 543 N.Y.S.2d 987 [2d Dept 1989]). In deciding the motion, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party (Nomura, supra; see also Ortiz v. Varsity Holdings, LLC, 18 N.Y.3d 335, 339, 937 N.Y.S.2d 157 [2011]).

It is axiomatic that for a plaintiff to recover against a defendant in a negligence action, plaintiff must prove defendant owed plaintiff a duty and that the breach of that duty resulted in the injuries sustained by plaintiff (see Lugo v Brentwood Union Free School Dist, 212 A.D.2d 582, 622 N.Y.S.2d 553 [2d Dept 1995]; Kimbar v.Estis, 1 N.Y.2d 399, 153 N.Y.S.2d 197 [1956]).

“The doctrine of primary assumption of risk provides that a voluntary participant in a sporting or recreational activity consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of die sport generally and flow from such participation” (Shivers v Elwood Union Free Sch. Dist, 109 A.D.3d 977, 978 [2d Dept 2013] [internal quotation omitted]; see Trupia v Lake George Cent. School Dist, 14 N.Y.3d 392, 901 N.Y.S.2d 127 [2010]; Morgan v State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 [1997]). “A plaintiff is barred from recovery for injuries which occur during voluntary sporting or recreational activities if it is determined that he or she assumed the risk as a matter of law” (id at 978; see Leslie v. Splish Splash at Adventureland, 1 A.D.3d 320, 766 N.Y.S.2d 599 [2d Dept 2003]; Morgan v State of New York, supra). “It is not necessary to the application of the doctrine that the injured plaintiff should have foreseen the exact manner in which the injury occurred so long as he or she is aware of the potential for injury of the mechanism from which the injury results” (Cruz v Longwood Cent Sch. Dist., 110 A.D.3d 757, 758, 973 N.Y.S.2d 260 [2d Dept 2013] [internal quotation omitted]).

“There is … a duty by a parent to protect third parties from harm resulting from [his or her] infant child’s improvident use of a dangerous instrument, at least, and perhaps especially, when the parent is aware of and capable of controlling its use” (Nolechek vGesuale, 46 N.Y.2d 332, 336, 413 N.Y.S.2d 340 [1978]), “Parents are permitted to delegate to their children the decision to participate in dangerous activities, but they are not absolved from liability for harm incurred by third parties when the parents as adults unreasonably, with respect to such third parties, permit their children to use dangerous instruments” (id. at 339). “In order for a third-party claim of this kind against a parent or guardian . . . negligence must be alleged and pleaded with some reasonable specificity, beyond mere generalities” (LaTorre v Genesee Mgmt, 90 N.Y.2d 576, 584, 665 N.Y.S.2d 1 [1997]).

Defendants Carmela Morrison and Richard Bedrosian, both relying on nearly identical arguments in support of their motions, have established a prima facie case of entitlement to summary judgment by offering sufficient proof that Mr. Marino voluntarily assumed die risks inherent in riding an ATV (see Shivers v Elwood Union Free Sch. Dist., supra; see generally Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., supra). Moving defendants proved that Mr. Marino voluntarily boarded the ATV, either as a driver or a passenger, having possessed significant prior experience with such machines. Further, there is nothing in the record indicating that Mr. Marino did not have full awareness of Mr. Morrison’s consumption of alcohol, if true, the weather and lighting conditions, and the landscaping of the backyard prior to riding on the ATV. Even if the Court were to assume, for the purposes of this decision, that Mr. Morrison’s consumption of alcohol, or some other factor, exceeded the level of risk Mr. Marino can be said to have assumed, plaintiffs have not proven the manner in which Mr. Marino allegedly sustained his injuries or even that Mr. Marino’s injuries were sustained on Mr. Bedrosian’s property. Accordingly, moving defendants, having established their entitlement to summary judgment on the ground of Mr. Marino’s primary assumption of the risk, the Court need not reach defendants’ other arguments.

Defendant having established a prima facie case entitlement to summary judgment, the burden shifted to plaintiff to raise an issue of fact necessitating a trial (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., supra). Plaintiffs argue that: (1) General Obligations Law § 9-103 does not apply to the facts of this case; (2) that enhanced risks were present at the time of Mr. Marino’s alleged injury, which he cannot be expected to assume; and (3) defendants owed a duty of care to Mr. Marino and failed to supervise him properly. In opposition, plaintiffs submit a copy of the Bill of Particulars and Michael Marino’s own affidavit.

Generally, “a plaintiff who suffers from amnesia as the result of the defendant’s conduct is not held to as high a degree of proof in establishing [his or her] right to recover for [his or her] injuries as a plaintiff who can describe the events in question” (Menekou v Crean, 222 A.D.2d 418, 419, 634 N.Y.S.2d 532 [2d Dept 1995]; Sawyer v Dreis & Krump Mfg. Co., 67 N.Y.2d 328, 502 N.Y.S.2d 696 [1986]; Santiago v Quattrociocchi, 91 A.D.3d 747, 937 N.Y.S.2d 119 [2d Dept 2012]). However, in order to invoke that lower burden of proof, plaintiff must not only make a prima facie case, but must also submit an expert’s affidavit demonstrating the amnesia through clear and convincing evidence (Menekou v Crean, supra). Plaintiffs have failed to meet that burden here. Therefore, plaintiffs’ attempts to raise triable issues will be evaluated in the usual manner (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., supra).

As Richie Morrison, Tony Yacende, and Peter Frisina have not been deposed, the Court must decide this matter solely on the three deposition transcripts and single affidavit submitted by the parties herein. The undisputed facts can be summarized as follows: (I) Mr. Bedrosian owned the subject premises, but was unaware of Mr. Marino’s presence there at the time of the incident; (2) Mr. Marino, Mr. Morrison, and Mr. Yacende were unsupervised for a period of time on the evening in question; (3) Mr. Marino voluntarily rode on an ATV while not wearing protective equipment; (4) Mr. Marino was knocked unconscious at some point in the evening and awoke in a basement surrounded by friends and his father; (5) Mr. Marino was transported to the hospital via ambulance; (6) Peter Frisina sustained an injury while riding the subject ATV on an occasion prior to plaintiffs alleged injuries; and (7) Ms. Morrison and Mr. Bedrosian took the keys for the ATV away from Mr. Morrison and forbade Mr, Morrison using the ATV after Peter Frisina’s injury.

Here, plaintiffs rely almost entirely on hearsay not subject to any exception, in an attempt to raise triable issues. Any reference by plaintiffs’ counsel to “defective” brakes is unfounded and speculative (see Daliendo v Johnson, supra). Further, plaintiffs have failed to provide any proof as to the mechanism of Mr. Marino’s alleged injury (see Passaro v Bouquio, 79 A.D.3d 1114, 914 N.Y.S.2d 905 [2d Dept 2010]}. Based upon the admissible, non-hearsay evidence submitted, it is just as likely that Mr. Marino jumped from the moving ATV; took an uneventful ride on the ATV, then attempted to climb a tree and fell to the ground; or was hit in the head by some unknown object, causing him to become unconscious, as it is that the ATV crashed and he was thrown from it. Furthermore, the “dangerous instrument” exception is inapplicable here, as plaintiffs have not submitted evidence that movants gave Mr. Morrison permission to use the ATV or supplied him with access to it (see Nolechek v Gesuale, supra). Instead, uncontroverted evidence has been submitted that movants took affirmative steps to deny use of the ATV to Richie Morrison.

Accordingly, the motions by defendants Carmela Morrison and Richard Bedrosian for summary judgment in their favor dismissing the complaint against them is granted.


Lynam v. Blue Diamond LLC, 2016 Del. Super. LEXIS 495

Lynam v. Blue Diamond LLC, 2016 Del. Super. LEXIS 495

Thomas A Lynam, III and Antoinette M. Lynam, as Parents and Natural Guardians of Thomas A. Lynam, IV, a minor,

v.

Blue Diamond LLC and Parkway Gravel Inc. and Houghton’s Amusement Park, LLC

C.A. No. N14C-11-121 RRC

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

October 4, 2016

Submitted: July 6, 2016

On Defendants Blue Diamond LLC’s and Parkway Gravel, Inc.’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

Tabatha L. Castro, Esquire The Castro Firm, Inc. Attorney for Plaintiffs

Leonard G. Villari, Esquire Villari, Lentz & Lynam, LLC Attorney Pro Hac Vice for Plaintiffs

Marc S. Casarino, Esquire Dana Spring Monzo, Esquire Nicholas Wynn, Esquire White and Williams, LLP Attorneys for Defendants Blue Diamond LLC and Parkway Gravel, Inc.

Dear Counsel:

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before this Court is Defendants Blue Diamond LLC’s and Parkway Gravel, Inc.’s (“Defendants”)[1] Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that minor Thomas Lynam, IV (“Tommy”) was riding his motocross bicycle on Defendants’ motocross track. After riding off a jump, Tommy landed, lost control of his motocross bicycle, and collided with a metal shipping container near the track. Tommy apparently sustained serious injuries. Plaintiffs’ complaint raises one count of “negligence” as a theory for liability.[2]Although not listed as a separate count in their complaint, Plaintiffs allude in their general “negligence” claim to a theory of reckless conduct by Defendants in connection with the operation of the motocross track.

In their motion, Defendants assert that their alleged behavior was, as a matter of fact and law, neither negligent nor reckless. Alternatively, Defendants raise an affirmative defense that they are released from any liability for negligent or reckless conduct due to a release agreement (the “Release”) signed by the Plaintiffs. Additionally, Defendants raise the doctrine of assumption of the risk as a separate affirmative defense as a bar to recovery.

Plaintiffs agree that they released Defendants from liability for Defendants’ own “negligence.” However, Plaintiffs contend that Defendants’ conduct amounted to recklessness, and that Plaintiffs never released Defendants from liability for their allegedly reckless conduct. In response to Defendants’ claim that Plaintiffs assumed the risk of injury, Plaintiffs contend that the risk of a collision with a metal shipping container was not contemplated at either the signing of the Release or when Tommy began using the facilities.

This Court concludes that the Release was not specifically tailored so as to release Defendants from liability for their allegedly reckless conduct. The Court also finds that the factual record is insufficiently developed to make a legal determination of whether Defendants’ conduct as a matter of law amounted to recklessness. Finally, the Court concludes that it is premature at this juncture to consider Defendant’s affirmative defense. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

II.FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 6, 2013, Tommy, then thirteen years old, was riding a motocross bicycle at Blue Diamond Motocross near New Castle. Plaintiffs allege that the track was advertised as being composed of “safe jumps.”[3] While riding, Tommy rode off a jump, made a hard landing, and was unable to stop in time before colliding with a large metal shipping container.

Prior to granting Tommy admission to the Blue Diamond facilities to ride his motocross bicycle, Blue Diamond required Tommy’s father to sign a release agreement. The Release, entitled “Parental Consent, Release and Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement, ” stated that Plaintiffs understood the “risks and dangers of serious bodily injury” posed by motocross and relieved Defendants from liability for their own negligence.[4] The Release also released Defendants from liability for injuries suffered by Plaintiffs through their own negligence.[5]

In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants negligently allowed the container to remain on the premises at an unsafe distance from the motocross track.[6] While Plaintiffs do not specifically allege recklessness as a separate claim for recovery, but rather include it in a single count of “Negligence, ” Plaintiffs’ complaint references reckless conduct as another potential theory of recovery.[7]Plaintiffs, however, now agree that their claims of negligence are barred by the Release.[8] But Plaintiffs assert that the Release did not specifically address or contemplate potential claims against Defendants for “reckless” behavior.[9]

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(c), a party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed.[10] The standard of review in the context of a motion for judgment on the pleadings requires a court to “accept all the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.”[11] “The motion will be granted when no material issues of fact exist, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[12] “The standard for a motion for judgment on the pleadings is almost identical to the standard for a motion to dismiss.”[13]

B. The Parties Agree that the Release Bars Plaintiffs’ Recovery Against Defendants for Any Negligence

Defendants contend that the executed Release bars recovery for negligence. At oral argument on this motion, Plaintiffs agreed (Plaintiffs’ filings were not explicit on this point) that the Release bars recovery for injuries resulting from Defendants’ allegedly negligent conduct.[14] Although Plaintiffs are residents of Pennsylvania, the parties agree that Delaware law applies to the present motion, as Defendants are Delaware businesses and the incident giving rise to the case at bar occurred in Delaware.

Under Delaware law, parties may enter into an agreement that relieves a business owner of liability for injuries to business invitees that result from the owner’s negligent conduct.[15] However, the release must be unambiguous, not unconscionable, and not against public policy. [16] Further, the release must be “‘crystal clear and unequivocal’ to insulate a party from liability for possible future negligence.”[17]

In Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, the Delaware Supreme Court recently determined the validity of a release waiving liability for negligence.[18] The release in Ketler provided:

‘I understand and voluntarily accept this risk and agree that [the defendant] . . . will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury . . . resulting from the negligence of [the defendant] or anyone on [the defendant’s] behalf whether related to exercise or not. Accordingly, I do hereby forever release and discharge [the defendant] from any and all claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions, or causes of action.'[19]

The Delaware Supreme Court held that the release was sufficiently clear and unequivocal, and that it expressly released the defendant from any and all causes of actions relating to the defendant’s own negligence.[20] Defendants rely heavily on this case, asserting that it applies to claims of reckless conduct.[21]

The Release that Plaintiffs executed in this case is also sufficiently “clear and unequivocal.” The Release provides:

3. I consent to the Minor’s participation in the Event(s) and/or entry into restricted areas and HEREBY ACCEPT AND ASSUME ALL SUCH RISKS, KNOWN AND UNKNOWN, AND ASSUME ALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE LOSSES, COSTS, AND/OR DAMAGES FOLLOWING SUCH INJURY, DISABILITY, PARALYSIS OR DEATH, EVEN IF CAUSED, IN WHOLE OR IN PART, BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE “RELEASEES” NAMED BELOW.

4. I HEREBY RELEASE, DISCHARGE AND COVENANT NOT TO SUE the . . . track owners, [and] owners and lessees of premises used to conduct the Event(s) . . . all for the purposes herein referred to as “Releasees, ” FROM ALL LIABILITY TO ME, THE MINOR, [and] my and the minor’s personal representatives . . . FOR ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, DEMANDS, LOSSES, OR DAMAGES ON ACCOUNT OF INJRY, including, but not limited to, death or damage to property, CAUSED . . . BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE “RELEASEES” OR OTHERWISE.[22]

Similar to the language at issue in Ketler, the Release expressly states that the signor assumes responsibility for injuries caused by Defendants’ own negligent conduct. The release also expressly states that the Defendants are released from any and all causes of action that may arise from Defendants’ negligent conduct. Accordingly, this Court agrees with the parties that the Release validly exculpates Defendants from liability for their own negligence.

Defendants also rely on Lafate v. New Castle County[23] and Devecchio v. Delaware Enduro Riders, Inc.[24] to support their position that the Release waives claims of reckless conduct. Both Lafate and Devecchio concern agreements that released the tortfeasors from liability for their own negligent conduct. Both cases also discussed whether the language of the releases was sufficiently tailored to release the tortfeasor’s negligent conduct. In Lafate, this Court refused to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on grounds that the release did not clearly and unambiguously release the tortfeasor from claims that it was negligent.[25] In Devecchio, this Court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff signed a valid covenant not to sue for injury resulting from the plaintiffs own negligence.[26]

Defendants’ reliance on these cases in light of Plaintiffs’ potential claim of reckless conduct is inapposite. Because the parties have agreed that Defendants are insulated from claims of negligence, the question of whether the release clearly and unambiguously insulates the defendants from liability for their own negligent conduct is moot. Neither the holding in Lafate nor in Devecchio relate to allegations of reckless conduct. Accordingly, because Plaintiffs now assert that Defendant’s conduct was reckless, Lafate and Devecchio are distinguishable from the case at bar.

Finally, the Court considers whether, for purposes of this motion, recklessness is subsumed in negligence, and is therefore barred as a form of negligence. Prosser and Keeton on Torts is particularly informative, providing that “such [exculpatory] agreements [that expressly exempt defendants from liability for their negligent conduct] generally are not construed to cover the more extreme forms of negligence, described as willful, wanton, reckless or gross, and to any conduct which constitutes an intentional tort.”[27] Adopting Prosser and Keeton’s interpretation, this Court finds that although the Release does insulate Defendants from liability for negligent conduct, it does not bar claims of “more extreme forms of negligence, ” such as “reckless” conduct.[28]

C. A Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is Inappropriate at this Juncture in Light of any Undeveloped Claims of Reckless Conduct

Although Tommy’s father’s execution of the Release precludes recovery from Defendants on a theory of “negligence, ” Plaintiffs assert that the Defendants’ conduct was “reckless.” Plaintiffs did not explicitly allege in a separate count of the complaint that Defendant’s conduct was reckless, but Plaintiffs did make it apparent in the complaint that it was an intended theory of liability.[29] In their briefing and at oral argument, Plaintiffs suggested that Defendants, among other things, had been aware of previous collisions with the shipping container, and that their ignorance of these prior incidents amounts to reckless behavior.[30]Accordingly, the Court must determine whether the Release bars Plaintiffs from asserting claims resulting from injuries caused by Defendants’ reckless conduct.

Courts in Delaware have a strong preference for resolving cases on their merits, or at least allowing discovery to proceed such that additional evidence in support of the parties’ contentions can be developed.[31] While this preference is not outcome-determinative, the preference for resolving cases on the merits is a strong factor in determining whether to grant or deny a dispositive motion.

Plaintiffs, at oral argument and in their response to the motion, argue that they are entitled to recovery based on Defendants’ allegedly reckless conduct. The parties agree that this theory is separate from the one count of “negligence” listed in the complaint.[32] The operative language of the Release does not explicitly enumerate or contemplate recklessness as a theory of recovery barred by the Release. Under Delaware law, as provided in Ketler, a release must be “clear and unambiguous” in order to effectively release the business owner from liability.[33]

This Court finds that the language of the release is not “clear and unambiguous” with respect to Defendants’ liability for their own allegedly reckless conduct. In Ketler, the release at issue specifically used the word “negligence, ” and stated that Defendants “will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury . . . resulting from the negligence of [the defendants].” The Delaware Supreme Court held that this language satisfied the “clear and unequivocal” standard and upheld the language of the agreement.

Turning to the Release that Plaintiffs executed, this Court finds that the Release is silent as to claims of recklessness. The Release does not mention “reckless” conduct, and instead only expressly refers to injury caused by Defendants’ “negligence.” In the absence of such language, the Release does not clearly and unambiguously exculpate Defendants from liability for their own reckless conduct. Accordingly, the Release does not operate to bar Plaintiffs’ claim of recklessness.[34]

This Court holds that the Release does not bar claims of reckless conduct. This Court expresses no opinion at this juncture as to whether Plaintiffs ultimately can establish claims against for recklessness. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and will grant Plaintiffs leave to conduct further discovery with the option of potentially amending the complaint in support of their contention that Defendants’ conduct was “reckless.”[35]

D. The Court does Not Reach Defendant’s Argument under the Doctrine of Assumption of the Risk

Finally, Defendants’ contend that Plaintiffs assumed the risk of injury from Defendants’ alleged reckless conduct. However, the record has not been sufficiently developed to determine whether Defendants’ conduct was reckless or whether Plaintiffs assumed the risk of injury from Defendants’ allegedly reckless conduct.[36] Accordingly, the Court does not reach this contention at this stage of the litigation.

IV. CONCLUSION

Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is DENIED. The Court has enclosed an Order establishing a Scheduling Conference in this case.

Very truly yours,

Richard R. Cooch Resident Judge

Notes:

[1] Defendant Houghton’s Amusement Park, LLC did not make an appearance in this case and had a default judgment taken against it on June 21, 2016.

[2]Compl. ¶¶ 79-87.

[3]Compl. ¶ 48.

[4]Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A.

[5]Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A. Tommy also signed an agreement, titled “Minor’s Assumption of the Risk Acknowledgment, ” that Defendants reference in their motion as another reason they are not liable for Plaintiffs’ injuries. However, it appears from the motion and subsequent filings that the release signed by Tommy is only mentioned in passing, and is not relied upon by Defendants. The release signed by Tommy’s father is the determinative release in the case at bar.

[6]Compl. ¶¶ 79-87.

[7]Compl. ¶¶ 49, 51, 77, 87. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that “Defendants’ failure to exercise reasonable care as alleged above comprised outrageous conduct under the circumstances, manifesting a wanton and reckless disregard of the rights of the Plaintiffs.” Compl. ¶ 87. The Complaint also alleges that Tommy’s injuries were caused by the “reckless indifference” of Defendants. Compl. ¶¶ 51, 77. Moreover, the Complaint alleges that the track was “reckless[ly] design[ed].” Compl. ¶ 49.

[8]At oral argument, Plaintiffs’ counsel answered in the affirmative when the Court asked “Am I understanding Plaintiffs’ position correctly when I read the papers to say that Plaintiffs are not alleging ordinary negligence, but rather recklessness?” Lynam et al. v. Blue Diamond LLC Motocross et al, C.A. No. N14C-11-121 RRC, at 6 (Del. Super. July 6, 2016) (TRANSCRIPT) [hereinafter Oral Arg. Tr.].

[9] Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A.

[10] A judgment on the pleadings is based only upon a review of Plaintiffs’ complaint and Defendants’ answer. However, under Rule 12(c), “If, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the Court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment.” Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12(c). In the case at bar, Defendants introduced the two executed releases as exhibits to their motion. However, the releases were not a part of the pleadings. Nevertheless, the parties agree that this motion should be treated as a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

[11] Silver Lake Office Plaza, LLC v. Lanard & Axilbund, Inc., 2014 WL 595378, at *6 (Del. Super. Jan. 17, 2014) (quoting Blanco v. AMVAC Chem. Corp., 2012 WL 3194412, at *6 (Del. Super. Aug. 8, 2012)).

[12] Id. (quoting Velocity Exp., Inc. v. Office Depot, Inc., 2009 WL 406807, at *3 (Del. Super. Feb. 4, 2009).

[13] Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

[14] See Oral Arg. Tr. at 6.

[15] Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, 132 A.3d 746 (Del. 2016) (upholding “hold harmless” agreements and releases that relieve a proprietor from liability for its own negligent activities).

[16] Id. at 747-48.

[17] Riverbend Cmty., LLC v. Green Stone Eng’g, LLC, 55 A.3d 330, 336 (Del. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting State v. Interstate Amiesite Corp., 297 A.2d 41, 44 (Del. 1972)).

[18] Ketler, 132 A.3d at 747.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Oral Arg. Tr. at 14-16.

[22] Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A (emphasis added).

[23] 1999 WL 1241074 (Del. Super. Oct. 22, 1999).

[24] 2004 Del. Super. LEXIS 444 (Del. Super. Nov. 30, 2004).

[25] The plaintiff in Lafate was injured by a metal bar used to divide a basketball court. This Court found that while the agreement did “speak[] of ‘any and all injuries which may be suffered by [players] during [their] participation, ‘” the absence of the word “negligence” insufficiently insulated the defendants from liability for their own negligent conduct. Lafate, 1999 WL 1241074, at *4.

[26] In Devecchio, the defendant owned a motorcycle race track that required riders to sign agreements releasing the defendant from liability for injuries resulting from both the riders and the defendant’s negligence. The release pertaining to the defendant’s negligence expressly used the word “negligence.” This Court found that the release using the word “negligence” was sufficiently clear and unambiguous, and therefore insulated the defendant from liability for its own negligent conduct. Devecchio v. Enduro Riders, Inc., 2004 Del. Super. LEXIS 444 (Del. Super. Nov. 30, 2004).

[27] W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on Torts, § 68 at 483-84 (5th ed. 1984)). Delaware courts often rely on Prosser and Keeton on Torts in reaching their conclusions. See, e.g., Culver v. Bennett, 588 A.2d 1094, 1097 (Del. 1991); Lafate v. New Castle County, 1999 WL 1241074 (Del. Super. Oct. 22, 1999); Brzoska v. Olson, 668 A.2d 1355, 1360 (Del. 1995).

[28] Additionally, the Delaware Civil Pattern Jury Instructions for negligence and recklessness are substantially different. The Delaware Civil Pattern Jury Instruction for negligence provides:

This case involves claims of negligence. Negligence is the lack of ordinary care; that is, the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise in similar circumstances. That standard is your guide. If a person’s conduct in a given circumstance doesn’t measure up to the conduct of an ordinarily prudent and careful person, then that person was negligent. On the other hand, if the person’s conduct does measure up to the conduct of a reasonably prudent and careful person, the person wasn’t negligent.

Del. Super. P.J.I. Civ. § 5.1 (2003), http://courts.delaware.gov/forms/download.aspx?id=85928. On the other hand, the Delaware Civil Pattern Jury Instruction for reckless conduct states:

Reckless conduct reflects a knowing disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk. It amounts to an “I don’t care” attitude. Recklessness occurs when a person, with no intent to cause harm, performs an act so unreasonable and so dangerous that he or she knows, or should know, that harm will probably result.

Del. Super. P.J.I. Civ. § 5.9 (2003), http://courts.delaware.gov/forms/download.aspx?id=85928. It is apparent from a comparison of the two different jury instructions that negligence conduct requires a departure from the ordinary standard of care exhibited by the reasonably prudent person, an objective standard. However, in contrast, it appears from the pattern jury instructions that reckless conduct requires a subjective “I don’t care” attitude that evidences an even greater departure from the ordinary standard of care, amounting to an unreasonable conscious disregard of a known risk.

[29] Compl. ¶¶ 49, 51, 77, 87. For example, Plaintiffs allege that “The reckless design of the track, which was intentionally constructed next to the pre-existing intermodal container, requires riders to land from a jump and immediately decelerate in order to execute a 90° right turn.” Compl. ¶ 49. Moreover, Plaintiffs allege that Tommy’s injuries were “a direct and proximate result of the negligence, carelessness and reckless indifference of Defendants.” Compl. ¶ 77.

[30] Pl.’s Suppl. Resp. in Opp’n to the Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, at 2.

[31] Keener v. Isken, 58 A.3d 407, 409 (Del. 2013); see also Wallace v. Wood, 2007 WL 3331530 (Del. Ch. Oct. 31, 2007); DeSantis v. Chilkotowsky, 2004 WL 2914314, at *2 (Del. Super. Nov. 18, 2004), Sup. Ct. Civ. R. 56.

[32] Plaintiffs did not plead any explicit claim of recklessness. See, e.g., J.L. v. Barnes, 33 A.3d 902, 916 n.77 (De. 2011) (treating recklessness and gross negligence as interchangeable and noting, “In order for a plaintiff to plead gross negligence with the requisite particularity, the plaintiff must articulate ‘facts that suggest a wide disparity between the process [] used . . . and that which would have been rational.'” J.L. states that a complaint pleading ten pages of facts to support a claim of gross negligence or recklessness was sufficient to meet the pleading standard). Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have not properly pleaded reckless conduct under Superior Court Civil Rule 9(b). However, the Court need not reach that issue since it will give Plaintiffs the opportunity to amend their complaint.

[33] Ketler, 132 A.3d at 747.

[34] Because the Court finds that Defendants’ release does not explicitly bar claims of “reckless” conduct, this Court does not reach the question of whether such a release is potentially permissible under Delaware law. However, this Court notes that other jurisdictions have differing perspectives on whether exculpatory agreements barring claims for recklessness, gross negligence, willful acts, or strict liability are enforceable. See Randy J. Sutton, Annotation, Validity, Construction, and Effect of Agreement Exempting Operator of Amusement Facility from Liability for Personal Injury or Death of Patron, 54 A.L.R.5th 513 (1997). For example, in Barker v. Colo. Region-Sports Car Club of Am., the Colorado Court of Appeals held that exculpatory agreements can release a party only for simple negligence, and not from willful and wanton negligence. 532 P.2d 372, 377 (Colo.App. 1974). Similarly, in Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc., the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii held that a release was invalid with respect to claims of gross negligence and strict liability. 839 F.Supp. 730, 736 (D. Haw. 1993). The above annotation suggests that a common reason to not enforce such an agreement is because they are void against the state’s public policy.

