Backing of a lift ticket peeled off by Plaintiff to attach lift ticket to his jacket held by Federal District court to be a release and prevents plaintiffs’ claims for skiing into hidden snow making equipment.

Five Federal District Courts have ruled that the information on the back of a lift ticket is a release. No state Courts have ruled this way.

Miller v. Sunapee Difference, LLC, 308 F. Supp. 3d 581; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55536; 2018 DNH 072

State: New Hampshire, United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: Thomas Jackson Miller

Defendant: The Sunapee Difference, LLC d/b/a Mount Sunapee Resort

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2018

Summary

The plaintiff in this case, a skier at New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee resort, was injured when he struck a support post for snow making equipment. At issue in this case is whether a release attached to his lift ticket excuses the ski area for liability in connection with its alleged negligence in failing to mark the post, warn skiers about it, or otherwise make it visible.

Facts

Following a large 2015 snowfall, Miller visited Mount Sunapee with his brother and father for a day of skiing. Miller was skiing ahead of his companions through fresh powder on the left side of the Beck Brook trail4 when he struck an unmarked “snow gun holder” that was concealed by snow. The “holder” — essentially a steel pipe protruding from the ground — is a mounting post for snow-making guns. The post remains embedded in the ground after the guns are removed. There was no snow-making gun in the holder at the time of this accident. Miller suffered serious leg injuries in the collision.

The major difference in this case was the lift ticket identified itself as a release. The back of the lift ticket, on the part that peeled away to reveal the sticky section where the lift ticket attached to itself to create a two-sided lift ticket stated:

In order to ski at Mount Sunapee, Miller first purchased a lift ticket. The ticket has a self-adhesive backing, which the skier affixes to his zipper tab or similar visible location. In order to attach it, the skier must first remove it from a peel-off backing. Printed on the back of the peel-off backing of the Mount Sunapee lift ticket was the following:

STOP

YOU ARE RELEASING THIS SKI AREA FROM LIABILITY

By removing this peel-off backing and using this ticket, you agree to be legally bound by the LIABILITY RELEASE printed on the other side of this ticket. If you are not willing to be bound by this LIABILITY RELEASE, please return this ticket with the peel-off backing intact to the ticket counter for a full refund.

The Lift Ticket itself stated:

LIABILITY RELEASE

Skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports are inherently dangerous and risky with many hazards that can cause injury or death. As purchaser or user of this ticket, I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the facilities of the Mount Sunapee resort, to freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of property damage, personal injury, or death resulting from their inherent or any other risks or dangers. I RELEASE MOUNT SUNAPEE RESORT, its parent companies, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, employees and agents FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY OF ANY KIND INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE which may result from conditions on or about the premises, operation of the ski area or its afacilities [sic] or from my participation in skiing or other winter sports, accepting for myself the full and absolute responsibility for all damages or injury of any kind which may result from any cause. Further I agree that any claim which I bring against Mount Sunapee Resort, its officers, directors, employees or agents shall be brought only in Federal or State courts in the State of New Hampshire. I agree my likeness may be used for promotional purposes.

MOUNT SUNAPEE CARES, SKI RESPONSIBLY AND ALWAYS IN CONTROL.

RECKLESS SKIING WILL RESULT IN LOSS OF TICKET

NON-TRANSFERABLE: Use by a non-purchaser constitutes theft of services.

NON-REFUNDABLE. LOST TICKETS WILL NOT BE REPLACED Mount Sunapee Resort, P.O. Box 2021, Newbury, NH 03255

The language on this lift ticket specifically stated that it was a release, not just a lift ticket and not just a warning.

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

The court first looked at New Hampshire law on releases.

Such an exculpatory contract is enforceable if: 1) it does not violate public policy; 2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in [plaintiff’s] position would have understood the import of the agreement; and 3) the plaintiff’s claims fall within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract.

The plaintiff argued that the release was void because it violated public policy, and a reasonable person would only understand that the release applied to the inherent risks of skiing.

New Hampshire public policy requires a showing that no special relationship exists between the parties to the agreement and there is no disparity in the bargaining power between the parties. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that an agreement would violate public policy if “it is injurious to the interests of the public, violates some public statute, or tends to interfere with the public welfare or safety.”

The plaintiff admitted that there was no special relationship between the parties nor was there a disparity of bargaining power. He centered his public policy argument on the theory that the release violated New Hampshire statutory law and that the release was injurious so the public interest. The statutory law argument was based on the New Hampshire Ski Area Act. The Act requires ski area operators to mark visible man-made objects. This object was not visible so therefor the plaintiff argued it should be marked and therefore, was negligence not to pad or mark it. However, the court would not buy into adding language to the statute where none existed. On top of that another section of the statute specially stated a ski assumes the risks of hitting snow making equipment.

The next argument advanced to argue the release violated public policy was based on several prior court decisions that held there was a duty on the state to do things. However, here again, the court found the was no duty in the New Hampshire Ski Area Act other than found in the plain language of the act. The duty the plaintiff was attempting to create was based on tying different sections of the act together that were not related.

The final public policy argument was because the ski area, Mount Sunapee was located on state-owned land and developed with federal funding, that created a greater duty to the public. However, the plaintiff could not provide any support for this theory, other than arguing sections of the lease between the ski area, and the state required it. The court found there was no language in the lease that created supported a public policy argument.

In most states, to create a contract, there are several requirements. One of those is there must be a meeting of the minds. A meeting of the minds requires the parties to know they are entering into a contract and the general terms of the agreement. This was clearly not the case in this situation (and in most lift ticket cases); however, New Hampshire does not require a meeting of the minds to enforce a contract.

The plaintiff then argued that without a signature, there could be a release. However, New Hampshire had a lot of case law where unsigned contracts were enforced.

The plaintiff argued he did not have an opportunity to read the release. However, that does not matter in New Hampshire and in most states when you sign it. However, here there was no signature.

A plaintiff’s failure to read a release “does not preclude enforcement of the release.” As long as the plaintiff had an opportunity to read the release, even if he chooses not to take it, a release can be enforced.

Here the court sort of worked its way around that issue because it found the plaintiff was a personal injury attorney. The plaintiff had submitted affidavits on the issue, which the court found lacking in the information needed to support the plaintiff’s arguments. The court did hammer plaintiff’s counsel at oral argument until plaintiff’s counsel admitted he had the opportunity to read it if he wanted.

Another issue is what the parties were contemplating when they made the agreement. A requirement for a contract under New Hampshire law. The court found the language of the release, which it had earlier found valid, contained the necessary information to define what the intention of the release was.

If “the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence, the agreement will be upheld.” Id. The court gives the language of the release “its common meaning and give[s] the contract itself the meaning that would be attached to it by a reasonable person.” Id. “All that is required” is for the language to “clearly and specifically indicate[] the intent to release the defendants from liability for personal injury caused by the defendants’ negligence . . . .”

The court then went into the Reckless, Wanton or positive misconduct claims of the plaintiff. New Hampshire has adopted the Restatement of Torts definition of Reckless.

Under the Restatement [(Second) of Torts], § 500, at 587 (1965), conduct is “reckless” if it “would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such a risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.” Id. The conduct “must involve an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm, and the probability that it will so result must be substantially greater than is required for ordinary negligence.”

The court further defined reckless under New Hampshire law as:

…at a minimum, is conduct “where the known danger ceases to be only a foreseeable risk which a reasonable person would avoid, and becomes in the mind of the actor a substantial certainty.

However, the court found that the pleadings of the plaintiff pled no more than simple negligence. Meaning the facts argued by the plaintiff did not rise to the level needed to create a recklessness claim.

The court summed up its analogy as:

The undisputed factual record shows that plaintiff purchased and affixed to his clothing a lift ticket at Mount Sunapee that unambiguously released the ski area from liability from its own negligence, that such a release does not violate public policy, and that plaintiff’s signature was not required to effectuate its terms. Furthermore, there is no material factual dispute that plaintiff had the opportunity to read both the cautionary language on the ticket’s peel-off backing and the release language itself, that he would have understood that language to constitute a release and that a reasonable person in his position would have understood that the release exculpated Mount Sunapee from its own negligence.

So Now What?

It seemed obvious that this court was going to hold for the ski area. The decision explored all the arguments and possible arguments the plaintiff’s made and then ruled for the defendants.

The back of the pass had more than normal warning language as required by most statutes. This peel away release stated it was a release. There is also an issue that the purchaser of the lift ticket had already paid for the ticket before they found out there was a release giving rise to misrepresentation and fraud claim may be.

What is interesting is the change in the past five year, only in Federal District Courts holding that a lift ticket is a valid release at least mentioning the lift ticket as more than a receipt or a pass to access the lifts.

For more articles about Lift Tickets being used to stop lawsuits at ski areas see:

Lift tickets are not contracts and rarely work as a release in most states    http://rec-law.us/1bO85eU

Colorado Federal District Court judge references a ski area lift ticket in support of decision granting the ski area’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing the lawsuit.    http://rec-law.us/2vHUXf1

#BoycottNH New Hampshire charges for Search & Rescue. Do not recreate in New Hampshire

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Miller v. Sunapee Difference, LLC, 308 F. Supp. 3d 581; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55536; 2018 DNH 072

Miller v. Sunapee Difference, LLC, 308 F. Supp. 3d 581; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55536; 2018 DNH 072

United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire

March 31, 2018, Decided; March 31, 2018, Filed

Civil No. 16-cv-143-JL

Counsel:  [**1] For Thomas Jackson Miller, Plaintiff: Arend R. Tensen, Cullenberg & Tensen, Lebanon, NH.

For The Sunapee Difference, LLC, doing business as Mount Sunapee Resort, other Mount Sunapee Resort, Defendant: Thomas B.S. Quarles, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Brendan P Mitchell, Devine Millimet & Branch PA, Manchester, NH.

Judges: Joseph N. Laplante, United States District Judge.

Opinion by: Joseph N. Laplante

Opinion

[*584]  MEMORANDUM ORDER

The plaintiff in this case, a skier at New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee resort, was injured when he struck a support post for snow making equipment. At issue in this case is whether a release attached to his lift ticket excuses the ski area for liability in connection with its alleged negligence in failing to mark the post, warn skiers about it, or otherwise make it visible.

Invoking the court’s diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), plaintiff Thomas Jackson Miller, a New York resident, sued The Sunapee Difference, LLC, operator of the Mount Sunapee Resort (“Mount Sunapee”), a New Hampshire ski area, for injuries he sustained when he struck the unmarked and unpadded post that was concealed by fresh snow. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), Mount Sunapee moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the liability release printed on Miller’s [**2]  lift ticket bars his claim. Miller argues that the release is unenforceable under New Hampshire law and inapplicable on its face. As both sides submitted  [*585]  documents outside the pleadings in litigating this motion, the court has, with the parties’ consent,1 converted the motion into one for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).2 Having considered the parties’ filings and hearing oral argument, the court finds that the release is both applicable and enforceable, and therefore grants summary judgment in favor of Mount Sunapee.3

I. Applicable legal standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “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). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court “constru[es] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolv[es] all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Pierce v. Cotuit Fire Dist., 741 F.3d 295, 301 (1st Cir. 2014). In the summary judgment analysis, “a fact is ‘material’ if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation.” Maymi v. P.R. Ports. Auth., 515 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2008). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party.” Sanchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir.1996) (citation and [**3]  internal quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, if the nonmoving party’s “evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,” no genuine dispute as to a material fact has been proved, and “summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) (citations omitted).

II. Background

Following a large 2015 snowfall, Miller visited Mount Sunapee with his brother and father for a day of skiing. Miller was skiing ahead of his companions through fresh powder on the left side of the Beck Brook trail4 when he struck an unmarked “snow gun holder” that was concealed by snow. The “holder” — essentially a steel pipe protruding from the ground — is a mounting post for snow-making guns. The post remains embedded in the ground after the guns are removed. There was no snow-making gun in the holder at the time of this accident. Miller suffered serious leg injuries in the collision.

In order to ski at Mount Sunapee, Miller first purchased a lift ticket. The ticket has a self-adhesive backing, which the skier affixes to his zipper tab or similar visible location. In order to attach it, the skier must first remove it from a peel-off backing. Printed on the back of the peel-off backing of the Mount Sunapee lift ticket [**4]  was the following:

 [*586]  STOP

[a red octagon image similar to a traffic-control “stop sign”]

YOU ARE RELEASING THIS SKI AREA FROM LIABILITY

By removing this peel-off backing and using this ticket, you agree to be legally bound by the LIABILITY RELEASE printed on the other side of this ticket. If you are not willing to be bound by this LIABILITY RELEASE, please return this ticket with the peel-off backing intact to the ticket counter for a full refund.

The lift ticket itself displayed the following language:

LIABILITY RELEASE

Skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports are inherently dangerous and risky with many hazards that can cause injury or death. As purchaser or user of this ticket, I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the facilities of the Mount Sunapee resort, to freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of property damage, personal injury, or death resulting from their inherent or any other risks or dangers. I RELEASE MOUNT SUNAPEE RESORT, its parent companies, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, employees and agents FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY OF ANY KIND INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE which may result from conditions on or about the premises, operation of the ski area [**5]  or its afacilities [sic] or from my participation in skiing or other winter sports, accepting for myself the full and absolute responsibility for all damages or injury of any kind which may result from any cause. Further I agree that any claim which I bring against Mount Sunapee Resort, its officers, directors, employees or agents shall be brought only in Federal or State courts in the State of New Hampshire. I agree my likeness may be used for promotional purposes.

MOUNT SUNAPEE CARES, SKI RESPONSIBLY AND ALWAYS IN CONTROL.

RECKLESS SKIING WILL RESULT IN LOSS OF TICKET

NON-TRANSFERABLE: Use by a non-purchaser constitutes theft of services.

NON-REFUNDABLE. LOST TICKETS WILL NOT BE REPLACED Mount Sunapee Resort, P.O. Box 2021, Newbury, NH 03255

(Emphasis in original).

After timely filing this lawsuit,5 Miller filed an Amended Complaint6 asserting a single count of negligence. He alleges that Mount Sunapee failed to mark or warn skiers of the pipe, or otherwise mitigate its danger to skiers, by, for example, padding it or making it visible to skiers. In addition, Miller alleges that Mount Sunapee breached its duties to create a safe environment for guests, and to perform in-season trail maintenance [**6]  work. Finally, Miller claims that Mount Sunapee is liable because it failed to comply with N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:23 (II)(b), which provides, in relevant part, that “[t]he ski area operator shall warn skiers and passengers by use of the trail board, if applicable, that snow grooming or snow making operations are routinely in progress on the slopes and trails serviced by each tramway.”7

 [*587]  III. Analysis

As noted at the outset, Sunapee argues that the release printed on Miller’s lift ticket — in combination with the acceptance of its terms on the backing sheet — bars his claim. “Although New Hampshire law generally prohibits a plaintiff from releasing a defendant from liability for negligent conduct, in limited circumstances a plaintiff can expressly consent by contract to assume the risk of injury caused by a defendant’s negligence.” Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 413, 807 A.2d 1274 (2002). Such an exculpatory contract is enforceable if: 1) it does not violate public policy; 2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in [plaintiff’s] position would have understood the import of the agreement; and 3) the plaintiff’s claims fall within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract. McGrath v. SNH Dev., Inc., 158 N.H. 540, 542, 969 A.2d 392 (2009) (citing Dean v. MacDonald, 147 N.H. 263, 266-67, 786 A.2d 834 (2008)); Lizzol v. Brothers Prop. Mgmt. Corp., 2016 DNH 199, *7.

Plaintiff argues that the [**7]  release satisfies none of these criteria, because: 1) it violates public policy; 2) a reasonable person would have understood the release to exclude only “inherent risks of skiing,” as enumerated in New Hampshire’s “ski statute,” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24; 3) the release does not encompass reckless, wanton, or willful conduct; and 4) the release is unsigned.

A. Public policy

“A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that an exculpatory agreement does not contravene public policy; i.e., that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power.” McGrath, 158 N.H. at 543 (quoting Barnes v. N.H. Karting Assoc., 128 N.H. 102, 106, 509 A.2d 151 (1986)). The New Hampshire Supreme Court has also found an agreement to be against public policy “if, among other things, it is injurious to the interests of the public, violates some public statute, or tends to interfere with the public welfare or safety.” Id. (citing Harper v. Healthsource New Hampshire, 140 N.H. 770, 775, 674 A.2d 962 (1996)). Miller does not argue that he had a special relationship with Mount Sunapee or that there was a disparity in bargaining power between the two.8 Instead, he confines his public policy argument to two points: 1) that the release violates New Hampshire statutory law; and 2) that it is injurious to the interest of the public. Neither argument [**8]  withstands scrutiny.

1. New Hampshire statutory law

Miller argues that the combination of N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 225-A:23, II, and 225-A:24 requires ski area operators to plainly mark or make visible snow-making equipment. Therefore, he concludes, applying the release to the allegedly hidden snow gun holder would allow Mount Sunapee to impermissibly evade this statutory responsibility. As a general proposition, Miller is correct that a release can not excuse a ski area‘s statutory violation. Harper, 140 N.H. at 775; cf. Nutbrown v. Mount Cranmore, 140 N.H. 675, 683, 671 A.2d 548 (1996) (noting, in ski accident case, that ski areas’ immunity does not apply to claim based on statutory violation). However, Miller’s argument here is built on a faulty premise — that  [*588]  § 225-A:24, denoted “Responsibilities of Skiers and Passengers” — imposes an affirmative duty on ski areas to mark or make visible snow-making equipment. The court rejects this argument for several reasons.

First, Miller attempts, without legal support, to create an affirmative duty out of the text of § 225-A:24 where none exists. Section 225-A:24 “is an immunity provision for ski area operators.” Cecere v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., 155 N.H. 289, 291, 923 A.2d 198 (2007). It has been “interpreted to mean that ski area operators owe no duty to skiers to protect them from the inherent risks of skiing.” Rayeski v. Gunstock Area/Gunstock Area Comm’n, 146 N.H. 495, 497, 776 A.2d 1265 (2001). One of the inherent “risks, hazards, or dangers which [**9]  the skier . . . assumes as a matter of law” is “plainly marked or visible snow making equipment.” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24, I. Miller argues that because unmarked or not visible snow-making equipment is not “an inherent risk” enumerated by the statute, ski areas therefore have a statutory duty to mark them or make them visible.

This argument is both contrary to the language of the statute and unsupported by any legal authority. While the language of the statutory immunity provision — enumerating a “Skier’s Responsibilities” — arguably does not bar Miller’s claim9 that he struck an unmarked and not visible piece of equipment, it likewise creates no affirmative duties for ski areas. Stated differently, while New Hampshire law may allow
ski area liability for injuries resulting from collisions with unmarked equipment, it does not logically follow that New Hampshire law requires the marking of such equipment. The statute sets forth no such obligation or legal duty.

To avoid the plain language of §225-A:24, Miller argues that Rayeski, supra, imposes an affirmative duty on Mount Sunapee when read in conjunction with § 225-A:23. In that case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, invoking §225-A:24, upheld the dismissal of a skier’s claim for injuries sustained [**10]  in a collision with an unmarked light pole. 146 N.H. at 500. The plaintiff in Rayeski argued that the light pole collision was similar to a collision with unmarked snow-making equipment, which the statute “implies . . . is not an inherent risk of skiing” by not barring such a claim. Id. at 498. In the course of finding that the pole collision was an inherent risk of skiing (despite not being specifically enumerated as such in the statute), the Court distinguished between poles and snow making equipment:

We conclude that the legislature’s explicit reference to “plainly marked or visible snow making equipment” was intended to balance the immunity granted to ski area operators under RSA 225-A:24 with their duty under RSA 225-A:23, II(b) (2000) to warn skiers of snow making or grooming activities by denying immunity to ski area operators who breach a statutorily imposed safety responsibility.

Id. (emphasis added).

Based on the emphasized language, Miller argues that § 225-A:23 required Mount Sunapee to mark or make visible the snow gun holder he struck. This argument ignores the plain language both of Rayeski and the statute. The Rayeski
opinion referred only to “snow making or grooming activities,” and made no reference to marking equipment. And [**11]  the statute, captioned “Base Area; Information to Skiers and  [*589]  Passengers,” requires that a ski area operator “warn skiers and passengers by use of the trail board, if applicable, that snow grooming or snow making operations are routinely in progress on the slopes and trails serviced by each tramway.” (Emphasis added). Thus, contrary to Miller’s argument, this section imposes no requirement to “mark or make visible” the snow gun holder at issue in this case. Instead, the statute requires the ski area to post “at the base area” a warning concerning grooming and snowmaking operations, if applicable.
10See Nardone v. Mt. Cranmore, Civ. No. 91-114-SD, slip op. at 6-7 (holding that § 225-A:23, II(b)‘s warning requirement does not apply where snowmaking was not in progress and where plaintiff collided with fixed, unmarked piece of snowmaking equipment) (emphasis added).11 Miller does not dispute Mount Sunapee’s contention that there was no grooming or snow making “in progress” at the time of or in the vicinity of Miller’s accident.12 An inoperative snow gun holder is neither an “activity” nor an “operation.”

Further undermining Miller’s argument that § 225-A:24 creates obligations for ski area
operators is the fact that [**12]  its five sub-sections are explicitly and unambiguously addressed to skiers and passengers (as opposed to ski area
operators), as follows: I) “Each person who participates in the sport of skiing . . . accepts . . . the dangers inherent in the sport . . . .”; II) “Each skier and passenger shall have the sole responsibility . . . “; III) “Each skier or passenger shall conduct himself or herself . . .”; IV) “Each passenger shall be the sole judge of his ability . . .”; V) “No skier or passenger or other person shall . . .” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24, I-V (emphasis added).