Alternatively, other jurisdictions have upheld agreements that exculpate business owners for reckless conduct or strict liability. For example, in Murphy v. N. Am. River Runners, Inc., the West Virginia Supreme Court discussed the matter, stating:

Generally, in the absence of an applicable safety statute, a plaintiff who expressly and, under the circumstances, clearly agrees to accept a risk of harm arising from the defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct may not recover for such harm, unless the agreement is contrary to public policy. When such an express agreement is freely and fairly made, between two parties who are in equal bargaining position, and there is no public interest with which the agreement interferes, it will generally be upheld.

412 S.E.2d 504, 508-09 (W.Va. 1991).

[35]Delaware Courts have previously allowed such an amendment to be made. As this Court held in Guy v. Phillips, a party may amend a complaint following additional discovery when the amended count arises out of the same factual basis for the original complaint. 1997 WL 524124 (Del. Super. July 2, 1997).

[36] In support of this defense, the Court notes that Defendants rely solely on Deuley v. DynCorp Int’l, Inc., 2010 WL 704895 (Del. Super. Feb. 26, 2010). However, Deuley is distinguishable from the case at bar. In Deuley, surviving relatives of decedents killed by an improvised explosive device (“IED”) in Afghanistan filed a wrongful death action. As part of the employment agreement, the decedents signed an agreement that provided employees expressly assumed the risk of injury or death. In reaching its conclusion that the decedents assumed the risk of death, the Court found that “when [the decedents] signed the releases, even a poorly informed American had to have appreciated that working in Afghanistan involved the general risk of insurgent or terrorist attacking by an IED.” Deuley, 2010 WL 704895, at *4. “The complaint offers no reason to find that any plaintiff here was probably unaware of the general risk of being injured or killed by a bomb.” Id. In the case at bar, drawing inferences in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, it is unlikely that Plaintiffs were aware of the risk posed by the shipping container, since they allege that they were unable to inspect the track prior to Tommy using it. Accordingly, Defendants’ reliance on Deuley is inapposite since it could be determined that a collision with the metal shipping container was not contemplated by the Plaintiffs when they signed the Release.


New Jersey does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue so a binding arbitration agreement is a good idea, if it is written correctly.

The arbitration agreement in this case did not state how long the agreement was valid for, so the court held it was only valid for the day it was signed.

Citation: Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

State: New Jersey: Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

Plaintiff: Lorianne Weed and Scott Trefero as parents and natural guardians of A.M., a minor,

Defendant: Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone Moorestown and/or a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone and David R. Agger

Plaintiff Claims: Contract failed to compel arbitration

Defendant Defenses: Arbitration

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2018

Summary

When a parent cannot sign a release for a minor, because the states don’t enforce them, one option may be a binding arbitration agreement. Arbitration usually does not allow massive damages, is cheaper and quicker than going to trial.

However, your arbitration agreement, like a release, must be written in a way to make sure it is effective. This one was not, and the plaintiff can proceed to trial.

Facts

Plaintiff visited the trampoline facility in July 2016. Entrance to the park is conditioned on all participants signing a “Conditional Access Agreement, Pre-Injury Waiver of Liability, and Agreement to Indemnity, Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate” (the Agreement). Weed executed the agreement on behalf of her son in July 2016.

Plaintiff returned to the facility with a friend in November 2016, and was injured while using the trampolines during a “Glow” event, which plaintiff submits used different and less lighting than was present at his earlier visit. Plaintiff entered the facility in November with an agreement signed by his friend’s mother on behalf of both her daughter and A.M.[2] In an affidavit submitted by Weed in opposition to the motion, she stated that she was unaware that her son was going to the facility at the time of the November visit.

After Weed filed suit on behalf of her son, defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement. Defendants argued that the agreements contained “straightforward, clear, and unequivocal” language that a participant was waiving their right to present claims before a jury in exchange for conditional access to the facility. They asserted that the first agreement signed by Weed remained in effect at the time of plaintiff’s subsequent visit in November as there was no indication that it was only valid for the one day of entry in July. Finally, defendants contended that any dispute as to a term of the agreement should be resolved in arbitration.

Plaintiff opposed the motion, asserting that nothing in the first agreement alerted Weed that it would remain in effect for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. To the contrary, defendants’ policy of requiring a new agreement to be signed each time a participant entered the park belied its argument that a prior agreement remained valid for a period of time.

On May 19, 2017, Judge Joseph L. Marczyk conducted oral argument and denied the motion in an oral decision issued the same day. The judge determined that the first agreement did not apply to the November visit because it did not contain any language that it would remain valid and applicable to all future visits. Therefore, there was no notice to the signor of the agreement that it would be in effect beyond that specific day of entry, and no “meeting of the minds” that the waiver and agreement to arbitrate pertained to all claims for any future injury.

As for the second agreement, the judge found that there was no precedent to support defendants’ contention that an unrelated person could bind plaintiff to an arbitration clause. This appeal followed.

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

In a state where there are no defenses except assumption of the risk for claims by minor’s arbitration can be a good way to speed up the process and limit damages. Each state has laws that encourage arbitration and, in most cases, create limits on what an arbitration panel (the people hearing the case) can award in damages. In man states, arbitration judges cannot award punitive damages.

You need to check your state laws on what if any benefits arbitration provides.

However, if you can use a release, the release is the best way to go because it cuts off all damages. Many times, in arbitration damages are awarded, they are just less.

To determine which states do not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue see States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

The best way of dealing with minor claims is the defense of assumption of the risk. However, this takes more time on the front end in making sure the minor participants understand the risk before embarking on the activity.

There were two issues before the appellate court: Whether the first agreement signed by the mother of the injured plaintiff extended beyond the day it was signed. The second issue was whether a second agreement signed by a friend, not a parent, legal guardian or someone acting under a power of attorney had any legal validity.

The first agreement was silent as to how long it was valid. There was no termination date, (which is a good thing) and nothing to indicate the agreement was good for a day or a lifetime. Because the contract was blank as to when the agreement was valid, the court ruled against the creator of the contract.

There is no evidence in the record before us to support defendants’ argument as the agreements are silent as to any period of validity. Defendants drafted these agreements and required a signature from all participants waiving certain claims and requiring submission to arbitration prior to permitting access to the facility. Any ambiguity in the contract must be construed against defendants.

When a contract is written any issues are held against the writer of the agreement. Here because the contract had no end date or did not say it was good forever, there was a gap in the agreement that was held against the defendant as the writer of the agreement.

So, the court ruled the agreement signed by the mother was only valid on the day it was signed and was not valid the second time when the minor came in and was injured.

The second argument made by the defendant was the friend who signed for the minor on the second visit signed an agreement that should be enforced and compel arbitration.

The court laughed that one out the door.

We further find that defendants’ argument regarding the November agreement lacks merit. The signor of that agreement was neither a parent, a legal guardian, nor the holder of a power of attorney needed to bind the minor plaintiff to the arbitration agreement. Defendants’ reliance on Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, is misplaced. While the Court found that a parent had the authority to waive their own child’s rights under an arbitration agreement in Hojnowski, there is no suggestion that such authority would extend to a non-legal guardian. Not only would such a holding bind the minor to an arbitration agreement, it would also serve to bind the minor’s parents, waiving their rights to bring a claim on behalf of their child. We decline to so hold.

So Now What?

New Jersey law is quite clear. A parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue, Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park. Consequently, arbitration was probably the way to go. In this case, one little slip up made the arbitration agreement worthless.

The one flaw in using an arbitration agreement is you could use a release to stop the claims for a parent. So, you should write a release that stops the claims of the parents/legal guardians and compels arbitration of the minor’s claims. Those get tricky.

And as far as another adult signing for a minor who is not their child, that is always a problem. A parent can sign for a minor, to some extent, and a spouse can sign for another spouse in certain situations. An officer of a corporation or a manager of a limited liability company can sign for the corporation or company. The trustee can sign for a trust, and any partner can sign for a partnership. But only you can sign for you.

The issue that outdoor businesses see all day long is a volunteer youth leader take groups of kids to parks, amusement rides and climbing walls, etc. Neighbors take the neighborhood kids to the zoo, and friends grab their kids’ friends to take on vacation. Unless the adult has a power of attorney saying they have the right to enter agreements on behalf of the minor child, their signature only has value if they are a celebrity or sports personality.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

Lorianne Weed and Scott Trefero as parents and natural guardians of A.M., a minor, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone Moorestown and/or a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone and David R. Agger, Defendants-Appellants.

No. A-4589-16T1

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

February 22, 2018

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 18, 2018

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-2790-16.

Marco P. DiFlorio argued the cause for appellants (Salmon, Ricchezza, Singer & Turchi LLP, attorneys; Joseph A. Ricchezza and Marco P. DiFlorio, on the briefs).

Iddo Harel argued the cause for respondents (Ross Feller Casey, LLP, attorneys; Joel J. Feller and Iddo Harel, on the brief).

Before Judges Currier and Geiger.

PER CURIAM

Defendants Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a/ Sky Zone Moorestown and David Agger (defendants) appeal from the May 19, 2017 order denying their motion to compel arbitration in this personal injury suit brought by plaintiffs after A.M.[1] suffered severe injuries while jumping on a trampoline at defendants’ facility. After a review of the presented arguments in light of the record before us and applicable principles of law, we affirm.

Plaintiff visited the trampoline facility in July 2016. Entrance to the park is conditioned on all participants signing a “Conditional Access Agreement, Pre-Injury Waiver of Liability, and Agreement to Indemnity, Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate” (the Agreement). Weed executed the agreement on behalf of her son in July 2016.

Plaintiff returned to the facility with a friend in November 2016, and was injured while using the trampolines during a “Glow” event, which plaintiff submits used different and less lighting than was present at his earlier visit. Plaintiff entered the facility in November with an agreement signed by his friend’s mother on behalf of both her daughter and A.M.[2] In an affidavit submitted by Weed in opposition to the motion, she stated that she was unaware that her son was going to the facility at the time of the November visit.

Both agreements required the submission of all claims to binding arbitration and contained the following pertinent language:

I understand that this Agreement waives certain rights that I have in exchange for permission to gain access to the [l]ocation. I agree and acknowledge that the rights I am waiving in exchange for permission to gain access to the [l]ocation include but may not be limited to the following:

a. the right to sue [defendants] in a court of law;

b. the right to a trial by judge or jury;

c. the right to claim money from [defendants] for accidents causing injury within the scope of the risk assumed by myself;

d. the right to claim money from [defendants] for accidents causing injury unless [defendants] committed acts of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct; and

e. the right to file a claim against [defendants] if I wait more than one year from . . . the date of this Agreement.

Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate

IF I AM INJURED AND WANT TO MAKE A CLAIM AND/OR IF THERE ARE ANY DISPUTES REGARDING THIS AGREEMENT, I HEREBY WAIVE ANY RIGHT I HAVE TO A TRIAL IN A COURT OF LAW BEFORE A JUDGE AND JURY. I AGREE THAT SUCH DISPUTE SHALL BE BROUGHT WITHIN ONE YEAR OF THE DATE OF THIS AGREEMENT AND WILL BE DETERMINED BY BINDING ARBITRATION BEFORE ONE ARBITRATOR TO BE ADMINISTERED BY JAMS[3] PURSUANT TO ITS COMPREHENSIVE ARBITRATIONRULES AND PROCEDURES.I further agree that the arbitration will take place solely in the state of New Jersey and that the substantive law of New Jersey shall apply. I acknowledge that if I want to make a claim against [defendants], I must file a demand before JAMS. … To the extent that any claim I have against [defendants] has not been released or waived by this Agreement, I acknowledge that I have agreed that my sole remedy is to arbitrat[e] such claim, and that such claim may only be brought against [defendants] in accordance with the above Waiver of Trial and Agreement to Arbitrate.

After Weed filed suit on behalf of her son, defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement. Defendants argued that the agreements contained “straightforward, clear, and unequivocal” language that a participant was waiving their right to present claims before a jury in exchange for conditional access to the facility. They asserted that the first agreement signed by Weed remained in effect at the time of plaintiff’s subsequent visit in November as there was no indication that it was only valid for the one day of entry in July. Finally, defendants contended that any dispute as to a term of the agreement should be resolved in arbitration.

Plaintiff opposed the motion, asserting that nothing in the first agreement alerted Weed that it would remain in effect for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. To the contrary, defendants’ policy of requiring a new agreement to be signed each time a participant entered the park belied its argument that a prior agreement remained valid for a period of time.

On May 19, 2017, Judge Joseph L. Marczyk conducted oral argument and denied the motion in an oral decision issued the same day. The judge determined that the first agreement did not apply to the November visit because it did not contain any language that it would remain valid and applicable to all future visits. Therefore, there was no notice to the signor of the agreement that it would be in effect beyond that specific day of entry, and no “meeting of the minds” that the waiver and agreement to arbitrate pertained to all claims for any future injury.

As for the second agreement, the judge found that there was no precedent to support defendants’ contention that an unrelated person could bind plaintiff to an arbitration clause. This appeal followed.

“[O]rders compelling or denying arbitration are deemed final and appealable as of right as of the date entered.” GMAC v. Pittella, 205 N.J. 572, 587 (2011). We review the judge’s decision to compel arbitration de novo. Frumer v. Nat’1 Home Ins. Co., 420 N.J.Super. 7, 13 (App. Div. 2011). The question of whether an arbitration clause is enforceable is an issue of law, which we also review de novo. Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Group, L.P., 219 N.J. 430, 445-46 (2014). We owe no deference to the trial court’s “interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts.” Manalapan Realty v. Twp. Comm., 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995).

Defendants argue that the trial court erred when it determined that the first arbitration agreement signed by Weed four months before plaintiff’s injury was no longer binding on the parties at the time of plaintiff’s injury. We disagree.

While we are mindful that arbitration is a favored means of dispute resolution in New Jersey, the threshold issue before us is whether Weed’s signature on the July agreement would be binding on plaintiff for all subsequent visits. We apply well-established contract principles, and ascertain the parties’ intent from a consideration of all of the surrounding circumstances. James Talcott, Inc. v. H. Corenzwit & Co., 76 N.J. 305, 312 (1978). “An agreement must be construed in the context of the circumstances under which it was entered into and it must be accorded a rational meaning in keeping with the express general purpose.” Tessmar v. Grosner, 23 N.J. 193, 201 (1957).

It is undisputed that neither agreement contains any reference to a term of validity. The parties submitted conflicting affidavits in support of their respective positions. Weed stated there was nothing in the agreement she signed to apprise a participant that the agreement was in effect for longer than the day of entry. Defendants contend that plaintiff did not need a second agreement signed for the November visit as the initial agreement remained in effect.

There is no evidence in the record before us to support defendants’ argument as the agreements are silent as to any period of validity. Defendants drafted these agreements and required a signature from all participants waiving certain claims and requiring submission to arbitration prior to permitting access to the facility. Any ambiguity in the contract must be construed against defendants. See Moscowitz v. Middlesex Borough Bldq. & Luan Ass’n, 14 N.J.Super. 515, 522 (App. Div. 1951) (holding that where a contract is ambiguous, it will be construed against the drafting party). We are satisfied that Judge Marczyk’s ruling declining enforcement of the July agreement was supported by the credible evidence in the record.

We further find that defendants’ argument regarding the November agreement lacks merit. The signor of that agreement was neither a parent, a legal guardian, nor the holder of a power of attorney needed to bind the minor plaintiff to the arbitration agreement. Defendants’ reliance on Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 346 (2006) is misplaced. While the Court found that a parent had the authority to waive their own child’s rights under an arbitration agreement in Hojnowski, there is no suggestion that such authority would extend to a non-legal guardian. Not only would such a holding bind the minor to an arbitration agreement, it would also serve to bind the minor’s parents, waiving their rights to bring a claim on behalf of their child. We decline to so hold. See Moore v. Woman to Woman Obstetrics & Gynecology, LLC, 416 N.J.Super. 30, 45 (App. Div. 2010) (holding there is no legal theory that would permit one spouse to bind another to an agreement waiving the right to trial without securing consent to the agreement).

As we have concluded the threshold issue that neither the July nor the November agreement is enforceable as to the minor plaintiff, we do not reach the issue of whether the arbitration provision contained within the agreement accords with our legal standards and case law. Judge Marczyk’s denial of defendants’ motion to compel arbitration was supported by the evidence in the record.

Affirmed.

Notes:

[1] Lorianne Weed is A.M.’s mother. Because A.M. is a minor, we use initials in respect of his privacy and we refer to him hereafter as plaintiff.

[2] The agreement required the adult to “certify that [she was] the parent or legal guardian of the child(ren) listed [on the agreement] or that [she had] been granted power of attorney to sign [the] Agreement on behalf of the parent or legal guardian of the child(ren) listed.” There were no proofs presented that the adult met any of these requirements.

[3] JAMS is an organization that provides alternative dispute resolution services, including mediation and arbitration.

 


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

If your state is not listed here, you should assume a parent cannot waive a minor’s right to sue in your state.

State

By Statute

Restrictions

Alaska Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292 Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries
Arizona ARS § 12-553 Limited to Equine Activities
Colorado C.R.S. §§13-22-107
Florida Florida Statute § 744.301 (3) Florida statute that allows a parent to release a minor’s right to sue
Virginia Chapter 62. Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202. Liability limited; liability actions prohibited Allows a parent to sign a release for a minor for equine activities
Utah 78B-4-203. Limitations on Liability for Equine and Livestock Activities Limited to Equine Activities
(b) providing a document or release for the participant, or the participant’s legal guardian if the participant is a minor, to sign.

By Case Law

California Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)
Florida Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454 Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims
Florida Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147 Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities
Maryland BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897 Maryland top court allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Release was not fantastic, but good enough.
Massachusetts Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384
Minnesota Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299
North Dakota McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3 North Dakota decision allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue
Ohio Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998) Ohio Appellate decision upholds the use of a release for a minor for a commercial activity
Wisconsin Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1 However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 may void all releases in the state

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

Decisions are by the Federal District Courts and only preliminary motions
North Carolina Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations
New York DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695 New York Federal Magistrate in a Motion in Limine, hearing holds the New York Skier Safety Statute allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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RELEASE (Waiver) CHECKLIST: What MUST your Release contain to work

If you are getting ready for your summer recreation business it is always a good idea to make sure your paperwork is up to date and ready to go. This is a checklist to help you check your release and make sure your release is doing more than wasting paper.

Not all of these clauses mentioned in the checklist may be needed. However, some of them are critical and they may all be modified based on your activity, program, employees, and ability to undertake the risks. Some changes are always needed based on your activities, your guests and the state or local you are working in.

I’ve divided this checklist into three major parts:

  • Required for your Release to be Valid: What is absolutely required
  • Needed: What you should have for your release to be valid in most states
  • What Your Release Cannot Have: What you should never have in your document

There are some subsections also that are fairly self-explanatory. This will probably not be in all releases, but may be required in your release based on what you are trying to accomplish or what you are doing.

Required for your Release to be Valid

Contract: A release is a contract. The legal requirements required in your state for your electronic or piece of paper release to be a contract.

Notice of Legal Document: Does your release someplace on its face, give notice to the person signing it that they are signing a release or a legal document? Courts want to see that the guest knew they were giving up some legal rights.

Parties: You have to identify who is to be protected by the release and who the release applies too. That means the correct legal names as well as any business name.

Assumption of Risk Language: Does your release contain language that explains the risk of the activities the release is designed to protect litigation against. This is any area that is growing in release law.

Agreement to Assume Risks: Do your release have language that states the signor agrees to assume the risk. Assumption of the Risk is the second defense after your release in stopping a lawsuit.

Magic Word: Negligence: Does your release have the signor give up their right to sue for negligence? The required language and how it must be explained is getting more specific in all states and yet is different in most states.

Plain Language: Is the release written so that it can be understood? Is it written in plain English?

Venue: Does your release have a Venue Clause?

Jurisdiction: Does your release have a Jurisdiction Clause?

Signatures: Does your release have a place for the signor to date and sign the release. For a contract to be valid it must have a signature, or if electronic acknowledgment.

Continuing Duty to Inform: Information to complete the continuing duty to inform for manufacturers

 

Items that may be Needed Dependent upon the Purpose of the Release

Parental Release: Signature of Parent or Guardian AND correct legal language signing away a minor’s right to sue.

Statement the Signor has conveyed the necessary information to minor child

Statement the Signor will continue to convey necessary information to a minor child

Reference to any Required Statute

Signor has viewed the Website

Signor has viewed the Videos

Signor has read the additional information

Notice the Release is a Legal Document:

Notice of Legal Consequence: Does your release state there may be legal consequences to the signor upon signing?

Opening/Introduction: Does your release have an opening or introduction explaining its purpose

Assumption of Risk Language

Minor Injuries Noticed

Major Injuries Noticed

Death

Mental Trauma

Signor is Capable of Assuming Risks

Risks identified that are not normally Not Associated with Activity

Drug & Alcohol Statement

Company Right to Eject/Refuse

Signor is in Good Physical Condition

Able to Undertake the activity

Good Mental Condition

Release Protects Against

Lost Personal Property

Lost Money

Lost Time

Loss of Life

Medical Bills

Injuries

Indemnification Clause

First party costs

Third party costs

Severance Clause

Enforceability of the Release Post Activity

 

Language Dependent on How the Release is to be Used

Product Liability Language

Release of Confidential Medical Information

Demo Language

Rental Agreement Clause

SAR & Medical Issues

Permission to release medical information

Medical Evacuation

Medical Release

Medical Transportation

Waiver of medical confidentiality

Waiver of HIV status

Alternative Resolution

Arbitration

Mediation

Items I include in the releases I write

How Release is to be interpreted

Statement as to Insurance

Signor has Adequate Insurance

Incidental issues covered

Signor has Previous Experience

Signor Read and Understood the Contract

Agreement that the document has been read

Agreement that the signor agrees to the terms

What Your Release Cannot Have

Places to Initial: This just requires more effort on your staff to check and is not legally required.

Small Print: If a judge can’t read it, then it does not exist.

Attempting to Hide your Release: You attempt to hide your release; the judge will act like he or she never found it. The below are all examples of attempting to hide a release.

No heading or indication of the legal nature

Release Hidden within another document

Important sections with no heading or not bolded: No hiding your release

Multiple pages that are not associated with each other: splitting up your release is hiding it.

No indication or notice of the rights the signor is giving up: Some day the statement I did not understand it will resonate with a judge. This prevents that.

Most Importantly, had your Release Updated Recently

Has your release been reviewed by an attorney in the past year or do you work with an attorney that updates you on changes you need to make to your release? The law concerning releases is changing constantly, more now than ever before. In the past two years I’ve made a dozen tweaks to how I write a release based on those legal changes. If your release has not been updated, you may no longer have a release.

Remember: Nothing in your marketing program invalidates your release. Does your marketing not create liability not covered in your release? Is your marketing directed to the correct people that your release was written for?


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

If your state is not listed here, you should assume a parent cannot waive a minor’s right to sue in your state.

State

By Statute Restrictions
Alaska Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292 Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries
Arizona ARS § 12-553 Limited to Equine Activities
Colorado C.R.S. §§13-22-107
Florida Florida Statute § 744.301 (3) Florida statute that allows a parent to release a minor’s right to sue
Virginia Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited Allows a parent to sign a release for a minor for equine activities
Utah 78B-4-203.  Limitations on Liability for Equine and Livestock Activities Limited to Equine Activities
(b) providing a document or release for the participant, or the participant’s legal guardian if the participant is a minor, to sign.
 

By Case Law

California Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)
Florida Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454 Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims
Florida Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147 Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities
Maryland BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897 Maryland top court allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Release was not fantastic, but good enough.
Massachusetts Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384
Minnesota Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299
North Dakota McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3 North Dakota decision allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue
Ohio Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998) Ohio Appellate decision upholds the use of a release for a minor for a commercial activity
Wisconsin Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1 However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 may void all releases in the state
 

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

Decisions are by the Federal District Courts and only preliminary motions
North Carolina Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations
New York DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695 New York Federal Magistrate in a Motion in Limine, hearing holds the New York Skier Safety Statute allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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New York Federal Magistrate in a Motion in Limine, hearing holds the New York Skier Safety Statute allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

This is not enough law to rely on, but it is a start to build upon to argue that a parent can sign a release for a minor for skiing activities, and the minor cannot sue.

DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695

State: New York, United States District Court for the Western District of New York

Plaintiff: Bryan DiFrancesco as father and natural guardian of the infant minor, LD,

Defendant: Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc.,

Plaintiff Claims: allege negligent instruction and supervision

Defendant Defenses: Child assumed the risk and release

Holding: Decision was mixed concerning the evidentiary issues

Year: 2017

This is a motion in limine decision. That means it was the judge’s response to motions by both sides to include or exclude evidence. Meaning one party files a motion in limine to prevent the other party from introducing a document, testimony or in some cases witnesses at trial.

This answer covered numerous motions for both parties. The analysis here will only cover issues relevant to the outdoor industry in general and not cover the purely legal arguments.

The case is about a five-year-old girl who suffered injuries when she fell out of the chairlift while taking a ski lesson from the defendant. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in New York because the plaintiffs are from Canada.

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

The first issue that the court reviewed was whether a five-year-old  could assume the risk of her injury. Each state has different age groups that have been determined over the years for when a child can assume the risks of their injuries. In New York, a child cannot assume the risk of their injury under the age of 5. Children 5 and above, the issue has not been determined to set a real standard a court could rely upon. If there was a set age, a jury would still have to determine if the child assumed the risk.

The plaintiffs were arguing the plaintiff was too young to assume the risk.

Over the age of four, the status of a child is a question of fact regarding the particular child’s ability to comprehend danger and care for herself, younger than four years of age, “an infant . . . may be so young that he is unable to apprehend the existence of danger, take precautions against it and exercise any degree of care for his own safety.

The plaintiff argued that assumption of the risk should not be a defense in the case because the injured child was 5. Since the child had been skiing in the past, the defense wanted to bring the defense of assumption of the risk. The child has skied, been injured skiing previously and had written chairlifts before, although always with an adult. The court found it was a subject the jury had the right to determine.

One factual element in this case is the maturity and knowledge of LD as to whether she assumed the risk of riding the chairlift here despite being five years old. LD testified at her deposition that prior to the 2010 incident she rode chairlifts two or three other times, each time with her father plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco who assisted her getting on and off the lift his ski pole over LD’s lap until it was time to get off the chairlift. Whether LD in her circumstances could assume the risk of riding and disembarking from the chairlift by herself is an issue of fact and evidence regarding her maturity, age, experience, intelligence, literacy, and mental capacity to understand the risks she faced is relevant and admissible. As a result, plaintiffs’ motion precluding evidence of LD assuming the risk is denied.

The next argument the plaintiff made was the release was void as against public policy in New York. This was confusing because no release was presented or explained. However, it appears that the New York Safety in Skiing code allows for releases in the statute. By the end of the discussion, it seems the uncle of the injured child signed a release on her behalf.

The plaintiff argued that the New York law that voided releases in general applied and should void this release, New York General Obligations Law § 5-326. However, the court agreed with the defendant that the New York Safety in Skiing code authorized the release and over ruling New York General Obligations Law § 5-326.

The plaintiff’s also argued that since the injured plaintiff has never read or signed the release, she could not be held to it.

The court broke down its analysis of the issue first by looking at whether the injured five-year-old  disaffirmed the release. In this case, disaffirmance means the child can argue a release signed on their behalf is invalid. In New York that is normally the case. However, the legislature has created exceptions to that rule.

“The exception from this common law power of the infant to disaffirm written consents made on her behalf is where the New York State Legislature either abrogates this common law right or makes particular infant agreements binding upon the infant,….

While conceding that at common law an infant could disaffirm written consent made for her, the Court of Appeals in Shields recognized that the State Legislature could abrogate that right or create a right upon infants to enter into binding contracts. “Where a statute expressly permits a certain class of agreements to be made by infants that settles the question and makes the agreement valid and enforceable….

The court then looked at the New York Safety in Skiing code and found the statute specifically created that exception.

The Safety in Skiing Code and its regulations provide an abrogation of the common law right of an infant skier to disaffirm the release signed on her behalf. First, the State Legislature used the term “skier” without expressly distinguishing the age of skier. Second, the State Legislature authorized and directed the Commissioner of Labor to enact necessary rules and regulations. Pursuant to that authority, the Commissioner enacted 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.1 to have the regulations under the Safety in Skiing Code apply to “all skiers,” again without distinction due to the age of the skier.

The court held that a minor could be held to a release signed by a parent or in this case, a temporary guarding uncle.

The Safety in Skiing Code statutory and regulatory scheme including “all skiers” makes releases signed by adults bind infant skiers and removes the infants’ common law right to disaffirm the releases executed in their minority. On this basis, plaintiffs’ motion in limine to exclude the Holiday Valley release is denied.

However, this was not a blanket decision saying the release eliminated all claims of the plaintiff. The court found the uncle had to have read the release to the injured plaintiff. Whether she understood its contents, and the risks outlined there was a question to be determined at trial.

This release itself raises factual issues, such as whether Uncle Dean DiFrancesco actually read the release to LD and whether she understood its contents, including the risks stated therein (particularly, the risks in riding and dismounting a chairlift).

The court then reviewed the defense’s motions in limine which were mostly legal in their scope and not of value here.

This case as of March 2017 is proceeding to trial.

So Now What?

First, this decision was made by a Federal District Court magistrate applying New York State law. The New York courts can ignore the law and until the New York Supreme court rules on the issues, this is not binding to any major degree on other courts. However, it is a start and quite interesting in the analysis of the issues.

The first is assumption of the risk is a valid defense in New York possibly applies to children as young as five. You can develop ways for five year olds to understand the risk; you can use that defense against claims. Probably the easiest way is a video, or maybe two videos. The first video is shown to the children which shows them the risk of the activity they are about to undertake. The second video is of the children watching the video.

This should always be backed up with as many other options as you can create. Have your release state the parent has explained the risks to the child and that the parent, and the child accept them. Put those risks in the release and have the parent state they reviewed the release with the child. Place the risks on your website in different ways and have the parent state they have reviewed the risks on the website with the child and agree to that in the release.

Any way you can show that the child knew of the risks, can create a defense for you for a claim by an injured minor.

The second issue is actually more interesting. 1.) that an adult can sign away a minor’s right to sue in New York and 2.) that adult does not have to be a parent as long as the adult reviews the release with the minor.

Again, this was a preliminary motion hearing in a Federal district court; however, the ruling was explained and supported by case law. As such, it may have some validity and lead to further decisions like this.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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

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DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695

DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695

Bryan DiFrancesco as father and natural guardian of the infant minor, LD, Plaintiffs, v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., Defendants.

13CV148

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695

March 20, 2017, Decided

March 20, 2017, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24784 (W.D.N.Y., Feb. 22, 2017)

COUNSEL:  [*1] For Bryan DiFrancesco, as father and natural guardian of the infant minor, LD, Bryan DiFrancesco, Individually, Plaintiffs: Philip L. Rimmler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Russell T. Quinlan, Paul William Beltz, P.C., Buffalo, NY.

For Win-Sum Ski Corp, Holiday Valley, Inc., Defendants: Maryjo C. Zweig, Steven M. Zweig, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Cheroutes Zweig, PC, Hamburg, NY.

JUDGES: Hon. Hugh B. Scott, United States Magistrate Judge.

OPINION BY: Hugh B. Scott

OPINION

CONSENT

Order

The parties then consented to proceed before the undersigned as Magistrate Judge, including presiding over a jury trial (Docket No. 37). Presently before the Court are the parties’ first round of motions in limine in preparation for a jury trial. Defendants first submitted their motion in limine (Docket No. 53). Plaintiffs’ then filed their motion in limine (Docket No. 56). Defendants then supplemented their motion in limine (Docket No. 58). As scheduled in the Final Pretrial Order (Docket No. 40), these initial motions in limine were due by January 3, 2017 (id.), later extended at the parties’ request to January 6, 2017 (Docket No. 42); responses initially were due by January 17, 2017, and they were to be argued with the Final Pretrial Conference on January 18, [*2]  2017, and then be deemed submitted (Docket No. 40). Responses to these motions were postponed then and were due by February 3, 2017 (Docket No. 63), which defendants submitted (Docket No. 65) and plaintiffs submitted (Docket No. 66); and reply by February 10, 2017 (Docket No. 63), which defendants submitted (Docket No. 67) and plaintiffs submitted (Docket No. 68); and argument was held on February 16, 2017 (Docket Nos. 63, 69 (minutes)). These motions were deemed submitted at the conclusion of oral argument. During that argument, scheduling for the Pretrial Conference and jury selection and trial were discussed with the trial reset for July 17, 2017 (Docket No. 69; see Docket Nos. 70, 71). The jury selection and trial of this case was scheduled for February 1, 2017 (Docket No. 40, Final Pretrial Order), but was later adjourned (Docket Nos. 63, 64).

Separately, this Court addressed plaintiffs’ motion for a protective Order and to quash two subpoenas (Docket Nos. 43 (motion), 70, Order of February 22, 2017), familiarity with which is presumed.

BACKGROUND

This is a diversity personal injury action. Plaintiffs are a Canadian father and daughter, while defendants are New York corporations [*3]  which operate Holiday Valley. Plaintiff LD (hereinafter “LD,” cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2) was a five-year-old in 2010 who skied at Holiday Valley. Plaintiffs allege that LD was injured falling when from a chairlift at Holiday Valley (Docket No. 1, Compl.; see Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. B).

According to plaintiffs’ earlier motion, LD was participating in a ski lesson at Holiday Valley on February 15, 2010, under the supervision of defendants’ employee, a ski instructor, when she fell from the chairlift sustaining injuries to her left leg and left hip. Plaintiffs allege negligent instruction and supervision during the course of that lesson resulting in LD’s fall. (Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 3, 9, Ex. E; see id., Pls. Memo. at 1-2.)

The Scheduling Order (after extensions, see Docket Nos. 14-15, 20, 23, 25, 27) in this case had discovery conclude on April 30, 2015 (Docket No. 27; see Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. D). No motions to compel were filed and the parties reported on October 5, 2015, readiness for trial (Docket No. 30). Plaintiffs’ motion to quash subpoenas and for a protective Order led to the parties exchanging supplemental discovery, which was to be completed by April 5, [*4]  2017 (Docket No. 70, Order of Feb. 22, 2017, at 21, 22). Defendants’ First Motion in Limine (Docket No. 53)

Pursuant to the Final Pretrial Order (Docket No. 40), defendants filed their motion in limine, seeking preclusion of portions of the opinions of plaintiffs’ expert, Dick Penniman; evidence of defendants’ subsequent remediation; and evidence of prior and subsequent incidents similar to the accident at issue (Docket No. 53). Plaintiffs’ response and defendants’ reply will be addressed below at each particular item. Plaintiffs’ Motion in Limine (Docket No. 56)

Plaintiffs also filed their timely motion in limine (Docket No. 56), seeking to preclude evidence that infant LD assumed the risk of riding the chairlift, evidence from LD’s injury at Holimont in 2015, and evidence of a disclaimer that plaintiffs argue is against public policy (id.).

Defendants argue that plaintiffs’ motion in limine is in fact an untimely motion for summary judgment and that issues of fact exist, hence there is no basis to preclude evidence as to plaintiffs’ assumption of the risk or comparative negligence (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 5-6). They contend that the registration form with the release signed by [*5]  LD’s uncle is admissible because the release tracks the “Warning to Skiers” required by New York General Obligations Law § 18-106(1)(a) and regulations under 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.5(l)(1) (id. at 7). They fault plaintiffs for not addressing Vanderwall v. Troser Management, Inc., 244 A.D.2d 982, 665 N.Y.S.2d 492 (4th Dep’t 1997), leave to appeal denied, 91 N.Y.2d 811, 694 N.E.2d 883, 671 N.Y.S.2d 714 (1998) (id.). That case charged the jury there with express assumption of the risk for exposure to drainage ditches even though those risks were not enumerated in “Warning to Skiers,” Vanderwall, supra, 244 A.D.2d at 982, 665 N.Y.S.2d at 493 (id.). Defendants’ Supplemental Motion in Limine (Docket No. 58)

Defendants later supplemented their motion in limine seeking preclusion of undisclosed expert testimony and to limit as expert testimony from LD’s parents as to her treatment (both past and future) and LD’s physical therapist testifying as to causation and diagnosis (Docket No. 58).

Plaintiffs’ respond that they did provide disclosure of future medical expenses; alternatively, they contend that defendants waived any objection to an omitted response by not moving to compel or for preclusion (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 16-18).

During oral argument of plaintiffs’ motion for a protective Order and to quash the two subpoenas (Docket No. 69), the parties submitted on their respective papers for these motions in limine (id.). They also discussed the need to supplement [*6]  their disclosure, especially LD’s future medical treatment and needs (id.).

DISCUSSION

I. Applicable Standards

In a diversity jurisdiction action, this Court initially must apply the substantive law of our forum state, New York, see Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1983); Ocean Ships, Inc. v. Stiles, 315 F.3d 111, 116 n.4 (2d Cir. 2002), including its choice of law regime, Klaxon v. Stentor, 313 U.S. 487, 61 S. Ct. 1020, 85 L. Ed. 1477 (1941). This Court has to apply New York law as construed by the highest court of the state, the New York State Court of Appeals, not the local intermediate appellate court. When the New York State Court of Appeals has not ruled on the particular question, this Court then has to predict the direction the Court of Appeals would go if given that issue, see Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 66 F.3d 427, 430 (2d Cir. 1995).

In personal injury actions, New York generally applies the law of the jurisdiction in which the injury occurred. See Cooney v. Osgood Machinery, Inc., 81 N.Y.2d 66, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919 (1993); Neumeier v. Kuehner, 31 N.Y.2d 121, 286 N.E.2d 454, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64 (1972). “New York’s current choice-of-law rules require the court to consider the following three elements: the domicile of the plaintiff, the domicile of the defendant, and the place where the injury occurred.” Lucas v. Lalime, 998 F. Supp. 263, 267 (W.D.N.Y. 1998) (Heckman, Mag. J., R&R, adopted by Arcara, J.). Where more than one element is in the same state, that state’s law should apply. Id.; Datskow v. Teledyne Continental Motors, 807 F. Supp. 941, 943 (W.D.N.Y. 1992) (Larimer, J.). Under these choice of law rules “the first step in any case presenting a potential choice of law is to [*7]  determine whether there is an actual conflict between the laws of the jurisdiction involved.” Matter of Allstate Ins. Co. (Stolarz), 81 N.Y.2d 219, 223, 613 N.E.2d 936, 597 N.Y.S.2d 904, 905 (1993).

Here, the accident and defendants are in New York, plaintiffs are from Ontario. As a second1 Neumeier situation, New York law would apply, Neumeier, supra, 31 N.Y.2d at 128, 335 N.Y.S.2d at 70; Cooney v. Osgood Machinery, Inc., 81 N.Y.2d 66, 72, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919, 922 (1993) (conduct-regulating laws, the law of the jurisdiction where the tort occurs applies while loss allocation laws have additional factors to determine which jurisdiction applies, citations omitted). In addition, the parties in effect have stipulated to apply forum (New York) law to this case. Both sides cite New York law and made no reference to any other jurisdiction’s law having application. Neither side has presented any law that conflict with New York law. New York courts enforce stipulations to choice of law, see Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 47 F. Supp.2d 330, 343 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing, among other cases, Tehran-Berkeley Civil & Envtl. Eng’rs v. Tippetts-Abett-McCarthy-Stratton, 888 F.2d 239, 242 (2d Cir. 1989) (parties briefed New York law, court applies New York law based upon implied consent of parties)); Roginsky v. Richardson-Merrell, Inc., 378 F.2d 832, 834 n.2 (2d Cir. 1967) (Friendly, J.); Klein v. Jostens, Inc., No. 83 Civ. 5351, 1985 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18115, at *6 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. July 9, 1985). As a result New York law applies and the legal issues surrounding these evidentiary disputes will be resolved under New York law.

1 The second Neumeier situation is the defendant is from state A, plaintiff from state B, state A is where tort occurs; state A allows recovery, defendant cannot invoke state B’s law, similarly if state A does not allow recovery, defendant is not liable, thus state A’s law applies; or, as stated in New York Jurisprudence Conflict of Laws § 57, 19A N.Y. Jur., where local law favors respective domiciliary, the law of the place of injury generally applies, Neumeier, supra, 31 N.Y.2d at 128, 335 N.Y.S.2d at 70.

II. Application

A. Plaintiffs’ Motion in Limine, Docket No. 56

1. Preclude Evidence of LD’s Assumption of Risk

The heart of [*8]  this case is whether this five-year-old child can assume the risk inherent with riding and dismounting from a chairlift under New York law. Cases from New York State courts leave as an issue of fact for the jury whether a particular infant (regardless of the child’s age) was capable of assuming the risk of his or her activities. New York courts do not create a bright line rule that minors at five years or older are incapable of assuming risk, but cf. Smith v. Sapienza, 115 A.D.2d 723, 496 N.Y.S.2d 538 (2d Dep’t 1985) (holding, as matter of law, that three and a half year old child victim of dog attack was incapable of being held responsible for his actions for contributory negligence). New York common law “has long disclaimed any per se rule with regard to the age at which a child cannot legally assume a risk and thereby not be responsible for comparative fault for his or her injury,” Clark v. Interlaken Owners, Inc., 2 A.D.3d 338, 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d 58, 60 (1st Dep’t 2003) (Tom, J., dissent). The majority of Clark court held that assumption of risk doctrine did not apply to a five-year-old playing around exposed construction equipment, “where the danger was even more accessible [than another case cited] and the risk at least as unappreciated by this five-year-old plaintiff,” 2 A.D.3d at 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d at 60 (emphasis supplied), citing Roberts v. New York City Hous. Auth., 257 A.D.2d 550, 685 N.Y.S.2d 23 (1st Dep’t), leave to appeal denied, 93 N.Y.2d 811, 716 N.E.2d 698, 694 N.Y.S.2d 633 (1999), concluding [*9]  that instructing the jury on assumption of the risk was error as a matter of law, Clark, supra, 2 A.D.3d at 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d at 60. In Roberts, the Appellate Division held a “six-year old under these circumstances” that is, a child exposed to a steam line fenced off by an easily breached fence next to the lawn where children played, did not have the doctrine of assumption of risk apply, 257 A.D.2d at 550, 685 N.Y.S.2d 23, 23. Roberts provided an opportunity for establishing an age-based bright line rule but the court decided on the specific facts of that case; hence the standard plaintiffs are in effect arguing was not adopted by New York courts.

Plaintiff argues that LD was just days away from being one year older than the non sui juris status of age four and being incapable as a matter of law being culpable (Docket No. 66, Pls. Opp. Memo. at 4-5). Assumption of risk is a distinct defense from contributory negligence, see Arbegast v. Board of Educ. of S. New Berlin Cent. School, 65 N.Y.2d 161, 165, 480 N.E.2d 365, 490 N.Y.S.2d 751, 754-55 (1985), but both defenses are subject to the doctrine of non sui juris, see M.F. v. Delaney, 37 A.D.3d 1103, 1104-05, 830 N.Y.S.2d 412, 414 (4th Dep’t 2007) (assumption of risk and culpable conduct by plaintiffs should have been dismissed because plaintiffs were 2 and 3 years old and hence were non sui juris). Plaintiffs point to the concept of non sui juris that absolves children of a certain age or younger from culpability since (as [*10]  a matter of law) they are incapable of comprehending danger to be negligent or responsible for her actions, Republic Ins. Co. v. Michel, 885 F. Supp. 426, 432-33 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) (Azrack, Mag. J.). Over the age of four, the status of a child is a question of fact regarding the particular child’s ability to comprehend danger and care for herself, id. at 432; younger than four years of age, “an infant . . . may be so young that he is unable to apprehend the existence of danger, take precautions against it and exercise any degree of care for his own safety. The law calls such a child, non sui juris,” id. at 433; see also id. at 433 n.8 (literal translation of Latin phrase is “not his own master,” quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1058 (6th ed. 1990)). The non sui juris child is incapable of committing negligence, id. at 433. “Where an infant is older than four years of age, the status of that child as sui juris or non sui juris is to be determined by the trier of fact,” id. (citing cases), with factors of the child’s intelligence and maturity dictating that status, id. One federal court, applying New York contributory negligence doctrines, held that the status of a child over the age of four was a question of fact addressing “the particular child’s ability to comprehend danger and care for himself,” [*11]  Republic Ins. Co., supra, 885 F. Supp. at 432 (see Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 5-6). If there is a bright-line rule under New York law, the age is four years old, not five as was LD when she was injured.

The age of the plaintiff is a factor in determining whether they are capable of assuming risk of their actions, see Trupia v. Lake George Cent. Sch. Dist., 14 N.Y.3d 392, 396, 927 N.E.2d 547, 901 N.Y.S.2d 127, 130 (2010); Clark, supra, 2 A.D.3d at 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d at 60 (error to instruct on assumption of risk for five-year-old on construction vehicle) (Docket No. 54, Pls. Tr. Memo. at 6); Roberts, supra, 257 A.D.2d 550, 685 N.Y.S.2d at 24; Trippy v. Basile, 44 A.D.2d 759, 354 N.Y.S.2d 235, 236 (4th Dep’t 1974) (error to instruct jury that five and half year old child contributorily negligent, and could be so charged only if he had the age, experience, intelligence development and mental capacity to understand the meaning of the statute violated and to comply therewith) (Docket No. 54, Pls. Tr. Memo. at 5-6). As noted by the Court of Appeals in Trupia, supra, 14 N.Y.3d at 396, 901 N.Y.S.2d at 130, in an almost 12-year-old child’s claim from sliding down a bannister, that court states that children often act impulsively or without good judgment, “they do not thereby consent to assume the consequently arising dangers” for assumption of risk. Plaintiffs distinguish DeLacy v. Catamount Dev. Corp., 302 A.D.2d 735, 755 N.Y.S.2d 484 (3d Dep’t 2003), due to the plaintiffs in that case being two years older than LD was in 2010 (Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply Memo. at 5; see also Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 4; but cf. Docket No. [*12]  65, Defs. Memo. at 5-6). But the New York Court of Appeals has not ruled on this question, but the consensus of other New York courts do not recognize a bright line rule that at age five or six a child is incapable of having the requisite knowledge and maturity to assume the risks of their actions; non sui juris status is applicable to four years old and that age or older is an issue of fact.

Courts in New York have concluded that assumption of the risk is a question of fact for the jury, Moore v. Hoffman, 114 A.D.3d 1265, 1266, 980 N.Y.S.2d 684, 685 (4th Dep’t 2014), in particular, riding and dismounting a chairlift has risks that raises questions of fact, DeLacy, supra, 302 A.D.2d at 736, 755 N.Y.S.2d at 486 (questions of fact whether a seven-year-old novice skier fully appreciated the risks associated with using a chairlift) (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 6). One factual element in this case is the maturity and knowledge of LD as to whether she assumed the risk of riding the chairlift here despite being five years old. LD testified at her deposition that prior to the 2010 incident she rode chairlifts two or three other times, each time with her father plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco who assisted her getting on and off the lift (Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 18, Ex. C, LD EBT Tr. at 9), even to having Bryan hold [*13]  his ski pole over LD’s lap until it was time to get off the chairlift (id., Tr. at 9). Whether LD in her circumstances could assume the risk of riding and disembarking from the chairlift by herself is an issue of fact and evidence regarding her maturity, age, experience, intelligence, literacy, and mental capacity to understand the risks she faced is relevant and admissible. As a result, plaintiffs’ motion precluding evidence of LD assuming the risk is denied.

This is notwithstanding defendants’ argument that plaintiffs’ motion in limine here is in fact an untimely motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 5-6; Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 2-3). As plaintiffs rebut (Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply at 2-4), they are not seeking entry of judgment to dismiss a defense, instead they properly seek preclusion of evidence. But the factual issues in this case under New York law require production of evidence of LD’s capacity to assume risk.

2. Preclude Evidence of LD’s 2015 Snowboarding Incident

Plaintiffs next seek excluded evidence from an accident LD had at Holimont in 2015 resulting in injuries to her clavicle, contending that the evidence is prejudicial and would be admitted [*14]  to show her to be accident prone (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 7-10). LD’s injuries in 2010 were to her left leg and hip and not to her clavicle (id. at 8). As argued in the motion to quash the subpoena to Holimont (Docket No. 43, Pls. Memo. at 7), LD did not waive the physician-patient privilege for LD’s treatment of the 2015 injuries (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 8, 9-10). Plaintiffs conclude that LD’s subsequent snowboarding accident is not relevant to her 2010 injuries (id. at 9).

Defendants contend that LD’s injuries are not limited to her leg and hip, but also include loss of enjoyment of life and emotional injuries (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 12, citing Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. H, Response to Defs. Interrog. No. 1). Again, as argued to defend the subpoena upon Holimont, defendants contend that Second Department law provides that LD put her physical condition at issue, justifying admissibility of her 2015 injuries (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 13).

But as noted in deciding plaintiffs’ earlier motion (Docket No. 43), this Court in diversity is bound by the common law of New York as settled by the New York State Court of Appeals or this Court’s prediction of how the New York Court [*15]  of Appeals would decide the issue if brought to it (see Docket No. 70, Order of February 22, 2017, at 13). This Court has held that the Court of Appeals, if it addressed the waiver of physician-patient privilege, would limit that waiver to so much of LD’s physical or mental condition placed in controversy here (id. at 17; see id. at 16-17 (holding that plaintiffs have standing to object to the subpoena based upon the unwaived privilege)). This case is about LD’s injuries from the 2010 incident, with physical injuries to her lower body. Discussion of LD’s accident five years later and to an unrelated body part is not relevant to her claims and would prejudice plaintiffs, see Fed. R. Evid. 403. Admitting evidence of the 2015 accident would introduce character evidence that LD acted in accordance with a particular trait (clumsiness), see Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(1). Defendants have other means of establishing the limits on LD’s loss enjoyment of life and limitations on her activities after the 2010 accident (such as her father’s deposition testimony as to her activities, see Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. C, Bryan DiFrancesco EBT Tr.10-21, 23, 95-96)).

This Court ordered plaintiffs to produce for in camera inspection the Holimont medical records [*16]  from the 2015 incident for this Court to determine if there is anything applicable to this case, such as distinguishing 2010-caused injuries from 2015 injuries or the effects of the 2015 incident on LD’s 2010 injuries (Docket No. 70, Order of Feb. 22, 2017, at 17-18). This in camera inspection was for this Court to determine if there is anything applicable to this case, such as discussion of LD’s 2010 injuries or distinguishing 2010-caused injuries from 2015 injuries or the effects of the 2015 incident had on LD’s 2010 injuries (Docket No. 70, Order of Feb. 22, 2017, at 17-18). This Court received those in camera medical records (received March 6, 2017)2 and reviewed them and find that the following documents should be produced and those that should not. Below is Table 1, a spreadsheet listing the reviewed documents and their production status.

2 These documents were not Bates numbered or otherwise identified or paginated. Thus, this Court described the reviewed documents by their date and generic type, to avoid disclosure of contents.

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

The documents ordered to be produced are those relevant to LD’s 2010 injuries, namely to her left leg and hips. Excluded are those documents that refer only to her 2015 clavicle injury. The documents that plaintiffs are to produce are the April 1, 2017, memorandum; the January 4, 2015, consultation report; notes from July 30, 2015; and the July 30, 2015, notes from Hamilton Health Sciences. The remaining documents exclusive involve the 2015 incident and injury and there was not connection made to LD’s 2010 injuries.

Thus, so much of plaintiffs’ motion (Docket No. 56) to preclude evidence from LD’s 2015 Holimont accident is granted in part, denied in part, with plaintiffs only to produce the documents identified above.

3. Preclude [*18]  Evidence as Against Public Policy

Plaintiffs point to General Obligations Law § 5-326 that render defendants’ disclaimers as the operator of a place of amusement void as against public policy (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 4-5), see Rogowicki v. Troser Mgmt., 212 A.D.2d 1035, 623 N.Y.S.2d 47 (4th Dep’t 1995). Defendants counter that the statutory and regulatory scheme under the Safety in Skiing Code, N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106; Labor Law §§ 202-c (use of ski tows), 867 (Safety in Skiing Code), authorized the release warning given in the form signed by LD’s uncle (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 7), see Vanderwall, supra, 244 A.D.2d at 982, 665 N.Y.S.2d at 493.

Plaintiffs also argue that any release here would be ineffective as to LD since she never read or signed it, hence it could not serve as a waiver of liability for her injuries (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 5), see Franco v. Neglia, 3 Misc. 3d 15, 776 N.Y.S.2d 690 (N.Y. App. Term 2004) (release invalid against 14-year-old participant, who signed release, in first kickboxing class); Kaufman v. American Youth Hostels, Inc., 6 A.D.2d 223, 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d 587, 593 (2d Dep’t 1958) (release signed by father invalid for child’s injuries) (id.). Plaintiffs’ reply that defendants fail to address how LD’s uncle can bind LD on the registration form waiver (Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply Memo. at 4), by not distinguishing Franco, supra, 3 Misc. 3d 15, 776 N.Y.S.2d 690 (N.Y. App. Term 2004), or Kaufman, supra, 6 A.D.2d 223, 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d 587, 593 (2d Dep’t 1958) (id.). They note that General Obligations Law § 18-106(1)(a) lists the risks inherent in skiing but do not mention the risks inherent in riding a chairlift (id.). Specifically, [*19]  none of those risks include having a second child obey a sign to open the chairlift bar prematurely and the negligent location of that sign (see id. at 4-5). Plaintiffs argue that assumption of risk is not automatic for every personal injury case that a novice (regardless of their age) cannot as a matter of law assume a risk (id. at 6, citing Corrigan v. Musclemakers Inc., 258 A.D.2d 861, 863, 686 N.Y.S.2d 143, 145 (3d Dep’t 1999) (injured 49-year-old woman who never been on treadmill)).

But in Franco the infant fourteen-year-old plaintiff signed the release, 3 Misc. 3d at 16, 776 N.Y.S.2d at 691. The Supreme Court, Appellate Term, held that an infant is not bound by releases which exculpate defendants from damages for personal injury “since they lack the capacity to enter into such agreements,” id., at 16, 776 N.Y.S.2d at 691 (citing Kaufman, supra, 6 A.D.2d 223, 177 N.Y.S.2d 587). The plaintiff’s decedent fifteen-year-old child in Kaufman, supra, 6 A.D.2d at 229, 225, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593, 589, signed the release with her father. The Appellate Division, applying Oregon law, see id. at 225, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 589, held that the effect of the father’s signature was ambiguous, id. at 229, 225, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593, 589. The decedent’s capacity there to sign the release by reason of her infancy “was effectively exercised by [her] by the act of commencing this action,” id., at 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593. The Appellate Division upheld striking the defense of decedent’s release because she disaffirmed “the agreement by reason of her infancy” exercised by her father’s commencement [*20]  of this action but reversed regarding striking that defense for the father’s separate action against the hostel, id. at 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593. Neither case held that the signature of the parent or guardian alone of a release was binding upon the infant for whom the guardian signed. Thus, these cases do not go as far as plaintiffs contend to render ineffective a release signed by a guardian on behalf of an infant participating in a risky activity.

a. Infant Disaffirmance of Release

“A minor is not bound by a release executed by his parent,” Alexander v. Kendall Cent. Sch. Dist., 221 A.D.2d 898, 899, 634 N.Y.S.2d 318, 319 (4th Dep’t 1995); I.C. ex rel. Solovsky v. Delta Galil USA, 135 F. Supp. 3d 196, 209 (S.D.N.Y. 2015); Shields v. Gross, 58 N.Y.2d 338, 344, 448 N.E.2d 108, 461 N.Y.S.2d 254, 257 (conceding that infant, Brooke Shields, could under common law disaffirm consent executed by another on her behalf), rehearing denied, 59 N.Y.2d 762, 450 N.E.2d 254, 463 N.Y.S.2d 1030 (1983). The exception from this common law power of the infant to disaffirm written consents made on her behalf is where the New York State Legislature either abrogates this common law right or makes particular infant agreements binding upon the infant, Shields, supra, 58 N.Y.2d at 344-45, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257.