In addition, under New Hampshire statutory construction law, “[t]he title of a statute is ‘significant when considered in connection with . . . ambiguities inherent in its language.'” Appeal of Weaver, 150 N.H. 254, 256, 837 A.2d 294 (2003) (quoting State v. Rosario, 148 N.H. 488, 491, 809 A.2d 1283 (2002); see also, Berniger v. Meadow Green-Wildcat Corp., 945 F.2d 4, 9 (1st Cir. 1991) (interpreting N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24 and observing that “[i]t is well established that a statute’s title may aid in construing any ambiguities in a statute.”). As noted, the title of § 225-A:24 is explicitly directed at “skiers and passengers,” not ski area operators. While this court discerns no such ambiguity that would justify a foray into ascertaining “legislative intent,” our Court of Appeals has stated that “the title indicates the legislative intent to limit the application [**13]  of [§ 225-A:24] to skiers and passengers and similar classes of individuals, which does not include a ski operator or its employees.” Berniger, 945 F.2d at 9 (1st Cir. 1991). This conclusion is buttressed by the fact that the preceding provision, § 225-A:23, is captioned “Responsibilities of Ski Area Operators,” further  [*590]  suggesting § 225-A:24‘s inapplicability here. This statutory structure — clearly distinguishing ski area operator responsibilities from visitor responsibilities — is especially important in light of the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s requirement that statutes be construed “as a whole.” Petition of Carrier, 165 N.H. 719, 721, 82 A.3d 917 (2013); see also, Univ. of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338, 133 S. Ct. 2517, 2529, 186 L. Ed. 2d 503 (2013) (“Just as Congress’ choice of words is presumed to be deliberate, so too are its structural choices.”); DeVere v. Attorney General, 146 N.H. 762, 766, 781 A.2d 24 (2001) (noting that structure of a statute can be an interpretive tool). Accordingly, the court finds that the Mount Sunapee release does not impermissibly seek to avoid statutory liability.13

In addition to his misplaced reliance on Rayeski, Miller also argues that the McGrath Court’s allowance of liability releases is “limited to situations where the public statute at issue contains a statutorily imposed enforcement mechanism,” which allows state officials to protect the public interest by imposing [**14]  penalties on violators.14

The holding in McGrath, which involved a snowmobiling accident, is not as broad as plaintiff posits. It is true that the Court in McGrath, in rejecting a claim that a liability waiver violated public policy because it allowed defendants to avoid certain snowmobile safety statutes, noted that the waiver did not affect the State’s ability to enforce snowmobiling rules and penalize infractions, and thus did not entirely relieve the defendant property owners of any statutory responsibility. 158 N.H. at 543 (citing N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 215-C:32 and 34). But several factors undercut Miller’s reliance on McGrath. First, plaintiff’s argument is premised on his assertion that Mount Sunapee is trying to avoid liability for a statutory violation. The court has already rejected plaintiff’s premise as an untenable reading of §§ 225-A:23 and 24. Next, the State enforcement criterion was not dispositive in McGrath, as the Court found that the liability waiver did not contravene public policy because, “[i]rrespective of the statute, the plaintiff has voluntarily agreed not to hold the ski area, or its employees, liable for injuries resulting from negligence so that she may obtain a season ski pass.” Id. at 543 (emphasis added). In addition, even [**15]  if the court read McGrath to require a state law enforcement vehicle to protect the public interest, the New Hampshire ski statutes do in fact provide one. Under N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:26, “any person . . . violating this chapter . . . shall be guilty of a violation if a natural person, or guilty of a misdemeanor if any other person.”

Plaintiff argues that this statutory enforcement provision is limited to tramway operations, and thus does not satisfy McGrath. He supports this argument with a letter from a supervisor at the New Hampshire Division of Fire Safety,15 which  [*591]  correctly observes, pursuant to N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:3-a, that the authority of the Passenger Tramway Safety Board is limited to ski lift operations and “shall not extend to any other matters relative to the operation of a ski area.”16 The letter also states that the penalty provision of § 225-A:26 “specifically relates to operating a tramway without it first being registered.”17 The letter also specifically mentions §§ 225-A:23 and 24, as being outside the tramway board’s authority.18

There are several reasons why the letter does not advance plaintiff’s statutory argument. First, the letter is not properly part of the summary judgment record. According to its terms, it was sent in response [**16]  to plaintiff’s counsel’s request for documents concerning the enforcement of § 225-A:26. However, “[i]n opposing a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must proffer admissible evidence that could be accepted by a rational trier of fact as sufficient to establish the necessary proposition.” Gomez-Gonzalez v. Rural Opportunities, Inc., 626 F.3d 654, 662 n.3 (1st Cir. 2010) (emphasis added). The letter itself is inadmissible hearsay, as it is being offered to prove the truth of the matters asserted with respect to enforcement of § 225-A:23 and 24. See
Fed. R. Evid. 801(c)(2); see also Hannon v. Beard, 645 F.3d 45, 49 (1st Cir. 2011) (“It is black-letter law that hearsay evidence cannot be considered on summary judgment for the truth of the matter asserted.”). Moreover, although apparently issued by a government office (the plaintiff made no effort to lay such a foundation), the letter is not admissible under the Public Records hearsay exception. See
Fed. R. Evid. 803(8) (requiring, for admissibility, the evidence in question to, inter alia, set out the public office’s activities and involve a matter observed while under a legal duty to report). It is true that some forms of evidence, such as affidavits and declarations, may be considered on summary judgment, even if they would not be admissible at trial, so long as they “set out facts that would be admissible in evidence” [**17]  if the affiant or declarant testified to them at trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). The letter in question, however, is neither an affidavit nor a declaration. In addition to being an unsworn letter, it fails to show how the letter writer is expressing “personal knowledge,” and fails to show that she is “competent to testify on the matters stated,” as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4); see also
Fed. R. Evid. 602 (personal knowledge requirement).

Next, even if the letter was properly before the court, it lacks any legal force, either as a pronouncement of New Hampshire law, or an interpretation thereof. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:8 empowers the Tramway Safety Board to make rules regarding tramways. “Rules and Regulations promulgated by administrative agencies, pursuant to a valid delegation of authority, have the full force and effect of laws.” State v. Elementis Chem., 152 N.H. 794, 803, 887 A.2d 1133 (2005). Under New Hampshire administrative law, however, as set forth under its Administrative Procedure Act, the letter in question is not a rule, and thus lacks such force. It is simply a letter answering a question posed by the plaintiff’s lawyer. See
N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 541-A:1, XV (explicitly excluding, under definition of “Rule,” “informational pamphlets, letters or other explanatory materials which refer to a statute or rule without affecting its substance or [**18]  interpretation”). Notably, the plaintiff cites no provision of New Hampshire’s administrative  [*592]  law involving the Passenger Tramway Safety Board or Rules which support his theory. See N.H. Code. Admin. R. Ann. (PAS 301.01 et. seq. (2016)).

Finally, even if the letter was a properly admissible part of the summary judgment record in support of the proposition that the enforcement of § 225-A:26 is limited to tramway operations, and even if it were a duly-promulgated article of New Hampshire administrative law, it still fails to advance the plaintiff’s argument (to the extent it even addresses the issue before the court), because it incorrectly contradicts the governing statute, § 225-A:26.

As noted, the letter states that the authority of the Tramway Safety Board is limited to ski lift operations and “shall not extend to any other matters relative to the operation of a ski area.”19 This is undoubtedly true as far as it goes, as it tracks the language of § 225-A:3-a. That observation misses the point, however, as § 225-A:26 does not limit enforcement of § 225-A to the Tramway Board. To the contrary, the statute holds “any person” “guilty” of a violation or misdemeanor for violations of “this chapter,” i.e., the entirety of N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A, a chapter which [**19]  addresses a wider variety of ski-related activities than ski lifts and tramways. Thus, the letter contradicts the plain language of the statute by inaccurately portraying the applicability of § 225-A:26 as limited to “operating a tramway without it first being registered.”20 Under New Hampshire law, “[r]ules adopted by administrative agencies may not add to, detract from, or in any way modify statutory law,” Elementis Chem., 152 N.H. at 803, and the letter’s pronouncement, even it were a duly adopted Rule, would be invalid. See Appeal of Gallant, 125 N.H. 832, 834, 485 A.2d 1034 (1984) (noting that agency regulations that contradict the terms of a governing statute exceed the agency’s authority and are void). The statute penalizes not only failing to register, but also “violating this chapter or rules of the [Tramway Safety] board.” (emphasis added). In effect, the plaintiff is asking the court to ignore the plain language of the statute in favor of a letter which is neither properly before the court nor is a valid administrative rule and which fails to address the issue before the court — the scope of § 225-A:26. The court is not free to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, New Hampshire’s Administrative Procedure Act,21 or the plain language of New Hampshire’s ski-related statutes.

Accordingly, the court finds that New Hampshire statutory law provides no support to plaintiff’s public policy argument.

2. Injurious to the public interest

Plaintiff next argues that the Mount Sunapee release violates public policy as injurious to the public interest because Mount Sunapee is located on state-owned land that was, at least in part, developed with federal funding. Plaintiff cites no authority for this argument, but instead relies on various provisions in the lease between Mount Sunapee and the State of New Hampshire. None of these provisions establish or support the proposition that public policy prohibits the enforcement of the release.

For example, the lease requires the property to be used for “public outdoor recreational uses,” “for the mutual benefit of the public and the Operator,” and “as a public ski area . . . for the general public.”22 In addition, the ski area operator is  [*593]  required to “allow public access,” “maintain the Leased Premises in first class condition,” and “undertake trail maintenance.”23 Even assuming, arguendo, that the lease theoretically establishes public policy, the plaintiff makes no coherent argument how the release in question runs afoul of any [**21]  of its provisions. Instead, plaintiff argues, strenuously but without authority, that condoning Mount Sunapee’s requirement that a skier agree to the release as a condition of skiing there “effectively sanctions the conversion of public land by Mount Sunapee.”24 He also argues, again without authority, that:

“[p]rivate operators of public lands, to which the public must be allowed access, cannot be allowed to limit access to such lands to those individuals who are willing to forego their statutory rights by exculpating the private operators from the consequences of their own negligence. To hold otherwise, would mark the first step toward eliminating public access to public lands at the expense of the general public.”

(Emphasis added). Initially, the court reiterates its finding, supra, Part III.A.1, that the language at issue in this case does not implicate plaintiff’s statutory rights. Moreover, whatever persuasive force his policy-based arguments hold, plaintiff cites no authority — in the form of cases, statutes or regulations — upon which the court can rely to accept them.25

As a final public-interest related matter, the parties dispute the import of liability releases used at Cannon [**22]  Mountain, a state-owned and operated ski area. In its motion, Mount Sunapee cited those releases to demonstrate that New Hampshire’s public policy does not generally disfavor liability releases.26 Plaintiff, however, points out that because the Cannon release does not use the word “negligence,” it may, in fact, not release Cannon from its own negligence. See Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107 (noting that “the [exculpatory] contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.”). Therefore, plaintiff suggests, Sunapee’s release may have exceeded what public policy (as articulated in the Cannon release) permits. Regardless of the Cannon release’s enforceability — a matter on which the court offers no opinion — the court finds that Mount Sunapee has the better of this argument. New Hampshire’s public policy is likely best expressed by its legislative enactments, particularly N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24, I, under which “ski area operators owe no duty to protect patrons from the inherent risks of skiing and thus are immunized from liability for any negligence related to these risks.” Cecere v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., 155 N.H. 289, 295, 923 A.2d 198 (2007). Such legislatively-enacted immunity from negligence undercuts Miller’s argument that the Cannon release demarcates [**23]  the outer boundary of New Hampshire public policy. Ultimately, the court is skeptical that, as both parties implicitly argue, the state’s risk management decisions and devices, as embodied in certain ski area releases, constitute articulations of public policy.

Having failed to demonstrate any statutory transgressions or injury to the public interest, plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Mount Sunapee release violates public policy.

 [*594]  B. Import of the agreement

The next factor the court must consider in assessing the enforceability of the Mount Sunapee release is whether the plaintiff or a reasonable person in his position would have understood its import. Dean, 147 N.H. at 266-67. Miller argues that a factual dispute exists as to this criterion because there was no “meeting of the minds” sufficient to form an enforceable binding agreement.27 He bases this proposition, in turn, on two assertions: 1) that the release is unsigned; and 2) that he did not read it. The court finds that New Hampshire law does not require a signature to effectuate the terms of a release and that the plaintiff had — but chose not to take advantage of — an opportunity to read the release.

1. Signature

As an initial matter, the court notes that a “meeting of the minds” is not an explicit requirement of enforceability under New Hampshire law. The Court in Dean required only that “the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement.” 147 N.H. at 266-67. While a signature might be evidence of such understanding, it has never been held to be a prerequisite. Indeed, in Gannett v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 131 N.H. 266, 552 A.2d 99 (1988), the Court enforced an unsigned and unread release of an insurance claim.

Plaintiff asserts that the New Hampshire Supreme Court has never explicitly upheld the enforcement of an unsigned liability release. See, e.g., McGrath, 158 N.H. at 545 (“[t]he ski pass application signed by the plaintiff”); Dean, 147 N.H. at 266 (“Mr. Dean signed the Release before entering the infield pit area”); Audley, 138 N.H. at 417 (“two releases signed by the plaintiff”); Barnes, 128 N.H. at 106 (“release and waiver of liability and indemnity agreement he signed”). Even if one were to accept this proposition despite the holding in Gannett, which is arguably distinguishable from the line of New Hampshire cases just cited, it is not dispositive, because the Court has also never explicitly required a signature on a liability release as a condition [**25]  of enforceability.

In a diversity case such as this one, if the state’s highest court has not spoken directly on the question at issue, this court must try to predict “how that court likely would decide the issue,” looking to the relevant statutory language, analogous state Supreme Court and lower state court decisions, and other reliable sources of authority. Gonzalez Figueroa v. J.C. Penney P.R., Inc., 568 F.3d 313, 318-19 (1st Cir. 2009). A review of an analogous decision of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and several New Hampshire trial court decisions reviewing ski area liability releases leads the court to conclude that Miller’s unsigned release is enforceable.

The court finds some guidance in Gannett, supra, where the Court enforced a release of an insurance claim even though the releasing party neither read nor signed the release, but returned it before cashing the insurer’s check. 131 N.H. at 270. Especially salient here, the Court found it “irrelevant whether [plaintiff] actually read the release, when the release clearly and unambiguously stated the condition, and when she had the opportunity to read it.” Id. at 269-270 (emphasis added). The Gannett Court cited the passage in Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108, enforcing an un-read liability  [*595]  release where the defendant felt rushed through the admittance line. The Barnes court enforced [**26]  the release where “[t]here was no evidence . . . that [the plaintiff] was denied the opportunity to read the body of the release.” Id.

Two New Hampshire Superior Court cases involving ski lift ticket releases also inform this analysis. See Commissioner v. Estate of Bosch, 387 U.S. 456, 465, 87 S. Ct. 1776, 18 L. Ed. 2d 886 (1967) (noting that decrees of lower state courts should be “attributed some weight”, but are not controlling, where the highest State court has not spoken on an issue). In Camire v. Gunstock Area Comm’n, No. 11-C-337, 2013 N.H. Super. LEXIS 30 (N.H. Super. Ct., Mar. 22, 2013) (O’Neil, J.), the court granted the defendant ski area summary judgment based on an unsigned release. 2013 N.H. Super. LEXIS 30 at *8. (“[T]he fact that Ms. Camire did not sign the agreement does not render it unenforceable, as a participant’s signature is not required under the factors set forth in [Dean]“), aff’d on other grounds, 166 N.H. 374, 97 A.3d 250 (2014). While the trial judge also noted that the ski area had a large sign near the ticket kiosk calling attention to the existence of the lift ticket release, and that plaintiff testified in her deposition that she would have understood the ticket’s release language had she read it, 2013 N.H. Super. LEXIS 30 at *5, the trial court’s observation that the lack of a signature was not dispositive is entitled, as the United States Supreme Court has [**27]  noted, to “some weight.” Bosch’s Estate, 387 U.S. at 465.

The court also draws some guidance from a New Hampshire trial court that denied a ski area operator’s motion for summary judgment in another case involving a lift ticket release. In Reynolds v. Cranmore Mountain Resort, No. 00-C-0035, (N.H. Super. Ct., March 20, 2001) (O’Neil, J.), the plaintiff’s lift ticket contained a peel off backing similar to the one at issue here, including the red “STOP” sign symbol. Id. at 2. The plaintiff claimed that she did not sign the release and that the release language was not conspicuous enough to give notice to a reasonable person. Id. at 5. While the court did not rule on the signature issue, it ruled that a jury issue remained as to whether the “STOP” sign on the ticket was sufficiently conspicuous, because the peel-off backing contained an advertisement for a free workout, also written in red, in a larger font than much of the warning on the backing. Id. at 1-2, 7. In so ruling, the court relied on Passero v. Killington, Ltd., 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14049, 1993 WL 406726 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 4, 1993), a Pennsylvania case in which the lift ticket at issue contained an advertisement in a larger typeface than the release language. 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14049, [WL] at * 7 (“[Plaintiff] argues that the exculpatory clause’s minuscule size, its setting against a dark background, and the existence [**28]  of a much larger advertisement for a 15% discount on a “COMPLETE OVERNIGHT SKI TUNE-UP” on the lift ticket’s adhesive backing, all serve to distract the skier’s attention away from the substantive rights he or she is supposedly relinquishing by purchasing the lift ticket.”). The Superior Court found that it was “best left to the trier of fact to determine whether the language of the lift ticket reasonably communicated the existence of a contractual agreement to the purchaser . . . .” Id. Here, the Mount Sunapee lift ticket contains no such distracting advertisement or font sizes greater than that of the release language on the ticket. As the distracting features were the basis for the New Hampshire Superior Court’s denial of summary judgment in Reynolds, the lack of any such features here is significant. Accordingly, the court finds that the lack of a signature on the lift ticket release is not, under the circumstances of this case, a barrier to its enforceability where the plaintiff had an opportunity to read it and the terms were unambiguous and not contrary to public policy.

 [*596]  2. Opportunity to read the release

A plaintiff’s failure to read a release “does not preclude enforcement of [**29]  the release.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108. As long as the plaintiff had an opportunity to read the release, even if he chooses not to take it, a release can be enforced. Dean, 147 N.H. at 270; cf. Jenks v. N.H. Motor Speedway, Inc., 2010 DNH 38 (material factual dispute existed as to whether plaintiff had opportunity to read release where plaintiff put his name on a sign-up sheet and release may have been obscured).

Plaintiff, a personal injury attorney, originally submitted two sparse affidavits in opposition to Mount Sunapee’s dispositive motion.28 The affidavits’ only reference to the release is that he did not read the language on the lift ticket or the peel off backing, nor was he instructed to. He did not claim that he lacked the time or opportunity to read it, or was discouraged from doing so. Nor do the affidavits state that he did not peel off the lift ticket from the backing paper.

To be sure, the plaintiff carries no burden of proof at summary judgment, but the sparse and somewhat cryptic nature of the plaintiff’s affidavits — one of which conspicuously tracked the facts emphasized in the Reynolds Superior Court decision, supra, but added nothing more — led this court to ask several pointed questions at oral argument. When pressed by the court regarding the omitted, but [**30]  critical, subject matter, plaintiff’s counsel conceded that Miller purchased the ticket, affixed it to his own jacket, had the opportunity to read the backing and the release, and would have recognized it as a release (although not as interpreted by Mount Sunapee).29

In an abundance of caution, and reluctant to grant summary judgment terminating plaintiff’s claims without a more fully developed record, the court sua sponte ordered supplemental discovery concerning, inter alia, the issue of plaintiff’s purchase and use of the lift ticket on the day of his injury.30 Although the plaintiff resisted defense counsel’s attempts to elicit direct answers to straightforward questions about his handling and viewing of the lift ticket, plaintiff’s deposition confirmed certain relevant facts that his counsel conceded at oral argument. First, plaintiff testified that he was handed the lift ticket with the release language facing up, and did not see the language on the peel-off backing.31 Nevertheless, plaintiff confirmed that he had the opportunity to read the release language on the lift ticket and the peel off backing before he removed the ticket from the backing and affixed it to his clothing.32 Even [**31]  though plaintiff testified  [*597]  that he attached the ticket to his pants immediately after receiving it, and thus did not read it, he agreed that he was not pressured to do so,33 and had the opportunity to read it if he so chose.34

Based on the summary judgment record, the plaintiff’s concessions at oral argument and his supplemental deposition testimony sua sponte ordered by the court in an abundance of caution, the court finds that the undisputed facts demonstrate that plaintiff purchased the lift ticket, peeled it from its backing before attaching it to his clothing, had the opportunity to read both sides of it,35 and that “a reasonable person in plaintiff’s position” would have “known of the exculpatory provision.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107. The court therefore finds that plaintiff’s decision to not  [*598]  read the lift ticket release language does not render it unenforceable.36

C. Contemplation [**34]  of the parties

The final factor the court considers is whether the plaintiff’s claims “were within the contemplation of the parties.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107. This factor concerns whether plaintiff’s claims were within the scope of the release. Dean, 147 N.H. at 267. To determine the scope and application of a liability release agreement, the court must examine its language. Dean, 147 N.H. at 267. If “the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence, the agreement will be upheld.” Id. The court gives the language of the release “its common meaning and give[s] the contract itself the meaning that would be attached to it by a reasonable person.” Id. “All that is required” is for the language to “clearly and specifically indicate[] the intent to release the defendants from liability for personal injury caused by the defendants’ negligence . . . .” McGrath, 158 N.H. at 545.

While plaintiff’s counsel conceded at oral argument that a reasonable person would have recognized the lift ticket language as a release, he argues that it would only be understood as applying to “the inherent risks of skiing,” as enumerated in § 225-A:24,37 and not to the circumstances of plaintiff’s accident.38 As [**35]  explained below, this argument is based on an incomplete reading of the release and a flawed reading of persuasive New Hampshire Supreme Court precedent. It is therefore rejected.

Plaintiff argues that the first words of the release — “Skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports are inherently dangerous”39 — limit the scope [**36]  of the release to  [*599]  the inherent risks of skiing as set forth in N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24, which, he posits, do not include collisions with unmarked or not visible snow-making equipment. The remainder of the release, however, is far broader, explicitly encompassing “all risks . . . of personal injury . . . resulting from . . . inherent or any other risks or dangers.” (Emphasis added). Additional language in the release is similarly broad:

I RELEASE MOUNT SUNAPEE RESORT, its parent companies, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, employees and agents FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY OF ANY KIND INCLUDING NEGLIGENCEwhich may result from conditions on or about the premises, operation of the ski area or its afacilities [sic] or from my participation in skiing or other winter sports, accepting for myself the full and absolute responsibility for all damages or injury of any kind which may result from any cause.40

(Bold emphasis in original; underlining added). While plaintiff acknowledges that his “participation in skiing” might trigger the release, he argues that the expansive “any and all” language is qualified by the first sentence’s reference to skiing as “inherently dangerous,” which, he asserts, warrants limiting [**37]  the release to the risks itemized in § 225-A:24.

In support of his “inherent risks” argument, plaintiff relies on Wright v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., 140 N.H. 166, 663 A.2d 1340 (1995), a case in which a horseback rider was kicked by her guide’s horse, allegedly due to the guide’s negligence. Id. at 168. The Court in Wright held that a release which first noted the “inherent hazards” of horseback riding “obscured” the later following exculpatory clause, part of which resembled the one employed here by Mount Sunapee. Id. at 170. But there is a significant textual difference between the release in
Wright and the one at issue here, and that difference was the lynchpin of the Wright Court’s analysis: the operative language of the Wright release affirmatively referred back to the “inherent hazards” language. In Wright, the exculpatory clause purporting to release the defendant from “any and all” liability began with the phrase “I therefore release . . .” Id. (emphasis added). The Court found the word “therefore” not only significant but dispositive, noting that it means, inter alia, “for that reason” and thus “cannot be understood without reading the antecedent [inherent hazards] language.” Id. Accordingly, the Court concluded, “[b]ecause the exculpatory [**38]  clause is prefaced by the term ‘therefore,’ a reasonable person might understand its language to relate to the inherent dangers of horseback riding and liability for injuries that occur “for that reason.”
41Id. The Court ultimately held that the negligence of a guide is not such an “inherent risk.” Id.

Unlike the release in Wright, however, the Mount Sunapee release contains no such “therefore” or other referential language which might call into question the breadth of the language that follows. As such, the court finds that the release  [*600]  “clearly state[s] that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence,” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107, and explicitly called particular attention “to the notion of releasing the defendant for liability for its own negligence.” Cf. Audley v. Melton, 138 N.H. 416, 419, 640 A.2d 777 (1994) (rejecting exculpatory clause because it failed to call particular attention to releasing defendant from liability). The court therefore finds that the Mount Sunapee release is not limited to the “inherent risks” of skiing enumerated in N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24, I. Accordingly, even assuming that Miller’s accident did not result from an “inherent risk” of skiing, his claim is nevertheless encompassed by the terms of the release and within the contemplation [**39]  of the parties.