While conceding that at common law an infant could disaffirm written consent made for her, the Court of Appeals in Shields recognized that the State Legislature could abrogate that right or create a right upon infants to enter into binding contracts, id., 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257. “Where a statute expressly permits a [*21]  certain class of agreements to be made by infants, that settles the question and makes the agreement valid and enforceable,” id., 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257, with that statute being construed strictly, id., 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257 (citing McKinney’s Consol. Laws of N.Y., Book 1, Statutes § 301(b)).

Here, the Safety in Skiing Code had as part of its legislative purpose

“(3) that it is appropriate, as well as in the public interest, to take such steps as are necessary to help reduce the risk of injury to downhill skiers from undue, unnecessary and unreasonable hazards; and (4) that it is also necessary and appropriate that skiers become apprised of, and understand, the risks inherent in the sport of skiing so that they may make an informed decision of whether or not to participate in skiing notwithstanding the risks. Therefore, the purpose and intent of this article is to establish a code of conduct for downhill skiers and ski area operators to minimize the risk of injury to persons engaged in the sport of downhill skiing and to promote safety in the downhill ski industry,”

N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-101. The act establishing this Code empowered the New York State Commissioner of Labor to promulgate “any and all rules and regulations necessary to the timely implementation [*22]  of the provisions of this act,” 1988 N.Y. Laws ch. 711, § 4. These regulations “applies to all skiers and ski areas” and owners and operators of ski areas to which the Code applied to, N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & R. tit. 12, § 54.1 (2017) (hereinafter cited as “12 N.Y.C.R.R.”), without special provision or exception for juvenile skiers. That same act authorized the Commissioner of Labor to make rules to guard “against personal injuries to employees and the public in the use and operation of ski tows, other passenger tramways and downhill ski areas,” N.Y. Labor Law § 202-c.

The Code also imposed on skiers the additional duties “to enable them to make informed decisions as to the advisability of their participation in the sport,” to

“seek out, read, review and understand, in advance of skiing, a ‘Warning to Skiers’ as shall be defined pursuant to subdivision five of section eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law [N.Y. Labor L. § 867(5)], which shall be displayed and provided pursuant to paragraph a of subdivision one of this section [N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106(1)(a)]; and . . . to obtain such education in the sport of skiing as the individual skier shall deem appropriate to his or her level of ability, including the familiarization with skills and duties necessary to reduce [*23]  the risk of injury in such sport,”

N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106(2), (a), (b); see N.Y. Labor Law § 867(5); 12 N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 54.5(l)(1), 54.4(c)(1); see also N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106(1)(a) (ski are operator’s duty to post conspicuously “Warning to Skiers”). “Unless otherwise specifically provided in this article, the duties of skiers, passengers, and ski area operators shall be governed by common law,” N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-107.

The Safety in Skiing Code and its regulations provide an abrogation of the common law right of an infant skier to disaffirm the release signed on her behalf. First, the State Legislature used the term “skier” without expressly distinguishing the age of skier. Second, the State Legislature authorized and directed the Commissioner of Labor to enact necessary rules and regulations. Pursuant to that authority, the Commissioner enacted 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.1 to have the regulations under the Safety in Skiing Code apply to “all skiers,” again without distinction due to the age of the skier. The definitions under these regulations for “skier,” 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.3(h) (“Skier means any person wearing a ski or skis and any person actually on a ski slope or trail located at a ski area, for the purpose of skiing”), or “passenger,” 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.3(d) (“Passenger means a person in or on or being transported by a tramway”), riding a “passenger tramway,” see 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.3(e) (“Passenger [*24]  tramway means a mechanical device intended to transport skiers for the purpose of providing access to ski slopes and trails as defined by the Commissioner of Labor pursuant to Section two hundred two-c or eight hundred sixty-seven of the Labor Law [N.Y. Labor Law §§ 202-c, 267]”), also do not create a separate infant category. Although the Court of Appeals refers to the State Legislature either abrogating the infant’s common law right of disaffirmance or conferring upon the infant a recognized right to make binding contracts, Shields, supra, 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257, the State Legislature here enacted the code that delegated to the Commissioner of Labor the authority to enact rules and regulations necessary to implement the Code. The Commissioner, by requiring regulations to apply to “all skiers” either abrogated an infant’s common law right of disaffirmance or authorized infant skiers to enter into binding contracts with ski area operators, including the warning and release to authorize the infant skier to engage in the risky activities of skiing and the related, risky activities leading up to skiing.

The Safety in Skiing Code statutory and regulatory scheme including “all skiers” makes releases signed by adults bind infant skiers and removes the [*25]  infants’ common law right to disaffirm the releases executed in their minority. On this basis, plaintiffs’ motion in limine to exclude the Holiday Valley release (Docket No. 56) is denied.

b. Effect of General Obligations Law § 5-326

As an alternative grounds for its decision, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department in Vanderwall, supra, 244 A.D.2d at 982-83, 665 N.Y.S.2d at 493, narrowed the scope of the general provisions for amusement or recreation sites under General Obligations Law § 5-326 to exclude ski resorts from that statute, with those resorts being governed by the Safety in Skiing Code and its Warning to Skiers codified in General Obligations Law § 18-106(1)(a) (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 7), see also N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law § 18-107 (“unless otherwise specifically provide in this article, the duties of skiers, passengers, and ski area operators shall be governed by common law”). Part of the Safety in Skiing Code includes use of a ski tow, N.Y. Labor Law § 202-c.

The Holiday Valley registration form (Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. G) signed by LD’s uncle, Dean DiFrancesco, had the adult signer agree that he acknowledged (among other things)

“that I have read and understand the information contained in the brochure for the Holiday Valley Mountain Adventure Children’s Ski and Snowboard Program, and also understand [*26]  and am aware that there are inherent and other risks involved in participating in ski and snowboard lessons, skiing/riding, and use of lifts, which could cause death or serious injury to the registrant(s). This includes use of chairlifts and or tows or boardwalks with or without an instructor.

“[C]hildren may be required to ride chairlifts with other children in the class, ski patrol/hosts, or other persons in the lift line while loading assistance may be given by chairlift attendants. Riding a chairlift can be a hazardous activity for your child(ren). By allowing the registrant(s) to ride a chair lift, you acknowledge the dangers involved and accept any and all risks of injury to the registrant(s). Other risks include, but are not limited to, . . . boarding, riding and disembarking from moving chairlifts, rope tows or boardwalks. With full knowledge of the danger involved, I voluntarily request that the registrant(s) participate in the program. I have read this agreement to the registrant(s) and he/she has acknowledged that he/she understands its contents. On behalf of the registrant(s) and myself, I expressly assume all risks inherent in the sport of skiing and riding and any and all damages, [*27]  injury, illness, or harm which may result directly or indirectly from said risks.”

(Id., paragraphs 5, 6, emphasis added.) This release itself raises factual issues, such as whether Uncle Dean DiFrancesco actually read the release to LD and whether she understood its contents, including the risks stated therein (particularly, the risks in riding and dismounting a chairlift).

The statutory scheme for ski resorts provided in the Safety in Skiing Code provides a more specific regime that the General Obligations Law § 5-326 for other recreational facilities including the basis for the release executed by LD’s uncle. New York public policy carved out ski resorts from the general ban on releases by recreational facility operators. On this alternative ground, plaintiffs’ motion to exclude that release (Docket No. 56) is denied.

B. Defense Motions in Limine, Docket Nos. 53, 58

1. Excluding Evidence of Subsequent Remediation

In their initial motion in limine, defendants seek to exclude evidence of their subsequent remediation in changing signage at the chairlift (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 2-4). Federal Rule of Evidence 407 precludes admission of evidence of subsequent remedial measures to prove negligence, culpable conduct, or [*28]  a need for a warning (id. at 2). They also contend that evidence as a warning should be excluded under Rule 403 since the probative value is exceeded by its prejudice to them (id.). Plaintiffs counter that this evidence is admissible for impeachment or to contest the feasibility of relocating the sign to a safer location (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 1-3; see also Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply Memo. at 8), see Fed. R. Evid. 407; Pitasi v. Stratton Corp., 968 F.2d 1558 (2d Cir. 1992). Defendants reply that the impeachment exception to Federal Rule of Evidence 407 should be narrowly read, that it could only be used to avoid the jury being misled (Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 8-9). They conclude that plaintiffs also should be precluded from introducing evidence regarding the red light/green light system used by another ski resort, Holimont, arguing that Holimont installed this system four years after the 2010 incident at issue here (id. at 10; see also Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 3-4; Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl., Ex. C).

The questions here under Rule 407 are at what point (if ever) may plaintiffs impeach defendants with the change in the sign location, and whether the sign location can be introduced by them as to feasibility. As for impeachment, whether plaintiffs can discuss relocation of the sign will depend [*29]  upon what defense witnesses testify about to the warnings provided on site on the chairlift. Rulings on this point will await trial testimony.

As for feasibility, plaintiffs may introduce sign location and alternative locations if defendants’ witnesses testify as to the feasible location for warning signs.

As to the probative/prejudice balance under Rule 403, evidence inadmissible under Rule 407 “would also likely lead to prejudice and confusion under Rule 403,” Bak v. Metro North R.R., No. 12 Civ. 3220 (TPG), 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60736, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2015), but remedial evidence may be admitted for rebuttal or impeachment evidence, id., without affecting the probative/prejudice balance of Rule 403.

Finally, Holimont currently uses a red light/green light on its chairlifts to advise skiers when to disembark from the chairlift. But that system was implemented years after this incident (Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. C, Aff. of David Riley ¶¶ 1, 4-8 (Holimont general manager); Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. 3-4). Holimont general manager David Riley stated that he had not seen this light warning system in United States slopes prior to his tour of Europe in 2014 (Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. C, Riley Aff. ¶ 8). Thus, it was not feasible in 2010 to have such a light warning system and admission of evidence [*30]  of the Holimont lighting system would be prejudicial. Plaintiffs are precluded from introducing evidence of this system as a feasible alternative.

Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on this ground is granted in part, with some issues to be decided at trial upon the proffer or introduction of evidence at issue.

2. Prohibit Plaintiffs’ Liability Expert, Dick Penniman,

Defendants next seek to preclude testimony from plaintiffs’ expert, Dick Penniman, on various subjects. Plaintiffs globally respond that Penniman is a forty-year veteran of the ski industry, performing various duties as a member of ski patrol, lift operator, ski lift maintenance man, and “mountain manager/assistant operations manager” of a number of ski areas (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 11; Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 27-29, Ex. Q (Penniman curriculum vitae)). Penniman testified as an expert in Whitford v. Mt. Baker Ski Area, Inc., Case No. C11099112RSM, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 23, 2012) (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 11), opining in that case about the lift attendant’s duties and whether a catch net used at that resort was adequate, id., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *4. Plaintiffs conclude that defense objections to Penniman goes to the weight, not the admissibility, [*31]  of his expert testimony (id. at 10, 11). Plaintiffs do not provide a point-for-point refutation of defense objections to Penniman as an expert.

As noted by the court in Whitford, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *3, “the trial court must act as a ‘gatekeeper’ to ensure that proffered expert testimony is both relevant and reliable,” id. citing Kumho Tire Co. Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147, 119 S. Ct. 1167, 143 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1999). Where expert testimony is technical rather than purely scientific, “the Court must ensure that it ‘rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand,'” id. (quoting United States v. Hermanek, 289 F.3d 1076, 1093 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting in turn Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993))). As gatekeeper, this Court has to “make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterize the practice of an expert in the relevant field,” Kumho, supra, 526 U.S. at 152; Whitford, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *3-4. The Whitford court, in considering testimony for other specialized knowledge, construed Federal Rule of Evidence 702 liberally, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *4 (citing 9 th Circuit case and Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee note, 2000 amendment, rejection of an expert is the exception rather than the rule).

From Penniman’s curriculum vitae (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. Q), his expertise is ski patrol (including lift operation and hazard evaluation and mitigation), avalanche safety, and slope preparation. [*32]  He worked for two years supervising lift operations in Chile (id.). Since 1983, Penniman has been a consultant and expert witness; he was qualified as an expert in safe skiing including lift operations and ski instruction (id.). As a threshold matter, Penniman’s expert testimony comes from decades of performing various tasks at several ski resorts and evaluating skiing hazards.

Next, this Court turns to the specific defense objections to Penniman’s expert testimony.

a. Prohibit Penniman from Opining Regarding Relocation of Unload Sign

First, defendants seek to bar Penniman’s opinion about the proper location of signage for unloading or discharging skiers from the chairlift (the “unload/open restraint bar”) and changes in the text of the registration form (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 4-5, 6-7). As for Penniman opining on sign location, his expertise as a ski lift operator and evaluator of skiing accidents informs his opinions about such things. Penniman lists in his curriculum vitae experience in signage at two ski resorts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. Q), but does not specify if this includes the location of chairlift instructions or warning signage. The bulk of his stated expertise and [*33]  experience involves avalanches, so the signage Penniman is familiar with appears to be for ski trails. In his deposition regarding signage, Penniman testified that applicable New York State regulations when the Creekside lift was erected in 2003 were based on the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) standards from 19993 , with a 20064 amendment of ANSI standards expressly calling for sign placement (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Penniman EBT Tr. at 23). The 2006 ANSI amendments grandfathered pre-2006 construction to be governed by earlier standards (id., Tr. at 25), but the 2006 standard for sign location called for signs to be ahead of the off load point (id., Tr. at 25-26), while the 1999 standard did not require signage at all (id., Tr. at 24, 39). Penniman noted that one ski resort, White Pine, had its raise bar signs in front of shacks near the unload points (id., Tr. at 28), while at other resorts, Penniman observed these signs either on chairlift towers 20-30 feet before the unload area or as close to the unload area as possible (id., Tr. at 32-34; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. P, Tr. at 33-34). Penniman concluded that defendants violated New York State standards for the location [*34]  of Holiday Valley’s signs, violating ANSI 1999 and 2003 standards that signage be ahead of the offload area (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 37-38). Penniman did not know if New York State inspected the location of these signs (id., Tr. at 40-41). Penniman noted that New York law also required use of the restraint bar on chairlifts; requiring a rider to not use a restraint bar for 50 yards, Penniman opined, would require the rider to violate New York law (id., Tr. at 38).

3 Pls. Ex. 67.

4 Pls. Ex. 68; Defs. Exs. 56, 65.

From review of Penniman’s deposition testimony, the issue is whether placement of the offload warning sign should be at the offload area or in advance of that area (e.g., id., Tr. at 39). Penniman’s experience seems to be from his observations at various resorts, without knowing the written policies for sign placement at those areas. A foundation, therefore, will need to be established that Penniman has sufficient expertise in sign location of chairlift instructions to credit Penniman’s opinion as an expert. Penniman’s testimony also is limited regarding subsequent changes in the sign location, as indicated above. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No 53) on these grounds is granted.

b. Prohibit Plaintiffs’ Expert [*35]  Penniman from Opining on Risk of Chairlift Not Being Inherent to Skiing

Next, defendants seek to preclude Penniman’s opinion on the risk of using a chairlift not being inherent to skiing (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 5-6). Plaintiffs argue that the New York Court of Appeals decision in Trupia, supra, 14 N.Y.3d 392, 901 N.Y.S.2d 127, changed the standards for primary assumption of the risk that coincides with Penniman’s opinion that use of a chairlift is distinct from the sport of skiing (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 6-7).

There is a preliminary question whether this is an evidentiary issue or a matter requiring an expert opinion at all. New York cases recognize that use of a chairlift is an inherent part of skiing, with distinct risks from the sport of skiing. There are separate, but related, duties of care with operating a chairlift and downhill skiing, Morgan v. Ski Roundtop, Inc., 290 A.D.2d 618, 620, 736 N.Y.S.2d 135, 137 (3d Dep’t 2002) (hereinafter “Ski Roundtop”) (inherent risk in skiing and “some risk of injury inherent in entering, riding and exiting from a chairlift”); see Morgan v. New York State, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 485, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421, 427 (1997); Miller v. Holiday Valley, Inc., 85 A.D.3d 1706, 1707, 925 N.Y.S.2d 785, 787-88 (4th Dep’t 2011); see also Tone v. Song Mtn. Ski Ctr., 113 A.D.3d 1126, 1127, 977 N.Y.S.2d 857, 858 (4th Dep’t 2014) (claim from chairlift, assumption of risk applied for “athletic activity,” quoting Ski Roundtop, supra, 290 A.D.2d at 620, 736 N.Y.S.2d at 137). As defendants note (Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 4), riding and disembarking a chairlift is inherent in Alpine downhill skiing, [*36]  see also Litz v. Clinton Cent. Sch. Dist., 126 A.D.3d 1306, 5 N.Y.S.3d 636 (4th Dep’t 2015) (assumption of risk for playing hockey applied to injury suffered in rink locker room).

Factually, Trupia involved horseplay on a bannister by a twelve-year-old, rather than engaging in a sporting activity or the steps leading to that activity (with the inherent risks of those steps), supra, 14 N.Y.3d at 393, 396, 901 N.Y.S.2d at 128, 129. Again, this is more akin to the ancillary dangers in the locker room preparing for participation in a sport, e.g., Litz, supra, 126 A.D.3d 1306, 5 N.Y.S.3d 636; but for the sporting activity, a participant would not be injured in the locker room or on the chairlift, each is necessary to prelude to athletic participation. This participant is only in these places to engage in a sport with its own inherent dangers and risks.

As noted in Whitford, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *9, wherein Penniman was accepted as an expert, he “is not required to be an expert in the law; he is only required to be an expert in the subject matter of his testimony,” id. Thus, as a matter of law, there are risks, distinct from those in alpine skiing, to riding a chairlift that are related to those of skiing. This does not require an expert opinion one way or the other. Defense motion in limine on this point (Docket No. 53) is granted.

c. Prohibit Penniman from Opining on the Registration Form

Defendants [*37]  next contend that Penniman lacked any foundation to make an opinion about the registration form used by Holiday Valley (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 6-7; Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. E, Penniman’s Supp’al Expert Report at 5; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. L, at 5). They object to Penniman’s supplemental opinion that noted defendants’ changes to the registration form to require a parent to initial the form at paragraph 6 on chairlift use (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 4-5; Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. E, at 5; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. L, at 5). Plaintiffs do not respond specifically to this objection. Penniman opined that the sentence about a child riding the chairlift without adult supervision was vaguely written (Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. E, at 5; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. L, at 5; Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 6).

Again, looking at the actual registration form quoted above (at pages 19-20, supra), participants are warned that children may ride with other children on the chairlift, followed by a warning that riding the chairlift “can be a hazardous activity for your child(ren)” (Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. [*38]  G, paragraph 6). That text implies that children may ride together without an adult. As noted in detail by defendants (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 7), Penniman lacks expertise in developing ski school policies, drafting registration forms, or have expertise in human factors, engineering, or psychology. Thus, his opinion on the text of the registration form is a little more informed than that of a layperson. Penniman’s opinion in this area is excluded; defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on this ground is granted.

As for Penniman’s observation of the post-accident changes in the form (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. E, at 5; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. L, at 5), this also goes to proof of subsequent remediation and, unlike the impeachment use plaintiffs propose for the relocation of signs or feasibility of change, Penniman’s opinion on the changes in the registration form would only come as part of his direct testimony. Such introduction violates Rule 407 and its prejudice outweighs its probative value under Rule 403. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) as to Penniman’s opinion in this area is granted.

d. Prohibit Penniman from Opining on Human Factor

Defendants next argue that Penniman lacks [*39]  the qualifications to opine on the impact of the human factor in this incident (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 7-8). Penniman testified that generally an infant should have been accompanied by an adult on a chairlift based on “best practices.” Penniman based these best practices on his experience, observations, and involvement in ski schools and he concludes that a majority of ski areas “are concerned about small children riding up chairs alone, or with other kids without an adult accompanying them. There are some I have observed where they don’t care. But the majority do, and I call that best practices.” (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Penniman EBT Tr. at 65-67, 66; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. P, excerpts of Penniman EBT Tr. at 65-67, 66.) Penniman testified that, from the age of 8, he had observed ski schools recruit adults to ride up with unaccompanied children, that the “vast majority [of resorts] do,” or so Penniman found (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 67; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. P, Tr. at 67). He noted that other ski areas do not let small children on chairlifts and “the majority of ski resorts, when it’s not an instruction situation, leave that decision up to the parents” (Docket [*40]  No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 67; Docket No. 66, Ex. P, Tr. at 67). But Penniman had not investigated the policies of individual ski resorts in New York whether they require adult accompaniment on chairlifts and he could not testify to written policies of ski resorts (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 67; Docket No. 66, Ex. P, Tr. at 67). Penniman, however, admitted that he was not familiar with Holimont’s policies regarding adult accompaniment or the policies of other Western New York ski resorts on this issue (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 18-19).

Penniman’s opinion on how small children react on chairlifts may be informed by his experience operating ski lifts, observing at ski resorts, and investigating skiing accidents, but this expertise does not rise to the level that it should be credited as an expert. Similar to the registration form objection, Penniman’s expertise is in ski resort operations and not on how patrons will react. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on this ground is granted.

e. Prohibit Penniman from Opining about the Operation of a Ski School

Defendants contend that Penniman cannot render an opinion about how to operate a ski school due to lack of qualifications [*41]  on how to operate such a program and not knowing Holiday Valley’s policies (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 9). Defendants point out that Penniman testified that he was only at level one (of three levels) as a certified ski instructor by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (or “PSIA”) (id.; Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, at 11) and that Penniman was never employed as a ski instructor at any resort where he worked (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, at 12), but he later stated that he taught skiing informally and once at a resort as a ski patroller (id. at 41-42). Penniman also admitted that he never developed policies for a ski school (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, at 13). According to plaintiffs’ retort, Penniman performed several different tasks in the ski industry for forty years (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 10-11), including experiences with ski schools and policies of the White Pine Ski Area related to children riding chairlifts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 29.d., Ex. P, Penniman EBT Tr. at 19-20 (being familiar with policies of resorts regarding children on chairlifts), membership in the PSIA (id., Ex. Q), and as a private ski instructor (id., ¶ 29.e., Ex. P, Penniman EBT Tr. at 42-44). [*42]  He was qualified as an expert on skiing safety including chairlift operations and ski instruction (id.).

Reviewing his experience and stated expertise, Penniman essentially provided private ski lessons, “step[ped] in once at White Pine” ski resort as an instructor while a ski patroller and provided instruction, and instructed ski patrollers (Docket No. 53, Ex. F, at 42-43). He admits to never developing policies for a ski school. Given that the focus of Penniman’s expertise is more on trails (such as avalanches); his experience is only slightly more than a layperson regarding ski school policies. This is despite the fact that Penniman has testified as an expert in Whitford (but cf. Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 11); in that case he testified about the lift attendant’s duties and the adequacy of the chairlift’s safety netting, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *4. Penniman there was not asked to opine on ski school policies (see Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 7).

Thus, defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on Penniman rendering his opinion on ski school policies is granted.

f. Prohibit Penniman from Opining on the Custom for Chairlift Signage

Defendants next argue that Penniman should not be allowed to testify about customary [*43]  chairlift signage or sign location (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 9-10). Again, plaintiffs apparently rely upon Penniman’s forty years of experience operating ski lifts and in the ski industry generally and do not point to specifics as to his expertise regarding the customary location of warning signage (see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 29.e., h., Ex. P, Penniman EBT Tr. at 33-34, 68-69). Penniman’s experience as to the location of unloading signage is at three North America ski areas and his 40 years of seeing where signs have been located at those and other ski resorts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 29, e. h.). Again, Penniman lists experience in “signing” at two ski resorts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. Q) without specifying what signage he positioned. Continuing to review Penniman’s stated experience, most of his training focused on ski patrol, avalanches, and ski safety, with attendance at a congress for transportation by wire rope in 1999 and ski lift maintenance. He is affiliated with the International Society of Skiing Safety and the PSIA. These could be sources for Penniman’s opinion about the national or continental safety standards, but a foundation needs to be established [*44]  to confirm this before Penniman’s opinion on this subject is admissible. As noted above, the basis for Penniman’s opinions are from his observation of practices at ski areas and what he believes to be best practices. But he extrapolates this experience to conclude continental practices regarding where these signs are placed and should be placed without additional foundation. Absent such a foundation for a broader opinion, Penniman can only testify to his observations of what he observed at other ski resorts. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 56) on this issue is granted in part.

3. Exclude Prior and Subsequent Incidents at Holiday Valley

Finally in the initial motion in limine, defendants argue that evidence of prior and subsequent incidents of youths falling from chairlifts at Holiday Valley should not be admitted (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 10-17; Docket No. 56, sealed Exs. G-S). They argue that introducing all of these incidents would be prejudicial to them, Fed. R. Evid. 403 (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 15, 11-15). Defendants argue that the Creekside open restraint bar sign was moved to Tower 6 after LD’s accident. Therefore, subsequent incidents would allow plaintiffs, by the [*45]  “back door,” to introduce evidence of subsequent remediation (id. at 16). Further, only one incident (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. Q) involved Creekside chairlift, while other post-2010 incidents (id., Defs. Exs. R-S) are not substantially similar to LD’s incident (see Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 16).

Plaintiffs argue that defendants did not cite federal cases on the admissibility of subsequent accidents (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 14). They claim one subsequent incident was similar (id. at 15; Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 35, Ex. X) (four-year-old fell from Mardi Gras chairlift on February 26, 2012).

Plaintiffs argue that evidence of prior incidents is admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 401 to show the existence and notice of the dangerous condition (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 12). They also claim that proof of subsequent accidents also is admissible to show the existence of the dangerous condition (id.). They reviewed defendants’ reports of similar incidents both before and after LD’s 2010 accident and argue that several of them are admissible since they present examples of youth slightly older than five-year-old LD (ages six to ten years old before the 2010 accident, and a four-year-old after5) opening the restraining [*46]  bar prematurely due to the location of the signs instructing them to open that bar (id. at 12-14; Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 34, Exs. S, T, U, V, W; ¶ 35, Ex. X). Plaintiffs argue that pictures after 2010 showing relocation of the signs would be admissible only to rebut testimony regarding feasibility, impeaching the defense of culpable conduct (id. at 14). Their claim is that “very young children were needlessly exposed to serious injury by having the ‘open restraint bar’ sign posted too far away from the unload point, and resulting in the restraint bar being lifted at a point when the chairlift is too far above the ground,” hence it was unnecessary for plaintiffs to allege that the chairlift itself was defective (id. at 15); if there was any defect, it was in the location of the signage relative to the height of the chairlift.