D. Reckless, wanton or positive misconduct

After Mount Sunapee’s initial motion for judgment on the pleadings raised the lift ticket release as a defense, Plaintiff added four paragraphs to his suit in an Amended Complaint, all in support of his one negligence count. The new additions quote from a handwritten note on a “grooming report” prepared by Mount Sunapee Mountain Operations Manager Alan Ritchie two weeks prior to plaintiff’s accident. Ritchie’s note states the following: “keep the skier’s left guardrail 3′ from the tower guns at BTM (Hidden Hydrants below the snow[)]. Remove 2′ of snow from just above the Blue Shield around the Teckno fan gun.”42 Based solely upon this entry, Miller asserts that Mount Sunapee knew of buried snowmaking equipment and that failing to mark it or otherwise make it visible both violated its statutory duty and constituted “reckless, wanton, and positive acts of misconduct” from which it can not legally be released.43

In response, Mount Sunapee argues: 1) that the allegations do not support a claim for a statutory violation; 2) that New Hampshire law does not recognize extra-culpable, non-releasable categories of negligence; and 3) that [**40]  the Amended Complaint and attached documents fail, in any event, to set forth facts amounting to anything other than ordinary negligence. The court has already found no statutory violation44 and further finds that the complaint, even as amended, alleges nothing more than ordinary negligence.

1. Recklessness

Plaintiff argues that the additional allegations in the Amended Complaint state a claim for reckless behavior, which, he argues, is not within the purview of the release. The court finds that the new amendments do not allege conduct that is more culpable than negligence, which is subject to the terms of the Mount Sunapee release.45

The New Hampshire Supreme Court generally refers favorably to the Restatement of Torts and has done so with respect to its description of “reckless” conduct:

 [*601]  Under the Restatement [(Second) of Torts], § 500, at 587 (1965), conduct is “reckless” if it “would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such a risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.” Id. The conduct “must involve an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial [**41]  physical harm, and the probability that it will so result must be substantially greater than is required for ordinary negligence.” Id.
comment a at 588.

Boulter v. Eli & Bessie Cohen Found., 166 N.H. 414, 421, 97 A.3d 1127 (2014).

As the Court noted in Thompson v. Forest, 136 N.H. 215, 220, 614 A.2d 1064 (1992), a litigant’s characterization of conduct as evincing a particular culpable mental state is not particularly useful. “Recklessness,” at a minimum, is conduct “where the known danger ceases to be only a foreseeable risk which a reasonable person would avoid, and becomes in the mind of the actor a substantial certainty.” Id. (quoting WP Keaton, et al., Prosser and Keaton on the Law of Torts § 8 (5th ed. 1984)). Here, notwithstanding the descriptive adjectives employed by the plaintiff, the facts and allegations pled do not suggest that, to anyone affiliated with Mount Sunapee, there was “a substantial certainty” that serious foreseeable harm would occur based on its alleged conduct or that Mount Sunapee’s conduct involved an unreasonable risk of physical harm “substantially greater than is required for ordinary negligence or that the risk was one involving an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm.” Boulter, 166 N.H. at 422.

Plaintiff relies on a recent New Hampshire Superior Court case involving an injured ski lift [**42]  passenger in which the trial judge held that the plaintiff’s allegations of recklessness were sufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment.46 In Perry v. SNH Dev., No. 2015-CV-00678, 2017 N.H. Super. LEXIS 32 (N.H. Super. Ct., Sept. 13, 2017) (Temple, J.), the child plaintiff was injured after first dangling from, and then falling from, a chair lift into which she was improperly loaded. 2017 N.H. Super. LEXIS 32 at *33. There, the plaintiff successfully pled facts that alleged recklessness and avoided the ski area‘s enforceable negligence release. 2017 N.H. Super. LEXIS 32 at *23. Specifically, the plaintiffs in Perry alleged that the ski area‘s:

employee(s)[‘] total and complete failure to monitor the safe and proper loading of the Rocket chair lift in any fashion, coupled with the undisputed failure (actions or inactions) to stop the chair lift once a life threatening emergency was clearly in progress and ongoing for a considerable period of time, were failures to do acts which the employees had a duty to perform for [plaintiffs] and constitute a reckless disregard of safety.

2017 N.H. Super. LEXIS 32 at *27. The court denied the ski area‘s motion for summary judgment on the recklessness issue, first noting the allegation that there “were multiple employees of Crotched Mountain in or around [**43]  the area observing that Sarah was not able to properly and/or safely board the Rocket chair lift; but rather [was] dangling from the chair lift.” 2017 N.H. Super. LEXIS 32 at *33. The court found this allegation sufficient to support an inference that the ski area‘s employees  [*602]  “knew that [the child plaintiff] was not properly loaded on the chair lift, but chose not to act.” Id. The court additionally cited the allegations that the ski area‘s employees knew that their failure to “stop the chair lift once a life threatening emergency was clearly in progress” would create an “unreasonable risk of physical harm or death.” Id. These facts, the Superior Court concluded, were sufficient to establish a claim of reckless conduct. Id.

In reaching its decision, the Perry court assumed that recklessness involved a defendant’s “conscious choice.” 2017 N.H. Super. LEXIS 32 at *32 (citing State v. Hull, 149 N.H. 706, 713, 827 A.2d 1001 (2003)). Here, plaintiff argues that a reasonable inference can be made that Mount Sunapee knowingly disregarded the risk of harm posed by hidden snowmaking equipment, and that they “knew that ‘hidden’ hydrants posed a danger, but chose not to act.47

The court finds no such inference. As noted, the amended allegations do not pertain to a time or place related to Miller’s accident. [**44]  There is nothing in the Ritchie affidavit that supports an allegation that Mount Sunapee made a “conscious choice” to create a “risk that was substantially greater than is required for ordinary negligence or that . . . [involved] an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm.” Boulter, 166 N.H. at 422 (internal quotation marks omitted). Significantly, the allegations in this case stand in stark contrast to those in Perry, where ski area employees allegedly ignored a nearby lift passenger already in obvious danger, a child literally dangling from the moving chair lift. Under plaintiff’s theory, any collision with buried snowmaking equipment would constitute a claim for recklessness.

One of the cases cited in Perry supports the court’s conclusion. In Migdal v. Stamp, 132 N.H. 171, 564 A.2d 826 (1989), the plaintiff, a police officer, was shot by a 15-year old who had been involuntarily hospitalized due to mental health issues. Id. at 173. The day after his release into his parents’ custody, the teen took several guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition from an unsecured gun cabinet in their home, fired them throughout the house, and then shot and injured the plaintiff, who responded to the scene. Id. The injured officer sued the shooter’s parents, [**45]  who sought dismissal based on the “fireman’s rule.”48 After first noting that the rule bars claims of negligent, but not reckless, conduct, id. at 176, the Court concluded that the plaintiff had adequately pled recklessness by alleging that the parents “failed to seek recommended medical treatment” for their son and allowed him access to “an array of firearms and ammunition,” despite their knowledge that their son “was suffering from mental and emotional instabilities,” had “exhibited dangerous propensities,” and had ransacked and vandalized the house the day before. Id. Mount Sunapee’s conduct — failure to mark or make visible the snow gun holder — is neither of the same type nor degree as the defendants’ conduct in Migdal.

A ski case from the District of Massachusetts is also instructive. In Brush v. Jiminy Peak Mountain, 626 F. Supp. 2d 139 (D. Mass. 2009), a ski racer was injured when she lost control and collided with a ski tower support located off the trail. Id.
 [*603]  at 143. In suing, inter alia, the ski area, the plaintiff alleged that netting and other safety devices should have been placed around the support, as required by certain ski racing standards and as had been done by the defendant in the past. Id. at 145. In order to avoid application of a release, the plaintiff asserted [**46]  a claim for gross negligence, which, under Massachusetts law, is a less culpable standard than recklessness. Id. at 151 (citing Altman v. Aronson, 231 Mass. 588, 121 N.E. 505, 506 (Mass. 1919)). The Court concluded that plaintiff had alleged only simple negligence. Id. The Court first observed that “[t]here is no evidence in the record, and indeed no allegation, that any of the Defendants, or anyone at the competition, became aware that there was an area of the trail without netting where netting was normally placed and declined to remedy the situation.” Id. Ultimately, the Court held, “[a]t most there was a collective failure to take a step that might have lessened the injuries suffered by Plaintiff. No reasonable jury could find that this simple inadvertence, no matter how tragic its consequences, constituted gross negligence.” Id.

The court views the conduct alleged here as much more akin to that alleged in Brush — which alleged conduct that was less culpable than recklessness — than that in Perry
or Migdal. The factual allegations in this case fall far short of recklessness. First, as previously noted, the grooming report on which plaintiff relies is remote both in time and location. Next, the conduct alleged here is significantly less egregious than the [**47]  allegations in Perry, where ski area employees allegedly ignored a nearby passenger already in danger of falling from a lift chair, or the conduct in Migdal, where the defendant parents, one day after their son had exhibited mental instability, ransacked the family home, and exhibited dangerous tendencies, failed to seek treatment for him and to secure multiple firearms and ammunition. As in Brush, the most that can be said here is that Mount Sunapee failed to take a step that — while not legally required, see supra, § III.A.1 — might have prevented plaintiff’s accident. These allegations do not support a claim that their acts or omissions in not clearing snow away from a snow gun holder in an ungroomed area “were substantially more serious” than ordinary negligence. Boulter, 166 N.H. at 422.
49

2. Wanton and positive misconduct

In an attempt to characterize his claims in such a way to avoid the language of the release, plaintiff’s Amended Complaint describes them as “wanton and positive acts of misconduct,” that is, more culpable than negligence, but not intentional.50 The court, however, has already determined that the Complaint alleges no more than ordinary negligence, so this argument fails.

3. Potential [**48]  certification

If the court had found that the facts alleged by the plaintiff could constitute conduct more culpable than negligence, it would have considered certifying an unresolved question to the New Hampshire  [*604]  Supreme Court: whether conduct more culpable than negligence, but less than intentional could be the subject of a release like the one at issue here. See
N.H. Sup. Ct. R. 34. In the absence of such allegations, certification is unnecessary.

IV. Conclusion

The undisputed factual record shows that plaintiff purchased and affixed to his clothing a lift ticket at Mount Sunapee that unambiguously released the ski area from liability from its own negligence, that such a release does not violate public policy, and that plaintiff’s signature was not required to effectuate its terms. Furthermore, there is no material factual dispute that plaintiff had the opportunity to read both the cautionary language on the ticket’s peel-off backing and the release language itself, that he would have understood that language to constitute a release and that a reasonable person in his position would have understood that the release exculpated Mount Sunapee from its own negligence.

As plaintiff has alleged only that Mount [**49]  Sunapee’s negligence caused his injuries, and that the facts he alleges do not constitute conduct more culpable than negligence, the court finds that plaintiff’s claims fall within the ambit of the Mount Sunapee release and that the release is enforceable against the plaintiff. Therefore, defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, having been converted to a motion for summary judgment51 is GRANTED.52

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Joseph N. Laplante

Joseph N. Laplante

United States District Judge

March 31, 2018


Wright v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corporation, 140 N.H. 166; 663 A.2d 1340; 1995 N.H. LEXIS 119

Wright v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corporation, 140 N.H. 166; 663 A.2d 1340; 1995 N.H. LEXIS 119

Brenda Wright v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corporation d/b/a Loon Mountain Equestrian Center

No. 94-266

SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

140 N.H. 166; 663 A.2d 1340; 1995 N.H. LEXIS 119

August 22, 1995, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Released for Publication September 7, 1995.

PRIOR HISTORY: Merrimack County.

DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.

CASE SUMMARY:

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Plaintiff injured brought a negligence action against defendant tour company after being hurt while on a horseback riding tour. The injured appealed the decision of the Superior Court of Merrimack County (New Hampshire), which granted the tour company’s motion for summary judgment.

OVERVIEW: Before going horseback riding on the tour, the injured signed an exculpatory agreement that released the tour company from liability as a result of various occurrences. The tour company successfully argued in the trial court that the exculpatory agreement barred the injured’s suit. The court found that the issue of whether the injured understood the agreement presented an issue of fact. In assessing the clarity of the contract by evaluating it as a whole, the court found that the contract structure and organization obscured the exculpatory clauses and did not clearly relieve the tour company of responsibility for the sort of negligence at issue in the case. The court reasoned that one clause was understandable to relate to the inherent dangers of horseback riding and liability for injures that occurred for that reason. However, the court found that receiving an injury that would not have occurred but for a tour guide’s negligence was not an inherent danger. Because the contract did not put the injured on clear notice, the tour company was not entitled to summary judgment.

OUTCOME: The judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded.

CORE TERMS: horse, exculpatory, horseback riding, reasonable person, exculpatory provision, personal injury, own negligence, summary judgment, public policy, animal, exculpatory clauses, issue of fact, opportunity to prove, contravenes, inclusive, obscured, verb, tour guide, qualifying, notice, ridden, matter of law, entitled to judgment, contract language, misunderstanding, unabridged, exhaustive, quotations, prefaced, genuine

LexisNexis(R) Headnotes

Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Burdens of Production & Proof > Movants

Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Opposition > General Overview

Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Standards > Genuine Disputes

[HN1] The trial court must grant summary judgment when it finds no genuine issue of material fact, after considering the affidavits and other evidence presented in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and when the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The party opposing summary judgment must put forth contradictory evidence under oath, sufficient to indicate that a genuine issue of fact exists so that the party should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial. All reasonable doubts should be resolved against the movant.

Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Exculpatory Clauses

Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Exculpatory Clauses > Interpretation

Torts > Procedure > Settlements > Releases > Construction & Interpretation

[HN2] The court will not enforce an exculpatory contract that contravenes public policy. Once an exculpatory agreement is found unobjectionable as a matter of public policy, it will be upheld only if it appears that the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or that a reasonable person in his position would have known of the exculpatory provision. Since the terms of the contract are strictly construed against the defendant, the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.

Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Indemnity

[HN3] The plaintiff’s understanding presents an issue of fact, and the plaintiff should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial unless the exculpatory language was clear and a misunderstanding was unreasonable.

Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Exculpatory Clauses

Contracts Law > Types of Contracts > Releases

Torts > Procedure > Settlements > Releases > General Overview

[HN4] The court examines the language of the release to determine whether a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position would have known of the exculpatory provision. A reasonable person would understand the provision if its language clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence. The court assesses the clarity of the contract by evaluating it as a whole, not by examining isolated words and phrases.

HEADNOTES

1. Contracts–Liability for Negligence–Public Policy

New Hampshire Supreme Court will not enforce an exculpatory contract that contravenes public policy.

2. Contracts–Construction–Ambiguity

The plaintiff’s understanding of the release presents an issue of fact, and the plaintiff should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial unless the exculpatory language was clear and a misunderstanding was unreasonable.

3. Contracts–Liability for Negligence–Exculpatory Provision

A reasonable person would “understand” an exculpatory provision if its language clearly and specifically indicated the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.

4. Contracts–Liability for Negligence–Exculpatory Provision

Release language should be plain; a careful reading should not be necessary to divine the defendant’s intent.

5. Contracts–Liability for Negligence–Exculpatory Provision

The release language fails where it is obscured by qualifying terms and phrases and doesn’t put the plaintiff on clear notice.

COUNSEL: Craig, Wenners, Craig & Casinghino, P.A., of Manchester (Gary L. Casinghino and Gemma M. Dreher on the brief, and Mr. Casinghino orally), for the plaintiff.

Devine, Millimet & Branch, P.A., of Manchester (Gregory D. H. Jones and Joseph M. McDonough, III, on the brief, and Mr. Jones orally), for the defendant.

JUDGES: JOHNSON, J.; THAYER, J., with whom BROCK, C.J., joined, dissented; the others concurred.

OPINION BY: JOHNSON

OPINION

[*167] [**1341] JOHNSON, J. The question presented is whether an exculpatory contract signed by the plaintiff, Brenda Wright, released the defendant, Loon Mountain Recreation Corporation, from liability for its own negligence. The Superior Court (Manias, J.) found that the signed release barred the plaintiff’s negligence claim and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. We reverse.

Before embarking on a horseback riding tour at the Loon Mountain Equestrian Center, owned and operated by the defendant, the plaintiff was asked to read, complete, and sign the following exculpatory [***2] agreement:

I accept for use, as is, the animals listed on this form and accept full responsibility for its care while it is in my possession. I have made no misrepresentation to Loon Mountain regarding my name, address or age. I agree to hold harmless and indemnify Loon Mountain Recreation Corporation and its owners, agents and employees for any loss or damage, including any that result from claims for personal injury or property damage related to the use of this animal.

I understand and am aware that horseback riding is a HAZARDOUS ACTIVITY. I understand that the above activity and the use of horses involves a risk of injury to any and all parts of my body. I hereby agree to freely and expressly assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death from the use of this animal while participating in this activity.

I understand that it is not possible to predict every situation and condition of the terrain a horse will be ridden on; therefore, it is impossible to guarantee the horse I am riding will react safely in all riding situations. [*168]

I realize that it is mandatory that I wear a helmet at all times while horseback riding, and that I will obey all trail signs [***3] and remain only on open trails.

I therefore release Loon Mountain Recreation Corporation, its owners, agents and employees FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FOR DAMAGES AND PERSONAL INJURY TO MYSELF OR ANY PERSON OR PROPERTY RESULTING FROM THE NEGLIGENCE OF LOON MOUNTAIN RECREATION CORPORATION TO INCLUDE NEGLIGENCE IN SELECTION, ADJUSTMENT OR ANY MAINTENANCE OF ANY HORSE, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all damages or injury of any kind which may result. (PLEASE SIGN: Brenda Wright/s)

I agree that there have been no warranties, expressed or implied, which have been made to me which extend beyond the description of the equipment listed on this form. I the undersigned, acknowledge that I have carefully read this agreement and release of liability, and I understand its contents. I understand that my signature below expressly waives any rights I have to sue Loon Mountain Recreation Corporation for injuries and damages.

The plaintiff signed this agreement after the fifth paragraph and at the bottom.

While on the tour, the plaintiff was kicked in the leg by her guide’s horse and sustained an injury. She brought a negligence action against the defendant, alleging [***4] that her tour guide had failed to respond to indications that his horse was about to “act out.” The defendant argued that the exculpatory contract barred the plaintiff’s suit and moved for summary judgment. The Superior Court (Manias, J.) granted its motion, and this appeal followed.

[**1342] On appeal, the defendant argues that we should uphold the trial court’s grant of summary judgment because the contract “clearly and specifically indicated an intent to release Loon Mountain from liability for injury resulting from its own negligence while [the plaintiff] was engaged in the activity of horseback riding.”

[HN1] The trial court must grant summary judgment when it finds no genuine issue of material fact, after considering the affidavits and other evidence presented in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and when the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The party opposing summary judgment must put forth contradictory [*169] evidence under oath, sufficient to indicate that a genuine issue of fact exists so that the party should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial. All reasonable doubts should be resolved against the movant.


Phillips v. Verax [***5] Corp., 138 N.H. 240, 243, 637 A.2d 906, 909 (1994) (brackets, ellipses, and quotations omitted).

[HN2] This court will not enforce an exculpatory contract that contravenes public policy. Audley v. Melton, 138 N.H.. 416, 418, 640 A.2d 777, 779 (1994). “Once an exculpatory agreement is found unobjectionable as a matter of public policy, it will be upheld only if it appears that the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or that a reasonable person in his position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” Barnes v. N.H. Karting Assoc., 128 N.H. 102, 107, 509 A.2d 151, 154 (1986). “Since the terms of the contract are strictly construed against the defendant, the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.” Id.

The plaintiff does not argue that the exculpatory contract contravenes public policy. Accordingly, we determine only whether “the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement,” and if not, whether “a reasonable person in [her] position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” Id.

The parties dispute whether the plaintiff understood the agreement to release the defendant from [***6] liability for its own negligence. [HN3] The plaintiff’s understanding presents an issue of fact, and the plaintiff should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial unless the exculpatory language was clear and a misunderstanding was unreasonable. See Phillips, 138 N.H. at 243, 637 A.2d at 909; Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107, 509 A.2d at 154.

[HN4] We therefore examine the language of the release to determine whether “a reasonable person in [the plaintiff’s] position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107, 509 A.2d at 154; cf. Raudonis v. Ins. Co. of North America, 137 N.H. 57, 59, 623 A.2d 746, 747 (1993) (interpretation of insurance contract language a question of law; we construe terms as would reasonable person in insured’s position). A reasonable person would understand the provision if its language “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence . . . .” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107, 509 A.2d at 154. We will assess the clarity of the contract by evaluating it as a whole, not by examining isolated [*170] words and phrases. See Chadwick v. CSI, Ltd., [***7] 137 N.H. 515, 524, 629 A.2d 820, 826 (1993).

We conclude that the contract structure and organization obscured the exculpatory clauses. Strictly construing the contract language against the defendant, we find the contract did not clearly relieve the defendant of responsibility for the sort of negligence at issue in this case. See Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107, 509 A.2d at 154.

The defendant emphasizes the language of the agreement’s fifth paragraph, which states: “I therefore release [the defendant] from ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FOR . . . PERSONAL INJURY TO MYSELF . . . RESULTING FROM THE NEGLIGENCE OF [THE DEFENDANT] TO INCLUDE NEGLIGENCE IN SELECTION, ADJUSTMENT OR ANY MAINTENANCE OF ANY HORSE, accepting myself the full responsibility for any . . . injury of any kind which may result.” (Emphasis added.) We find that when this clause is read within the [**1343] context of the entire agreement, its meaning is less than clear.

In this case, the term “therefore” is significant. A common definition of “therefore” is “for that reason: because of that: on that ground . . . .” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2372 (unabridged ed. 1961) (Webster’s). A clause that is introduced [***8] by the term “therefore” cannot be understood without reading the antecedent language.

The paragraphs preceding the exculpatory clause emphasize the inherent hazards of horseback riding. Because the exculpatory clause is prefaced by the term “therefore,” a reasonable person might understand its language to relate to the inherent dangers of horseback riding and liability for injuries that occur “for that reason.” Being kicked by a horse is a danger inherent to horseback riding; receiving an injury that would not have occurred but for a tour guide’s negligence, however, is not.

The exculpatory phrase in the fifth paragraph is further clouded by the qualifying language that follows. Pursuant to the contract, the defendant is released from liability for its negligence “to include negligence in selection, adjustment or any maintenance of any horse.” If we parse these terms, they do not necessarily restrict the defendant’s release to liability for negligent selection, adjustment, or maintenance of any horse. The superfluity of the terms, however, serves to obscure rather than clarify. Moreover, one sense of the word “inclusive” is “covering or intended to cover all items . . . .” Webster’s, [***9] supra at 1143. A reasonable person reading the clause thus might conclude that the agreement relieved the defendant of responsibility for the enumerated types of negligence only.

[*171] Whether the tour guide’s failure to control his horse constitutes “the negligent . . . maintenance of any horse,” is unclear. Webster’s gives several definitions for the word “maintain,” the two most relevant being: (1) “to keep in a state of repair, efficiency, or validity: preserve from failure or decline” and (2) “to provide for: bear the expense of: SUPPORT.” Webster’s, supra at 1362. When read in the context of selection and adjustment, therefore, a reasonable person in the position of the plaintiff might understand “the negligent . . . maintenance of any horse” to relate to negligent upkeep rather than control.

The contract is also unclear with respect to injuries involving horses not ridden by the plaintiff. The first, second, and third paragraphs emphasize only the horse that the plaintiff “accept[s] for use.” We reject the defendant’s argument that the phrase “use of this animal,” used in the first and second paragraphs, “is merely an alternative expression for the activity of ‘horseback [***10] riding.'” We also reject the defendant’s contention that the phrase “use of this animal” does not limit the contract’s application to injuries involving the plaintiff’s horse because “[a] careful reading . . . reveals that it is part of a clause modifying plaintiff’s agreement to ‘hold harmless and indemnify [the defendant] for any loss or damage. . . .'” The Barnes test requires that release language be plain; a careful reading should not be necessary to divine the defendant’s intent.

In Audley, we concluded:

Quite simply, the general release language does not satisfy the Barnes requirement that the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence. The release fails in this respect not because it neglects to use the word ‘negligence’ or any other special terms; instead it fails because no particular attention is called to the notion of releasing the defendant from liability for his own negligence. The general language in the context of the release simply did not put the plaintiff on clear notice of such intent.


Audley, 138 N.H. at 419, 640 A.2d at 779 (quotations and citations omitted). [***11] Whereas the release language in Audley failed because it was too general, the release language in the present case fails because it is obscured by qualifying terms and phrases. The cases are similar, however, because neither contract put the plaintiff “on clear notice,” id.

The exculpatory contract lacks a straightforward statement of the defendant’s intent [**1344] to avoid liability for its failure to use reasonable [*172] care in any way. The agreement easily could have been framed in a manner that would have expressed more clearly its conditions and exclusions. The defendant was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Reversed and remanded.

THAYER, J., with whom BROCK, C.J., joined, dissented; the others concurred.

DISSENT BY: THAYER

DISSENT

THAYER, J., dissenting: I would uphold the trial court’s grant of summary judgment because the exculpatory contract explicitly indicated an intent to release the defendant from liability for its own negligence. The contract in question purports to release the defendant from “ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FOR . . . PERSONAL INJURY TO MYSELF . . . RESULTING FROM THE NEGLIGENCE OF [THE DEFENDANT] TO INCLUDE NEGLIGENCE IN SELECTION, ADJUSTMENT OR ANY MAINTENANCE [***12] OF ANY HORSE.” The language clearly indicates an intent to release the defendant from liability for its own negligence. I agree with the majority that the use of the word “therefore” restricts the release to negligence associated with the inherent hazards of horseback riding. I do not agree, however, that the negligence alleged is not such a risk. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s employee had failed to properly control his horse, and that as a result, the horse “acted out.” Controlling a horse is an essential part of horseback riding. The possibility that someone will fail to exercise the proper control would seem to fall squarely within the category of dangers inherent in the sport.

The majority bases its holding in part on its interpretation of the phrase “to include.” In holding that the list prefaced by the words “to include” is meant to be exhaustive, the majority relies on a definition of the word “inclusive.” Such reliance is misplaced. The contract used the word “include” as a verb. The primary relevant definition of that word is “to place, list, or rate as a part or component of a whole or a larger group, class, or aggregate.” Webster’s Third New International [***13] Dictionary 1143 (unabridged ed. 1961) (Webster’s). “Inclusive,” however, is an adjective and its definition differs from the verb form of the word. See In re Dumaine, 135 N.H. 103, 107, 600 A.2d 127, 129 (1991). The use of the verb form of the word indicates that the listed types of negligence are “component[s] of a whole or a larger group,” Webster’s, supra, and that the list was not exhaustive.

The appropriate question, therefore, is whether the negligence alleged in this case is of the same type as those listed. The plaintiff [*173] alleges that the defendant’s employee failed to properly control his mount. This would seem to fall squarely within the type of negligence defined by the contract. That the horse causing the injury was not ridden by the plaintiff is irrelevant. The contract releases the defendant for negligence resulting from “the use of horses” and specifically from “NEGLIGENCE IN SELECTION, ADJUSTMENT OR ANY MAINTENANCE OF ANY HORSE.” (Emphasis added.) While the contract does refer to the plaintiff’s horse on a number of occasions, it also refers to horses generally and to “any” horse. This language cannot be read to restrict the defendant’s release [***14] solely to injuries caused by the plaintiff’s horse. I disagree with the majority’s reading of the exculpatory contract. Therefore, I respectfully dissent.

BROCK, C.J., joins in the dissent.


New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute

 New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute

Title XVIII  Fish and Game

Chapter 212  Propagation of Fish and Game

Liability of Landowners

RSA 212:34  (2017)

212:34.  Duty of Care.

I. In this section:

(a) “Charge” means a payment or fee paid by a person to the landowner for entry upon, or use of the premises, for outdoor recreational activity.

(b) “Landowner” means an owner, lessee, holder of an easement, occupant of the premises, or person managing, controlling, or overseeing the premises on behalf of such owner, lessee, holder of an easement, or occupant of the
premises.

(c) “Outdoor recreational activity” means outdoor recreational pursuits including, but not limited to, hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, horseback riding, bicycling, water sports, winter sports, snowmobiling as defined in RSA 215-C:1, XV, operating an OHRV as defined in RSA 215-A:1, V, hiking, ice and rock climbing or bouldering, or sightseeing upon or removing fuel wood from the premises. 

(d) “Premises” means the land owned, managed, controlled, or overseen by the landowner upon which the outdoor recreational activity subject to this section occurs.

(e) “Ancillary facilities” means facilities commonly associated with outdoor recreational activities, including but not limited to, parking lots, warming shelters, restrooms, outhouses, bridges, and culverts. 

II. A landowner owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for outdoor recreational activity or to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such premises to persons entering for such purposes, except as provided in paragraph V. 

II-a. Except as provided in paragraph V, a landowner who permits the use of his or her land for outdoor recreational activity pursuant to this section and who does not charge a fee or seek any other consideration in exchange for allowing such use, owes no duty of care to persons on the premises who are engaged in the construction, maintenance, or expansion of trails or ancillary facilities for outdoor recreational activity.

III. A landowner who gives permission to another to enter or use the premises for outdoor recreational activity does not thereby:

(a) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for such purpose;

(b) Confer to the person to whom permission has been granted the legal status of an invitee to whom a duty of care is owed; or 

(c) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for an injury to person or property caused by any act of such person to whom permission has been granted, except as provided in paragraph V.

IV. Any warning given by a landowner, whether oral or by sign, guard, or issued by other means, shall not be the basis of liability for a claim that such warning was inadequate or insufficient unless otherwise required under subparagraph V(a).

V. This section does not limit the liability which otherwise exists:

(a) For willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity;

(b) For injury suffered in any case where permission to enter or use the premises for outdoor recreational activity was granted for a charge other than the consideration if any, paid to said landowner by the state;

(c) When the injury was caused by acts of persons to whom permission to enter or use the premises for outdoor recreational activity was granted, to third persons as to whom the landowner owed a duty to keep the premises safe or to warn of danger; or 

(d) When the injury suffered was caused by the intentional act of the landowner.

VI. Except as provided in paragraph V, no cause of action shall exist for a person injured using the premises as provided in paragraph II, engaged in the construction, maintenance, or expansion of trails or ancillary facilities as provided in paragraph II-a, or given permission as provided in paragraph III.

VII. If, as to any action against a landowner, the court finds against the claimant because of the application of this section, it shall determine whether the claimant had a reasonable basis for bringing the action, and if no reasonable basis is found, shall order the claimant to pay for the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the landowner in  defending against the action.

VIII. It is recognized that outdoor recreational activities may be hazardous. Therefore, each person who participates in outdoor recreational activities accepts, as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in such activities, and shall not maintain an action against an owner, occupant, or lessee of land for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards. The categories of such risks, hazards, or dangers which the outdoor recreational participant assumes as a matter of law include, but are not limited to, the following: variations in terrain, trails, paths, or roads, surface or subsurface
snow or ice conditions, bare spots, rocks, trees, stumps, and other forms of forest growth or debris, structures on the land, equipment not in use, pole lines, fences, and collisions with other objects or persons.


New Hampshire court upholds release and defines the steps under NH law to review a release.

Release law is stretched in New Hampshire court to cover injuries from snowmobile driven by employee hitting the plaintiff on the ski slopes.

McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

State: New Hampshire, Superior Court of New Hampshire, Hillsborough County

Plaintiff: Marcella McGrath f/k/a Marcella Widger

Defendant: NH Development, Inc. and John Doe

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2008

The defendant is the owner of Crotched Mountain Ski Area in New Hampshire. The plaintiff signed an application for a season pass which included release language in the application. While skiing one day the plaintiff was hit by an employee of the defendant driving a snowmobile.

The defendants moved for summary judgment based on the release. The plaintiff objected stating the release violated public policy. The plaintiff also argued the parties, when the release was signed, did not contemplate the release would cover negligence claims.

The phrase “did not contemplate” is another way of saying there was no meeting of the minds. For a contract to be valid, the parties to the contract must understand the basic nature of the contract. There must be a meeting of the minds to the contract. This does not mean that all aspects of the contract must be contemplated by both parties, just that the major issues and purpose of the contract are understood.

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

The court reviewed the requirements for a release to be valid under New Hampshire law, which requires the release to:

…(1) do not violate public policy; (2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement; and (3) the plaintiff’s claims were within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract.

Then the court looked at each of the three requirements. The first, Public Policy in New Hampshire, means the parties did not have a special relationship and were not of disparity in bargaining power. This definition is the original definition of public policy.

Special relationship means where one party had no choice but to deal with the other party to obtain a necessary good or service.

A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that the exculpatory agreement does not contravene public policy i.e that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power.”

A special relationship exists “[w]here the defendant is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service….” Id. The plaintiff contends that a special relationship existed between the parties because any person operating a snowmobile has a statutory duty to yield the right of way

Specifically, a special relationship exists between common carriers, innkeepers or public utilities and the public. A Monopoly that supplies goods or services that a person must have is an example of a defendant this definition would fit. Transportation, a place to stay and gas and electric providers have special relationships with the people they serve. This is the original definition of relationship that creates unequal bargaining power where releases are void.

The theory behind public policy was the state must step in to protect the common public from unscrupulous, overbearing or overreaching companies when the public had no choice but to deal with them. This relationship is based on the practical necessity of the goods or services they provide. Without them, life would not be possible or as possible.

Skiing in New Hampshire is not a practical necessity. You can live your life and never ski, in fact, many people do. On top of that the defendant was not the only ski area. Meaning the plaintiff could have gone to any number of other ski areas; the defendant did not force her to visit its ski area nor was she compelled to visit the defendant’s ski area. Consequently, there was no disparity of bargaining power because the plaintiff could have bargained with someone else or not gone skiing and still lived on.

The plaintiff also argued the release was a violation of public policy because it relieved the defendant of statutory compliance with a New Hampshire statute governing the use of snowmobiles. However, the court found the release did not affect the enforcement of the statute. The statute was one outlining the requirements for a state commissioner to make and enforce laws concerning snowmobiles. The release did not alter the commissioner’s ability to do so and would not alter any law or regulation made or the law or regulations affect.

If the release does not violate public policy, then the requirement two requires a review of whether or not the plaintiff or a reasonable person would have understood the exculpatory provisions in the release. For the plaintiff to argue that she did not understand the release, she would have to prove the language in the release was not understandable.

…therefore examine[s] the language of the release to determine whether “a reasonable person in [the plaintiff’s] position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” A reasonable person would understand the provision if its language “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence….”

The plaintiff did not deny she understood the release; she argued that the release did not cover the precise occurrence that gave rise to here injuries. Meaning the release did not cover injuries from being hit by a snowmobile being driven by an employee of the defendant. However, the law does not require a release to be specific in its language to cover the injury the plaintiff may later claim.

Thus, in order to effectively release a defendant from liability for his own negligence, “the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.” There is no requirement that the term “negligence” or any other magic words appear in the release as long “as the language of the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”

The release language was broadly written to cover all types of injuries that could occur while skiing. New Hampshire also does not require “magic words” such as negligence to make the release valid or convey a specific risk to the signor.

In reviewing the language the court found the language was broad enough to cover the injury the plaintiff received.

As noted above, the parties need not have contemplated a negligence claim arising from a snowmobile accident. Rather, it is sufficient that the parties adopted language to cover a broad range of accidents. The application releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence,” and the Liability Release Agreement releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in from negligence.”

The final argument made by the plaintiff was the release did not contemplate a snowmobile accident because snowmobiles are not an inherent part of skiing.

In this case, the release did not refer to the inherent risks of skiing, but stated that skiing was a hazardous sport and that injuries are commonplace.

Here, however, the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not mention the inherent hazards of skiing. Rather, the application and the Liability Release Agreement note that skiing is a hazardous sport and that injuries are a common occurrence and then, without using the term “therefore,” release the defendants from any and all liability. Because the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not use the phrase “inherent hazards of skiing” or the term “therefore,” this case is distinguishable from Wright. A reasonable person would have contemplated that the application and the Liability Release Agreement would release the defendants from a negligence claim, whether nor not that claim arouse from an inherent hazard of skiing.

Consequently, the restrictions that the term inherent would have identified were not there, the language was broad enough to cover the accident the plaintiff complained of.

The case was dismissed based upon the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

So Now What?

Use of the narrowing term inherent in the release when referring to the risks might have allowed the plaintiff to continue with her claim. Remember inherent is a restricting word and if used in this release, it might have excluded a snowmobile accident from the pool of possible claims. As the release was worded the snowmobile accident was covered.

The bigger issue is the attempt to spread the definition of Public Policy board enough that it would void this release. However, the court did not do that and kept the definition to the original definition that a release cannot protect those monopolies that provide a necessity to the public cannot use a release to limit their liability.

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

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McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

Marcella McGrath f/k/a Marcella Widger v. SNH Development, Inc. and John Doe, an unnamed individual

No. 07-C-0111

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY

2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

May 19, 2008, Decided

NOTICE:

THE ORDERS ON THIS SITE ARE TRIAL COURT ORDERS THAT ARE NOT BINDING ON OTHER TRIAL COURT JUSTICES OR MASTERS AND ARE SUBJECT TO APPELLATE REVIEW BY THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Affirmed by McGrath v. SNH Dev., Inc., 158 N.H. 540, 969 A.2d 392, 2009 N.H. LEXIS 43 (2009)

JUDGES:  [*1] GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

OPINION BY: GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON

OPINION

ORDER

The plaintiff commenced the instant action alleging negligence against the defendants, SNH Development, Inc. (“SNH Development”) and John Doe, an unnamed individual. The defendants now move for summary judgment, and the plaintiff objects.

For purposes of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the parties do not appear to dispute the following facts. SNH Development is a subsidiary of Peak Resorts, Inc. and owns and operates the Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington, New Hampshire. On October 23, 2003, the plaintiff signed an application (the “application”) for a season pass to the Crotched Mountain Ski Area. The application provides:

I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the ski area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death of property damage, release Crotched Mountain its owners and its agents, employees, directors, officers and shareholders from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage  [*2] which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operations of the ski area including, but not limited to, grooming snow making, ski lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or age the area, or my participation in skiing, accepting myself the full responsibility

Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. Moreover, on December 20, 2003, the plaintiff signed a Liability Release Agreement, which provides:

I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death or property damage, and release Peak Resorts, Inc, all of its subsidiaries, and its agents, employees, directors, officers, shareholders and the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment and the school and group organizers (collective “providers’), from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operation of the area including, but not limited to grooming,  [*3] snowmaking, lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or agents of the areas, or my participating in skiing, snowboarding, blading, accepting myself the full responsibility.

Id. On February 20, 2004, the plaintiff was skiing 1 a trail at the Crotched Mountain Ski Area when an employee of SNH Development drove a snowmobile into the plaintiff’s path, causing a collision.

1 Some of the pleadings state that the plaintiff was skiing, while other’s state that the plaintiff was snowboarding.

The defendants now move for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff signed the application and the Liability Release Agreement, both of which are valid, enforceable exculpatory contracts. The plaintiff objects, arguing that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy and that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court “consider[s] the affidavits and other evidence, and all inferences properly drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” White v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 151 N.H. 544, 547, 864 A.2d 1101 (2004).  [*4] The Court must grant a motion for summary judgment if its “review of the evidence does not reveal a genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law Id. A fact is material “if it affects the outcome of the litigation under the applicable substantive law.” Palmer v. Nan King Restaurant, 147 N.H. 681, 683, 798 A.2d 583 (2002).

New Hampshire law generally prohibits exculpatory contracts, but the Court will enforce them if; “(1) do not violate public policy; (2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement; and (3) the plaintiff’s claims were within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract.” Dean v. MacDonald, 147 N.H. 263, 266-267, 786 A.2d 834 (2001). Thus, the Court considers each of these requirements in turn.

Regarding the first requirement, an exculpatory contract violates public policy if a special relationship existed between the parties or if there was some other disparity in bargaining power. See Barnes v. N.H. Karting Assoc., 128 N.H. 102, 106, 509 A.2d 151 (1986) (“A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that the exculpatory agreement does  [*5] not contravene public policy i.e that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power.”).

A special relationship exists “[w]here the defendant is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service….” Id. The plaintiff contends that a special relationship existed between the parties because any person operating a snowmobile has a statutory duty to yield the right of way, RSA 215-C:49, XII (Supp. 2007), and because the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public. Assuming that RSA 215-C:49, XII applies to the operation of a snowmobile on a privately owned ski area, the plaintiff has not offered any legal support for the conclusion that this statute somehow charges the defendants with a duty of public service. Moreover, the fact that the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public is not conclusive. For example, Barnes, involved a negligence claim arising from a collision at an enduro kart racing facility. In Barnes, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted that the defendant’s served the public but held that the defendant’s were not charged with a duty of public service because  [*6] Endurokart racing is not “affected with a public interest.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108. Similarly, skiing is a recreational activity not affected with a public interest, and the Court finds that the defendant’s are not charged with a duty of public service.

The Plaintiff also contends that she was at an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power because all ski areas require skiers to sign releases. The Court disagrees.

This case … does not have any hallmarks of a disparity in bargaining power. The [skiing] service offered by the defendant is not a “matter of practical necessity.” Nor did the defendant in this ease have monopoly control over this service such that the plaintiff could not have gone elsewhere.

Audley v. Melton, 138 N.H. 416, 418, 640 A.2d 777 (1994) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108). 2

2 The Plaintiff also argues that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy because they relieve the defendant’s from compliance with RSA chapter 215-C, which governs snowmobiles. Assuming that RSA chapter 215-C applies to the operation of a snowmobile on privately owned ski area, the application and the Liability Release Agreement would have no bearing on the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C.  [*7] See RSA 215-C-32 (Supp.2007) (providing for the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C).

“Once an exculpatory agreement is found unobjectionable as a matter of public policy, it will be upheld only if it appears that the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or that reasonable person in his position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107. “The plaintiff’s understanding presents an issue of fact, and the plaintiff should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial unless the exculpatory language was clear and a misunderstanding was unreasonable.” Wright v. Loon Mt. Recreation Corp., 140 N.H. 166, 169, 663 A.2d 1340 (1995). The Court

therefore examine[s] the language of the release to determine whether “a reasonable person in [the plaintiff’s] position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” A reasonable person would understand the provision if its language “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence….”

Id. (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107). The Court “will assess the clarity. the contract by evaluating it as a whole, not by examining  [*8] isolated words and phrases. Id. at 169-170.

The plaintiff does not appear to dispute that she understood the import of the application or the Liability Release Agreement. Rather, the plaintiff argues that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim. Thus, the Court turns to the third requirement.

“[T]he plaintiff’s claims must have been within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the execution of the agreement. The parties need not, however, have contemplated the precise occurrence that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. They may adopt language to cover, a broad range of accidents….” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107 (citation omitted). To determine the scope of a release, the Court examines its language, strictly construing it against the defendant. Dean, 147 N.H. at 267.

Thus, in order to effectively release a defendant from liability for his own negligence, “the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.” There is no requirement that the term “negligence” or any other magic words appear in the release as long “as the language of  [*9] the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”

Audley, 138 N.H. at 418 (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107).

The plaintiff contends that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because neither the application nor the Liability Release Agreement reference snowmobiles. As rioted above, the parties need not have contemplated a negligence claim arising from a snowmobile accident. Rather, it is sufficient that the parties adopted language to cover a broad range of accidents. The application releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence,” and the Liability Release Agreement releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in from negligence.” Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. This language clearly states that the defendants are not responsible for the consequences of their negligence.

The Plaintiff also contends that the parties did  [*10] not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because snowmobiles are not an inherent hazard of skiing. The plaintiff relies on Wright. In Wright, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted:

The paragraphs preceding the exculpatory clause emphasize the inherent hazards of horseback riding. Because the exculpatory clause is prefaced by the term “therefore,” a reasonable person might understand its language to relate to the inherent dangers of horseback riding and liability for injuries that occur “for that

Wright, 140 N.H. at 170. Here, however, the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not mention the inherent hazards of skiing. Rather, the application and the Liability Release Agreement note that skiing is a hazardous sport and that injuries are a common occurrence and then, without using the term “therefore,” release the defendants from any and all liability. Because the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not use the phrase “inherent hazards of skiing” or the term “therefore,” this case is distinguishable from Wright. A reasonable person would have contemplated that the application and the  [*11] Liability Release Agreement would release the defendants from a negligence claim, whether nor not that claim arouse from an inherent hazard of skiing.

Based on the foregoing, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

So ORDERED.

 


In New Hampshire, the skier Safety Act requires the ski area receives notice of a claim within 90 days.

Pursuant to this decision, the ninety-days are based on when the notice is mailed, not when the notice or mail was received.

Hogan v. Pat’s Peak Skiing, LLC, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 74

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: Deborah Hogan and Matthew Hogan

Defendant: Pat’s Peak Skiing, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Failure to meet the statutory requirements to file a lawsuit.

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2015

The plaintiffs both fell out of a chairlift at the defendant ski area. The New Hampshire Skier Safety Act requires the ski area receives notice of the intent to sue within 90 days.

The plaintiff’s hired an attorney that sent notice to the ski area which was mailed within the 90 days. However, it was not received within the 90 days by the ski area.

The defendant moved to dismiss the case for failing to meet the requirements of the statute. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. The plaintiff’s appealed.

In New Hampshire, there are only trial courts and the New Hampshire Supreme court. There is no intermediate appellate court.

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

Section 225-A:25 Insurance; Limitations of the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act states notices must be sent to the ski area by certified mail within 90 days of the injury or claim.

No action shall be maintained against any operator for injuries to any skier or passenger unless the same is commenced within 2 years from the time of injury provided, however, that as a condition precedent thereof the operator shall be notified by certified return receipt mail within 90 days of said injury. The venue of any action against an operator shall be in the county where the ski area is located and not otherwise.

In the law, there is a mail box rule. In general, the law says notice is received when the notice is put in the mail. “The mailbox rule is one that is traditionally associated with contract law, and provides that acceptances are effective when they are no longer in the control of the sender.” Most states then say that something mailed if it arrives within three to five days, then it was properly mailed and received.