5 According to the report for that accident, Feb. 26, 2012, the injured four-year-old was sitting next to his father on the chairlift when he fell, Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 35.a., Ex. X.

a. Prior Incidents

As for prior incidents at Holiday Valley, they are admissible in this case provided they are “substantially similar” to the 2010 accident on trial here, Bellinger v. Deere & Co., 881 F. Supp. 813, 817 (N.D.N.Y. 1995) (case citations omitted); see Sawyer v. Dreis & Krump Mfg. Co., 67 N.Y.2d 328, 336, 493 N.E.2d 920, 502 N.Y.S.2d 696, 701 (1986) (under New York law, similar prior accidents are admissible to show dangerousness of conditions and notice) (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 11). Defendants note (id.) that New York [*47]  law allows admission of proof of similar incidents to show dangerousness of conditions and notice, Sawyer, supra, 67 N.Y.2d at 336, 502 N.Y.S.2d at 701. The parties differ here on whether the prior incidents are substantially similar to LD’s 2010 accident. As defendants concede that one incident of the eleven prior incidents at Holiday Valley identified by defendants is substantially similar to LD’s situation (id.; see Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. A, Pls.’ Response to Interrogatories, Interrogatory No. 11), that a five-year-old novice skier riding a chairlift unaccompanied by an adult fell between Towers 5 and 6 of the Creekside chairlift. The conceded incident is admissible. The ten other prior incidents (Docket No. 56, Defs. Atty. Exs. G-P) had one or two distinguishing facts that defendants conclude makes them not sufficiently similar to be admissible.

Table 2 below lists the factors defendants argue distinguish these ten prior incidents from LD’s 2010 incident, listing the youths as they were identified by defendants (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 12-15), cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2.

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

 6 Injured youth #3 rode with a brother whose name was redacted by defendants, Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 12; Docket No. 56, Ex. I. The report does not give the brother’s age; thus, it is presumed that he is a minor as well.

7 Defendants claim that this incident occurred at Creekside, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S, but defendants argue that it did not occur at a similar location, Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 12. They distinguish this incident since there is no reference to use of a restraint bar, Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 11. The lift operator’s description of that incident, however, said that the restraint bar was up, Docket No. 56, Ex. H, at 2.

Two of the prior incidents are also distinct due to the greater expertise of the youth skier (#8, Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 14-15; Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. N) and the age of the skier as compared with LD’s age in 2010 (#10, 16 year old, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. P) who was involved in horseplay that led to the fall (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 15; Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. P).

Plaintiffs argue that whether these prior incidents were during a ski lesson is immaterial to whether they are similar to LD’s 2010 experience (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 12). But one factor here is that LD was a relative novice in 2010 and had not ridden on a chairlift unaccompanied by an adult. Also, plaintiffs’ claim is for inadequate supervision by the ski instructor while LD was on the chairlift (Docket No. 1, Compl. ¶ 15); that inadequacy would not occur in prior incidents that were not ski lessons. Therefore, to be sufficiently similar to LD’s circumstances, the prior instances must factor in the experience of the youth involved, shown by defendants from whether the incidents [*49]  occurred during a ski lesson (as was for LD) as well as a review of the incident reports showing whether these youths were identified as being “novices” in the ability and days skied portions of the Holiday Valley incident reports.

To plaintiffs, “the similar circumstances at issue in this case are a very young child falling off a chair lift when the restraint bar was lifted at the point indicated by the ‘open restraint bar’ sign” (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 13). The prior incidents occurred at various chairlifts at Holiday Valley and the records for each incident does not indicate either where the “open restraint bar” signs were relative to where the youths fell or the distance they were from the appropriate discharge point. At least one youth, #3 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. I) appears to have fallen shortly after boarding the chairlift. Another prior incident occurred at Tower 4 of School House chairlift, well before Towers 5 and 6 of Creekside where LD fell (Incident #5, Docket No. 56, Ex. K). Thus, it is difficult to determine if these falls at other chairlifts were similar to LD’s fall at Creekside.

Plaintiffs next point to five prior instances that they claim were substantially [*50]  similar to LD’s in which the restraint bar was opened prematurely and each child fell (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 13-14; Incident #2, 4, 6, 7, 9 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H, J, L, M, O; see also Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. Exs. S, T, U, V, W). Defendants reply that plaintiffs’ parsing of these prior incidents focus on singular favorable points and did not meet the burden of establishing that any of these incidents were substantially similar to LD’s 2010 incident (Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 10-11). They again distinguish these five incidents from the 2010 incident (id. at 11-12).

Incidents where the child was riding with a parent or other adult are not substantially similar to LD riding without an adult. The location of the fall also has to be similar to the 2010 Creekside incident; one of the issues is the location of the warning signage and where the restraining bar was lifted or the youth attempted to dismount (see also Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 11, on Incident #4, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. J; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. T). While not considered by the parties, the age as well as the experience of the youth involved (shown by whether use of the lift was during a ski lesson [*51]  and the identified skiing ability on the Holiday Valley incident reports) is an important factor to determine if a prior incident was substantially similar to LD’s incident.

The next table (Table 3) lists the prior incidents at issue, the defense and plaintiffs’ exhibits identifications, the age of the youth, and their skiing experience (novice or not).

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

Reviewing these prior incidents, the five identified by plaintiffs are not sufficiently similar to LD’s 2010 experience to admit them into evidence. These incidents each had an adult present (#2, 4, 7, 9, Docket No. 56, Defs. Exs. H, J, M, O; Docket No. 66, Pls. Exs. S, T, V, W); or were not during a ski lesson (#2, 4, 6, 7, 9, Docket No. 56, Defs. Exs. H, J, L, M, O; Docket No. 66, Pls. Exs. S, T, U, V, W); or were not at the Creekside chairlift or the youths did not fall at a point similar to where LD fell from the Creekside chairlift [*52]  (id.). But the child in Incident #9 was a six-year-old novice who skied for two days, describing the incident as lifting the safety bar “at prescribed point” (rather than earlier), slipped forward and left the lift (#9, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. O; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. W). Finally, LD is younger than any of the youth in the prior incidents.

One incident defendants attempt to distinguish, Incident #2, involves a fall by a seven-year-old novice skier (with two to nine days skied) at Creekside where the chairlift stopped thirty feet from the unloading ramp and the lift operator reported that the restraint bar was up (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S). The lift operator went to the child and “waited for parents” prior to ski patrol arriving (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H, at 2; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S, at 3). It is unclear where defendants got the impression that the parents were with that child on the chairlift. This incident is similar to LD’s experience and thus is admissible.

Therefore, Incident #2 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S), and the incident conceded by defendants to be similar are admissible, but the other prior incidents identified [*53]  by defendants are not similar and are inadmissible. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) as to the admission of evidence of prior incidents substantially similar to LD’s 2010 incident is granted in part, save for the conceded prior incident.

b. Subsequent Incidents

As for subsequent incidents (Docket No. 56, Defs. Exs. Q-S; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. X (Feb. 26, 2012, incident), Table 4 lists these incidents, with this Court continuing the incident numbering scheme the parties used for the prior incidents.

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

Plaintiffs argue that one incident, #13 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. S; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. X) is similar to LD’s 2010 (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 35). There, a four-year-old youth was riding with his father on February 26, 2012, and was on a different chairlift, Mardi Gras, approximately 32 yards from the bull wheel (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. S; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. X). According to the eight-year-old sister of that youth, that child wiggled in the chairlift seat and fell from it (id.). These differences [*54]  distinguish this incident from LD’s by the later child riding with a parent and no mention of the restraint bar having a role in the incident. This incident is distinct from LD’s.

As for the other two incidents, the youths were older than LD and had more skiing experience. Incident #11 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. Q) is the closest to LD’s 2010 experience; that incident had a 6 1/2 year old youth fall from the Creekside chairlift 62 feet above Tower 5. That youth claimed he “never really got on chair” and the chair stopped and he fell (id. at 1). Witnesses reported that the restraint bar was down as other skiers held the youth until losing their grip (id. at 7). But this incident is sufficiently distinct from what LD experienced to not admit that subsequent incident into evidence.

Thus, the subsequent incidents are inadmissible. Defendants’ motion in limine on this ground (Docket No. 53) is granted as discussed above.

4. Defense Supplemental Motion (Docket No. 58), Exclude Non-Disclosed Expert Testimony

In their supplemental motion in limine (Docket No. 58), defendants next ask that undisclosed plaintiffs’ expert testimony be excluded (id., Defs. Memo. at 2-3). Plaintiffs contend that they did disclose regarding [*55]  future medical expenses; alternatively, they argue that defendants waived any objection to that disclosure by not moving to compel further disclosure (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 16-18; see also Docket No. 68, Pls. Atty. Reply Decl.¶ 3, Ex. A (supplementing plaintiffs’ discovery). Plaintiffs also argue that defendants overstate the scope of the witnesses defendants claim are plaintiffs’ experts (plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco, wife Natascha DiFrancesco, and brother Dean DiFrancesco); for example, uncle Dean DiFrancesco would not testify as an expert regarding inadequate supervision but would testify as to his expectation regarding supervision of youth (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 36). During oral argument, plaintiffs offered to supplement evidence of LD’s future medical requirements (see Docket No. 69). The parties reserved the right to file a new round of motions in limine regarding this supplementation (as well as other supplemented discovery).

Plaintiffs do not list the DiFrancescos as expert witnesses in their pretrial submissions (see Docket No. 54, Pls. Pretrial Memo. at 14-15), only expressly identifying Penniman as their expert witness (id. at 21). Defendants’ supplemental motion [*56]  in limine (Docket No. 58) on this ground is deemed moot, but subject to renewal upon receipt of the supplemental discovery.

5. LD’s Mother Is Not Qualified as an Expert to Opine on LD’s Future Treatment

Defendants next contend that LD’s mother, Natascha DiFrancesco is not qualified as an expert to render an opinion as to LD’s need for future treatments (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 3), since Mrs. DiFrancesco has degrees in sociology and physical therapy and lacks the medical qualification to opine as to LD’s physical care needs (id. at 3; id., Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. C, EBT Tr. Natascha DiFrancesco).

Plaintiffs respond that the parents would testify to medical expenses incurred but health care provider witnesses would testify to the medical necessity for future treatment of LD (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 37). They also point out Dr. Bryan and Natascha DiFrancesco are both “health care professionals and have had extensive contact and conversations with the infant plaintiff’s health care providers, an understanding of immediate health care surveillance she requires and the fact that they have been informed that the infant plaintiff is a candidate for require [sic] future [*57]  medical surveillance, treatment, injections, surgery and imaging” (id.). Both parents discussed LD’s care and future medical needs with treating orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Devin Peterson (id. ¶¶ 40, 41).

Plaintiff Bryan and Natascha DiFrancesco can testify to the facts of LD’s past treatment and the recommended follow up, with health care providers testifying as to the necessity of future medical care. Plaintiffs, however, are not holding them out as “experts,” they claim that Natascha DiFrancesco would testify as to the necessity for LD having future medical care (see Docket No. 54, Pls. Trial Memo. at 15). Thus, they cannot invoke Dr. and Mrs. DiFrancesco’s respective experience in health care professions (according to defense moving papers, Natascha DiFrancesco has degrees in occupational therapy and sociology, Docket No. 58, Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 8) to bolster their factual testimony as to LD’s care that any other layperson could testify to their injured daughter or son. As refined, defendants’ supplemental motion (Docket No. 58) is granted in part.

6. Physical Therapist Emily Wray Cannot Offer an Expert Opinion on Causation or Diagnosis

Defendants caution that plaintiffs’ physical therapist, [*58]  Emily Wray, is not an expert as to the cause or diagnosis for LD’s injuries (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 3-4). Defendants produced a copy of plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco’s business website for the Active Body Clinic. This website listed among the staff of that clinic Ms. Wray (Docket No. 58, Defs. Atty. Decl., Ex. B). Plaintiffs, however, offer Ms. Wray’s testimony as to her observations in treating LD in 2015 (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 38, Ex. AA; see also Docket No. 54, Pls. Memo. at 23-24). Thus, she is being called as a treating witness rather than an expert. This Court notes that Wray’s employment with Bryan’s Active Body Clinic raises issues of bias but this goes to her ultimate credibility and not to the admissibility of her testimony. Again, as modified to restrict her testimony to her factual observations, defendants’ motion (Docket No. 58) is granted.

7. Plaintiff Father Dr. Bryan DiFrancesco Cannot Opine on Fractures, Surgical Procedures on LD

Finally, defendants move to preclude plaintiff Dr. Bryan DiFrancesco from testifying as an expert on LD’s fractures and surgical procedures (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 4). Defendants contend [*59]  that plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco is a chiropractor, acupuncturist, and physical therapist and thus lacks the expertise to render an opinion as to LD’s treatment of her fractured femur (id.; Docket No. 58, Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 3, 8, Ex. B). Defendants point out that plaintiffs have not provided disclosure of the nature and extend of future treatments that LD requires (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 4).

Again, plaintiffs are not holding Dr. Bryan out as an “expert,” his anticipated testimony is regarding LD’s condition before and after the accident, including the necessity for future treatment (Docket No. 54, Pls. Trial Memo. at 14); thus, they cannot invoke his expertise in health care professions as a chiropractor, acupuncturist and physical therapist to bolster factual testimony as to LD’s care that any other parent not in a health care profession could testify for their injured daughter or son. It is unclear in this record the extend of Dr. Bryan DiFrancesco’s medical training that he received in obtaining his chiropractic and physical therapy degrees in Canada. As refined, defendants’ supplemental motion (Docket No. 58) is granted in part.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated [*60]  above, plaintiffs’ motion in limine (Docket No. 56) is granted in part, denied in part as specified above. Plaintiffs’ motion to exclude evidence of infant LD’s assumption of the risk is denied, as well as evidence of the release (as being contrary to New York State public policy) is denied but on different grounds; their motion to preclude evidence of LD’s 2015 clavicle injury at Holimont is granted in part with medical records first subject to this Court’s in camera review.

Defendants’ first motion in limine (Docket No. 53) is granted in part, denied in part as provided in detail above. Their supplemental motion in limine (Docket No. 58) is granted in part, denied in part as specified above.

Jury selection and trial is set for Monday, July 17, 2017, commencing at 9:30 am (Docket Nos. 69, 71), with a Final Pretrial Conference to be scheduled and a further Pretrial Order to be separately issued. The Interim Pretrial Conference (Docket Nos. 71, 63), remains set for Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 10:30 am (Docket No. 72).

So Ordered.

/s/ Hugh B. Scott

Hon. Hugh B. Scott

United States Magistrate Judge

Dated: Buffalo, New York

March 20, 2017

 


Griffith v. Jumptime Meridian, LLC, 2017 Ida. LEXIS 90

Griffith v. Jumptime Meridian, LLC, 2017 Ida. LEXIS 90

Seth Griffith, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jumptime Meridian, LLC, an Idaho Limited Liability Company, Defendant-Respondent.

Docket No. 44133-2016, 2017 Opinion No. 29

SUPREME COURT OF IDAHO

2017 Ida. LEXIS 90

April 10, 2017, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY:  [*1] Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Ada County. Hon. Deborah A. Bail, District Judge.

DISPOSITION: The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

COUNSEL: Eric Clark, Clark & Associates, Eagle, argued for appellant.

William Fletcher, Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley LLP, Boise, argued for respondent.

JUDGES: EISMANN, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK, and Justices JONES, HORTON and BRODY CONCUR.

OPINION BY: EISMANN

OPINION

EISMANN, Justice.

This is an appeal out of Ada County from a judgment dismissing an action brought against JumpTime Meridian, LLC, by Seth Griffith seeking damages for an injury he received while attempting a triple front flip when he was seventeen years of age. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

Factual Background.

On January 11, 2014, seventeen-year-old Seth Griffith (“Plaintiff”) was seriously injured when he attempted a triple front flip into a pit filled with foam blocks (“foam pit”) at an indoor trampoline park owned and operated by JumpTime Meridian, LLC (“JumpTime”). Plaintiff went to the facility with his girlfriend and her younger brother and sister. Plaintiff initially played with the brother on trampolines for about ten or fifteen minutes, and [*2]  then they went to an area where there were runway trampolines. Plaintiff spent about fifteen to twenty minutes doing front flips, back flips, and cartwheels on the runway trampolines, and he taught the brother to do a front flip. He then started showing off to the brother, doing various gymnastic tricks. He jumped up, did a back flip, jumped up, and did another back flip, and a female JumpTime employee, who was monitoring the foam pit area, told him it was pretty cool.

The facility had foam pits, one large (sixteen feet by eighteen feet) and one small (nine feet by sixteen feet). The large foam pit had twin trampolines that were each twelve feet long leading to it, and the small foam pit had a 58-foot-long trampoline runway leading to it.

Plaintiff’s girlfriend and her sister were near the large foam pit. He walked over to where they were and talked to them. While he was there, he jumped into the large foam pit a few times. He then spent about 45 minutes “kind of horsing around on both the runway trampoline and the foam pit and the twin trampolines.” After he did a double front flip into the small foam pit, the monitor came up to him and asked if he had ever done a double before. He [*3]  answered that he had, and she said, “Oh, that was pretty sweet.” As he continued performing double front flips into the small foam pit, he noticed that doing them was easier than it used to be for him. He decided to try a triple front flip. When he attempted it, he did not rotate far enough and landed on his head and neck, suffering a cervical dislocation and fracture, which required a fusion of his C6 and C7 vertebrae.

Plaintiff filed this action alleging that JumpTime negligently caused his injury. He contended that because he was under the age of eighteen, JumpTime had a duty to supervise him. He had been intentionally landing the double front flips on his back in the pit. He testified that he did so “because you don’t want to land on your feet because you can bash your head against your knees.” JumpTime’s written policy manual instructed its employees with respect to the foam pit to “[f]ollow the rules outlined on the wall and continuously enforce it.” There were signs on the walls near the two pits that instructed customers to land on their feet. A large sign painted on the wall next to where the runway trampoline ended at the small foam pit said:

•      Jump feet first into the pit

•      Land on [*4]  your feet and seat

•      No landing on your head or Stomach

Just past the small foam pit was a sign titled “FOAM PIT RULES,” which included the admonition: “WHILE YOU JUMP: DO NOT land on head, neck or belly. NO DIVING; FEET FIRST.” A third sign located on the wall near the large foam pit was titled “FOAM PIT PATRON RESPONSIBILITY CODE,” and it included the admonition, “Jump and land on two feet.” Plaintiff contended that had the attendant told him to land on his feet, he would not have attempted the triple front flip.

JumpTime moved for summary judgment alleging that there was no negligence, based upon the opinion of an expert that industry standards permitted landing a front flip into a foam pit on one’s feet, buttocks, or back, and that there was no evidence of causation. In response, Plaintiff contended that the signs on the wall stating how to land in the foam pit established the standard of care and that because of the attendant’s failure to admonish him for landing incorrectly, he was not discouraged from attempting a more difficult maneuver like a triple front flip. The district court granted JumpTime’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Plaintiff had failed to produce evidence [*5]  of negligence and causation. Plaintiff then timely appealed.

II.

Did the District Court Err in Granting JumpTime’s Motion for Summary Judgment?

When reviewing on appeal the granting of a motion for summary judgment, we apply the same standard used by the trial court in ruling on the motion. Infanger v. City of Salmon, 137 Idaho 45, 46-47, 44 P.3d 1100, 1101-02 (2002). We construe all disputed facts, and draw all reasonable inferences from the record, in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 47, 44 P.3d at 1102. Summary judgment is appropriate only if the evidence in the record and any admissions show that there is no genuine issue of any material fact regarding the issues raised in the pleadings and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

The elements of common law negligence have been summarized as (1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage.” Alegria v. Payonk, 101 Idaho 617, 619, 619 P.2d 135, 137 (1980). In this case, there were no facts in the record showing a causal connection between JumpTime’s alleged negligence and Plaintiff’s injury.

The issue of causation is why Plaintiff attempted the triple front flip. He did not tell [*6]  anyone he was going to attempt it, nor is there any evidence indicating that the monitor knew or should have known that he would try a triple front flip. Plaintiff argues on appeal that he is “entitled to the reasonable inference that had JumpTime enforced its rules and interceded when [he] was landing improperly and dangerously on his back, [he] would not have felt emboldened and would never have attempted a triple flip.”

First, there is no evidence that it was dangerous to land on one’s back. Even Plaintiff testified that he believed it was safer because it avoided the risk of hitting his face with his knees.

 

Second, Plaintiff did not testify during his deposition that had the monitor admonished him to land on his feet that he would not have attempted the triple front flip, nor did he testify that the conduct of the monitor was part of that decision. He testified that he decided to attempt the triple front flip because completing the double front flips was easier than previously had been for him, that he was having to come out of his rotation earlier than he previously had to, and that he was confident he was in the air long enough to do a triple front flip, which would be exciting. [*7]

Plaintiff testified that performing the double front flips was easier than it previously had been for him.

    Q. Well, tell me everything. Let’s just move in chronological order about what is happening and work up to the incident. So if you are at that point, then go ahead.

    A. After about 45 minutes of just kind of horsing around on both the runway trampoline and the foam pit and the twin trampolines, I got onto the runway trampoline, plus the foam pit, and I kind of noticed I had been doing doubles easier than what I was normally used to, like I was just either spinning faster or getting higher. It was just easier than what I was accustomed to. So I decided to go for a triple.

He was asked why he attempted the triple front flip, and he did not answer that JumpTime was in any way responsible for that decision. He said that when doing double front flips he had to come out of his rotation earlier than he previously had to and he thought he had enough air to perform a triple front flip.

    Q. Okay. So was the reason that you attempted this triple flip in the small foam pit just because it had a longer runway?

    A. No. I had been doing doubles easier, like I was—I had to break from my rotation earlier [*8]  than I previously would have to. So it was like I was having more time in the air to actually do the flips. So I kind of thought that I would be able to have enough air to do a triple.

He also stated that he was confident he could perform the triple front flip and was excited to try.

    Q. Did you have any concerns about being able to do the triple without hurting yourself?

    A. No. The time when I was about to do it I was pretty confident that I could.

    . . . .

    Q. Were you nervous at all before attempting the triple?

    A. No. I was actually pretty excited about it.

    Q. Why would you say that?

    A. Just because, like I used to be an avid gymnastics person, so doing a new trick, like if I could—like if I added a 360 onto a front flip, I’d get pretty excited. If I did like an aerial for the first time, like I got excited. So new things kind of excited me.

Plaintiff’s testimony does not support an inference that JumpTime was in any way responsible for his decision to try the triple front flip. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to JumpTime based upon the lack of evidence regarding causation.

III.

Is Either Party Entitled to an Award of Attorney Fees on Appeal?

Both parties [*9]  request an award of attorney fees on appeal pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-121..An award of attorney fees under that statute will be awarded to the prevailing party on appeal only when this Court is left with the abiding belief that the entire appeal was brought, pursued, or defended frivolously, unreasonably, or without foundation. McGrew v. McGrew, 139 Idaho 551, 562, 82 P.3d 833, 844 (2003); Benz v. D.L. Evans Bank, 152 Idaho 215, 231-32, 268 P.3d 1167, 1183-84 (2012). Because Plaintiff is not the prevailing party on appeal, he is not entitled to an award of attorney fees under that statute. VanderWal v. Albar, Inc., 154 Idaho 816, 824, 303 P.3d 175, 183 (2013). Although it is a close question, we decline to award attorney fees on appeal to JumpTime because we do not find that this appeal meets the requirements for such an award.

IV.

Conclusion.

We affirm the judgment of the district court, and we award Respondent costs, but not attorney fees, on appeal.

Chief Justice BURDICK, and Justices JONES, HORTON and BRODY CONCUR.


Connecticut court determines that a release will not bar a negligent claim created by statute.

Statute requires ski area to mark equipment on the slope. The ski area argued the release protected them from negligence claims based on the statute, and the court disagreed.

Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

State: Connecticut, Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Complex Litigation Docket at Rockville

Plaintiff: Alexandra Laliberte

Defendant: White Water Mountain Resorts

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Connecticut Skier Safety Act & release

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2004

The plaintiff was skiing as part of a high school varsity ski team. She hit a snow making device which was inadequately identified and placed on the trail according to the plaintiff.

The defendant moved for summary judgment based on the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and a release the plaintiff had signed to participate on the ski team.

The release had been signed when the plaintiff was a minor, however, she did not rescind the release when she became an adult.

As noted above, the plaintiffs concede that the release was signed by the plaintiffs knowingly and willingly. Also, the plaintiffs make no attack on the efficacy of the waiver because Ms. Laliberte was a minor at the time of its execution.

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

The first argument was whether the Connecticut Skier Safety Act shielded the defendant from liability. The act requires the ski area operator to mark conspicuously the location of snow making equipment.

Sec. 29-211.  (Formerly Sec. 19-418k). Duties of operator of passenger tramway or ski area.

In the operation of a passenger tramway or ski area, each operator shall have the obligation to perform certain duties including, but not limited to: (1) Conspicuously marking all trail maintenance vehicles and furnishing the vehicles with flashing or rotating lights which shall be operated whenever the vehicles are working or moving within the skiing area; (2) conspicuously marking the entrance to each trail or slope with a symbol, adopted or approved by the National Ski Areas Association, which identifies the relative degree of difficulty of such trail or slope or warns that such trail or slope is closed; (3) ensuring that any lift tower that is located on a trail or slope is padded or otherwise protected; (4) maintaining one or more trail boards, at prominent locations within the ski area, displaying such area’s network of ski trails and slopes, designating each trail or slope in the same manner as provided in subdivision (2) of this section and notifying each skier that the wearing of ski retention straps or other devices used to prevent runaway skis is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; (5) in the event maintenance personnel or equipment are being employed on any trail or slope during the hours at which such trail or slope is open to the public, conspicuously posting notice thereof at the entrance to such trail or slope; (6) conspicuously marking trail or slope intersections; (7) ensuring that passenger tramways, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, are equipped with restraint devices; (8) at the entrance of a passenger tramway, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, conspicuously posting instructions regarding the proper use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway and notice that the use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; and (9) ensuring that any hydrant, snow-making equipment and pipes that are located within the borders of a designated slope, trail or area that is approved and open for skiing by the operator and regularly groomed as part of the operator’s normal maintenance activities are padded or marked by portable fencing or a similar device.

Emphasize (bold) added

The plaintiff’s argued it was not marked. The ski area argued that the snow making device was not located on a ski trail or slope. Consequently, the court held that because there was a factual dispute, this matter had to go to trial.

The next issue was whether the release stopped claims created or based upon the statute. Normally, these claims are called negligence per se claims. (See Instructional Colorado decision Negligence, Negligence Per Se and Premises Liability or Motion for Summary Judgement failed because the plaintiff’s claim was based upon a failure to follow a statute or rule creating a negligence per se defense to the release in this Pennsylvania sailing case for more on Negligence Per Se claims.) Negligence per se claims are negligence claims based on a statute or rule created to protect people. Normally, releases do not work against negligence per se claims. That wording or pleading in describing the claim was not used in this case.

The parties agreed that the release itself was valid. The issue was what the release applied to.

“The interpretation of an exculpatory contract is colored by two diametrically opposed legal principles: the first, that it is against public policy to contract away one’s liability for negligent acts in advance and the second, that the court will enforce agreements of the parties made with consideration.”

Squarely presented, however, is the issue of whether a preinjury release is enforceable to relieve the defendant of civil liability for an alleged negligent violation of a statutorily created duty with respect to the operation of a recreational facility.

The court first looked at the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and found the act was silent on the effect of a release. The court then reviewed other Connecticut cases and decisions from other states where a release was raised as a defense to a negligence claim based upon a statute. Generally, the court found “… the statute created a public duty which the tenant had no power to extinguish. Private parties cannot “suspend the law by waiver or express consent.” Quoting from another case the court found ““parties may not stipulate for protection against liability for negligence in the performance of a duty imposed by law or where public interest requires performance.”

The court found two bases for invalidating releases when argued to bar claims like this.

These cases invalidating preinjury waivers where the basis of liability is a violation of a statute appear to be based either on a presumption that such releases are against public policy or on the legal inability of the releasor to waive a duty which protects the public or a class of persons of which the releasor is only one member.

Here the court found using a release to avoid liability for a statutory duty would allow defendants to have free reign to ignore the statute.

If liability for breach of statutory duty may be waived preinjury, the operator of a recreational facility could design, construct, and run a facility in total disregard of the legislatively prescribed rules with impunity, as to civil damages, simply by restricting use of the facility to those patrons willing to sign a release. In other words, the operator could repeal the protection of the legislatively selected class member by member.

The motion for summary judgment was denied and the case set for trial.

So Now What?

This result is probably the result you will find in all cases where the release is raised as a defense to a statutory duty. The only way to avoid this is to have the statute that creates the duty, include a clause that states the release is still valid.

Similar arguments are used by courts when they have determined that a statute that may have statutory duties and also has statutory protections eliminates the use of a release in full. Meaning the statute provided the protection the legislature wanted, that is all you get. Hawaii did this (Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release) and New Mexico in 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.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

Alexandra Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts

X07CV030083300S

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Complex Litigation Docket at Rockville

2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

August 2, 2004, Decided

August 2, 2004, Filed

Notice: [*1]  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.

Judges: Sferrazza, J.

Opinion By: Sferrazza

Opinion: Memorandum of Decision

The defendant, White Water Mountain Resorts, Inc., moves for summary judgment as to all counts in this action filed by the plaintiff Suzanne Bull, individually and as next friend of her daughter, Alexandra Laliberte. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that the defendant, a ski area operator, negligently failed to mark a snow-making device conspicuously so as to comply with General Statutes § 29-211.

The movant contends that judgment ought to enter in its favor because General Statutes § 29-212 exempts the defendant from liability and because the plaintiffs executed a valid waiver of liability. The plaintiffs argue that a genuine factual dispute exists which puts into doubt the applicability of § 29-212 and that the plaintiffs had no power to waive liability for any statutory obligation imposed by § 29-211.

Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and documentary proof submitted demonstrate that [*2] no genuine dispute as to material fact exists and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Practice Book § 17-49.

It is undisputed that on January 13, 2003, Alexandra Laliberte sustained serious injury to her left leg while engaged in ski practice, as a member of the Glastonbury High School varsity ski team, while at the defendant’s ski area. The plaintiffs’ complaint avers that this injury was caused when Laliberte struck a snow-making machine which was inadequately identified and which was positioned upon a portion of a ski trail or slope.

On November 14, 2002, the plaintiffs knowingly and voluntarily signed an anticipatory release of liability absolving the defendant from any claims by the plaintiffs resulting from participation in the ski team practices or events at the defendant’s ski facility, even if such “injury is caused by the negligence” of the defendant. It is uncontroverted that, if this waiver is enforceable, it would exonerate the defendant from the liability on the plaintiffs’ claims.

I

The court first addresses the movant’s contention that § 29-212 exempts the defendant from liability. Section 29-212 must be examined in conjunction with [*3] § 29-211 because these related provisions “form a consistent, rational whole.” Jagger v. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, 269 Conn. 672, 681, 849 A.2d 813 (2004). These statutes were enacted to delineate the respective responsibilities of the skier and the ski area operator. Id., 682. Section 29-212 enumerates a nonexhaustive list of risks inherent in the sport of skiing for which ski area operators bear no responsibility if injury ensues. Id. Section 29-211, on the other hand, imposes specified duties upon ski area operators. Id., 681.

Subsection 29-211(2) obligates the operator to mark conspicuously the location of snow- making devices that are placed on a trail or slope. A review of the pleadings and documents submitted discloses that a genuine factual dispute exists as to whether the particular device which Laliberte struck was sited on a ski trail or slope. Consequently, summary judgment is unavailable on this ground.

II

The enforceability of the preinjury release poses a more difficult question.

“The interpretation of an exculpatory contract is colored by two diametrically opposed legal principles: the first, that it is [*4] against public policy to contract away one’s liability for negligent acts in advance and the second, that the court will enforce agreements of the parties made with consideration.” Fischer v. Rivest, Superior Court, New Britain J.D. Complex Litigation, dn. X05-CV00-509627, 33 Conn. L. Rptr. 119 (August 15, 2002), Aurigemma, J.

As noted above, the plaintiffs concede that the release was signed by the plaintiffs knowingly and willingly. Also, the plaintiffs make no attack on the efficacy of the waiver because Ms. Laliberte was a minor at the time of its execution. Squarely presented, however, is the issue of whether a preinjury release is enforceable to relieve the defendant of civil liability for an alleged negligent violation of a statutorily created duty with respect to the operation of a recreational facility.

The statutes regarding skiing and ski area operations, General Statutes §§ 29-211 though 29-214 are silent as to whether waiver of the duties imposed on ski area operators are permitted or forbidden.

In Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 265 Conn. 636, 829 A.2d 827 (2003), our Supreme Court held that a preinjury waiver [*5] which omitted express reference to negligence was insufficient to absolve the ski area operator, the same defendant as in the present case, from liability for negligence. Id., 643.

The majority explicitly stated that its decision ventured no opinion regarding the viability of an anticipatory release should it include the missing language.

Id., 640 and 643, fn. 11. Despite this disclaimer, the Hyson case, supra, does provide some guidance bearing on the issue before this court because the majority reiterated the proposition that a preinjury release from liability for negligent acts “is scrutinized with particular care.” Id., 642.

The two dissenting justices in Hyson, supra, indicated that such preinjury releases are valid despite the absence of the use of a form of the word negligence expressly. Id., 649. Implicit in the dissenters’ position is that such waiver is possible as to violations of the duties imposed by § 29-211.

While a plausible argument can be made that this implication supports the movant ‘s contention, this Court is reluctant to harvest precedential value on this issue from that dissent [*6] because the precise claim of unenforceability raised in the present case was never raised in Hyson, supra.

In L’Heureux v. Hurley, 117 Conn. 347, 168 A. 8 (1933), the Supreme Court ruled that where a statute compels a landlord to illuminate a common stairwell, a tenant cannot waive that burden and could, indeed, sue the landlord for injury caused by that statutory violation. Id., 355-56. The Supreme Court determined that the statute created a public duty which the tenant had no power to extinguish. Id. Private parties cannot “suspend the law by waiver or express consent.” Id., 357. Of course, L’Heureux, supra, involved a tenancy and not recreational activity.

A similar case is Panaroni v. Johnson, 158 Conn. 92, 256 A.2d 246 (1969). There, another tenant was permitted to sue a landlord based on housing code violations despite a written lease containing a waiver clause. Id., 104. Again, Panaroni v. Johnson, supra, did not involve a recreational activity waiver.

A Connecticut case closer to the facts of the present one is Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, 21 Conn.Sup. 38, 143 A.2d 466 (1958). [*7] The trial court granted a demurrer to a special defense based on a written waiver signed by the injured boy’s father, which waiver purported to release a boy scout camp from liability.

The court stated that “parties may not stipulate for protection against liability for negligence in the performance of a duty imposed by law or where public interest requires performance.” Id., 39.

On the national level, some jurisdictions invalidate recreational activity releases if the negligent conduct contravenes public policy as embodied in statutorily imposed duties while other jurisdictions recognize the enforceability of such preinjury waivers. See 54 A.L.R.5th 513 (2004), §§ 5[a] and [b].

In McCarthy v. National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, 48 N.J. 539, 226 A.2d 713 (1967), the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s invalidation of a preinjury release in a case where the plaintiff was allegedly harmed by the defendants’ failure to comply with a state regulation governing the placement of fuel lines in racing cars. That Court stated that the “prescribed safety requirements may not be contracted away, for if they could be, [*8] the salient protective purposes of the legislation would largely be nullified.” Id. 54. That opinion recognized that such anticipatory releases are enforceable when they relate to strictly private affairs, however the Court remarked that the “situation becomes an entirely different one in the eye of the law when the legislation in question is . . . a police measure obviously intended for the protection of human life; in such event public policy does not permit an individual to waive the protection which the statute is designed to afford him.” Id.

The West Virginia Supreme Court reached a similar result in Murphy v. American River Runners, Inc., 186 W.Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991). West Virginia has a statutory scheme regarding the division of responsibility for harm resulting from the risks of whitewater rafting. That scheme immunizes commercial rafting operators from liability for risks inherent in that activity but “imposes in general terms certain statutory duties upon commercial whitewater outfitters.” Id., 317. A rafter suffered injuries when the outfitter ‘s employee attempted to use one raft to dislodge another which was hung up on some rocks. Id., 313-14. [*9] That Court concluded “when a statute imposes a standard of care, a clause in an agreement purporting to exempt a party from tort liability to a member of the protected class for failure to conform to that statutory standard is unenforceable.” Id., 318. The West Virginia Supreme Court also observed that that state’s skiing statutes were very similar to their whitewater rafting legislation. Id., 317.

These cases invalidating preinjury waivers where the basis of liability is a violation of a statute appear to be based either on a presumption that such releases are against public policy or on the legal inability of the releasor to waive a duty which protects the public or a class of persons of which the releasor is only one member. The court finds this reasoning persuasive.

Common-law negligence is a breach of a duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to another when confronting a particularized and individualized set of surrounding circumstances which may never arise again. A party is entitled to contract away the right to hold the releasee responsible for careless conduct peculiar to the releasor’s situation.

On the other hand, statutory negligence [*10] is based on deviation from a legislatively mandated course of conduct which governs a generalized set of circumstances. The statutory rule applies in every case in which those generic circumstances may exist and where the injured party falls within the class the statute was designed to protect. Coughlin v. Peters, 153 Conn. 99, 101, 214 A.2d 127 (1965). The doctrine of statutory negligence applies to create liability regardless of whether the defendant acted with reasonable prudence. Jacobs v. Swift & Co., 141 Conn. 276, 279, 105 A.2d 658 (1954).

If liability for breach of statutory duty may be waived preinjury, the operator of a recreational facility could design, construct, and run a facility in total disregard of the legislatively prescribed rules with impunity, as to civil damages, simply by restricting use of the facility to those patrons willing to sign a release. In other words, the operator could repeal the protection of the legislatively selected class member by member.

Given our Supreme Court’s reluctance to afford liberal recognition to preinjury waivers and the need to prevent the undermining of statutorily defined duties, the court holds [*11] as a matter of law, that the plaintiffs’ release in this case is unenforceable to defeat the claims of a violation of § 29-211.

The motion for summary judgment is, therefore, denied.

Sferrazza, J.


Wethington v. Swainson, d/b/a/ Pegasus Airsport Center, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169145

Wethington v. Swainson, d/b/a/ Pegasus Airsport Center, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169145

Holly Wethington and Makenzie Wethington, Plaintiffs, v. Robert Swainson, d/b/a/ Pegasus Airsport Center, Defendant.

Case No. CIV-14-899-D

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA

2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169145

December 18, 2015, Decided

December 18, 2015, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Sanctions allowed by, in part, Sanctions disallowed by, in part Wethington v. Swainson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171126 (W.D. Okla., Dec. 23, 2015)

Motion granted by Wethington v. Swainson, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7421 (W.D. Okla., Jan. 22, 2016)

COUNSEL: [*1] For Holly Wethington, individually, Mackenzie Wethington, Plaintiffs: James E Weger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jones Gotcher & Bogan, Tulsa, OK; Robert E Haslam, Haslam & Gallagher, Fort Worth, TX.

Robert Swainson, doing business as Pegasus Airsport Center, Defendant, Pro se.

Robert Swainson, Third Party Plaintiff, Pro se.

Joseph Wethington, Third Party Defendant, Pro se.

Robert Swainson, Counter Claimant, Pro se.

For Holly Wethington, individually, Counter Defendant: James E Weger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jones Gotcher & Bogan, Tulsa, OK; Robert E Haslam, Haslam & Gallagher, Fort Worth, TX.

JUDGES: TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI

OPINION

ORDER

The determinative issue before the Court concerns the authority of a parent to bind their minor child to an exculpatory agreement, which functions to preclude a defendant’s liability for negligence, before an injury has even occurred. Holly and Makenzie Wethington, mother and daughter (“Plaintiffs”), bring this action against Defendant Robert Swainson, d/b/a/ Pegasus Airsport Center, for injuries suffered by Makenzie while skydiving.1 Under theories of negligence and breach of contract, Plaintiffs contend Defendant (1) provided inadequate training to [*2] Makenzie in preparation for the parachute jump, (2) selected a person to provide radio assistance who had no prior experience, (3) provided old equipment that malfunctioned during Makenzie’s jump, and (4) permitted Makenzie to use a parachute she was ill-prepared to use and which was inappropriate for her skill level. Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 24], to which Plaintiffs have filed their response in opposition [Doc. No. 30]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.

1 At the time this action was brought, Makenzie was a minor. She has since become eighteen and will thus be referenced by name.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed. On January 24, 2014, Makenzie, who was then sixteen years old and accompanied by her parents, went to Defendant to learn how to skydive. As part of the registration process, Makenzie executed a Registration Form and Medical Statement. Near the bottom of the document, Makenzie initialed a disclaimer which read:

I FURTHER UNDERSTAND THAT SKYDIVING AND GLIDING ARE VERY SERIOUS AND HAZARDOUS SPORTS IN WHICH I COULD SUSTAIN SERIOUS AND PERMANENT INJURIES OR EVEN DEATH

Makenzie underwent an instruction course that included [*3] determining the condition of the parachute after deployment, gaining control and resolving any deployment problems and, if necessary, activating her emergency parachute. In connection with her registration and training, Makenzie and her parents both signed and/or initialed an accompanying document entitled “Agreement, Release of Liability and Acknowledgment of Risk” (the Release). The Release contained numerous exculpatory provisions, which stated in pertinent part:

1. RELEASE FROM LIABILITY. I hereby RELEASE AND DISCHARGE [Defendant] from any and all liability claims, demands or causes of action that I may hereafter have for injuries and damages arising out of my participation in parachuting and other aviation activities, including but not limited to LOSSES CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OR OTHER FAULT OF THE RELEASED PARTIES.

2. COVENANT NOT TO SUE. I further agree that I WILL NOT SUE OR MAKE A CLAIM AGAINST [Defendant] for damages or other losses sustained as a result of my participation in parachuting and other aviation activities.

* * *

5. ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISK. I understand and acknowledge that parachuting activities have inherent dangers that no amount of care, caution, instruction or [*4] expertise can eliminate and I EXPRESSLY AND VOLUNTARILY ACKNOWLEDGE ALL RISK OF DEATH OR PERSONAL INJURY SUSTAINED WHILE PARTICIPATING IN PARACHUTING AND OTHER AVIATION ACTIVITIES WHETHER OR NOT CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OR OTHER FAULT OF THE RELEASED PARTIES, including but not limited to equipment malfunction from whatever cause or inadequate training.

* * *

9. ENFORCEABILITY. I agree that if any portion of this Agreement, Release of Liability and Acknowledgment of risk is found to be unenforceable or against public policy, that only that portion shall fall and all other portions shall remain in full force and effect. . . . I also specifically waive any unenforceability or any public policy argument that I may make or that may be made on behalf of my estate or by anyone who would sue because of injury, damage or death as a result of my participation in parachuting and other aviation activities.

10. LEGAL RIGHTS. It has been explained to me, and I expressly recognize that this Agreement, Release of Liability and Acknowledgment of Risk is a contract pursuant to which I am giving up important legal rights, and it is my intention to do so.

(Emphasis added).

Near the bottom of the form, Makenzie [*5] read and rewrote the following statement: “I hereby certify that I have read this Agreement, Release of Liability and Acknowledgment of Risk, that I fully understand the contents of this contract, that I wish to be bound by its terms, and that I have signed this contract of my own free will.” This statement was signed and dated by Makenzie and initialed by her mother. At the bottom of the Release, under the heading, “RATIFICATION BY PARENT/GUARDIAN if participant is under 18-years-of-age,” both parents attested that they had read the agreement, understood its terms, and agreed to be bound thereby.

Makenzie received four hours of training and instruction. She was assigned a used parachute based on her size and weight. Defendant employed the assistance of Jacob Martinez to act as radio controller. Mr. Martinez’s duty was to help guide the jumpers onto the landing area and it was his first time to assist with the radio. Upon Makenzie’s jump, her chute malfunctioned, causing her to spin with increasing rapidity towards the ground. Makenzie landed at a high speed and impact, causing her to sustain serious injuries.

STANDARD OF DECISION

“Summary judgment is proper if, viewing the evidence in [*6] the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Bonidy v. U.S. Postal Service, 790 F.3d 1121, 1124 (10th Cir. 2015) (citing Peterson v. Martinez, 707 F.3d 1197, 1207 (10th Cir. 2013)). The Court’s function at the summary judgment stage is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter asserted, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Tolan v. Cotton, U.S. , 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014). An issue is “genuine” if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). An issue of fact is “material” if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim. Id. Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to present sufficient evidence in specific, factual form to establish a genuine factual dispute. Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991).

The nonmoving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. Rather, it must go beyond the pleadings and establish, through admissible evidence, there is a genuine issue of material fact that must be resolved by the trier of fact. Salehpoor v. Shahinpoor, 358 F.3d 782, 786 (10th Cir. 2004). Unsupported conclusory allegations do not create an issue of fact. Finstuen v. Crutcher, 496 F.3d 1139, 1144 (10th Cir. 2007).

DISCUSSION

Defendant contends the Release absolves him from all liability [*7] for any injury suffered by Makenzie. Plaintiffs respond that Defendant’s motion should be denied because (1) Makenzie was a minor when she signed the Release, rendering it invalid under Oklahoma law,2 (2) Defendant is clearly liable under the theories asserted, and (3) this Court had a duty to protect Makenzie as a minor.

2 In Oklahoma, a minor is any person under eighteen (18) years of age. 15 Okla. Stat. § 13.

“An exculpatory clause releases in advance the second party for any harm the second party might cause the first party after the contract is entered.” Arnold Oil Properties LLC v. Schlumberger Tech. Corp., 672 F.3d 1202, 1206-07 (10th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). While generally enforceable, such clauses are considered “distasteful to the law.” Schmidt v. United States, 1996 OK 29, P 8, 912 P.2d 871, 874 (emphasis in original).3 Exculpatory clauses are enforceable only if they meet the three following criteria:

(1) Their language must evidence a clear and unambiguous intent to exonerate the would-be defendant from liability for the sought-to-be-recovered damages;

(2) At the time the contract was executed, there must have been no vast difference in bargaining power between parties; and

(3) Enforcement of the clause would not (a) be injurious to public health, public morals or confidence in administration of the law or (b) so undermine the security of individual [*8] rights vis-a-vis personal safety or private property as to violate public policy.

Schmidt, 912 P.2d at 874. “The clause will never avail to relieve a party from liability for intentional, willful or fraudulent acts or gross, wanton negligence.” Id. at 874 (citations omitted, emphasis in original); Satellite System, Inc. v. Birch Telecom of Okla., Inc., 2002 OK 61, P 11, 51 P.3d 585, 589 (“Oklahoma has a strong legislative public policy against contracts which attempt ‘to exempt anyone from responsibility for his own fraud, or willful injury to the person or property of another.'”) (citing 15 Okla. Stat. § 212).

3 Notwithstanding this admonition, courts should void contract clauses on public-policy grounds “rarely, with great caution and in cases that are free from doubt.” Union Pacific R. Co. v. U.S. ex rel. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 591 F.3d 1311, 1321 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Shepard v. Farmers Ins. Co., 1983 OK 103, P 3, 678 P.2d 250, 251).

Oklahoma courts, and others, have upheld exculpatory contracts similar to the present Release, i.e., contracts that exculpate the defendant from injuries suffered by plaintiffs while skydiving. See Manning v. Brannon, 1998 OK CIV APP 17, PP 15-17, 956 P.2d 156, 158-59 (exculpatory contract relieving defendant from any liability for injuries to plaintiff from parachuting activities was valid and enforceable); see also Scrivener v. Sky’s the Limit, Inc., 68 F. Supp. 2d 277, 280 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court, 23 Cal.App.4th 748, 756, 29 Cal.Rptr.2d 177, 181 (1993); Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). This Court, likewise, finds the Release is generally valid on its face.

First, the Release states in clear and unequivocal terms the intention of the parties to excuse Defendant from liability caused [*9] by Defendant’s negligence, equipment failure, or inadequate instruction. Plaintiffs signed and initialed several clauses containing the headings, RELEASE FROM LIABILITY, COVENANT NOT TO SUE, and ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISK. Mrs. Wethington and her husband signed a ratification stating they had read the Release, understood its terms, and agreed to be bound thereby. Second, there is no evidence of unequal bargaining power. “Oklahoma courts consider two factors in determining parties’ relative bargaining power: ‘(1) the importance of the subject matter to the physical or economic wellbeing of the party agreeing to the release, and (2) the amount of free choice that party could have exercised when seeking alternate services.'” Arnold Oil, 672 F.3d at 1208 (quoting Schmidt, 912 P.2d at 874). There is no evidence that skydiving was necessary or important to Plaintiffs’ wellbeing. In fact, when asked why she wanted to skydive, Makenzie answered, “It’s on my bucket list.” Moreover, Plaintiffs do not contend Makenzie had no choice but to agree to be trained by and jump with Defendant as opposed to going elsewhere. Third, as noted, Oklahoma courts have upheld such releases as not against public policy. See Manning, 956 P.2d at 159 (“we find a exculpatory contract in the [*10] context of a high-risk sport such as sky diving not against the public policy of this state.”).

Plaintiffs nevertheless maintain the Release is voidable because Makenzie was a minor when she signed it and her subsequent suit disaffirmed the agreement. It is also true that as a matter of public policy, courts have protected minors from improvident and imprudent contractual commitments by declaring the contract of a minor is voidable at the election of the minor after she attains majority. See 15 Okla. Stat. § 19. “A release is a contract.” Corbett v. Combined Communications Corp., 1982 OK 135, P 5, 654 P.2d 616, 617. Under Oklahoma law, a minor’s right to rescind a contract is unaffected by the approval or consent of a parent. Gomes v. Hameed, 2008 OK 3, P 26, 184 P.3d 479, 489 (citing Gage v. Moore, 1948 OK 214, P 8, 200 Okla. 623, 198 P.2d 395, 396).

In this case, however, Makenzie’s parents also knowingly signed the Release on her behalf, ratifying and affirming its exculpatory content, and agreeing to be bound thereby. Nevertheless, Defendant refers this Court to no controlling authority that permits the parent of a minor to, on the minor’s behalf, release or waive the minor’s prospective claim for negligence. The Court is unaware of any such authority, and therefore must predict how the Oklahoma Supreme Court would rule on the question. Ortiz v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., No. CIV-13-32-D, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41544, 2015 WL 1498713, at *5 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 31, 2015) (“A [*11] federal court sitting in diversity must apply state law as propounded by the forum’s highest court. Absent controlling precedent, the federal court must attempt to predict how the state’s highest court would resolve the issue.”) (quoting Royal Maccabees Life Ins. Co. v. Choren, 393 F.3d 1175, 1180 (10th Cir. 2005)).

Although the cases are split on the issue, it is well-recognized that the majority of state courts considering the issue have held a parent may not release a minor’s prospective claim for negligence. See Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of Am., 21 Conn. Supp. 38, 143 A.2d 466, 467-68 (Conn. 1958); Kirton v. Fields, 997 So.2d 349, 356 (Fla. 2008) (pre-injury release executed by parent on behalf of minor is unenforceable against minor or the minor’s estate in a tort action arising from injuries resulting from participation in a commercial activity); Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 901 A.2d 381, 386 (N.J. 2006) (New Jersey public policy prohibits parents of a minor child from releasing a minor child’s potential tort claim arising out of the use of a commercial recreational facility); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 262 Ill. App. 3d 141, 634 N.E.2d 411, 414, 199 Ill. Dec. 572 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994) (“[I]n the absence of statutory or judicial authorization, a parent cannot waive, compromise, or release a minor child’s cause of action merely because of the parental relationship . . . . This rule has also been extended to render ineffective releases or exculpatory agreements for future tortious conduct by other persons where such releases had been signed by parents on [*12] behalf of their minor children.”); Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252, 256 (Iowa 2010) (public policy precluded enforcement of parent’s pre-injury waiver of her child’s cause of action for injuries caused by negligence); Doyle v. Bowdoin College, 403 A.2d 1206, 1208 n. 3 (Me. 1979) (“a parent, or guardian, cannot release the child’s or ward’s, cause of action.”); Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1, 6-7 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989); Woodman v. Kera, LLC, 280 Mich. App. 125, 760 N.W.2d 641, 655-56 (Mich. Ct. App. 2008) (pre-injury waivers effectuated by parents on behalf of their minor children are not presumptively enforceable); Apicella v. Valley Forge Military Acad. & Junior Coll., 630 F.Supp. 20, 24 (E.D. Penn. 1985) (“Under Pennsylvania law, parents do not possess the authority to release the claims or potential claims of a minor child merely because of the parental relationship.”); Munoz v. II Jaz Inc., 863 S.W.2d 207, 209-10 (Tex. App. 1993) (statute which empowered parents to make legal decisions concerning their child did not give parents power to waive child’s cause of action for personal injuries); Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6, 11-12 (Wash. 1992) (“A parent does not have legal authority to waive a child’s own future cause of action for personal injuries resulting from a third party’s negligence”).4

4 Of the cases enforcing pre-injury releases executed by parents on behalf of minor children, most involve state-enacted legislation permitting such waiver or the minor’s participation in school-run or community-sponsored activities. See, e.g., Squires v. Breckenridge Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 715 F.3d 867, 874 (10th Cir. 2013); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 1564, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647, 649-50 (1990); BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714, 80 A.3d 345, 362 (Md. 2013); Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738, 746-47 (Mass. 2002); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201, 205 (Ohio 1998).

These decisions have invalidated such agreements on the grounds that (1) parents have no [*13] such power, or (2) the agreements violate public policy. The underlying rationale employed by many is that courts, acting in the role as parens patriae, have a duty to protect minors. Oklahoma recognizes its duty to protect minor children. Baby F. v. Oklahoma County District Court, 2015 OK 24, P 23, 348 P.3d 1080, 1088. In Oklahoma, a parent or guardian may not settle a child’s claim without prior court approval. See 30 Okla. Stat. § 4-702 (“A guardian, with the approval of the court exercising jurisdiction in the suit or proceeding, may compromise and settle any claim made by, on behalf of or against the ward in such suit or proceeding.”). As aptly summarized by the Washington Supreme Court in Scott:

Since a parent generally may not release a child’s cause of action after injury, it makes little, if any, sense to conclude a parent has the authority to release a child’s cause of action prior to an injury. In situations where parents are unwilling or unable to provide for a seriously injured child, the child would have no recourse against a negligent party to acquire resources needed for care and this is true regardless of when relinquishment of the child’s rights might occur.

Scott, 834 P.2d at 11-12 (emphasis added).