The other issue in the law is “notice.” Notice usually requires the person have actual or constructive notice, and that occurs when the person receives that notice which was the defendant’s argument.

The defendant, on the other hand, argues that the mailbox rule should not be read into the notice provision of RSA 225-A:25, IV. Instead, the defendant asks us to interpret the provision to require actual receipt of notice. Under the defendant’s construction, notice was given, at the earliest, upon its arrival at the Henniker post office on May 5, 2012 — ninety-one days after the date of the injury, and one day after the expiration of the statutory period.

Under one theory the requirements of the statute were met and under the other, the case must be dismissed, and the defendant wins the decision.

The court held that the ninety-day  requirement was met when the letter was mailed, not when it was received.

In accordance with the principles of uniformity and certainty, we hold that notice given pursuant to RSA 225-A:25, IV is effective upon mailing. In doing so, we narrowly apply the common law mailbox rule to RSA 225-A:25, IV, in consonance with holdings from other jurisdictions.

The basis for the reasoning was who would suffer the most by the interpretation of the law one way or the other. Whether or not the ski area received the notices ninety days or ninety-one days after the injury would not affect the ski area at all. That one day could mean suffering to the plaintiff.

Our holding favors the party who would be harmed more by a lack of certainty. As in this case, actual receipt a day beyond the 90-day period creates minimal inconvenience for the ski operator, for it hardly affects the ski area’s ability to evaluate its premises and investigate the incident in a timely manner. In contrast, under the alternative construction of the statute, the party allegedly injured by the operator’s wrongdoing is denied the right to bring suit even when receipt is late due to circumstances beyond that party’s control. We elect not to allow such forfeiture.

The plaintiff’s injury by the application of one rule or the other would be far greater, according to the court, then the injury suffered by the ski area by receiving notice of the claim a day later.

Furthermore,  “it is not to be presumed that the legislature would pass an act leading to an absurd result . …”. Were we to hold that notice under RSA 225-A:25 is effective upon actual receipt, delays caused by a carrier that postpones the delivery of notice, or loss or destruction of notice while in the mail system, would leave plaintiffs without recourse through no fault of their own — an absurd and unfair outcome which our holding avoids.

The case was sent back for discovery and trial.

So Now What?

Several statutes in the outdoor recreation industry have pre-litigation notice requirements like this. They are, in effect, a mini-statute of limitations. The New Hampshire Skier Safety Act requires the actual lawsuit be started within two years of the injury which gives rise to the claim.

However, the effectiveness of these notice requirements is marginal at best. In most cases, not all, if the court has to decide for or against the notice being received, the courts will error on the side of the plaintiff, and in favor of allowing the lawsuit to continue.

clip_image002What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Hogan v. Pat’s Peak Skiing, LLC, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 74

Hogan & a. v. Pat’s Peak Skiing, LLC, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 74

Deborah Hogan & a. v. Pat’s Peak Skiing, LLC

No. 2014-420

SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

2015 N.H. LEXIS 74

April 9, 2015, Argued

July 28, 2015, Opinion Issued

HEADNOTES NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

1. Statutes–Generally–Legislative History or Intent Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which is reviewed de novo. In matters of statutory interpretation, the Court is the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. The Court first looks to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construes that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning. The Court interprets legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include. The Court construes all parts of a statute together to effectuate its overall purpose and avoid an absurd or unjust result. Moreover, the Court does not consider words and phrases in isolation, but rather within the context of the statute as a whole. This enables the Court to better discern the legislature’s intent and to interpret statutory language in light of the policy or purpose sought to be advanced by the statutory scheme. In the event that the statutory language is ambiguous, the Court will resolve the ambiguity by determining the legislature’s intent in light of legislative history.

2. Contracts–Offer and Acceptance–Generally The mailbox rule is one that is traditionally associated with contract law, and provides that acceptances are effective when they are no longer in the control of the sender. The Court has applied the doctrine in its contract jurisprudence.

3. Statutes–Generally–Remedial and Curative Statutes Without legislative history to guide it, the Court construes statutes to address the evil or mischief that the legislature intended to correct or remedy.

4. Notice–Generally–Particular Statutes On the one hand, the chapter involving skiers was passed to protect New Hampshire’s citizens and visitors from hazards and the unsafe operation of ski areas and to allow those injured from such endangerments to seek compensation. On the other hand, the notice requirement allows ski operators to promptly investigate incidents, to evaluate the conditions of their premises and take any necessary remedial measures, and to adequately prepare to defend against claims. RSA 225-A:1.

5. Notice–Generally–Particular Statutes In accordance with the principles of uniformity and certainty, the Court holds that notice given of an injury to a skier or passenger is effective upon mailing; accordingly, plaintiffs satisfied the notice provision by mailing the notice the day before the 90-day notice period expired. In doing so, the Court narrowly applies the common law mailbox rule to the notice provision, in consonance with holdings from other jurisdictions. Where a statute specifies that a person shall be notified by a particular means, such as certified or registered mail, notice is effective when deposited in the mails. RSA 225-A:25, IV.

6. Statutes–Generally–Avoidance of Absurd or Unjust Results It is not to be presumed that the legislature would pass an act leading to an absurd result.

COUNSEL: Christopher W. Driscoll, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, by brief and orally, for the plaintiffs.

Devine, Millimet & Branch, P.A., of Manchester (Thomas Quarles, Jr. and Leigh S. Willey on the brief, and Mr. Quarles orally), for the defendant.

JUDGES: HICKS, J. DALIANIS, C.J., and CONBOY, LYNN, and BASSETT, JJ., concurred.

OPINION BY: HICKS

OPINION

Hicks, J. The plaintiffs, Deborah Hogan and Matthew Hogan, appeal the decision of the Superior Court (Smukler, J.) granting the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, Pat’s Peak Skiing, LLC. We reverse and remand.

The following facts are derived from the trial court’s order or the record. On February 4, 2012, both plaintiffs fell from a ski chairlift while skiing at the defendant’s premises. The plaintiffs were evaluated that day by a member of the defendant’s ski patrol and incident reports were completed. Both plaintiffs reported injuries from the fall. On May 3, 2012, the plaintiffs sent notice to the defendant, by certified return receipt mail, stating that they had retained counsel regarding the February 4, 2012 incident. The letter of notice was dated May 3, 2012, arrived at the Henniker post office on May 5, 2012, and was delivered [*2] to the defendant on May 10, 2012.

The plaintiffs filed a complaint against the defendant on December 3, 2013, seeking damages for negligence, recklessness, and loss of consortium. The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiffs did not provide notice by May 4, 2012 — ninety days from the date of the injury — as required by RSA 225-A:25, IV (2011). The defendant asserted that the plaintiffs failed to comply with the statute because the notice did not arrive until, at the earliest, May 5, 2012, the ninety-first day. In response, the plaintiffs countered that mailing the notice on May 3, 2012, the eighty-ninth day, satisfied the statutory requirement. Alternatively, the plaintiffs contended that they adhered to the notice provision by completing incident reports and giving verbal notice on the day of the incident and also by giving verbal notice on a later visit to the ski area. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiffs failed to give proper notice pursuant to RSA 225-A:25, IV. This appeal followed.

The question before us is whether the statutory phrase “shall be notified,” as it appears in RSA 225-A:25, IV, is satisfied upon dispatch of notice or upon receipt [*3] of notice. RSA 225-A:25, IV provides:

[HN1] No action shall be maintained against any operator for injuries to any skier or passenger unless the same is commenced within 2 years from the time of injury provided, however, that as a condition precedent thereof the operator shall be notified by certified return receipt mail within 90 days of said injury. The venue of any action against an operator shall be in the county where the ski area is located and not otherwise.

RSA 225-A:25, IV (emphasis added).

[1] [HN2] “Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which we review de novo.” Appeal of Local Gov’t Ctr., 165 N.H. 790, 804, 85 A.3d 388 (2014). “In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole.” Id. “We first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning.” Id. “We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include.” Id. “We construe all parts of a statute together to effectuate its overall purpose and avoid an absurd or unjust result.” Id. “Moreover, we do not consider words [*4] and phrases in isolation, but rather within the context of the statute as a whole.” Id. “This enables us to better discern the legislature’s intent and to interpret statutory language in light of the policy or purpose sought to be advanced by the statutory scheme.” Id. In the event that the statutory language is ambiguous, “we will resolve the ambiguity by determining the legislature’s intent in light of legislative history.” United States v. Howe, 167 N.H. 143, 148-49, 106 A.3d 425 (2014).

[2] The plaintiffs ask that we adopt the common law “mailbox rule” in interpreting the notice provision of RSA 225-A:25, IV. [HN3] The mailbox rule is one that is traditionally associated with contract law, and provides that acceptances are effective when they are no longer in the control of the sender. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 63 (1981). We have applied the doctrine in our contract jurisprudence. See Cushing v. Thomson, 118 N.H. 292, 294, 386 A.2d 805 (1978) (noting that a contract becomes complete when the acceptance has been mailed by the offeree, not when the acceptance is received by the offeror). The plaintiffs argue that we should apply the rule to RSA 225-A:25, IV notices. As a result, notice would become effective upon the date of mailing. Under the plaintiffs’ construction, therefore, notice was effectively given upon mailing, on May 3, [*5] 2012 — eighty-nine days after the date of the injury and within the statutory period.

The defendant, on the other hand, argues that the mailbox rule should not be read into the notice provision of RSA 225-A:25, IV. Instead, the defendant asks us to interpret the provision to require actual receipt of notice. Under the defendant’s construction, notice was given, at the earliest, upon its arrival at the Henniker post office on May 5, 2012 — ninety-one days after the date of the injury, and one day after the expiration of the statutory period.

We conclude that both the plaintiffs’ and the defendant’s proffered constructions are reasonable. Because RSA 225-A:25, IV’s language is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation, we would normally resolve the ambiguity by determining the legislature’s intent in light of legislative history. See Howe, 167 N.H. at 148-49 (quotation omitted). In this case, however, the legislative history is not helpful.

RSA 225-A:25, IV, originally codified as RSA 225-A:26, II, was enacted in 1965. See Laws 1965, 241:2. The provision was amended in 1978, increasing the notice period from within sixty days of injury to within ninety days of injury, among other changes. See Laws 1978, 13:5. In 2005, the provision was amended a final time in a manner [*6] not relevant to this appeal. See Laws 2005, 145:7. There are no committee reports, legislative debates, or other historical documents that shed light on the intentions of the legislature regarding the effectiveness of notice. As a result, a review of the legislative history is unavailing in resolving the ambiguity of RSA 225-A:25, IV.

[3, 4] [HN4] Without legislative history to guide us, “[w]e construe statutes to address the evil or mischief that the legislature intended to correct or remedy.” State v. Costella, 166 N.H. 705, 710, 103 A.3d 1155 (2014) (quotation omitted). However, this case involves competing policy interests. [HN5] On the one hand, RSA chapter 225-A was passed to “protect [New Hampshire’s] citizens and visitors” from hazards and the unsafe operation of ski areas and to allow those injured from such endangerments to seek compensation. RSA 225-A:1 (2011). On the other hand, the notice requirement allows ski operators to promptly investigate incidents, to evaluate the conditions of their premises and take any necessary remedial measures, and to adequately prepare to defend against claims. In the absence of legislative direction, we cannot determine the principal policy purpose of RSA 225-A:25, IV.

[5] Nonetheless, a decision must be made. Cf. 1 J.M. Perillo, Corbin on Contracts, § 3.24, at 440-41 (rev. ed. 1993) (noting [*7] with respect to the mailbox rule, “One of the parties must carry the risk of loss and inconvenience. We need a definite and uniform rule as to this. We can choose either rule; but we must choose one. We can put the risk on either party, but we must not leave it in doubt.”). [HN6] In accordance with the principles of uniformity and certainty, we hold that notice given pursuant to RSA 225-A:25, IV is effective upon mailing. In doing so, we narrowly apply the common law mailbox rule to RSA 225-A:25, IV, in consonance with holdings from other jurisdictions. See, e.g., Call v. Alexander Coal Co., 8 Ohio App. 3d 344, 8 Ohio B. 455, 457 N.E.2d 356, 357 (Ohio Ct. App. 1983) (“Where a statute specifies that a person shall be notified by a particular means, such as certified or registered mail, notice is effective when deposited in the mails.”).

Our holding favors the party who would be harmed more by a lack of certainty. As in this case, actual receipt a day beyond the 90-day period creates minimal inconvenience for the ski operator, for it hardly affects the ski area’s ability to evaluate its premises and investigate the incident in a timely manner. In contrast, under the alternative construction of the statute, the party allegedly injured by the operator’s wrongdoing is denied the right to bring suit even when receipt is late due [*8] to circumstances beyond that party’s control. We elect not to allow such forfeiture. See Opinion of the Justices, 126 N.H. 554, 566-67, 493 A.2d 1182 (1985).

[6] Furthermore, [HN7] “it is not to be presumed that the legislature would pass an act leading to an absurd result . …” Costella, 166 N.H. at 711 (quotation omitted). Were we to hold that notice under RSA 225-A:25 is effective upon actual receipt, delays caused by a carrier that postpones the delivery of notice, or loss or destruction of notice while in the mail system, would leave plaintiffs without recourse through no fault of their own — an absurd and unfair outcome which our holding avoids.

If the legislature disagrees with our interpretation of RSA 225-A:25, “it is free, subject to constitutional limitations, to amend the statute.” State v. Dor, 165 N.H. 198, 205-06, 75 A.3d 1125 (2013).

Accordingly, having determined that the plaintiffs satisfied the notice provision of RSA 225-A:25, IV by mailing the notice on May 3, 2012, we need not address the plaintiffs’ remaining arguments.

Reversed and remanded.

Dalianis, C.J., and Conboy, Lynn, and Bassett, JJ., concurred.


Snowboarder, off-duty employee of defendant ski area, collides with a skier. New Hampshire Supreme Court finds a way different from what was argued at the trial court to decide the case.

Court looks at the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act signage posted at the ticket window and on the back of the lift ticket in reviewing the facts of the case, but does not use that information in its decision. This is both c and interesting in a Supreme Court decision.

Camire v. The Gunstock Area Commission, 166 N.H. 374; 97 A.3d 250; 2014 N.H. LEXIS 60

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: Diana Camire

Defendant: The Gunstock Area Commission

Plaintiff Claims: three counts based upon vicarious liability for the instructor’s alleged negligent and reckless conduct, and one count alleging that Gunstock was directly liable for negligently hiring, training, and supervising the instructor

Defendant Defenses: Release and lack of liability because the employee was off duty at the time of the collision

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

This is a simple case. However, how the New Hampshire Supreme Court decided the case is novel.

The plaintiff was skiing at the defendant ski area. While skiing she was hit by a snowboarder causing her injuries. At the time of the collision, the snowboarder was off duty, but employed by the defendant as a snowboard instructor.

The plaintiff argued the defendant was vicariously liable for the actions of the snowboarder because he was an employee of the defendant. Vicarious liability is liability of an employer for the actions of an employee while working or acting for the employer.

At the time of the collision the snowboarder had not reported to work, which was supposed to do in another 15 minutes.

The court pointed out the plaintiff purchased her lift ticket next to a 35” by 40” sign, which recited language of the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act. Additional language and warnings were printed on the backside of the lift ticket the plaintiff purchased.

The plaintiff sued the ski area for the actions of the snowboarder and for negligently hiring, training and supervising the snowboarder. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the release and the fact the snowboarder was not working for the defendant at the time of the accident.

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

The lower court granted the defendant ski area’s motion for summary judgment based on the release and the lack of duty because the snowboarder was not working at the time of the incident.

The Supreme Court ignored both of those legal issues and instead looked at whether the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act affected this case. Normally, an appeals court will only look at the issues specifically argued in the lower courts and prevent litigation over issues not presented at the trial court. Here the court held that failure to bring an argument at a lower court limits the parties from making the argument at the appellate court but does not prevent the appellate court from look and ruling on the issue.

The court looked at the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act and found the act created immunity for the defendant ski area.

The issue of whether a ski area operator has statutory immunity under RSA 225-A:24, I, presents a question of law that, in this case, is dispositive of the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims. Accordingly, in the interest of judicial economy, and because both parties addressed the issue during oral argument before this court, we will consider it.

The court quoted specific language in the act that prevented litigation for collisions.

Each person who participates in the sport of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing accepts as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in the sport, and to that extent may not maintain an action against the operator for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards. The categories of such risks, hazards, or dangers which the skier or passenger assumes as a matter of law include but are not limited to the following: … collisions with other skiers or other persons . … [Emphasize added by the court.]

The plaintiff argued the statute did not apply in this case because the statute did not apply to employees of the ski area involved in a collision. The court did not read the statute with the limitation that the statute only applied to non-employees.

Thus, we hold that, based upon the plain language of the statute, the legislature intended to include, as a category of inherent risk, collisions with ski area employees, regardless of whether they were working at the time of the collision.

The court also pointed out that the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act did not apply only to the risks set forth in the statute. Additional risks, not identified by the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act, could be assumed by a skier at a resort.

Thus, we disagree with the plaintiff to the extent that she argues that “collisions with other skiers or other persons,” RSA 225-A:24, I, excludes collisions with ski area employees because the legislature did not specifically identify them as an inherent risk of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing.

The court ruled the negligence claims of the plaintiff based on vicarious liability were properly dismissed because the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act created immunity to the ski area.

The final claim was the negligent hiring, supervision or training claim. The defendant argued that the ski area was not liable because the plaintiff could establish a causal connection between her injury and the fact the snowboarder worked for the defendant ski area.

However, the court found that the plaintiff had “failed to brief this argument sufficiently for appellate review…” so the court declined to review the issue.

The motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendant ski area was upheld, and the plaintiff’s claims dismissed.

So Now What?

In this one case, there are two examples of what could happen if a party to litigation did not adequately raise an issue and the trial court and fully and properly brief and argue the issue at the appellate court.

In one case, an issue not even reviewed at the lower court was used by the court to grand the defendant’s motion and in the other case an issue that was raised but not adequately argued on appeal was dismissed.

Neither way is a reliable way to win a lawsuit. Always raise every possible claim and/or defense in your pleadings and at trial. Always get into the record either by witnesses, offers of proof or other evidence sufficient facts and legal arguments to create a record on appeal that the appellate court cannot ignore.

The other issue which was brought out by the court but not raised in its decision was the language on a sign and the back of the lift ticket take from the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act. This was in the first paragraphs of this decision, which usually indicated the court finds it important. However, none of the information was argued to support the decision on appeal.

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Camire v. The Gunstock Area Commission, 166 N.H. 374; 97 A.3d 250; 2014 N.H. LEXIS 60

Camire v. The Gunstock Area Commission, 166 N.H. 374; 97 A.3d 250; 2014 N.H. LEXIS 60

Diana Camire v. The Gunstock Area Commission

No. 2013-258

SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

166 N.H. 374; 97 A.3d 250; 2014 N.H. LEXIS 60

February 26, 2014, Argued

June 18, 2014, Opinion Issued

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Belknap

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

HEADNOTES NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

1. Appeal and Error–Questions Considered on Appeal–Questions Not Preserved, but Considered Ordinarily, an appellate court will not review arguments that were not timely raised before the trial court because trial forums should have an opportunity to rule on issues and to correct errors before they are presented to the appellate court, This rule, however, is not absolute. Preservation is a limitation on the parties to an appeal and not the reviewing court. [*375]

2. Torts–Defenses–Assumption of Risk The specification of “collisions with other skiers or other persons” in the enumerated categories of inherent risks in the statute regarding responsibilities of skiers and passengers plainly includes all person-to-person collisions. As the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire has concluded, the plain and ordinary meaning of the statute’s immunity provision could hardly be clearer: it identifies collisions with other skiers or other persons as one of the risks, dangers, or hazards which the skier assumes as a matter of law. It makes no exception for collisions with skiers who are violating the statute, nor does it except collisions with ski area employees, even when those employees are themselves violating the statute or otherwise conducting themselves in a negligent or reckless fashion. RSA 225-A:24, I.

3. Torts–Defenses–Assumption of Risk Based upon the plain language of the statute regarding responsibilities of skiers and passengers, the legislature intended to include, as a category of inherent risk, collisions with ski area employees, regardless of whether they were working at the time of the collision. Thus, when a snowboarder collided with an instructor who was snowboarding prior to his scheduled “lineup,” the statute barred her vicarious liability claims as a matter of law. RSA 225-A:24, I.

4. Torts–Defenses–Assumption of Risk The current statute regarding responsibilities of skiers and passengers does not limit the risks assumed to those enumerated therein. Thus, “collisions with other skiers or other persons” does not exclude collisions with ski area employees because the legislature did not specifically identify them as an inherent risk of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing. RSA 225-A:24, I.

5. Appeal and Error–Questions Considered on Appeal–Particular Cases Because plaintiff did not develop an argument as to why the trial court erred by granting summary judgment to defendant on her direct negligence claim, the court declined to review it.

COUNSEL: McLaughlin Law Office, P.C., of Laconia (Emily F. McLaughlin on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.

Devine, Millimet & Branch, P.A., of Manchester (Thomas Quarles, Jr. and Leigh S. Willey on the brief, and Mr. Quarles orally), for the defendant.

JUDGES: CONBOY, J. DALIANIS, C.J., and HICKS, LYNN, and BASSETT, JJ., concurred.

OPINION BY: CONBOY

OPINION

[**252] Conboy, J. The plaintiff, Diana Martinez (formerly Diana Camire), appeals an order of the Superior Court (O’Neill, J.) granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant, The Gunstock Area Commission (Gunstock), on the plaintiff’s claims for damages for negligence and recklessness. We affirm.

The following facts are drawn from the trial court’s order and the record, or are otherwise undisputed. On February 13, 2010, the plaintiff, a snowboarder, visited Gunstock’s ski and snowboard area. Posted on the wall of the ticket kiosk was a thirty-five inch by forty inch sign that recited, in part, the language of RSA 225-A:24 and also stated: “By purchasing and/or affixing a ticket to use our facilities, you are agreeing to accept, as a matter of law, all inherent risks of winter sports activities and agree not [*376] to sue Gunstock for NEGLIGENCE or any other [***2] legal claim.” (Bolding omitted.). See RSA 225-A:24 (2011) (outlining responsibilities of skiers and passengers). In addition, the back of the lift ticket purchased by the plaintiff included language stating that, as a condition of using the ski area, the purchaser or user of the ticket agreed to release Gunstock, and its employees and agents from any legal liability, including, but not limited to, claims for negligence.

Later that day, between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., the plaintiff was injured when she was snowboarding on a ski trail and another snowboarder struck her from behind. The snowboarder was employed by Gunstock during the 2009-2010 season as a snowboard instructor. At the time of the collision, he was snowboarding prior to his scheduled 11:45 a.m. “lineup” in anticipation of a 12:00 p.m. lesson. The plaintiff alleges that she suffered injuries as a result of the collision.

The plaintiff sued Gunstock, asserting three counts based upon vicarious liability for the instructor’s alleged negligent and reckless conduct, and one count alleging that Gunstock was directly liable for negligently hiring, training, and supervising the instructor. The trial court granted Gunstock’s motion [***3] for summary judgment on all of the claims. This appeal followed.