Based on the case law in Oklahoma and other jurisdictions, the Court is led to the conclusion [*14] that (1) Makenzie’s acknowledgment and execution of the Release is of no consequence and does not preclude her claims against Defendant, and (2) the Oklahoma Supreme Court would find that an exculpatory agreement regarding future tortious conduct, signed by parents on behalf of their minor children, is unenforceable. Accordingly, to the extent the Release purports to bar Makenzie’s own cause of action against Defendant, it is voidable. Plaintiffs correctly argue that commencement of this lawsuit constitutes a disaffirmance of the Release (see, e.g., Gage, supra; Ryan v. Morrison, 1913 OK 598, 40 Okla. 49, 135 P. 1049), and the contract is void ab initio. Grissom v. Beidleman, 1912 OK 847, P 8, 35 Okla. 343, 129 P. 853, 857 (“The disaffirmance of a contract made by an infant nullifies it and renders it void ab initio; and the parties are returned to the same condition as if the contract had never been made.”). The ratification signed by Makenzie’s parents is likewise unenforceable as a bar to Makenzie’s claims. The Release, however, is otherwise conspicuous and clear so as to bar the parents’ cause of action based upon injury to their child. Therefore, Mrs. Wethington’s causes of action, individually, are barred.5

5 As noted, exculpatory clauses cannot excuse one for, inter alia, gross negligence. The statutory definition [*15] of gross negligence is “want of slight care and diligence.” 25 Okla. Stat. § 6. Under Oklahoma law, “gross negligence” requires the intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of consequences or in callous indifference to life, liberty, or property of another. Palace Exploration Co. v. Petroleum Dev. Co., 374 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir. 2004). Plaintiffs expressly plead in their Complaint only causes of action for negligence and breach of contract. Moreover, although Plaintiffs’ Complaint seeks punitive damages based on Defendant’s alleged “gross, willful, and intentional acts,” Compl., P 8, Plaintiffs neither argue nor present any evidence indicating Defendant’s actions constituted anything beyond ordinary negligence.

CONCLUSION

Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 24] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Defendant’s motion is granted as to Plaintiff Holly Wethington’s claims and denied as to Plaintiff Makenzie Wethington’s claim for negligence. Since the skydiving contract is rendered void ab initio by means of Makenzie’s lawsuit, her breach of contract claim cannot proceed as a matter of law.

IT IS SO ORDERED this 18th day of December, 2015.

/s/ Timothy D. DeGiusti

TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE


Oklahoma Federal Court opinion: the OK Supreme Court would void a release signed by the parent for a minor.

Minor injured in a sky-diving accident is allowed to sue because the release, she and her parents signed are void under Oklahoma law. Parents are not allowed to sue for their claims because of the release.

Wethington v. Swainson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169145

State: Oklahoma, United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma

Plaintiff: Holly Wethington and Makenzie Wethington

Defendant: Robert Swainson, d/b/a/ Pegasus Airsport

Plaintiff Claims: (1) provided inadequate training to [*2]  Makenzie in preparation for the parachute jump, (2) selected a person to provide radio assistance who had no prior experience, (3) provided old equipment that malfunctioned during Makenzie’s jump, and (4) permitted Makenzie to use a parachute she was ill-prepared to use and which was inappropriate for her skill level

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendant for the claims of the parents, for the plaintiff for her claims

Year: 2015

The minor plaintiff was sixteen years old when she wanted to check another item off her bucket list. She went to the defendant’s sky-diving business along with her parents.

First, the minor plaintiff completed a Registration Form and Medical Statement which included a notice that sky diving was dangerous. The minor plaintiff also signed a release. Her parents also signed the release. The release required the minor plaintiff to write out a statement that she knew she was signing a release and understood the risks. She wrote this out and signed it. The bottom of the release also had a ratification paragraph which the Parent/Guardian was required to sign that stated they understood the risks and released the defendants. Both parents signed this.

In total, a warning in one document, a release signed by all three parents, an additional clause signed by the paragraphs and a written paragraph written and signed by the minor plaintiff is normally far in excess of what a party signs before engaging in recreational activities.

The minor plaintiff then received four houses of training. On her first jump, her parachute malfunctioned, and she hit the ground sustaining injuries.

The defendants filed for a motion for summary judgment based on the release.

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

The court started by looking at the issues surrounding release law in Oklahoma. “An exculpatory clause releases in advance the second party for any harm the second party might cause the first party after the contract is entered.” Releases are enforceable in Oklahoma but are “distasteful.”

At the same time, releases in Oklahoma should not be voided because of public policy grounds. “Notwithstanding this admonition, courts should void contract clauses on public-policy grounds “rarely, with great caution and in cases that are free from doubt.” Public policy grounds are the normal way releases signed by minors are voided.

Releases in Oklahoma have to meet three criteria to be valid.

(1) Their language must evidence a clear and unambiguous intent to exonerate the would-be defendant from liability for the sought-to-be-recovered damages;

(2) At the time the contract was executed, there must have been no vast difference in bargaining power between parties; and

(3) Enforcement of the clause would not (a) be injurious to public health, public morals or confidence in administration of the law or (b) so undermine the security of individual rights vis-a-vis personal safety or private property as to violate public policy.

The court also stated that under Oklahoma law releases cannot work to prevent “liability for intentional, willful or fraudulent acts or gross, wanton negligence.”

After reviewing the release the court found the release was valid.

First, the Release states in clear and unequivocal terms the intention of the parties to excuse Defendant from liability caused by Defendant’s negligence, equipment failure, or inadequate instruction. Plaintiffs signed and initialed several clauses containing the headings, RELEASE FROM LIABILITY, COVENANT NOT TO SUE, and ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISK. Mrs. Wethington and her husband signed a ratification stating they had read the Release, understood its terms, and agreed to be bound thereby.

The court then looked at whether there was inequality in the bargaining power of the plaintiff and found none.

Second, there is no evidence of unequal bargaining power. “Oklahoma courts consider two factors in determining parties’ relative bargaining power: ‘(1) the importance of the subject matter to the physical or economic wellbeing of the party agreeing to the release, and (2) the amount of free choice that party could have exercised when seeking alternate services.'” There is no evidence that skydiving was necessary or important to Plaintiffs’ wellbeing. In fact, when asked why she wanted to skydive, Makenzie answered, “It’s on my bucket list.”

The court found the plaintiffs were not bound to sky dive with the defendant; she was free to sky dive with anyone. Therefore, the plaintiff was not under any pressure or requirement to sky dive with the defendant.

The court then looked at Oklahoma law to see if parents could sign away a minor’s right to sue.

It is also true that as a matter of public policy, courts have protected minors from improvident and imprudent contractual commitments by declaring the contract of a minor is voidable at the election of the minor after she attains majority. Under Oklahoma law, a minor’s right to rescind a contract is unaffected by the approval or consent of a parent.

The court also found that for a claim to be approved for a minor for an injury resulting in a settlement, the court had to approve the settlement.

However, the court found this case was complicated by the fact the minor plaintiff’s parents had also signed the release. “In this case, however, Makenzie’s parents also knowingly signed the Release on her behalf, ratifying and affirming its exculpatory content, and agreeing to be bound thereby.”

The Oklahoma Supreme Court did not rule on the issue. Federal courts hearing cases based on the diversity of the parties dealing with state law issues must apply the law of the state where the lawsuit is based or the law that applies.

…federal court sitting in diversity must apply state law as propounded by the forum’s highest court. Absent controlling precedent, the federal court must attempt to predict how the state’s highest court would resolve the issue.

The next issue is disaffirmance of the contract. A minor must disaffirm a contract after reaching the age of majority or the contract is valid. The plaintiffs argued, and the court agreed that the filing of the lawsuit disaffirmed the release. “Plaintiffs correctly argue that commencement of this lawsuit constitutes a disaffirmance of the Release, and the contract is void ab initio.”

For more on this see Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18. However, this decision was later overturned in Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.

The court also examined the issue that the parents signed the release and found it had no bearing on the case. However, the release did stop claims by the parents.

The ratification signed by Makenzie’s parents is, likewise, unenforceable as a bar to Makenzie’s claims. The Release, however, is otherwise conspicuous and clear so as to bar the parents’ cause of action based upon injury to their child.

When a minor is injured, the minor can sue and the parents can sue. Dependent upon the state, the claims of the parents may include those of the minor or may be solely based on the parents’ loss.

The court then ruled that the minor claim was valid and not barred by the release. The parent’s claims, specifically the named plaintiff, the minor plaintiff’s mother, were barred by the release.

Defendant’s motion is granted as to Plaintiff Holly Wethington’s claims and denied as to Plaintiff Makenzie Wethington’s claim for negligence. Since the skydiving contract is rendered void ab initio by means of Makenzie’s lawsuit, her breach of contract claim cannot proceed as a matter of law.

So Now What?

The minor plaintiff can sue, and the mother cannot.

This decision is not controlling in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Supreme Court could still rule that a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue.

At the same time, this decision outlines release law in Oklahoma and does a great job. As far as how the Oklahoma Supreme Court will rule, the Federal District Court knows the Supreme Court in the state where they sit better than any other person, and I would vote with the Federal Court.

As in other cases in the majority of states, a parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue.  To see the States where a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue and the decisions deciding that issue see States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

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Federal Judge holds that North Carolina law supports a release signed by the mother of a minor plaintiff to stop a lawsuit

Still not a decision by the NC Supreme Court which is controlling on this issue, however a very interesting case and a very staunch support of the idea that a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

State: North Carolina, United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division

Plaintiff: Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, and Terry Kelly

Defendant: United States of America

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2014

A prior decision in this case was written about in North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations which reviewed Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741.

This is a decision by a federal court. Federal courts do not make decisions changing state law. Federal Courts can only apply state law to the facts in front of them. If the law is not settled it may surmise what the law it, however the courts of the state where the federal court sits, in this case North Carolina, are not bound by the law. Other websites have reported that federal courts can change the effect of the law in a state which is not true. That is why the precautionary warning on this decision. The North Carolina Supreme Court can rule on this issue at some future date and say the opposite of what this decision says. So until the issue of whether a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue is reviewed by a state appellate or Supreme Court in North Carolina, not is set in stone.

A quick review of the facts: the minor plaintiff, age fifteen, was injured during a confidence course (obstacle course?) while attending a ROTC weekend at United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The mother of the minor signed a release so the minor could attend the weekend.

There are several new facts which were argued in this phase of the case, and not in the prior decision, which are interesting. Allegedly the release was it was signed, was signed with the parent believing the twin sister was attending the camp. However at the time the release was signed there were no names on the release. The sister did not attend, the plaintiff did and the plaintiff filled in her name on the release. An information packet was sent to all attendee’s high schools which described the confidence course. However neither of the minor’s parents saw the packet.

All aspects of the trip were free for the cadets except they had to pay for their meals at the Camp Lejeune dining facility at a reduced rate and pay for anything the plaintiff purchased at the Post Exchange.

Prior to undertaking the confidence course the minor and other cadets completed two obstacle courses. The actual element the minor was injured on was the “slide for life.” While climbing the slide for life the minor fell suffering injuries.

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

The first issue was whether a parent could sign a release and release the minor’s right to sue. The court found in this decision and in the prior decision a parent could sign away a minor’s right to sue.

It does not appear that North Carolina courts have ruled on whether a liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is enforceable, yet numerous courts in other jurisdictions have upheld pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of minors in the context of litigation filed against schools, municipalities, and clubs providing activities for children.

The court then reviewed other state law where the court’s had allowed a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. The court in reviewing those decisions found them analogous to these facts and applicable to this case.

… the court continues to find that these cases are analogous to the circumstances here, where the facilities and instruction of the NJROTC program were provided at no expense and students were charged only for personal purchases from the Post Exchange and for meals at discount rate.

The court found numerous reasons within those cases why the courts upheld the releases.

… the public is best served when risks or costs of litigation regarding such programs are minimized.

… public interest by respecting the realm of parental authority to weigh the risks and costs of physical injury to their children against the benefits of the child’s participation in an activity.

North Carolina, the law to be applied in this case by the court:

…recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children. North Carolina has recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children.

The court remains persuaded by the analysis of those courts upholding liability waivers signed by parents in the context of litigation against schools, municipalities and clubs, which either implicitly or explicitly found the risk presented by such waivers to be outweighed by interests in providing non-commercial activities and respecting parental authority.

The court also found that this case was not controlled by a public interest argument. The court also found that there was no recognized North Carolina public interest in voiding the release to protect minors over the wishes of the parents. “First, neither the defendant’s status as a government body, nor the volunteer status of a program’s personnel, are controlling factors in the analysis.”

The concluded this analysis and denied a public interest argument in the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

In turn, JROTC programs promote the community welfare by instilling the values and benefits noted above in the community’s children. Finally, the mere fact that the United States has waived its sovereign immunity through the FTCA does not mean that it should be denied the use of a waiver that other non-governmental volunteer or non-profit organizations could employ. On the contrary, the FTCA only makes the United States liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.”

The FTCA is the statute that describes how and for what reasons the federal government, including the military can be sued.

The court then looked at the actual release to see if it met the law of North Carolina to be valid. The plaintiff argued there was no meeting of the minds, a basic requirement for a contract, which a release is. This is also referred to as a “mutual mistake.” “However, a unilateral mistake, unaccompanied by fraud, imposition, undue influence or like circumstances is insufficient to avoid a contract.”

Because the mistake, if any, was only a unilateral mistake, it was not enough to void the release. Unilateral mistake meaning only one part to the contract knew about the problem or was affected by the problem.

The plaintiff then argued that because the release was signed by the mother for one daughter who did not go but used by the second daughter who did go, the plaintiff, the release was void. The court found that even if the release was void for this reason, because the plaintiff’s took advantage of the opportunity, which could not be accepted without a release, they had ratified and affirmed the release.

North Carolina courts have held that, when a release is originally invalid or voidable, it may be ratified and affirmed by subsequent acts accepting the benefits.

Similarly, under the North Carolina theory of quasi-estoppel, also known as “estoppel by benefit,” a party who “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.”

The doctrine is grounded “upon a party’s acquiescence or acceptance of payment or benefits, by virtue of which that party is thereafter prevented from maintaining a position inconsistent with those acts.”

Since the opportunities of the weekend could not be accepted or taken without a signed release, the plaintiff could not after accepting the benefits argue the release was void.

Here, the benefits of the Liability Waiver for plaintiff Pamela Kelly consisted of her daughter’s participation in the NJROTC orientation program, with the attendant benefits of introducing her to the culture, skills, and values that the NJROTC seeks to impart.

By accepting the benefit of her child’s attendance at the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required for attendance, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot now disavow the effect of the instrument she signed that allowed her child to attend.

The next issue the plaintiff argued was the release did not identify the risks in the release. “As an alternative ground for denying summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver cannot be enforced because the government did not identify the risks that the form covered.”

The plaintiff’s argued they did not know their daughter would be engaging in the risky behavior and activities that caused her injury.

Consequently, they state they anticipated that plaintiff Morgan Kelly would only be visiting Camp Lejeune to observe equipment and other military activities, and that she would only be performing the same activities that she had performed in the past, such as marching in formations, drills, and “ground-based physical fitness training.

The court found this was not required under the law. Here the contract language was clear and the intention of the release for one party to waive the negligence and any accompanying risks of the other party was evident.

The heart of a contract is the intention of the parties,” which “must be determined from the language of the contract, the purposes of the contract, the subject matter and the situation of the parties at the time the contract is executed.” Liability waivers are disfavored under North Carolina law, and strictly construed against the parties seeking to enforce them. However, when the language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the agreement is a matter of law for the court, and the court cannot look beyond the terms of the contract to determine the parties’ intent.

The language was clear and unambiguous in its intent.

As such, the waiver provides ample notice to plaintiffs of the potential for a wide range of activities at the event, not limited in any way to marching, drills, or “ground-based physical fitness training.” Plaintiffs do not allege that they were affirmatively misled as to the nature of the activities that would comprise the event, or that they were prevented from inquiring into the activities or the associated risks.

The next argument was the plaintiff had disaffirmed the release by filing the complaint. “Plaintiffs also argue that summary judgment should be denied because plaintiff Morgan Kelly has disaffirmed it (by filing complaint) and because the Liability.” They buttressed this argument stating the language in the release referred to the plaintiff not a parent. However the court found the plaintiff’s had not provided any legal authority to support their argument.

Yet plaintiffs have not cited any case holding that a form such as that used here, which expressly waives both the claims of the child and her guardians, and which is signed by one of those guardians, cannot be enforced against the guardian who signed it. The court again holds that the Liability Waiver is enforceable to bar the claims of both Morgan and Pamela Kelly.

The next issue was whether the release, signed by the mother and effective against the claims of the mother and daughter also prohibited claims of the father.

The question remains whether the Liability Waiver is effective against the claims of plaintiff Terry Kelly, who did not sign the document, and denies ever seeing it prior to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s orientation visit.

The court reasoned the release could not be used against the father if he did not know of the release. If you do not know of the contract you cannot be held to the contract even under a quasi-estoppel theory argued earlier in the case.

However the plaintiff’s themselves destroyed this argument. The release had both names of the parents written in by hand. The father in his deposition did not definitively state that the handwriting was not his. The plaintiff’s also argued the thought the release was not an original (which is not a valid evidentiary argument). The court then ordered the plaintiff’s had additional time to visually inspect the document and determine if it was the one they signed.

No additional arguments or support for the argument was made that the release was not the original or not signed by the parents. The court, then found that claim was no longer valid because it did not create a genuine issue concerning the release which is necessary to deny a motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs had opportunity to review the original Release Form, and to have it assessed by an expert if deemed necessary. An opponent of summary judgment “must produce more than frivolous assertions, unsupported statements, illusory issues and mere suspicions.”

The court then went back to the quasi-estoppel claim to further foreclose that argument by the plaintiff: “… because the record shows that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted the benefits of the Release Form as it applied to the orientation visit.” The court further stated:”[A] party will not be allowed to accept benefits which arise from certain terms of a contract and at the same time deny the effect of other terms of the same agreement

The court summed up that argument by stating:

The same principle operates here, where plaintiff Terry Kelly signed a Release Form surrendering claims related to his daughter’s participation in NJROTC training, then allowed his daughter to attend a NJROTC training orientation visit. On the evidence, there is no genuine issue that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted that plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s “membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training,” included the orientation visit. In consideration of this training, including the orientation visit, he released “claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to . . . injury.” De-fendant reasonably relied on plaintiff Terry Kelly’s writing, in addition to his acquiescence to his [*35]  daughter’s attendance at the orientation visit. Plaintiff Terry Kelly cannot be allowed to accept the benefits of the Release Form through his daughter’s attendance, while at the same time denying the release that was required as a condition of that attendance.

That eliminated the last claim and argument by the plaintiff and summary judgement was granted.

So Now What?

Although this decision may not be controlling in North Carolina until the North Carolina state courts rule on it, the court effectively argued each point why the release should be valid. On top of that, I do not know if this case is being appealed, which again, may change the outcome.

One point that was argued that I continually argue to do, to save the time and cost of defending a release is to put in the release the risks the plaintiff will be assuming. If the release is thrown out of court, you can get the release in front of the jury to prove the plaintiff assumed the risk of the injury.

This is great legal reasoning on release law. This is a good case to keep handy when you are arguing why a release is valid. Whether your state allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue or not, the legal analysis used here can be used in many different release cases.

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Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, and Terry Kelly, Plaintiffs, v. United States of America, Defendant.

NO. 7:10-CV-172-FL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTHERN DIVISION

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

September 25, 2014, Decided

September 25, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 (E.D.N.C., 2011)

CORE TERMS: orientation, training, summary judgment, public interest, guardian, non-commercial, attend, cadet, attendance, signature, daughter’s, public policy, enforceable, genuine, waive, obstacle, quasi-estoppel, participating, recreational, undersigned, pre-injury, parental, affirmative defense, genuine issue, transportation, municipalities, educational, unambiguous, discovery, workshop

COUNSEL: [*1] For Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, Terry Kelly, Plaintiffs: Steven Michael Stancliff, LEAD ATTORNEY, James L. Chapman , IV, Crenshaw, Ware and Martin, P.L.C., Norfolk, VA.

For United States of America, Defendant: Matthew Lee Fesak, R. A. Renfer , Jr., LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Raleigh, NC.

JUDGES: LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: LOUISE W. FLANAGAN

OPINION

ORDER

This matter comes before the court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (DE 93). This matter has been fully briefed, and the issues raised are ripe for review. For the following reasons, the court grants defendant’s motion.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

The court refers to and incorporates the case history provided in previous orders, including its recent order on defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for gross negligence. Kelly v. United States, No. 7:10-CV-172, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114376, 2014 WL 4098943 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 18, 2014) (“August 2014 Order”). Pertinent to the instant motion, plaintiffs commenced this action on September 2, 2010, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671, et seq., seeking damages in excess of ten million dollars ($10,000,000.00) for injuries allegedly suffered by plaintiff Morgan Kelly, daughter of plaintiffs Terry and Pamela Kelly. The [*2] court previously issued an order August 11, 2011, granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs’ motion to strike, in particular allowing defendant to raise the affirmative defense that plaintiff Pamela Kelly had waived plaintiffs’ claims. Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 437-38 (E.D.N.C. 2011) (“August 2011 Order”).

On November 25, 2013, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, which also included the motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ gross negligence claim. Plaintiffs responded in opposition on February 27, 2014, and defendant replied on March 13, 2014.

Plaintiffs’ memorandum in opposition included a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) for additional discovery regarding the use, allocation and disposition of monies received from Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (“NJROTC”) cadets in exchange for the cadets’ attendance in the July 2007 orientation visit at issue in this case. The court granted plaintiff’s motion on March 31, 2014, and subsequently issued an order on scheduling directing the parties to complete the additional discovery by May 30, 2014. Plaintiffs were given until June 13, 2014, to file a supplemental brief in opposition to the government’s motion. However, the deadline passed without such brief being filed.

On August [*3] 18, 2014, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. The order noted that it did not address the motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ remaining claims. August 2014 Order, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114376, 2014 WL 4098943, at *1, n. 1. This motion comes now before the court.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, may be summarized as follows:

In July 2007, plaintiff Morgan Kelly, then fifteen (15) years of age, was a cadet in the NJROTC program at her high school. Plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s twin sister, Magan Kelly, also was a NJROTC cadet. The NJROTC program included an orientation visit to United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (“Camp Lejeune”).

Prior to the orientation visit, plaintiffs received a “Waiver of Liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement.” (“Liability Waiver”) (DE 94-3). The Liability Waiver included the following language:

In consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and further recognizing the voluntary nature of my participation in this event, I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, [*4] administrators, legal representatives and any other persons on my behalf, any and all rights and claims for damages, demands, and any other actions whatsoever, including those attributable to simple negligence, which I may have against any of the following persons or entities: the United States of America . . . which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me. I FURTHER VERIFY THAT I HAVE FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ATTENDING THIS EVENT. I EXPRESSLY, KNOWINGLY, AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISKS INVOLVED IN THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES INCLUDING TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE EVENT, AND AGREE TO HOLD THE UNITED STATES HARMLESS FOR ANY RESULTING INJURY. I understand that this assumption of risk agreement shall remain in effect until notice of cancellation is received by the Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized [*5] event.

(DE 94-3 at 1). (See attached as Addendum A hereto.)

Below this language, the form provided lines for the signature and printed name of the minor participant, along with lines for the signature of a parent or guardian, “on behalf of” the minor. Morgan and Magan’s mother, plaintiff Pamela Kelly, signed the form, believing that she was signing it for Magan. She left the blanks which required Magan’s name for Magan to complete. However, plaintiff Pamela Kelly did not sign a form for her other daughter because plaintiff Morgan Kelly originally planned to attend a sailing trip in Florida at the time of the orientation.

Subsequently, plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s sailing trip was cancelled, and she joined the orientation visit. She signed and printed her name onto the Liability Waiver in the spaces that her mother had left for Magan Kelly. The Liability Waiver, in its unredacted format, includes Magan Kelly’s social security number, but it is unclear how this number appeared on the form or who wrote it. The Liability Waiver does not otherwise mention Magan Kelly. It is unclear whether a separate form was submitted for Magan Kelly or whether she attended the orientation.

While planning the [*6] orientation visit, Operations Specialist Frank Acevedo (“Acevedo”) sent a packet of information to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s high school, including a list of training activities and a brief description of an obstacle course challenge known as the “Confidence Course.” However, neither plaintiff Pamela Kelly nor plaintiff Terry Kelly received a copy of this information packet prior to the orientation visit, and neither parent otherwise communicated with Acevedo or any other government representative from Camp Lejeune before the orientation visit.

The orientation visit began on July 23, 2007. During the visit, the cadets were allowed to use government facilities at Camp Lejeune at no expense, and were not charged for the instruction they received. Cadets were responsible only for paying for meals eaten at a Camp Lejeune dining facility at a Discount Meal Rate, and for personal purchases made at a Post Exchange.1

1 Although plaintiffs’ memorandum in opposition questioned defendant’s characterization of how the money received from students was used, plaintiffs failed to renew any challenge or provide any support for such a challenge after the court granted their request for additional discovery [*7] on the matter. As such, the court finds that plaintiffs do not object to the government’s description of the collection and use of money from the NJROTC cadets.

On July 27, 2007, plaintiff Morgan Kelly, along with the other cadets, completed two obstacle courses prior to undertaking the series of obstacles known as the “Confidence Course.” Before the cadets completed the Confidence Course, two Marine instructors from the School of Infantry provided preliminary instructions, the content of which is disputed.2 The final obstacle of the Confidence Course, called the “Slide for Life,” was a climbing apparatus. Defendant knew that the Slide for Life posed a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury if it were not successfully negotiated. However, defendant did not assess plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s physical capabilities before she climbed the Slide for Life. Nor did defendant provide any safety harnesses, restraints, or other protection systems that would prevent her from falling. While attempting to climb the Slide for Life, plaintiff Morgan Kelly fell and suffered injuries.

2 Defendant asserts that the instructors “provided a safety brief and a demonstration of how to navigate each obstacle,” [*8] (Def.’s Mem. in Supp. at 1-2) (DE 94), while plaintiffs assert that Marine instructors provided only a “walk-through” of the course, without safety warnings. (Pls.’s Mem. in Opp. at 4) (DE 101).

COURT’S DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review 3

3 Plaintiffs’ arguments in opposition to the motion for summary judgment raise several issues addressed by the court in its August 2011 Order on motion to strike. The court considers anew plaintiffs’ arguments under the standard applicable to the instant motion for summary judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate where an examination of the pleadings, affidavits, and other discovery materials properly before the court demonstrates “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) (holding that a factual dispute is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the suit and “genuine” only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party).

The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate [*9] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. In making this determination, the court must view the inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962).

B. Analysis

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment rests on its argument that the Liability Waiver bars plaintiffs’ claims. As detailed in the court’s August 2011 Order on plaintiffs’ motion to strike, liability waivers are generally enforceable under North Carolina law.4 See Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 433 (E.D.N.C. 2011) (citing Hall v. Sinclair Refining Co., 242 N.C. 707, 709, 89 S.E.2d 396 (1955)). Moreover, because plaintiff Morgan Kelly is a minor and has disaffirmed her waiver by filing complaint, her own waiver is unenforceable under North Carolina law. See id. at 434 (citing Baker v. Adidas Am., Inc., 335 F. App’x 356, 359 (4th Cir. 2009); Creech v. Melnik, 147 N.C. App. 471, 475, 556 S.E.2d 587 (2001); Freeman v. Bridger, 49 N.C. 1 (1856)).

4 In actions under the FTCA, “federal courts apply the substantive law of the state in which the act or omission giving rise to the action occurred.” Myrick v. United States, 723 F.2d 1158, 1159 (4th Cir. 1983). Because the alleged act or omission giving rise to the action occurred in North Carolina, [*10] North Carolina law governs the nature and extent of the government’s liability for plaintiffs’ injuries.

It does not appear that North Carolina courts have ruled on whether a liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is enforceable, yet numerous courts in other jurisdictions have upheld pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of minors in the context of litigation filed against schools, municipalities, and clubs providing activities for children. See, e.g., Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So. 2d 1067, 1067-68 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004); Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 106-12, 769 N.E.2d 738 (2002); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 374, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 (1998); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 1564-65, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (1990). In its August 2011 Order the court held that North Carolina would similarly uphold a pre-injury waiver executed by a parent on behalf of a minor child in the context of the facts alleged here. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 437. Now on plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, the court continues to find that these cases are analogous to the circumstances here, where the facilities and instruction of the NJROTC program were provided at no expense and students were charged only for personal purchases from the Post Exchange and for meals at discount rate.