[HN1] “In reviewing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, we consider the affidavits and other evidence, and all inferences properly drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Sanchez v. Candia Woods Golf Links, 161 N.H. 201, 203, 13 A.3d 268 (2010) (quotation omitted). “If our review of that evidence discloses no genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we will affirm the grant of summary judgment.” Id. (quotation omitted). We review the trial court’s application of the law to the facts de novo. Id.

On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by determining that the liability releases barred her claims “in the absence of some evidence that [she] expressly agreed to [the] exculpatory language.” She also contends that the trial court erred in finding that, as a matter of law, the instructor was not in Gunstock’s employ at the time of the collision. She further asserts that RSA 225-A:24, I, “does not bar recovery for [a ski area] operator’s negligent supervision of its employees and the negligence of its agents in violation of their [***4] duties as employees.”

The defendant disputes the plaintiff’s contention that the releases do not preclude its liability and that the instructor was working at the time of the collision. The defendant further asserts that, even if the instructor had been “working at the time of the accident, because this accident was a skier-to-skier collision [–] an inherent [**253] risk of skiing, for which ski areas are immune [–] Gunstock would have immunity from [the plaintiff’s] claims.”

[*377] [1] We recognize that, in the trial court proceeding, neither party, nor the court, addressed the applicability of RSA 225-A:24, I, to the plaintiff’s claims. [HN2] Ordinarily, we will not review arguments that were not timely raised before the trial court, Baines v. N.H. Senate President, 152 N.H. 124, 128 (2005), because “trial forums should have an opportunity to rule on issues and to correct errors before they are presented to the appellate court,” Petition of Guardarramos-Cepeda, 154 N.H. 7, 9, 904 A.2d 609 (2006) (quotation omitted). This rule, however, is not absolute. Id. As we have previously recognized, preservation is a limitation on the parties to an appeal and not the reviewing court. Id. The issue of whether a ski area operator has statutory [***5] immunity under RSA 225-A:24, I, presents a question of law that, in this case, is dispositive of the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims. Accordingly, in the interest of judicial economy, and because both parties addressed the issue during oral argument before this court, we will consider it. See id.

Whether RSA 225-A:24, I, precludes the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims is a question of statutory interpretation. [HN3] “We are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole.” Martin v. Pat’s Peak, 158 N.H. 735, 738, 973 A.2d 333 (2009) (quotation omitted). “We first examine the language of the statute, and, where possible, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meanings to the words used.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Our goal is to apply statutes in light of the legislature’s intent in enacting them, and in light of the policy sought to be advanced by the entire statutory scheme.” Id. (quotation omitted).

RSA 225-A:24, I, provides, in pertinent part:

[HN4] Each person who participates in the sport of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing accepts as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in the sport, and to that extent may not maintain [***6] an action against the operator for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards. The categories of such risks, hazards, or dangers which the skier or passenger assumes as a matter of law include but are not limited to the following: … collisions with other skiers or other persons . …

(Emphasis added.). The plaintiff argues that the statute does not bar her claims because “collisions with other skiers or other persons” does not include collisions with employees of the ski area operator.

[2, 3] Contrary to the plaintiff’s argument, [HN5] the specification of “collisions with other skiers or other persons” in the enumerated categories of inherent risks plainly includes all person-to-person collisions. Cf. LaChance v. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., 156 N.H. 88, 94, 931 A.2d 571 (2007) (interpreting “any [*378] person injured” broadly within context of Consumer Protection Act). As the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire recently concluded:

the “plain and ordinary meaning” of the [statute’s] immunity provision could hardly be clearer: it identifies “collisions with other skiers or other persons” as one of the “risks, dangers, or hazards which the skier assumes as a [***7] matter of law.” It makes no exception for collisions with skiers who are violating the [statute], nor does it except collisions with ski area employees, even when those employees are themselves violating [**254] the [statute] or otherwise conducting themselves in a negligent or reckless fashion.

Hanus v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., No. 13-cv-44-JL, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52778, 2014 WL 1513232, at *3 (D.N.H. Apr. 16, 2014) (ellipsis omitted). If we were to conclude, as the plaintiff urges, that the legislature intended to exclude collisions with ski area employees, we would, in effect, be rewriting the statute. This we decline to do. See LaChance, 156 N.H. at 94. Thus, we hold that, [HN6] based upon the plain language of the statute, the legislature intended to include, as a category of inherent risk, collisions with ski area employees, regardless of whether they were working at the time of the collision.

The plaintiff relies upon Adie v. Temple Mt. Ski Area, 108 N.H. 480, 238 A.2d 738 (1968), to support her argument that a “ski area can be liable for an employee’s negligence, despite the existence of statutory immunity.” In Adie, we considered whether the statute barred “an action for negligent instruction against an operator who has undertaken [***8] to instruct skiers.” Adie, 108 N.H. at 482. We concluded that the statute did not bar recovery for a ski area operator’s negligence in ski instruction to a skier because “the statute does not regulate instruction in skiing by operators.” Id. at 483-84. We noted that “[i]f the Legislature had intended to bar skiers from actions against an operator for negligent instruction … , some regulation of their operations in th[is] area[ ] would have appeared in the statute.” Id. at 484. Here, unlike in Adie, the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims allege injuries caused by a “collision[ ] with other skiers or other persons,” RSA 225-A:24, I; such claims are expressly addressed in the statute.

[4] Moreover, as we have previously explained, [HN7] the current statute “does not limit the risks assumed to those enumerated therein.” Rayeski v. Gunstock Area, 146 N.H. 495, 498, 776 A.2d 1265 (2001); see RSA 225-A:24, I (risks, hazards, or dangers “include but are not limited to” enumerated items). Thus, we disagree with the plaintiff to the extent that she argues that “collisions with other skiers or other persons,” RSA 225-A:24, I, excludes [*379] collisions with ski area employees because the legislature did not specifically [***9] identify them as an inherent risk of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing.

Accordingly, because RSA 225-A:24, I, bars the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims as a matter of law, the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Gunstock on those claims. In light of our holding, we need not decide whether the instructor was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the collision or whether the claims are also barred by Gunstock’s liability releases.

[5] The final count of the plaintiff’s writ alleged negligence on the part of Gunstock in failing to properly hire, train, and supervise the instructor. Gunstock moved for summary judgment on this claim on the basis that the plaintiff could not establish a causal connection between her injury and the fact that the ski instructor worked for Gunstock. Although, on appeal, the plaintiff cites Trahan-Laroche v. Lockheed Sanders, 139 N.H. 483, 485, 657 A.2d 417 (1995), for the proposition that “[a]n employer may be directly liable for damages resulting from the negligent supervision of its employee’s activities,” she does not develop an argument as to why the trial court erred by granting summary judgment to the defendant on her [***10] direct negligence claim. As she has failed to brief this argument sufficiently for appellate review, we decline to review it. See Porter [**255] v. City of Manchester, 155 N.H. 149, 157, 921 A.2d 393 (2007); State v. Blackmer, 149 N.H. 47, 49, 816 A.2d 1014 (2003).

Affirmed.

Dalianis, C.J., and Hicks, Lynn, and Bassett, JJ., concurred.


Plaintiff tries to hold ski area liable for exceeding the state ski statute, however the court sees the flaws in the argument.

The New Hampshire Ski Area Safety Act only requires a ski area to post as a sign to close a run. The plaintiff tried to claim that a rope closing the run created greater liability rather more protection for skiers and boarders. A voluntarily assumed duty negligently performed is something always created in many outdoor recreation programs or businesses. However, it is not the change that is the legal issue. It is whether or not you increased the risk of harm to your guests that is controlling.

Gwyn v. Loon Mountain Corporation, 350 F.3d 212; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 23995

Plaintiff: Eileen Gwyn, on her own behalf, and as Executrix of the Estate of Howard Gwyn, and Margaret Do

Defendant: Loon Mountain Corporation, d/b/a Loon Mountain Ski Area

Plaintiff Claims: violation of the New Hampshire Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety Act

Defendant Defenses: New Hampshire Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety Act

Holding: for the defendant ski area

In this case, two people died and one person was injured on an icy ski slope. The first victim standing above the closed trail slipped and slid under the rope 900 feet to his death. The next two victims took off their skis and tried to hike down to the first victim. Both eventually fell sliding down the slope.

The survivors and the estates sued claiming violation of the New Hampshire Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety Act and common law negligence claims. The lower court dismissed all but two of the claims on the defendant’s motion to dismiss. Those two claims were eventually dismissed after discovery had occurred, and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.

The plaintiff’s appealed the dismissal.

Summary of the case

The trail the plaintiff’s fell down had been closed because it was icy. The New Hampshire Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety Act required that a notice be placed on signs at the base of the lift, on trail-boards, and a sign posted at designated access points.

The plaintiff argued that the trail had to be closed not only at the main access point to the trail, but all possible access points to the closed trail from other trail. The court looked at a trail map of the area and realized that the signage alone to mark a trail closed would be enormous.

The second argument was the most disturbing. The statute did not require that a rope be used to close a trail. Only a sign was needed to close a trail. By placing the rope across the trail the rope “could lure a skier closer to the icy entrance than one would go otherwise.” The plaintiff then argued that by a duty, voluntarily assumed but negligently performed was not protected by the ski statute.

There are situations where a voluntary act increases the risk of harm to someone creating negligence.

…but the common law rule sometimes permits a claim for negligent performance of a voluntary act where the negligence “increases the risk” of harm, or harm is caused by the victim’s “reliance upon the undertaking” to provide help or care.

The district court rejected this argument.

[The] complaint is devoid of allegations suggesting that defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care to perform the identified undertakings created the icy area where the falls took place, exacerbated an already dangerous situation, caused Howard Gwyn and Do to enter an area they would not have entered absent the undertakings, or caused Howard Gwyn and Do to suffer worse injuries than they would have suffered absent the undertakings.

Because the first person to fall slipped on an ice patch, which was an inherent risk assumed by the skier under the statute, the plaintiff could not argue the risk was increased. The risk was there, and the rope did not change or increase the risk.

The only duty Loon voluntarily undertook–placing a rope across the trail–put the plaintiffs in no worse a position than they would have been without the rope. One can think of circumstances where a badly placed rope would cause or contribute to an accident but this simply is not such a case.

The next two plaintiffs obviously assumed the risk and by taking off their skis, probably increased the risks themselves.

The remaining claims of the plaintiff were dealt with quickly. The first was the New Hampshire Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety Act violated the New Hampshire Constitution. However, the New Hampshire Supreme Court had already ruled it did not. The final two were procedural in nature. Whether the question on appeal had been certified and whether the plaintiff’s request to amend their complaint had been improperly denied.

So Now What?

Cases like this scare outdoor recreation programs into not doing the next thing to make a program better because of fear of creating more problems. Do not allow the threat of a lawsuit from making your program better or safer.

Do make your changes or upgrades such that the changes do not place your guests in a place of increased risk or such that you have placed your guests in a position where they may be confused.

Any risk can be assumed by your guests, clients or skiers. You need to make sure that any changes in your program, operation or business results in a change in the information and education your clients receive about the risk.

Here the risk had not changed to the plaintiff so that the change, the actions above those required by the statute, did not increase the risk to the plaintiff’s. The icy spot was there whether or not the rope was placed closing the trail or where the rope was placed.

Do the right thing and continue with an education of your guests to make sure they know what you are doing and why and what those risks are.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Gwyn v. Loon Mountain Corporation, 350 F.3d 212; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 23995

Gwyn v. Loon Mountain Corporation, 350 F.3d 212; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 23995

Eileen Gwyn, on her own behalf, and as Executrix of the Estate of Howard Gwyn, and Margaret Do, Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. Loon Mountain Corporation, d/b/a Loon Mountain Ski Area, Defendant, Appellee.

No. 03-1047

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

350 F.3d 212; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 23995

November 25, 2003, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: As Amended December 2, 3003.

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE. Hon. Paul J. Barbadoro, U.S. District Judge.

Gwyn v. Loon Mt. Corp., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9092 (D.N.H., 2002)

Gwyn v. Loon Mt. Corp., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24625 (D.N.H., 2002)

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: Kevin M. Leach with whom Nixon, Raiche, Manning, Casinghino & Leach, P.C. was on brief for appellants.

Thomas Quarles, Jr. with whom Margaret O’Brien, Matthew R. Johnson and Devine, Millimet & Branch, P.A. were on brief for appellee.

JUDGES: Before Boudin, Chief Judge, Siler, * Senior Circuit Judge, and Lynch, Circuit Judge.

* Of the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation.

OPINION BY: BOUDIN

OPINION

[*214] BOUDIN, Chief Judge. In this tragic case, two individuals were killed and a third badly injured in a skiing accident in New Hampshire. The details are set forth in two very able opinions by the district court. Thus, we confine ourselves to an abbreviated description focused on the two primary issues raised on this appeal: one is an important question of statutory construction and the other a narrower issue turning upon the pleadings.

Howard and Eileen Gwyn, their daughter Margaret Do, and Margaret’s fiance Mark Goss went on a ski vacation in Lincoln, New Hampshire. On January 25, 1999, they spent the morning together skiing down [**2] easy trails at Loon Mountain Ski Area (“Loon”). Shortly before lunch, Howard, Margaret, and Mark–all very experienced skiers–left Eileen and rode the chairlift up to the Summit Lodge to ski down some more difficult trails. Unbeknownst to them, Loon had closed one of the trails (named “Triple Trouble”) the night before because of icy conditions, a closure noted on the trail board at the bottom of the mountain.

[*215] From the summit, it was possible to ski directly down a trail named Big Dipper from which, part way down, Triple Trouble branched off to the skier’s right. Or, from the summit, one could head right on a trail called Haulback, then take a left fork onto Cant Dog, and enter Big Dipper just above the point where Triple Trouble branched off to the right. At this branching off point from Big Dipper to Triple Trouble, Loon had posted a sign warning that Triple Trouble was closed. It had also placed a rope across the entrance to Triple Trouble.

From the summit, Howard led the group to the right down Haulback and then took a left turn onto Cant Dog. At the intersection of Cant Dog and Big Dipper–right above the closed Triple Trouble trail–Howard slipped on ice, slid under the rope [**3] blocking off Triple Trouble, and tumbled nine hundred feet down the icy slope. He suffered severe injuries resulting in his death a few days later. Margaret Do and Mark Goss saw Howard Gwyn fall, removed their skis, and attempted to walk down the closed trail to rescue him. Both fell, sliding hundreds of feet down Triple Trouble trail. Goss died. Margaret Do suffered severe injuries and frostbite but was rescued several hours later. In this diversity suit, Margaret Do and Eileen Gwyn (as executrix of Howard Gwyn’s estate and on her own behalf) sued Loon for breach of multiple common law and statutory duties. The district court granted Loon’s motion to dismiss the majority of claims under New Hampshire’s “Skiers, Ski Area, and Passenger Tramway Safety Act,” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 225-A:23 (2002) (“ski statute”). Two claims survived the motion to dismiss, but after discovery the district court granted summary judgment to Loon on both counts. Plaintiffs appealed, focusing attention on one statutory claim and one claim of common law negligence.

At the crux of this appeal is New Hampshire’s ski statute, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 225-A. In this [**4] statute several duties are placed on ski operators–maintaining trail boards, marking the difficulty of various slopes, making trail maps available to all skiers–and operators can be sued for violations of these statutory duties. § 225-A:23; Nutbrown v. Mt. Cranmore, Inc., 140 N.H. 675, 671 A.2d 548, 553 (N.H. 1996). At the same time, the statute places the risk of injury from dangers inherent in the sport of skiing on the skiers themselves, and bars all actions against ski operators for injuries caused by these dangers. 1 § 225-A:24; Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 553. New Hampshire case law is slowly filling in the gaps but uncertainties remain.

1 [HN1] The statute provides that “each person who participates in the sport of skiing accepts as a matter of law[] the dangers inherent in the sport, and to that extent may not maintain an action against the operator for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards.” § 225-A:24; see also Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 553 (“By participating in the sport of skiing, a skier assumes this inherent risk and may not recover against a ski area operator for resulting injuries.”).

[**5] Here, most of the counts and theories pressed by plaintiffs at the start are no longer in issue, but two major claims remain open on this appeal. The first is that Loon did not comply with a statutory duty relating to marking closed trails. Under the ski statute, operators are not required to close a trail because of hazardous conditions, but if they do close a trail they must mark “the beginning of, and designated access points to” the closed trail with a sign, § 225-A:23 (III)(b), and note the closure on a permanent trail board at the base of the mountain, § 225-A:23 (II)(a). Here, it is undisputed that Loon properly [*216] noted the closure on the trail board and properly marked “the beginning” of Triple Trouble at the point that it branched off Big Dipper.

Nevertheless, the plaintiffs say that a closed sign for Triple Trouble was also required by the statute at the uphill juncture where Cant Dog forked off Haulback–a point where a sign pointed the way to Big Dipper and Triple Trouble. This, they say, was itself an “access point” to Triple Trouble. Their causation theory is less clear: the implication is that such an early warning of a closed trail further downhill might have made [**6] Howard Gwyn decide to lead the group straight down Haulback instead of taking Cant Dog so they could avoid the entire region around the closed trail.

The district court ruled as a matter of law that “access points” as used in the New Hampshire statute referred to points of direct entry onto a trail, and did not include points above the start of the closed trail. Thus, the start of Cant Dog might conceivably be treated as an access point to Big Dipper since the former merged into the latter; once on Cant Dog, entry onto Big Dipper was inevitable. By contrast, nothing compelled one who took the fork to Big Dipper necessarily to take the fork from Big Dipper onto Triple Trouble.

We agree readily with the district court’s reading of the statute. True, as a matter of dictionary definition a remote fork to an intermediate trail that can lead eventually to the closed trail could be described as a way to “access” the later trail; but on this theory the summit itself would be an access point to every connected trail on the mountain below. Indeed, on plaintiffs’ reading, warning signs might have to be posted at a variety of different points wherever existing trail signs indicated that [**7] the closed trail could be reached somewhere downhill. Conceivably, plaintiffs’ position could also require ski operators to construct such directional signs even if they did not already exist in order to mark every downhill closure.

It would not be literally impossible to comply with such requirements–apparently some ski slopes do so mark their closed trails, at least where existing signs mention the trails–but it could involve fairly complex compliance measures. In fact, the Loon trail map indicates that from some trails one could reach nearly 30 different trails below–some of them through open intermediate trails branching off into other open forks. The simplicity of the statute’s requirements argues against an interpretation requiring ski operators to mark every one of those possibilities, and this interpretation is unnecessary to carry out what we perceive to be the rationale of the warning requirement.

In our view, the statute aims to give the skier warning of a trail closure at any point where the skier might otherwise commit himself to traverse the closed trail. This is a complete scheme of protection giving the skier both a comprehensive overview of all closures on the [**8] base trailboard, and specific notice of each closure at any point on the mountain where the skier has a last chance to avoid the closed trail.

This reading may leave some open issues, but it forecloses plaintiffs’ central claim in this case. Here, the plaintiffs argue that a sign should have been placed at the Haulback-Cant Dog junction, since Cant Dog led onto Big Dipper which in turn led onto Triple Trouble. But a skier does not commit himself to taking Triple Trouble merely by turning left onto Cant Dog. Big Dipper was an open trail which a skier could continue down without branching off onto Triple Trouble, so no warning sign as to Triple Trouble was required by [*217] the statute at the Haulback- Cant Dog fork, even though one could have been voluntarily provided.

The second claim on appeal is that the district court should not have rejected an alternative theory of the plaintiffs having nothing to do with notice. The plaintiffs said that the defendant had placed the rope across Triple Trouble somewhat below the entrance itself and that the placement was negligent because it could lure a skier closer to the icy entrance than one would go otherwise. Admittedly, there was no duty to [**9] use any closing rope at all (the statute made the signs sufficient) but the plaintiffs argue that a voluntarily assumed duty negligently performed is not immunized by the statute.

There are obvious risks in penalizing efforts to provide help or care beyond an existing duty, but the common law rule sometimes permits a claim for negligent performance of a voluntary act where the negligence “increases the risk” of harm, or harm is caused by the victim’s “reliance upon the undertaking” to provide help or care. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 (1965); see also Prosser & Keaton on Torts 378-82 (5th ed. 1984). The New Hampshire Supreme Court has not decided how far this doctrine may apply in the face of the state statute providing protection to ski operators. See Rayeski v. Gunstock Area/Gunstock Area Comm’n, 146 N.H. 495, 776 A.2d 1265, 1269 (N.H. 2001).

The district court did not attempt to answer this question. It rested its rejection of such a claim in this case on the fact that the plaintiffs had not articulated any plausible causal connection between the placement of the rope and Howard Gwyn’s fall. As the district court [**10] said:

[The] complaint is devoid of allegations suggesting that defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care to perform the identified undertakings created the icy area where the falls took place, exacerbated an already dangerous situation, caused Howard Gwyn and Do to enter an area they would not have entered absent the undertakings, or caused Howard Gwyn and Do to suffer worse injuries than they would have suffered absent the undertakings.

We have read the plaintiffs’ appellate briefs with care and no persuasive answer to this summary appears.

The problem for the plaintiffs is that Howard Gwyn evidently slipped on an ice patch on Big Dipper, and [HN2] an icy and dangerous open slope is an inherent risk of skiing that the plaintiffs assumed as a matter of law. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 225-A:24(I); Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 553-54 (citing Fetzner v. Jiminy Peak, The Mountain Resort, 1995 Mass. App. Div. 55, 1995 Mass. App. Div. LEXIS 30, No. 94WAD16, 1995 WL 263916, at *2 (Mass. Dist. Ct. May 1, 1995) (slipping on ice is an inherent risk of skiing)). The only duty Loon voluntarily undertook–placing a rope across the trail–put the plaintiffs in no worse a position than [**11] they would have been without the rope. One can think of circumstances where a badly placed rope would cause or contribute to an accident but this simply is not such a case.

Three remaining claims can be dealt with more swiftly. First, plaintiffs say that as read by the district court (and now by this court), the New Hampshire statute violates two provisions of the New Hampshire Constitution: the right to a remedy and the equal protection of the laws. N.H. Const. part I, arts. 2, 12, 14. The claim is that the district court’s interpretation deprives the plaintiffs of their constitutionally guaranteed rights without giving them a sufficient quid pro quo of a prior warning of the danger. This argument may be forfeited since not raised [*218] below. Brigham v. Sun Life of Canada, 317 F.3d 72, 85 (1st Cir. 2003).

In any event the New Hampshire Supreme Court has already concluded that the obligations that the ski statute places on ski operators provide a sufficient quid pro quo for the statutory restriction on skiers’ legal remedies. Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 552. While the “access points” issue was not considered in Nutbrown, this slight wrinkle would [**12] not be likely to alter the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s assessment. No further argument based on New Hampshire constitutional law is sufficiently developed to merit consideration. See Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover, Inc. v. Am. Bar Ass’n, 142 F.3d 26, 43 (1st Cir. 1998).

Second, plaintiffs say that the statutory reading of the access points language and the voluntary assumption issue present open questions of New Hampshire law that should be certified to the state court. No such request was made in the district court, which is ordinarily conclusive save in rare circumstances such as public policy concerns, e.g., Pyle v. S. Hadley Sch. Comm., 55 F.3d 20, 22 (1st Cir. 1995). In any event, the access points issue is too straightforward to deserve certification and the voluntary assumption claim has been resolved not on the basis of statutory preemption but simply on the pleadings and facts of this case.

Third, plaintiffs say that the district court erred by denying them the chance to amend their complaint for the second time (one earlier amendment had been made) two months after the deadline set by the district court’s scheduling order. The motion [**13] to amend was denied by the district court for failure to make any effort to satisfy the good cause requirement for amendments after the scheduling order deadline, Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(1), and also the disregard of Local Rule 15.1’s further requirements (e.g., attaching all relevant documents and explaining why the change had not been made before). D.N.H. R. 15.1.

On appeal, the plaintiffs say only that the district court erred by applying federal standards for amending pleadings instead of the supposedly more liberal amendment rules applicable in New Hampshire state courts. [HN3] But if anything comprises “procedural” rules exempt from the Erie doctrine, Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 82 L. Ed. 1188, 58 S. Ct. 817 (1938), it is the standards for such routine issues as the granting or denial of extensions of time, leave to amend, and similar housekeeping concerns. [HN4] The outcome determinative test relied upon by plaintiffs has been limited, see Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471, 14 L. Ed. 2d 8, 85 S. Ct. 1136 (1965), and has no application to a clearly procedural matter governed by explicit federal procedural rules.

[**14] This is a sad case but, despite the ingenuity and energy of plaintiffs’ counsel, it is not a close one, given the limitations imposed by state policy. It was handled with care and competence by the district court, and we might have said less but for a desire to make clear that plaintiffs’ arguments have been considered with respect.

Affirmed.

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New Hampshire Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety Act

New Hampshire Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety Act

NEW HAMPSHIRE REVISED STATUTES ANNOTATED

TITLE XIX Public Recreation

CHAPTER 225-A Skiers, Ski Area and Passenger Tramway Safety

Go To New Hampshire Statutes Archive Directory

225-A:1 Declaration of Policy. 3

225-A:1-a Administratively Attached. 5

225-A:2 Definitions. 5

225-A:3 Passenger Tramway Safety Board. 8

225-A:3-a Passenger Tramway Safety Board. 8

225-A:4 Term of Office. 9

225-A:4-a Term of Office. 9

225-A:5 Removal. 9

225-A:5-a Removal. 9

225-A:6 Compensation. 10

225-A:6-a Compensation. 10

225-A:7 Records. 10

225-A:7-a Records. 10

225-A:8 Rulemaking. 11

225-A:9 Declaratory Judgment. 12

225-A:9-a Declaratory Judgment. 12

225-A:10 Inspections. 12

225-A:10-a Review of Plans and Specifications. 13

225-A:11 Operator to Pay Certain Costs. 13

225-A:12 Inspection Reports. 13

225-A:13 Complaints. 14

225-A:14 Registration Required. 14

225-A:15 Application for Registration. 15

225-A:16 Fees. 16

225-A:17 Registration. 16

225-A:18 Fees. 17

225-A:18-a Emergency Shut-Down. 17

225-A:19 Orders. 18

225-A:19-a Operation Forbidden. 19

225-A:20 Hearing. 20

225-A:21 Appeal. 20

225-A:23 Responsibilities of the Ski Area Operator. 21

225-A:24 Responsibilities of Skiers and Passengers. 24

225-A:25 Insurance; Limitations. 29

225-A:26 Penalty. 32

227:14 Reduced Rates. 33

225-A:1 Declaration of Policy.

The state of New Hampshire finds that the sports of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing are practiced by a large number of citizens of the state of New Hampshire, and also that skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing attract to the state of New Hampshire large numbers of nonresidents significantly contributing to the economy of New Hampshire. Therefore, it shall be the policy of the state of New Hampshire to protect its citizens and visitors from unnecessary mechanical hazards in the operation of ski tows, lifts, nordic ski jumps and passenger tramways, to ensure that proper design and construction are used, that board accepted safety devices and sufficient personnel are provided for, and that periodic inspections and adjustments are made which are deemed essential to the safe operation of ski tows, ski lifts, nordic ski jumps and passenger tramways. The primary responsibility for operation, construction, maintenance and inspection rests with the operators of such passenger tramway devices. The state, through its passenger tramway safety board, as hereinafter provided, shall register all ski lift devices and nordic ski jumps, establish reasonable standards of design and operational practices, and make such independent inspections as may be necessary in carrying out this policy. Further, it shall be the policy of the state of New Hampshire to define the primary areas of responsibility of skiers and other users of alpine (downhill) and nordic (cross country and nordic ski jumps) areas, recognizing that the sport of skiing and other ski area activities involve risks and hazards which must be assumed as a matter of law by those engaging in such activities, regardless of all safety measures taken by the ski area operators.

225-A:1-a Administratively Attached.

The passenger tramway safety board shall be an administratively attached agency, under RSA 21-G:10, to the department of safety.

225-A:2 Definitions.

In this chapter:

“Board” means the passenger tramway safety board.

“Department” means the department of safety.

“Industry” means the activities of all those persons in the state who own or control the operation of ski areas.

“Nordic ski jump” means a facility constructed for the purpose of nordic ski jumping and built in accordance with appropriate standards and guidelines, and any facilities that are associated with the use or viewing of such a facility.

“Passenger” means any person, including skiers, while being transported or conveyed by a passenger tramway, or while waiting in the immediate vicinity for such transportation or conveyance, or while moving away from the disembarkation or unloading point of a passenger tramway to clear the way for the following passengers, or while in the act of boarding or embarking upon or disembarking from a passenger tramway.

“Passenger tramway” means a device used to transport passengers uphill on skis or other winter sports devices, or in cars on tracks or suspended in the air, by the use of steel cables, chains or belts or by ropes, and usually supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans. The term passenger tramway shall include the following:

Two-car aerial passenger tramway, a device used to transport passengers in 2 open or enclosed cars attached to, and suspended from, a moving wire rope, or attached to a moving wire rope and supported on a standing wire rope, or similar devices.

Multi-car aerial passenger tramway, a device used to transport passengers in open or enclosed cars attached to, and suspended from, a moving wire rope, or attached to a moving wire rope and supported on a standing wire rope, or similar devices.

“Conveyor” means a class of outdoor transportation wherein skiers or passengers are transported uphill on a flexible moving element such as a conveyor belt.

Chair lift, a type of transportation on which passengers are carried on chairs suspended in the air and attached to a moving cable, chain or link belt supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans, or similar devices.

J bar, T bar or platter pull, so-called, and similar types of devices are means of transportation which pull skiers riding on skis by means of an attachment to a main overhead cable supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans.

Rope tow, a type of transportation which pulls the skier riding on skis as the skier grasps the rope manually, or similar devices.

Wire rope tow means a type of transportation by which skiers are pulled on skis while manually gripping a handle attached to a wire hauling cable. The hauling cable is maintained at a constant height range between the loading and unloading points, and there is only one span with no intermediate towers.

“Ski area operator” means a person who owns or controls the operation of a ski area. The word “operator” shall include the state or any political subdivision. An operator of a passenger tramway shall be deemed not to be operating a common carrier. Ski area operator is included in the term “operator” as used in this chapter.

“Ski areas” means all passenger tramways and all designated alpine and nordic trails, slopes, freestyle terrain, tubing terrain, and nordic ski jumps under the control of the alpine and nordic ski area operator and any other areas under the operator’s control open to the public for winter sports recreation or competition.

“Skier” means a person utilizing the ski area under the control of a ski area operator for ski, snowboard, and snow tube recreation and competition.

“Tubing terrain” means areas designated for sliding on inflatable tubes or other similar devices down a prepared course or lanes at a ski area.

“Winter sports” means the use of skis, snowboards, snow tubes, snowshoes, and any device being utilized by a disabled or adaptive participant for winter recreation or competition.

225-A:3 Passenger Tramway Safety Board.

[Repealed 1987, 124:26, IV, eff. July 1, 1987.]

225-A:3-a Passenger Tramway Safety Board.

There shall be a passenger tramway safety board of 4 appointive members. The appointive members shall be appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the council, from persons representing the following interests: one member who operates a “surface lift” as described in RSA 225-A:2, I(e)-(g) only and one member from the cable and other passenger carrying devices industry, and in making such appointments consideration shall be given to recommendations made by members of the industry, so that both the devices which pull skiers riding on skis and the devices which transport passengers in cars or chairs shall have proper representation; one member to represent the public at large; and one member to represent insurance companies which engage in insuring passenger tramway operations, and in appointing such member consideration shall be given to recommendations made by such insurance companies. The authority of such board shall not extend to any other matter relative to the operation of a ski area.

225-A:4 Term of Office.

[Repealed 1987, 124:26, IV, eff. July 1, 1987.]

225-A:4-a Term of Office.

Of the first appointments under this section one member shall be appointed for a term of one year, one for a term of 2 years, one for a term of 3 years and one for a term of 4 years, and until their successors are appointed and qualified, and thereafter each of the appointed members shall be appointed for a term of 4 years and until his successor is appointed and qualified. Vacancies in the board shall be filled for the unexpired term.

225-A:5 Removal.

[Repealed 1987, 124:26, IV, eff. July 1, 1987.]

225-A:5-a Removal.

The appointive members of the board may only be removed from office as provided in RSA 4:1.

225-A:6 Compensation.

[Repealed 1987, 124:26, IV, eff. July 1, 1987.]

225-A:6-a Compensation.

The appointive members of the board shall serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed for their reasonable expenses incurred in official duties.

225-A:7 Records.

[Repealed 1987, 124:26, IV, eff. July 1, 1987.]

225-A:7-a Records.

The department shall provide the board with such office and clerical assistance as may be necessary to carry on the work of the board, in accordance with RSA 225-A:1-a. The department shall also preserve the records, codes, inspection reports, and business records of the board.

225-A:8 Rulemaking.

The board with the approval of the commissioner of safety shall adopt, under RSA 541-A, rules after public hearing, relating to public safety in the construction, operation and maintenance of passenger tramways. The rules shall be in accordance with established standards, if any, and shall not be discriminatory in their application to operators of passenger tramways. The board shall also give notice of any public hearing under RSA 541-A for such rules by first class mail to each registered operator at least 14 days before the hearing.

225-A:9 Declaratory Judgment.

[Repealed 1987, 124:26, IV, eff. July 1, 1987.]

225-A:9-a Declaratory Judgment.

The validity or reasonableness of any rule adopted by the board may be judicially determined upon a petition to the superior court for declaratory judgment, brought within 30 days after the effective date of such rule. The court shall hear the petition and render a declaratory judgment only when it appears that the rule, or its threatened application, interferes with or impairs or threatens to interfere with or impair the legal rights and privileges of the petitioner. In rendering judgment the court shall give effect to any pertinent constitutional limitations upon the powers of the board, the limits of the authority and jurisdiction of the board as conferred under this chapter, and the procedural requirements of this chapter.

225-A:10 Inspections.

The department may make such inspection of the construction, operation and maintenance of passenger tramways as the board may reasonably require. The department may, at its own expense, employ other qualified engineers to make such inspections.

225-A:10-a Review of Plans and Specifications.

Prior to the construction of a new, or the alteration of an existing, passenger tramway, the operator or prospective operator shall submit plans and specifications to the department. The department may make recommendations relative to safety of the layout and equipment, but such recommendation shall not relieve the operator or prospective operator of his primary responsibility as set forth in RSA 225-A:1.

225-A:11 Operator to Pay Certain Costs.

[Repealed 1973, 52:5, eff. May 23, 1973.]

225-A:12 Inspection Reports.

If, as the result of an inspection, it is found that a violation of the board’s rules, regulations or code exists, or a condition in passenger tramway construction, operation or maintenance exists endangering the safety of the public, an immediate report shall be made to the board for appropriate investigation and order.

225-A:13 Complaints.

Any person may make written complaint to the board setting forth any thing or act claimed to be done or omitted to be done by any registered operator which is alleged to be in violation of any rule, regulation or code adopted by the board, or setting forth any condition in passenger tramway construction, operation or maintenance which is alleged to endanger the safety of the public. Thereupon the board shall cause a copy of said complaint to be forwarded to the registered operator complained of, which may be accompanied by an order requiring that the matters complained of be answered in writing within a time to be specified by the board. The board may investigate the matter complained of if it shall appear to the board that there are reasonable grounds therefor.

225-A:14 Registration Required.

No passenger tramway shall be operated in this state unless the operator thereof was registered by the board.

225-A:15 Application for Registration.

On or before November 1 of each year every operator of a passenger tramway shall apply to the board, on forms prepared by it, for registration hereunder. The application shall contain such information as the board may reasonably require.

225-A:16 Fees.

The application for registration shall be accompanied by the applicable annual fees to cover the costs of administering this chapter. The fees for registration shall be set by the board by rule adopted pursuant to RSA 541-A.

225-A:17 Registration.

The board, if satisfied with the facts stated in the application, shall issue a registration certificate to the operator. Each registration shall expire on October 31 next following the day of its issue.

225-A:18 Fees.

All fees collected by the board hereunder shall be credited to the special appropriation for the department to be expended for purposes of this chapter.

225-A:18-a Emergency Shut-Down.

When facts are presented to the board, or to any member thereof, tending to show that an unreasonable hazard exists in the continued operation of a tramway, the board or member, after such verification of said facts as is practical under the circumstances and consistent with the public safety, may, by an emergency order require the operator of said tramway forthwith to cease using the same for the transportation of passengers. Such emergency order shall be in writing and notice thereof may be served by any person upon the operator or his agent immediately in control of said tramway by a true and attested copy of such order, the return of such service to be shown by an affidavit on the back thereof. Such emergency order shall be effective for a period not to exceed 48 hours from the time of service. Immediately after the issuance of an emergency order hereunder, the board shall conduct an investigation into the facts of the case as contemplated in RSA 225-A:19, and shall take such action under said RSA 225-A:19 as may be appropriate.

225-A:19 Orders.

If, after investigation, the commissioner of safety or the board finds that a violation of any of the rules exists, or that there is a condition in passenger tramway construction, operation or maintenance endangering the safety of the public, either the commissioner of safety or the board shall forthwith issue a written order setting forth his or its findings, the corrective action to be taken, and fixing a reasonable time for compliance therewith. Such order shall be served upon the operator involved by registered mail, and shall become final, unless the operator shall apply to the board for a hearing in the manner hereinafter provided.

225-A:19-a Operation Forbidden.

If in any such case the commissioner of safety or the board is of the opinion that the public safety would be endangered by the use of the tramway for the transportation of passengers prior to the taking of some or all of such corrective action, he or it shall so state in said order, and shall require in said order that the tramway shall not be so used until specified corrective action shall have been taken. From and after receipt of the order by the operator said tramway shall not be used for the transportation of passengers without the approval of the commissioner of safety or the board. Application for a hearing before the board shall not have the effect of suspending said order. Operation of the tramway following receipt of such order may be enjoined by the superior court.

225-A:20 Hearing.

Any such operator, who is aggrieved by any such order, may, within 10 days after the service of such order upon him as hereinbefore provided, apply to the board for a review of such order. It shall be the duty of the board to hear the same at the earliest convenient day. At such hearing the operator shall have the right to be heard personally or by counsel, to cross-examine witnesses appearing against him, and to produce evidence in his own behalf. After such hearing, the board shall report its findings in writing to the commissioner of safety and make such order as the facts may require.

225-A:21 Appeal.

Any such operator, who is aggrieved by any such post-hearing order of the board, may, within 14 days after the entry thereof, appeal therefrom to the superior court. No such appeal shall suspend the operation of the order made by the board; provided that the superior court may suspend the order of the board pending the determination of such appeal whenever, in the opinion of the court, justice may require such suspension. The superior court shall hear such appeal at the earliest convenient day and shall make such decree as justice may require.

225-A:23 Responsibilities of the Ski Area Operator.

It shall be the responsibility of the operator to maintain the following signs and designations:

General Designations. The following color code is hereby established:

Green circle: On area’s easiest trails and slopes.

Black diamond: On area’s most difficult trails and slopes.

Blue square: On area’s trails and slopes that fall between the green circle and black diamond designation.

Yellow triangle with red exclamation point inside with a red band around the triangle: Extrahazardous.

Border around a black figure in the shape of a skier inside with a band running diagonally across the sign with the word “closed” beneath the emblem: Trail or slope closed.

Orange oval: On area’s designated freestyle terrain without respect to its degree of difficulty.

Base Area; Information to Skiers and Passengers. (a) A trail board shall be maintained at a prominent location listing the ski area’s network of ski trails, slopes, tubing terrain, and designated freestyle terrain in accordance with the aforementioned color code and containing a key to the code in accordance with the above designations; said trail board shall further designate which trails, slopes, and snow tube terrain are open or closed.

(b) The ski area operator shall warn skiers and passengers by use of the trail board, if applicable, that snow grooming or snow making operations are routinely in progress on the slopes and trails serviced by each tramway.

(c) A map shall be available at all ski areas to all skiers and passengers indicating the system of ski trails, slopes, tubing terrain, and designated freestyle terrain in accordance with the color code in paragraph I.

Ski Trails and Slopes; Information and Warning to Skiers and Other Persons. (a) The operator shall mark the beginning of each alpine and nordic ski trail or slope with the appropriate symbol for that particular trail’s or slope’s degree of difficulty in accordance with RSA 225-A:23, I.

(b) The beginning of each alpine ski trail or slope is defined as the highest point of the trail or slope. Lower trail junctions and intersections may be marked with a degree of difficulty symbol.

(c) The operator shall mark the beginning of, and designated access points to, each alpine trail or slope that is closed with a sign in accordance with RSA 225-A:23, I(e). For purposes of this subparagraph, “designated access points” means the beginning of a trail, slope, or any point where an open trail crosses or intersects the closed trail as shown on the ski area’s trail board and trail map.

(d) The operator shall mark the beginning of and designated access points to terrain with the appropriate symbol in accordance with RSA 225-A:23, I(f), which sign shall warn the skier that the use of the terrain is at the skier’s own risk. Further, a sign shall be placed at each lift depicting the symbols in RSA 225-A:23, I(a)-(f) describing the trail or slope that the skier may encounter by utilizing such lift.

Nordic Ski Jumps. The operator shall provide a sign in a prominent location at or near the nordic ski jump facility, which sign shall warn the ski jumper that the use of the nordic ski jump is entirely at the ski jumper’s own risk. Further, the ski area operator shall be responsible for the design, construction, and structural maintenance of all nordic ski jumps.

225-A:24 Responsibilities of Skiers and Passengers.

It is hereby recognized that, regardless of all safety measures which may be taken by the ski area operator, skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing as sports, and the use of passenger tramways associated therewith may be hazardous to the skiers or passengers. Therefore:

Each person who participates in the sport of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing accepts as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in the sport, and to that extent may not maintain an action against the operator for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards. The categories of such risks, hazards, or dangers which the skier or passenger assumes as a matter of law include but are not limited to the following: variations in terrain, surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots; rocks, trees, stumps and other forms of forest growth or debris; terrain, lift towers, and components thereof (all of the foregoing whether above or below snow surface); pole lines and plainly marked or visible snow making equipment; collisions with other skiers or other persons or with any of the categories included in this paragraph.

Each skier and passenger shall have the sole responsibility for knowing the range of his or her own ability to negotiate any slope, trail, terrain, or passenger tramway. Any passenger who boards such tramway shall be presumed to have sufficient knowledge, abilities, and physical dexterity to negotiate the lift, and no liability shall attach to any operator or attendant for failure to instruct persons on the use thereof.

Each skier or passenger shall conduct himself or herself, within the limits of his or her own ability, maintain control of his or her speed and course at all times both on the ground and in the air, while skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing heed all posted warnings, and refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of himself, herself, or others.

Each passenger shall be the sole judge of his ability to negotiate any uphill track, and no action shall be maintained against any operator by reason of the condition of said track unless the board, upon appropriate evidence furnished to it, makes a finding that the condition of the track, at the time and place of an accident, did not meet the board’s requirements, provided however, that the ski area operator shall have had notice, prior to the accident, of the board’s requirements the violation of which is claimed to be the basis for any action by the passenger.

No skier, passenger or other person shall:

Embark or disembark upon a passenger tramway except at designated areas.

Throw or drop any object while riding on a passenger tramway nor do any act or thing which shall interfere with the running of said tramway.

Engage in any type of conduct which will contribute to cause injury to any other person nor shall he willfully place any object in the uphill ski track which may cause another to fall, while riding in a passenger tramway.

Ski or otherwise use a slope or trail which has been designated “closed” by the operator without written permission of said operator or designee.

Remove, alter, deface or destroy any sign or notice placed in the ski area or on the trail board by the operator.

Cross the uphill track of a J bar, T bar, rope tow, wire rope, or similar device except at locations approved by the board.

Ski or otherwise access terrain outside open and designated ski trails and slopes or beyond ski area boundaries without written permission of said operator or designee.

225-A:25 Insurance; Limitations.

Unless an operator of a passenger tramway is in violation of this chapter or the rules of the board, which violation is causal of the injury complained of, no action shall lie against any operator by any passenger or his or her representative; this prohibition shall not, however, prevent the maintenance of an action against an operator for negligent operation, construction, or maintenance of the passenger tramway itself.

Except as limited by paragraph III, each operator of a passenger tramway shall maintain liability insurance with limits of not less than $300,000 per accident.

The requirements of paragraph II shall not apply to an operator of a passenger tramway which is not open to the general public and operated without charge to users. Nonprofit ski clubs, outing clubs, or other similar organizations, which are operators of rope or wire rope tows shall also be excepted from the requirements of paragraph II if the organization’s bylaws so provide, each member of the organization is provided with a copy of such bylaws, and use of the rope or wire rope tows operated by the organization is restricted to members of that organization. This paragraph shall not relieve the state or any political subdivision operating a rope or wire rope tow from the requirement of maintaining liability insurance in accordance with paragraph II.

No action shall be maintained against any operator for injuries to any skier or passenger unless the same is commenced within 2 years from the time of injury provided, however, that as a condition precedent thereof the operator shall be notified by certified return receipt mail within 90 days of said injury. The venue of any action against an operator shall be in the county where the ski area is located and not otherwise.

No ski area operator shall be held responsible for ensuring the safety of, or for damages including injury or death resulting to, skiers or other persons who utilize the facilities of a ski area to access terrain outside open and designated ski trails. Ski areas shall not be liable for damages, including injury or death, to persons who venture beyond such open and designated ski trails.

A ski area operator owes no duty to anyone who trespasses on the ski area property.

225-A:26 Penalty.

Any person convicted of operating a passenger tramway without having been registered by the board, or violating this chapter or rules of the board shall be guilty of a violation if a natural person, or guilty of a misdemeanor if any other person. Any operator who operates after his registration has been suspended by the board, shall be guilty of a violation for each day of illegal operation.

227:14 Reduced Rates.

All season passes, including those for different age groups or military service, established by the department for the specific use of the winter facilities at Cannon Mountain aerial tramway and ski area shall be made available to any resident of this state at a 25 percent discount. For the purposes of this section, “resident of this state” means a person whose domicile is in this state. To qualify for the discount, a resident shall provide proof of residency and purchase the pass prior to December 15 of the year in which the pass becomes effective. Proof of residency shall include a state issued driver’s license; a state issued I.D. card with a photograph or information including name, sex, date of birth, height, weight and color of eyes; a United States passport; an affidavit certifying residency from the municipal clerk of the purchasers’ town or city of residence; or, for a person less than 18 years of age, proof of a parent’s or guardian’s residency provided by the resident parent or guardian. The commissioner of the department of resources and economic development shall make quarterly reports on season passes issued under this section to the senate president, the speaker of the house of representatives, and the governor and council.