Plaintiffs nevertheless argue that the Liability Waiver is contrary to public policy. For support, they point to the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in McMurray v. United States, 551 F. App’x 651 (4th Cir. 2014). Although contracts [*11] seeking to release a party from liability for negligence generally are enforceable in North Carolina, the public policy exception prohibits a person from contracting to protect himself from “liability for negligence in the performance of a duty of public service, or where a public duty is owed, or public interest is involved, or where public interest requires the performance of a private duty.” McMurray, 551 F. App’x at 653-54 (quoting Hall, 242 N.C. at 710).5

5 Exculpatory clauses or contracts are also not enforceable when the provisions violate a statute, or are gained through inequality of bargaining power. McMurray, 551 F. App’x at 653; Hall, 242 N.C. at 709-10. The August 2011 Order rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that these two factors applied to the Liability Waiver. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 434, n. 6. Plaintiffs have not raised those arguments again here.

In McMurray, the plaintiff, a high school guidance counselor, completed a release of liability form in order to attend a workshop for educational professionals hosted by the Marine Corps at its facility on Parris Island, South Carolina. Id. at 652. The document released the government from any injuries arising out of participation in the workshop, including “riding in government-provided transportation (to include transportation to and from the Educator’s Workshop.)” Id. The [*12] plaintiff subsequently was injured when the Marine recruiter who drove her to the workshop ran a red light and collided with another car. Id. Noting the numerous statutes, regulations and cases governing public roads in North Carolina, the court determined that the state had a “strong public-safety interest in careful driving and the observance of all traffic-related rules and regulations.” Id. at 654. The court concluded that allowing the government to be released from the duty to use reasonable care when driving would violate that policy, and accordingly held the release unenforceable under North Carolina law. Id. at 656.

Plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver is contrary to an “equally compelling interest,” in this case being, “the obligation of the government to exercise reasonable care for the safety of minor school children participating in a congressionally-sanctioned (and funded) JROTC program.” (Pls.’s Mem. in Opp. at 20). Protecting the safety of minor school children in programs like JROTC (and NJROTC) is undoubtedly a matter of public interest. However, this case also involves a countervailing public interest in facilitating JROTC’s provision of non-commercial services to children on a [*13] voluntary basis without the risks and overwhelming costs of litigation.

The public’s interest in the benefits provided by JROTC programs is embodied in federal statutes and regulations governing these programs’ purpose and administration, which set forth such objectives as instilling in students “the values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment,” 10 U.S.C. § 2031(a)(2), along with imparting other benefits such as good communication skills, an appreciation of physical fitness, and a knowledge of basic military skills. 32 C.F.R. § 542.4. Moreover, North Carolina has demonstrated a public interest in the non-commercial provision of educational or recreational activities, by enacting statutes such as the recreational use statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 38A-4, which encourages landowners to allow public use of their land without charge for educational or recreational purposes by limiting their duty of care to that of refraining from willful or wanton infliction of injury.

The cases from other jurisdictions which have upheld liability waivers such as the one at issue here have concluded that the public is best served when risks or costs of litigation regarding such programs are minimized. [*14] See Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 372 (“[W]e conclude that although [plaintiff], like many children before him, gave up his right to sue for the negligent acts of others, the public as a whole received the benefit of these exculpatory agreements. Because of this agreement, the Club was able to offer affordable recreation and to continue to do so without the risks and overwhelming costs of litigation.”); Hohe, 224 Cal. App. 3d at 1564 (“The public as a whole receives the benefit of such waivers so that groups such as Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League, and parent-teacher associations are able to continue without the risks and sometimes overwhelming costs of litigation. Thousands of children benefit from the availability of recreational and sports activities.”).

Courts have also found that such releases serve the public interest by respecting the realm of parental authority to weigh the risks and costs of physical injury to their children against the benefits of the child’s participation in an activity. Sharon, 437 Mass. at 109; Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 374. Likewise, North Carolina has recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children. See Doe v. Holt, 332 N.C. 90, 97, 418 S.E.2d 511 (1992) (“[R]easonable parental decisions concerning children should [not] be reviewed in the courts of this state. Such decisions [*15] make up the essence of parental discretion, discretion which allows parents to shape the views, beliefs and values their children carry with them into adulthood. These decisions are for the parents to make, and will be protected as such.”).

The court remains persuaded by the analysis of those courts upholding liability waivers signed by parents in the context of litigation against schools, municipalities and clubs, which either implicitly or explicitly found the risk presented by such waivers to be outweighed by interests in providing non-commercial activities and respecting parental authority. See Sharon, 437 Mass. at 105 (“In weighing and analyzing [plaintiff’s] public policy arguments, we must also consider other important public policies of the Commonwealth implicated in the resolution of this issue . . . .); Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 370-71 (“[T]he proper focus is not whether the release violates public policy but rather that public policy itself justifies the enforcement of this agreement.”).

Plaintiffs’ reliance on McMurray is misplaced. The public interest considered in that case, careful driving and observance of traffic rules and regulations, is not at issue here. Nor did that case address whether any contrary public interest was at [*16] stake which might justify the waiver.

Plaintiffs argue that other cases upholding liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of their children are not applicable in this case, because the claims here are directed against the United States and because the JROTC is not a community-based or volunteer-run activity. They note that the officials conducting the orientation visit acted as paid servants of the United States. They argue that the economic considerations at issue in cases from other jurisdictions are not applicable here, where the United States government is self-insured and has waived its immunity. However, none of these arguments are persuasive.

First, neither the defendant’s status as a government body, nor the volunteer status of a program’s personnel, are controlling factors in the analysis. In Sharon, the court upheld a liability waiver in the context of a suit against the city government for a cheerleading program coached by a public school employee, not a volunteer. Sharon, 437 Mass. at 100. Furthermore, the JROTC program is community-based, in that schools must apply for a unit, 10 U.S.C. § 2031(a)(1), and may decide to eliminate the program from their curriculum. See Esquivel v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 630 F. Supp. 2d 1055 (N.D. Cal. 2008). In this way, JROTC programs are run in cooperation [*17] with the community, and rely on the community for support. In turn, JROTC programs promote the community welfare by instilling the values and benefits noted above in the community’s children. Finally, the mere fact that the United States has waived its sovereign immunity through the FTCA does not mean that it should be denied the use of a waiver that other non-governmental volunteer or non-profit organizations could employ. On the contrary, the FTCA only makes the United States liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” 28 U.S.C. § 2674.

It is clear that the July 2007 NJROTC orientation program was offered with a noncommercial purpose, and that students attended voluntarily. Because a liability waiver signed by a parent would be enforceable by a private person offering a non-commercial, voluntary activity of this nature, the United States should also be able to use a parent-signed liability waiver for the noncommercial, voluntary NJROTC orientation visit. See Sharon, 437 Mass. at 111-12 (holding that Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”) would not prevent municipalities from using liability waivers as a precondition for participation in voluntary activities that they [*18] sponsored, because the MTCA gave such municipalities the same defenses as private parties in tort claims).

Aside from their public policy argument, plaintiffs contend that advance court approval is necessary for a parent to extinguish a minor’s personal injury claim. However, their argument is little more than an abbreviated version of their previous argument supporting their motion to strike. The cases they cite do not address the specific circumstances here, of a pre-injury liability waiver in the context of a non-commercial activity provided to children on a voluntary basis. For instance, plaintiffs quote from Justice White’s concurring opinion in International Union v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187, 111 S. Ct. 1196, 113 L. Ed. 2d 158 (1991), which recognized that “the general rule is that parents cannot waive causes of action on behalf of their children . . . .” (Pls’. Mem. in Opp. at 21) (quoting Int’l Union, 499 U.S. at 213-14.). The context of this quote was the concurring opinion’s speculation as to a potential justification for an employer’s fetal-protection policy, as a means of avoiding claims brought by children for injuries caused by torts committed prior to conception. Int’l Union, 499 U.S. at 212-14. This is far different than a pre-injury waiver for a non-commercial activity provided to children on a voluntary basis, where [*19] the activity does not generate its own profits and the benefits of the waiver extend to the entire community. Moreover, as the quote itself shows, the rule against parental waivers is only “general.” Id. at 213.

Plaintiffs also cite to the North Carolina cases of Sell v. Hotchkiss, 264 N.C. 185, 191, 141 S.E.2d 259 (N.C. 1965) and Creech, 147 N.C. App. at 475, neither of which involved non-commercial, voluntary activities like the NJROTC program. Moreover, both of these cases involved post-injury liability waivers. Concerns underlying courts’ reluctance to allow parents to dispose of childrens’ existing claims, such as the concern that the hardships posed by caring for an injured child will lead the parents to act for their own financial interest, or that the parents will be more vulnerable to fraud or coercion in such circumstances, are mitigated in the pre-injury release context. See Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 373. The cases from other jurisdictions noted above, where liability waivers signed by parents were upheld, did not require prior court approval for those waivers. E.g. Gonzalez, 871 So. 2d at 1067-68; Sharon, 437 Mass. at 106-12; Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 374; Hohe, 224 Cal. App. 3d at 1564-65. Further, as a practical matter, requiring prior court approval would seriously encumber the process for participation in non-commercial, educational activities such as the NJROTC program. Such prior approval is not required.

Having [*20] affirmed that a liability waiver is not unenforceable in the abstract, analysis turns to the particular agreement itself. First, plaintiffs argue that this Liability Waiver should not be enforced because the parties did not reach a “meeting of the minds,” alleging that plaintiff Pamela Kelly believed she was signing the form for plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s twin sister, Magan. A release from liability is subject to avoidance by showing that its execution resulted from mutual mistake. George v. McClure, 266 F. Supp. 2d 413, 418 (M.D.N.C. 2001); see also Marriott Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Capitol Funds, Inc., 288 N.C. 122, 136, 217 S.E.2d 551 (1975). However, a unilateral mistake, unaccompanied by fraud, imposition, undue influence or like circumstances is insufficient to avoid a contract. Marriott Fin. Servs., 288 N.C. at 136. Plaintiffs do not argue that defendant mistakenly believed that the Liability Waiver, to which plaintiff Morgan Kelly admittedly signed her own name, was intended to cover Magan Kelly. Nor do they argue that the government acted in a fraudulent manner or that other like circumstances were present. They have shown no more than a unilateral mistake.

In addition, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot avoid the contract because she subsequently allowed plaintiff Morgan Kelly to attend the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required. See (DE 94-3 [*21] at 1) (noting that those who failed to sign the waiver would “not be permitted to attend the organized event”). North Carolina courts have held that, when a release is originally invalid or voidable, it may be ratified and affirmed by subsequent acts accepting the benefits. Presnell v. Liner, 218 N.C. 152, 154, 10 S.E.2d 639 (1940); see also VF Jeanswear Ltd. P’ship v. Molina, 320 F. Supp. 2d 412, 422 (M.D.N.C. 2004). Similarly, under the North Carolina theory of quasi-estoppel, also known as “estoppel by benefit,” a party who “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.” Whitacre P’ship v. Biosignia, Inc., 358 N.C. 1, 18, 591 S.E.2d 870 (2004). The doctrine is grounded “upon a party’s acquiescence or acceptance of payment or benefits, by virtue of which that party is thereafter prevented from maintaining a position inconsistent with those acts.” Godley v. Pitt Cnty., 306 N.C. 357, 361-62, 293 S.E.2d 167 (1982).6

6 The court notes that defendant did not raise the defense of estoppel in its answer. Generally, estoppel is an affirmative defense that should be raised in the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(c). Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c); Simmons v. Justice, 196 F.R.D. 296, 298 (W.D.N.C. 2000). However, “[I]f an affirmative defense is raised in a manner that does not result in unfair surprise to the opposing party, failure to comply with Rule 8(c) will not result in waiver of the defense.” Simmons, 196 F.R.D. at 298 (quoting United States v. Cook, No. 94-1938, 1995 U.S. App. LEXIS 24342, 1995 WL 508888 (4th Cir. Aug. 29, 1995)). The requirement of pleading [*22] an affirmative defense may be waived if evidence of the defense is admitted into the record without objection. Caterpillar Overseas, S.A. v. Marine Transp. Inc., 900 F.2d 714, 725, n. 7 (4th Cir. 1990). “Courts have been more lenient in the context of motions for summary judgment.” Grunley Walsh U.S., LLC v. Raap, No. 1:08-CV-446, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38609, 2009 WL 1298244, at *5 (E.D. Va. May 6, 2009). The defense of quasi-estoppel was raised in defendant’s memorandum supporting summary judgment, and plaintiffs did not object to the defense in their memorandum in opposition. In this instance, no unfair surprise exists and defendant may assert this defense.

Zivich provides a helpful illustration of what constitutes “acceptance” of the benefits of a liability waiver in the context of non-commercial, voluntary recreational activities. Zivich, 82 Ohio St.3d at 375. There, the court held that a mother’s execution of a release would bar the claims of her husband for their son’s soccer practice injury. Id. The court noted that the father “was the parent who was at the practice field” on the evening of that the injury occurred. It held that his “conduct convey[ed] an intention to enjoy the benefits of his wife’s agreement and be bound by it.” Id.

Here, the benefits of the Liability Waiver for plaintiff Pamela Kelly consisted of her daughter’s participation in the NJROTC orientation program, [*23] with the attendant benefits of introducing her to the culture, skills, and values that the NJROTC seeks to impart. By accepting the benefit of her child’s attendance at the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required for attendance, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot now disavow the effect of the instrument she signed that allowed her child to attend.

As an alternative ground for denying summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver cannot be enforced because the government did not identify the risks that the form covered. Plaintiffs Pamela and Terry Kelly both allege that they never received any information concerning the risks of injury associated with plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s use of the obstacle course. (P. Kelly Decl. ¶¶ 6-11; T. Kelly Decl. ¶¶ 6-11). Consequently, they state they anticipated that plaintiff Morgan Kelly would only be visiting Camp Lejeune to observe equipment and other military activities, and that she would only be performing the same activities that she had performed in the past, such as marching in formations, drills, and “ground-based physical fitness training.” (P. Kelly Decl., ¶ 10; T. Kelly Decl., ¶ 10.)

As a contract, the Liability [*24] Waiver is subject to the recognized rules of contract construction. Adder v. Holman & Moody, 288 N.C. 484, 492, 219 S.E.2d 190 (1975). “The heart of a contract is the intention of the parties,” which “must be determined from the language of the contract, the purposes of the contract, the subject matter and the situation of the parties at the time the contract is executed.” Id. Liability waivers are disfavored under North Carolina law, and strictly construed against the parties seeking to enforce them. Hall, 242 N.C. at 709. However, when the language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the agreement is a matter of law for the court, and the court cannot look beyond the terms of the contract to determine the parties’ intent. Root v. Allstate Ins. Co., 272 N.C. 580, 583, 158 S.E.2d 829 (1968).

In an analogous case, Waggoner v. Nags Head Water Sports, Inc., No. 97-1394, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811 (4th Cir. April 6, 1998), the plaintiff rented a jet ski from the defendant, signing a rental agreement in which she “assume[d] all risk of accident or damages to my person . . . which may be incurred from or be connected in any manner with my use, operation or rental of the craft checked above.” 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, [WL] at *1. Plaintiff alleged that she did not understand that the form allowed defendant to escape liability for negligence. Id. Nevertheless, the court held that the clear and unambiguous language of the clause would bar her claim. 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, [WL] at *3-4.

Here, the Liability Waiver states [*25] in clear and unambiguous language that it is made “[i]n consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune,” and that it serves to waive “any and all rights and claims . . . including those attributable to simple negligence . . . which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me.” (DE 94-3).

As such, the waiver provides ample notice to plaintiffs of the potential for a wide range of activities at the event, not limited in any way to marching, drills, or “ground-based physical fitness training.” Plaintiffs do not allege that they were affirmatively misled as to the nature of the activities that would comprise the event, or that they were prevented from inquiring into the activities or the associated risks. They have not provided any reason for the court to look beyond the language clearly and unambiguously covering the circumstances of plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s injury. See Root, 272 N.C. at 583; Waggoner, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811 at *3-4; see also Kondrad v. Bismarck Park Dist., 2003 ND 4, 655 N.W. 2d 411, 413-14 (N.D. 2003) (Waiver language relinquishing [*26] all claims for injuries that would occur “on account of my participation of [sic] my child/ward in this program” exonerated park district from liability, even though child’s accident occurred during activity that was not “associated with the program;” language of waiver and release was “clear and unambiguous,” and “not limited only to injuries incurred while participating in activities associated with the program, but to all injuries incurred by the child on account of his participation in the program.”).

Plaintiffs also argue that summary judgment should be denied because plaintiff Morgan Kelly has disaffirmed it (by filing complaint) and because the Liability Waiver does not include express language waiving plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s claims on behalf of herself and her child. As noted above, the Liability Waiver refers to “my participation” in the “organized event” and states “I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized event.” (DE 94-3, at 1). This issue, too, was addressed in the court’s order on plaintiffs’ motion to strike. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 434-37. There, the court held that, despite plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s disaffirmation of the Liability [*27] Waiver, the document was nevertheless enforceable as signed by her parent. Id. Although the language of the Liability Waiver was written from plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s perspective, its plain language nevertheless stated that “I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, administrators, legal representatives and any other persons on my behalf . . . .” Id. at 438, n. 8.

Plaintiffs cite cases from other jurisdictions enforcing liability waivers signed by parents in which the waiver was tailored from the perspective of the signing parent. Hamill v. Cheley Colo. Camps, Inc., 262 P. 3d 945, 948 (Colo. App. 2011) (“I, on behalf of myself and my child, hereby release . . .”); Sharon, 437 Mass. at 100-01 (“[I] the undersigned [father of] . . . a minor, do hereby consent to [her] participation in voluntary athletic programs and do forever RELEASE . . . all claims or right of action for damages which said minor has or hereafter may acquire.”). Yet plaintiffs have not cited any case holding that a form such as that used here, which expressly waives both the claims of the child and her guardians, and which is signed by one of those guardians, cannot be enforced against the guardian who signed it. The court again holds that the Liability [*28] Waiver is enforceable to bar the claims of both Morgan and Pamela Kelly.

The question remains whether the Liability Waiver is effective against the claims of plaintiff Terry Kelly, who did not sign the document, and denies ever seeing it prior to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s orientation visit. (T. Kelly Decl. ¶ 14). Defendant nevertheless argues that plaintiff Terry Kelly’s claims should also be barred, asserting the doctrine of quasi-estoppel described above. As noted above, quasi-estoppel is applied when a party “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.” Whitacre P’ship, 358 N.C. at 18. The doctrine faces problems in application to the Liability Waiver, however, where defendant has not directed the court to evidence that plaintiff Terry Kelly knew of the Liability Waiver or its terms.

However, it is not necessary to decide whether plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s signature could bind her husband under these circumstances, because defendant produced a document referred to as the “Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) Standard Release Form.” (DE 94-4) (“Release Form”) [*29] (See Attached as Addendum B hereto). Page 2 of the Release Form, dated July 13, 2007, provides the following:

I, Terry A Kelly, being the legal parent/guardian of Morgan Kelly, a member of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, in consideration of the continuance of his/her membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training, do hereby release from any and all claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to death, injury, or illness, the government of the United States and all its officers, representatives, and agents acting officially and also the local, regional, and national Navy Officials of the United States.

(DE 94-4 at 2).

In the paragraph quoted above, the names of plaintiffs Terry and Morgan Kelly are written by hand. Plaintiff Terry Kelly’s declaration provides that page 2 “appears to contains [sic] my handwriting, but I would have to see the original to be certain.” (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16).

Plaintiffs Terry and Pamela Kelly have attempted to challenge the Release Form, stating that they “do not believe that Document No. 94-4 is a genuine document.” In particular, they note that the front page, referenced as page 2 (the certification is appended [*30] as the first page of this filing), is identified as standard form “CNET 5800-4 (Rev. 1-00)” while the final page of the document, which includes a privacy act notification under which plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s name is signed, is identified as “CNET – General 5800/4 (REV. 1-95).” (DE 94-4 at 3; T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16; P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16). Like her husband, plaintiff Pamela Kelly declares that the writing on page 3 “looks like my signature, but I would need to see the original to be certain.” (P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16). She states that she does “not know when Page 3 of 3 was signed or for what purpose.” (Id.).

On April 27, 2011, the court amended its case management order to permit plaintiffs

to have until May 1, 2011, at their option, to visually inspect any original release and/or waiver document or documents relied upon by defendant at defendant’s counsel’s office. This deadline is without prejudice to plaintiffs’ right to have such document or documents examined by experts at a later date, if they deem necessary.

(April 27, 2011, order, p.1, DE 19).

It appears plaintiffs reviewed the Liability Waiver at defendant’s counsel’s office, but not the Release Form. (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 15; [*31] P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 15). No separate request to review was made.

Plaintiffs’ arguments are insufficient to create a genuine issue concerning the Release Form, which is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity executed by the Compliance Officer of plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s school district, and notarized by a notary public. (DE 94-4 at 1). “Unsupported speculation . . . is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ash v. UPS, 800 F.2d 409, 411-12 (4th Cir. 1986)). Plaintiffs had opportunity to review the original Release Form, and to have it assessed by an expert if deemed necessary. An opponent of summary judgment “must produce more than frivolous assertions, unsupported statements, illusory issues and mere suspicions.” Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Rodenberg, 571 F. Supp. 455, 457 (D. Md. 1983); see also 10A Wright, Miller & Kane, Fed. Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d § 2727 at 510-12 (1998) (“Neither frivolous assertions nor mere suspicions will suffice to justify a denial of summary judgment.”). It is little more than speculation to argue that the Release Form is not genuine, based merely on minor distinctions in form designations between pages. Similarly, plaintiffs’ allegations that they would “have to see the original” to be sure of their signatures amount to nothing more than mere suspicions, [*32] and they had this opportunity. Furthermore, neither Terry nor Pamela Kelly expressly denies seeing or writing on the pages where their names appear. This cannot create a genuine issue for summary judgment.7

7 To the extent plaintiffs’ challenge is an attack on the document’s authentication under Federal Rules of Evidence 901 and 902, it still fails to create a genuine issue of material fact. A party may show the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact by objecting “that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). However, the Certificate of Authenticity signed by the school district’s Compliance Officer satisfies the court that this document could be made admissible in evidence at trial.

The document therefore shows plaintiff Terry Kelly’s acceptance of a transaction whereby his claims were released “in consideration of” plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s continued participation in NJROTC training activities. The Release Form refers to “any and all claims.” In Waggoner, the court held that “the term ‘all claims’ must doubtless include a claim for negligence.” Waggoner, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811, at *4. See also Young v. Prancing Horse, Inc., No. COA04-727, 2005 N.C. App. LEXIS 1108, 2005 WL 1331065, at *2 (N.C. App. June 7, 2005) (“[W]e cannot agree with plaintiff [*33] that the absence of the word ‘negligence’ makes the release inoperable to bar this claim . . . . With all due regard to the severity of the injuries suffered by plaintiff, they are of the type contemplated and intended by this release.”).

Even if the Release Form failed to refer to the orientation visit in sufficiently specific terms, quasi-estoppel must operate to bar plaintiff Terry Kelly’s claims, because the record shows that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted the benefits of the Release Form as it applied to the orientation visit. By detailing the kind of activities that he “understood” and “anticipated” his child would be involved in when she arrived at the orientation visit, plaintiff Terry Kelly’s declaration discloses that he knew plaintiff Morgan Kelly would be visiting Camp Lejeune. (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 10). He also alleges that “[a] monetary payment was required as a condition of Morgan’s attendance at the orientation visit,” indicating that he consented to payment for the visit. Id. at ¶ 5. He does not allege any objection to his daughters’ attendance or participation. He does not allege that he was estranged from his family, or that he was kept unaware of the upcoming activity. [*34]

“[A] party will not be allowed to accept benefits which arise from certain terms of a contract and at the same time deny the effect of other terms of the same agreement.” Brooks v. Hackney, 329 N.C. 166, 173, 404 S.E.2d 854 (1991). In Brooks, the court determined that even though an agreement to convey real property was invalid because its terms were not sufficiently definite, the plaintiff was estopped from denying its validity because he had made regular payments on the agreement, and therefore that the defendants reasonably relied on the writing. Id. at 171-73.

The same principle operates here, where plaintiff Terry Kelly signed a Release Form surrendering claims related to his daughter’s participation in NJROTC training, then allowed his daughter to attend a NJROTC training orientation visit. On the evidence, there is no genuine issue that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted that plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s “membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training,” included the orientation visit. In consideration of this training, including the orientation visit, he released “claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to . . . injury.” Defendant reasonably relied on plaintiff Terry Kelly’s writing, in addition to his acquiescence to his [*35] daughter’s attendance at the orientation visit. Plaintiff Terry Kelly cannot be allowed to accept the benefits of the Release Form through his daughter’s attendance, while at the same time denying the release that was required as a condition of that attendance.

With all of plaintiffs’ claims disposed by waiver and release, summary judgment must be granted.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, the court GRANTS defendant’s motion for summary judgment. (DE 93). The clerk is DIRECTED to close this case.

SO ORDERED, this the 25th day of September, 2014.

/s/ Louise W. Flanagan

LOUISE W. FLANAGAN

United States District Judge

ADDENDUM A

Waiver of liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement United States Marine Corps

Dated: July 20, 2007

EXHIBIT B

WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

In consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and further recognizing the voluntary nature of my participation in this event, I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, administrators, legal representatives and any other [*36] persons on my behalf, any and all rights and claims for damages, demands, and any other actions whatsoever, including those attributable to simple negligence, which I may have against any of the following persons or entities: the United States of America; the Depart of Defense; the Department of the Navy; the United States Marine Corps; Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; any and all individuals assigned to or employed by the United States, including but not limited to the Secretary of Defense; the Secretary of the Navy; the Commandant of the Marine Corps; Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; in both their official and personal capacities; any medical support personnel assigned thereto; and these, persons’ or entities’ representatives, successors, and assigns; which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment, or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me. I FURTHER VERIFY THAT I HAVE FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ATTENDING THIS EVENT. I EXPRESSLY, [*37] KNOWINGLY, AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISKS INVOLVED IN THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES INCLUDING TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE EVENT, AND AGREE TO HOLD THE UNITED STATES HARMLESS FOR ANY RESULTING INJURY. I understand that this assumption of risk agreement shall remain in effect until notice of cancellation is received by the Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized event.

(Signature of Witness)

[TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

/s/ Morgan E. Kelly 7/19/07

(Signature) (Date)

Morgan E. Kelly

(Printed Name)

/s/ Pamela D. Kelly

(Signature of Parent/Guardian)

on behalf of Morgan

(Name of Minor)

Date: 7-20-07

Participants Information/POC Page

FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

(Please Print Legibly)

Participant Last Name, First Name, Initial: Kelly Pamela D

Parent/Guardian Name: Pam Kelly

Home Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Work Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Cellular Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Alternative Adult to be Contacted in Case of Emergency and Relation to Participant: Terry Kelly

Home Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Work Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE [*38] COURT]

Cellular Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Does the Participant have Any Allergies or Special Medical Conditions? None

ADDENDUM B

Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC)

Standard Release Form With Certificate of Authenticity

Dated: July 13, 2007

EXHIBIT 2

CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY

The undersigned certifies that I am the person responsible for keeping of school and\or student records in behalf of the Henry County Board of Education and that the within and attached is a true and accurate copy of certain school system records of

Morgan Kelly (DOB: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT])

thereof kept in the normal course of business of the Henry County School System. This Certificate of Authenticity may be used in lieu of the personal appearance of the person certifying hereto.

/s/ Archie Preston Malcom

Archie Preston Malcom, Bd.D

Compliance Officer (Contracted)

11-14-2013

Sworn to and subscribed before me on this 14th day of November 2013

/s/ Slyvia S/ Burch

Notary Public

My Commission Expires: 07/21/16

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