Easy way to check the safe passing distances laws when passing cyclists

Drivers and Cyclists should know this!

One of the authors of Velo Reviews has put together this handy reference map for determining how close it to close when a vehicle is passing a bike.

clip_image002

My favorite is Oregon whose law says you have to stay far enough away to avoid cyclists if he/she falls into the path of the vehicle.

Another great one is New Hampshire which requires a minimum of 3’. The distance increases from 3’ as the speed of the vehicle increases.

I intend to avoid Alaska, Georgia and DC for cycling; those states have no minimum passing laws. But then none of those states were high on my list to travel to, to ride!

Click on the link to see the laws and understand your rights as a cyclist and your responsibilities as a driver.

See How Close Is Too Close?

The League of American Cyclists has all bike laws listed on their website at Legal Program & Bike Laws has the passing information in chart form. See State Safe Passing Laws.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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New Hampshire season pass release protects ski area from claim for injury due to snowmobile accident

McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

Language of the release was broad enough to cover those claims that were not clearly contemplated by the parties to the release.

The facts in this case are simple. The plaintiff was a season pass holder of Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington, New Hampshire. Crotched Mountain Ski Area is owned by SNH Development, Inc., which is a subsidiary of Peak Resorts, Inc. While skiing at the resort one day an employee of the ski area drove a snowmobile into the plaintiff’s path causing a collision.

The plaintiff sued, and the defendants raised the defense of the release.

Summary of the case

The court reviewed the legal issues fairly extensively under New Hampshire law. Releases are upheld under New Hampshire law, as long as they:

(1) do not violate public policy; (2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement; and (3) the plaintiff’s claims were within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract.”

Under New Hampshire law, to violate public policy the release must be between parties with a special relationship or there was a disparity in bargaining power. A special relationship exists if the defendant “is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service...” The court found the ski area did not meet the definition to create a special relationship to the plaintiff.

There was no disparity of bargaining power because to have that situation, the services offered by the defendant must be a “matter of practical necessity.” A necessity is something needed to survive in this day and age, food, power, phone or utilities generally.  Skiing is not necessary to survive; it is recreation.

The plaintiff also argued the release violated public policy because New Hampshire has a statute governing snowmobiles. Because the snow mobile was operating on private land, the court also rejected this argument.

The next claim was the release should not be upheld because it the plaintiff did not contemplate that the release would be used to bar a claim for an accident with a snowmobile. Under New Hampshire law the release does not have to name with any specificity, the possible claims that it will protect against. The release only has to adopt language that covers a broad range of accidents.

Thus, in order to release a defendant from liability for his own negligence, “the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.” There is no requirement that the term “negligence” or any other magic words appear in the release as long “as the language of the release clearly and specifically indicate the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”

From the quote from another New Hampshire case, Audley v. Melton, 138 N.H. 416, 418, 640 A.2d 777 (1994), it is obvious that in New Hampshire, you do not have to use the word negligence in a release. However, doing so creates more opportunities to test the release and the law.

The plaintiff argued that the release does not use the word snowmobile so a collision with a snowmobile falls outside of the release. However, a review of the release by the court found the language was broad enough to cover the facts in the case, a collision with a snowmobile.

This argument also created an argument that the release only covered the inherent risks of skiing. Inherent risks are those risks those are part and parcel of the risk. Inherent risks, unless changed by statute, do not cover any increases in the risk caused by man’s involvement. So a snowmobile is not an inherent risk of skiing.

However, the court found the release did not use the term inherent in it so the risks contemplated by the release were not limited to the inherent risks of the sport of skiing.

So Now What?

Like all cases involving a release, the release must be written carefully so not to be thrown out. This means someone who knows the law, knows the sport or activity you engage in and knows you must write the release.

Here, if the release had incorporated the word inherent, as many releases do, the release would have failed.

 

Plaintiff: Marcella McGrath f/k/a Marcella Widger

 

Defendant: SNH Development, Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

Holding: Release bars the claims of the plaintiff

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

Marcella McGrath f/k/a Marcella Widger v. SNH Development, Inc. and John Doe, an unnamed individual

No. 07-C-0111

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY

2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45

May 19, 2008, Decided

NOTICE:

THE ORDERS ON THIS SITE ARE TRIAL COURT ORDERS THAT ARE NOT BINDING ON OTHER TRIAL COURT JUSTICES OR MASTERS AND ARE SUBJECT TO APPELLATE REVIEW BY THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Affirmed by McGrath v. SNH Dev., Inc., 158 N.H. 540, 969 A.2d 392, 2009 N.H. LEXIS 43 (2009)

CORE TERMS: skiing, ski area, personal injury, snowmobile, negligence claim, summary judgment, public policy, reasonable person, exculpatory, property damage, inherent hazard, public service, bargaining power, contemplate, import, common occurrence, relationship existed, citations omitted, hazardous, disparity, sport, exculpatory provision, exculpatory clause, public interest, privately owned, horseback riding, contemplation, collision, racing, voluntarily assume

JUDGES: [*1] GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

OPINION BY: GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON

OPINION

ORDER

The plaintiff commenced the instant action alleging negligence against the defendants, SNH Development, Inc. (“SNH Development”) and John Doe, an unnamed individual. The defendants now move for summary judgment, and the plaintiff objects.

For purposes of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the parties do not appear to dispute the following facts. SNH Development is a subsidiary of Peak Resorts, Inc. and owns and operates the Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington, New Hampshire. On October 23, 2003, the plaintiff signed an application (the “application”) for a season pass to the Crotched Mountain Ski Area. The application provides:

I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the ski area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death of property damage, release Crotched Mountain its owners and its agents, employees, directors, officers and shareholders from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage [*2] which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operations of the ski area including, but not limited to, grooming snow making, ski lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or age the area, or my participation in skiing, accepting myself the full responsibility

Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. Moreover, on December 20, 2003, the plaintiff signed a Liability Release Agreement, which provides:

I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death or property damage, and release Peak Resorts, Inc, all of its subsidiaries, and its agents, employees, directors, officers, shareholders and the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment and the school and group organizers (collective “providers’), from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operation of the area including, but not limited to grooming, [*3] snowmaking, lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or agents of the areas, or my participating in skiing, snowboarding, blading, accepting myself the full responsibility.

Id. On February 20, 2004, the plaintiff was skiing 1 a trail at the Crotched Mountain Ski Area when an employee of SNH Development drove a snowmobile into the plaintiff’s path, causing a collision.

1 Some of the pleadings state that the plaintiff was skiing, while other’s state that the plaintiff was snowboarding.

The defendants now move for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff signed the application and the Liability Release Agreement, both of which are valid, enforceable exculpatory contracts. The plaintiff objects, arguing that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy and that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court “consider[s] the affidavits and other evidence, and all inferences properly drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” White v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 151 N.H. 544, 547, 864 A.2d 1101 (2004). [*4] The Court must grant a motion for summary judgment if its “review of the evidence does not reveal a genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law Id. A fact is material “if it affects the outcome of the litigation under the applicable substantive law.” Palmer v. Nan King Restaurant, 147 N.H. 681, 683, 798 A.2d 583 (2002).

New Hampshire law generally prohibits exculpatory contracts, but the Court will enforce them if; “(1) do not violate public policy; (2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement; and (3) the plaintiff’s claims were within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract.” Dean v. MacDonald, 147 N.H. 263, 266-267, 786 A.2d 834 (2001). Thus, the Court considers each of these requirements in turn.

Regarding the first requirement, an exculpatory contract violates public policy if a special relationship existed between the parties or if there was some other disparity in bargaining power. See Barnes v. N.H. Karting Assoc., 128 N.H. 102, 106, 509 A.2d 151 (1986) (“A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that the exculpatory agreement does [*5] not contravene public policy i.e that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power.”).

A special relationship exists “[w]here the defendant is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service….” Id. The plaintiff contends that a special relationship existed between the parties because any person operating a snowmobile has a statutory duty to yield the right of way, RSA 215-C:49, XII (Supp. 2007), and because the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public. Assuming that RSA 215-C:49, XII applies to the operation of a snowmobile on a privately owned ski area, the plaintiff has not offered any legal support for the conclusion that this statute somehow charges the defendants with a duty of public service. Moreover, the fact that the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public is not conclusive. For example, Barnes, involved a negligence claim arising from a collision at an enduro kart racing facility. In Barnes, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted that the defendant’s served the public but held that the defendant’s were not charged with a duty of public service because [*6] Endurokart racing is not “affected with a public interest.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108. Similarly, skiing is a recreational activity not affected with a public interest, and the Court finds that the defendant’s are not charged with a duty of public service.

The Plaintiff also contends that she was at an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power because all ski areas require skiers to sign releases. The Court disagrees.

This case … does not have any hallmarks of a disparity in bargaining power. The [skiing] service offered by the defendant is not a “matter of practical necessity.” Nor did the defendant in this ease have monopoly control over this service such that the plaintiff could not have gone elsewhere.

Audley v. Melton, 138 N.H. 416, 418, 640 A.2d 777 (1994) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108). 2

2 The Plaintiff also argues that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy because they relieve the defendant’s from compliance with RSA chapter 215-C, which governs snowmobiles. Assuming that RSA chapter 215-C applies to the operation of a snowmobile on privately owned ski area, the application and the Liability Release Agreement would have no bearing on the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C. [*7] See RSA 215-C-32 (Supp.2007) (providing for the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C).

“Once an exculpatory agreement is found unobjectionable as a matter of public policy, it will be upheld only if it appears that the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or that reasonable person in his position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107. “The plaintiff’s understanding presents an issue of fact, and the plaintiff should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial unless the exculpatory language was clear and a misunderstanding was unreasonable.” Wright v. Loon Mt. Recreation Corp., 140 N.H. 166, 169, 663 A.2d 1340 (1995). The Court

therefore examine[s] the language of the release to determine whether “a reasonable person in [the plaintiff’s] position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” A reasonable person would understand the provision if its language “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence….”

Id. (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107). The Court “will assess the clarity. the contract by evaluating it as a whole, not by examining [*8] isolated words and phrases. Id. at 169-170.

The plaintiff does not appear to dispute that she understood the import of the application or the Liability Release Agreement. Rather, the plaintiff argues that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim. Thus, the Court turns to the third requirement.

“[T]he plaintiff’s claims must have been within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the execution of the agreement. The parties need not, however, have contemplated the precise occurrence that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. They may adopt language to cover, a broad range of accidents….” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107 (citation omitted). To determine the scope of a release, the Court examines its language, strictly construing it against the defendant. Dean, 147 N.H. at 267.

Thus, in order to effectively release a defendant from liability for his own negligence, “the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.” There is no requirement that the term “negligence” or any other magic words appear in the release as long “as the language of [*9] the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”

Audley, 138 N.H. at 418 (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107).

The plaintiff contends that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because neither the application nor the Liability Release Agreement reference snowmobiles. As rioted above, the parties need not have contemplated a negligence claim arising from a snowmobile accident. Rather, it is sufficient that the parties adopted language to cover a broad range of accidents. The application releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence,” and the Liability Release Agreement releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in from negligence.” Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. This language clearly states that the defendants are not responsible for the consequences of their negligence.

The Plaintiff also contends that the parties did [*10] not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because snowmobiles are not an inherent hazard of skiing. The plaintiff relies on Wright. In Wright, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted:

The paragraphs preceding the exculpatory clause emphasize the inherent hazards of horseback riding. Because the exculpatory clause is prefaced by the term “therefore,” a reasonable person might understand its language to relate to the inherent dangers of horseback riding and liability for injuries that occur “for that

Wright, 140 N.H. at 170. Here, however, the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not mention the inherent hazards of skiing. Rather, the application and the Liability Release Agreement note that skiing is a hazardous sport and that injuries are a common occurrence and then, without using the term “therefore,” release the defendants from any and all liability. Because the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not use the phrase “inherent hazards of skiing” or the term “therefore,” this case is distinguishable from Wright. A reasonable person would have contemplated that the application and the [*11] Liability Release Agreement would release the defendants from a negligence claim, whether nor not that claim arouse from an inherent hazard of skiing.

Based on the foregoing, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

So ORDERED.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of the case

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

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

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

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

508:14  Landowner Liability Limited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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

Brahms Reed v. National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Inc. and Boston Minuteman Council, Inc.

Civil No. 08-cv-45-JL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

2010 DNH 18; 706 F. Supp. 2d 180; 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9236

February 3, 2010, Decided

COUNSEL: [**1] For Brahms Reed, Plaintiff: John W. Laymon, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Laymon, John W. Law Offices, Boston, MA; Francis X. Quinn, Jr., Boynton Waldron Doleac Woodman & Scott, Portsmouth, NH.

For National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Inc., Defendant: Jonathan M. Shirley, Devine Millimet & Branch PA (Manchester), Manchester, NH.

For Boston Minuteman Council, Inc. BSA, Defendant: Michael J. Mazurczak, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Erin J. M. Alarcon, Melick Porter & Shea LLP, Boston, MA.

JUDGES: Joseph N. Laplante, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Joseph N. Laplante

OPINION

[*183] OPINION AND ORDER

This personal injury action raises questions about the liability of a landowner who allows sledding on its property, as well as New Hampshire’s application of the collateral source rule. Brahms Reed has sued the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Inc. (the “BSA”) and one of its affiliated entities, the Boston Minuteman Council, to recover for serious injuries he suffered falling off a sled during an outing with another one of BSA’s chartered organizations, Troop 469, headquartered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Reed, who was eleven years old at the time, alleges that these injuries occurred because scoutmasters [**2] from the troop failed to supervise him and because Boston Minuteman, who owns the property where Reed’s accident occurred, failed to warn him of the dangers of sledding.

[*184] Boston Minuteman has moved for summary judgment, arguing that the dangers of sledding were obvious, even to an eleven-year old, so it had no duty to warn of them. In the alternative, Boston Minuteman argues that Reed’s claims against it are barred by New Hampshire’s recreational use statute, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 508:14. BSA, whose own motion for summary judgment was denied in an oral order, 1 has moved in limine to exclude evidence of Reed’s medical expenses and lost earnings from the upcoming trial. This court has diversity jurisdiction over this action between Reed, a New Hampshire citizen, and the defendants, out-of-state corporations. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

1 Document no. 28.

After oral argument, the court grants Boston Minuteman’s motion for summary judgment because, as a matter of law, it had no duty to warn Reed of the risks of sledding and, in the alternative, there is no dispute that Boston Minuteman allowed members of the general public to use the land in question for recreational purposes, conferring [**3] immunity under the recreational use statute. As to BSA’s motions in limine, the court rules that (1) Reed cannot recover the medical expenses he incurred before he reached the age of majority in this action, because the financial responsibility for those expenses fell to his mother, who is not a party here, (2) under the collateral source rule, Reed may introduce evidence of any post-majority medical bills, even if they were “written off” by his providers as a result of their agreements with his insurers, and (3) Reed cannot recover future lost wages because he lacks the necessary expert testimony discounting those sums to net present value.

I. Background

The facts relevant to the pending motions are more or less undisputed. At the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year, when Reed was eleven years old, his mother registered him to participate in scouting activities with Troop 469, which had been organized by a group of parents at Portsmouth Middle School. The troop was what the BSA refers to as a “chartered organization,” meaning that the parents had received a charter from the BSA that entitled the troop to make use of BSA emblems, uniforms, scouting manuals, and other literature. Under [**4] the charter, though, the troop retained “considerable flexibility in determining what portions of the Scouting program should be emphasized in [its] activities.” For example, BSA exercised no authority over the troop’s day-to-day activities or the selection, training, or supervision of its scout leaders.

Even the decision to issue the charter to Troop 469 was not made by the BSA, but by Daniel Webster Council, a non-profit organization itself chartered by the BSA. Like the BSA, the council had no involvement in the troop’s day-to-day operations or the selection of its scout leaders. The council did, however, provide some training to Troop 469’s adult scoutmaster at a weekend course covering subjects like leading a troop, organizing activities, and handling emergencies. For reasons that are not apparent from the record, neither Troop 469 nor the Daniel Webster Council was named as a defendant here.

In January 2001, Troop 469 embarked on an overnight camping trip to T.L. Storer Camp in Barnstead, New Hampshire, a facility owned by defendant Boston Minuteman. Reed was the youngest scout to make the trip; the boys were joined by their scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster, both adults with [**5] minor sons in the [*185] troop. While T.L. Storer charges for the use of its cabins–and Troop 469 had to pay a “facilities fee” to use them–members of the general public who wish to use the property for recreational purposes are allowed to do so for free.

The morning after their arrival, the scouts, accompanied by their scoutmasters, began sledding and snowboarding down a hill at the camp. At some point, the boys began building a jump out of snow near the bottom of the hill; at some later point, both the scoutmaster and the assistant scoutmaster returned to the cabins to begin preparing lunch, leaving the scouts without adult supervision. This was done in derogation of the BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting, which provides that “winter activities must be supervised by mature and conscientious adults (at least one of whom must be age 21 or older) who understand and knowingly accept responsibility for the well-being and safety of the youth in their care . . . . Direct supervision should be maintained at all times by two or more adults when Scouts are ‘in the field.'” Nobody from Boston Minuteman warned the scouts of the dangers of sledding or snowboarding, and there were no signs to that effect [**6] posted anywhere at T.L. Storer.

Before the scoutmasters left, many of the scouts were sledding over the jump, while either sitting or standing on toboggans. During this period, Reed noticed that some of the other scouts had stumbled, but not fallen, in attempting the jump while standing. When Reed first attempted the jump while standing, he slipped and landed on his back, but was not hurt.

After the scoutmasters left, Reed attempted the jump a second time while standing. This time, he landed awkwardly, breaking his right leg and injuring the growth plate. This caused Reed’s right leg to stop growing at the same rate as his left leg, necessitating a number of corrective surgeries and other interventions, the vast majority of which occurred while he was still a minor. For reasons that are not apparent from the record, this action was not brought until after Reed had reached the age of majority. See N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 508:8 (tolling the limitations period on actions by a minor until two years after he reaches the age of majority).

II. Analysis

A. Boston Minuteman’s motion for summary judgment

[HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate where the “pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on [**7] file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In making this determination, the “court must scrutinize the record in the light most flattering to the party opposing the motion, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Mulvihill v. Top-Flite Golf Co., 335 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 2003).

Boston Minuteman moves for summary judgment on two independent grounds: first, that Reed’s claim against it is barred by New Hampshire’s recreational use statute and, second, that Boston Minuteman had no duty to warn Reed of the risks of sledding because those risks are obvious, even to an eleven-year old. Boston Minuteman is correct on both counts.

1. The recreational use statute

[HN2] The New Hampshire recreational use statute provides that “[a]n owner . . . who without charge permits any person to use land for recreational purposes . . . shall not be liable for personal injury . . . in the absence of intentionally caused injury or damage.” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. (“RSA”) § 508:14, I. The New Hampshire Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase “any person,” as it appears [**8] here, to mean [*186] “any person as a member of the general public. Thus, for RSA 508:14, I to grant immunity, private landowners must permit members of the general public to use their land for recreational purposes.” Estate of Gordon-Couture v. Brown, 152 N.H. 265, 271, 876 A.2d 196 (2005) (citation omitted).

Reed acknowledges that he is seeking to hold Boston Minuteman liable, as the owner of the T.L. Storer Camp, for personal injury that was negligently, as opposed to intentionally, caused. He argues, however, that § 508:14 does not apply because Boston Minuteman does not “permit members of the general public to use T.L. Storer for recreational purposes.” As noted above, members of the general public who wish to use T.L. Storer for recreational purposes are allowed to do so free of charge, according to an affidavit submitted by a Boston Minuteman executive. To attempt to dispute this, Reed relies on solely on the testimony of the T.L. Storer “campmaster,” that “[o]nly Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts can stay at the camp.” 2

2 Reed also relies on the campmaster’s testimony that, during Troop 469’s trip to T.L. Storer, the only people using the grounds were scouts and their leaders. That does not serve to dispute [**9] Boston Minuteman’s statement that it permits not only scouts, but members of the general public, to use the property.

A limitation on who can “stay at the camp,” though, is not the same as a limitation on who can “use [the] land for recreational purposes,” which is the relevant inquiry under the statute. Gordon-Couture, 152 N.H. at 271. As one of the decisions cited approvingly in Gordon-Couture makes clear, [HN3] “a landowner need not allow all persons to use the property at all times” for recreational use immunity to apply. Snyder ex rel. Snyder v. Olmstead, 261 Ill. App. 3d 986, 634 N.E.2d 756, 761, 199 Ill. Dec. 703 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994) (citing Johnson v. Stryker Corp., 70 Ill. App. 3d 717, 388 N.E.2d 932, 934, 26 Ill. Dec. 931 (Ill. App. Ct. 1979)); see also Holden ex rel. Holden v. Schwer, 242 Neb. 389, 495 N.W.2d 269, 274 (Neb. 1993) (“a landowner need allow only some members of the public, on a casual basis, to enter and use his land for recreational purposes to enjoy the protection” of recreational use immunity). Rather, a landowner may place certain “limitations on the use of the property, such as age restrictions, or hours of use,” without forfeiting the protections of the statute. Johnson, 388 N.E.2d at 935.

Otherwise, owners would have to relinquish all control of their [**10] premises in order to attain recreational use immunity, with the likely result that most would simply declare their property completely off-limits to the public. See id. That result would contravene what the New Hampshire Supreme Court has identified as the purpose of recreational use immunity statutes, i.e., to encourage the opening of private lands for public recreation. Gordon-Couture, 152 N.H. at 268-269. Because Boston Minuteman indisputably “permit[s] members of the general public to use [T.L. Storer] for recreational purposes,” id. at 271, the recreational use statute applies, despite the fact that only scouts are permitted to spend the night at the camp. 3

3 Furthermore, Troop 469’s payment of a “facilities fee” for the use of the cabins also does not negate Boston Minuteman’s immunity. The court of appeals has held that, [HN4] as used in New Hampshire’s recreational use statute, “‘charge’ means an actual admission fee paid for permission to enter the land for recreational purposes,” not a fee for a specific service available after entering. Hardy v. Loon Mt. Recreation Corp., 276 F.3d 18, 20-21 (1st Cir. 2002). Indeed, one of the cases cited for this proposition in Hardy specifically [**11] ruled that a per-person, per-night charge to Boy Scouts staying overnight in a building on government property had no effect on the government’s recreational use immunity, since there was no charge to enter or use the property itself. Wilson v. United States, 989 F.2d 953, 956-57 (8th Cir. 1993).

Relying on Soraghan v. Mt. Cranmore Ski Resort, Inc., 152 N.H. 399, 881 A.2d 693 [*187] (2005), Reed points out that recreational use immunity does not apply when “the injured entrant was on the property for a purpose related to the landowner’s business for which the landowner customarily charges.” Id. at 403. In Soraghan, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the statute did not bar a claim against the defendant ski resort by a plaintiff who had fallen on its property while walking to her car to retrieve her ski equipment, even though, because she had entered the property that day to watch her daughter participate in a race, the plaintiff had not paid the resort’s entrance fee. Id. at 400-04. The court reasoned that “[w]here [**12] the landowner customarily charges for access to its recreational facilities, the property is not being held open without charge to any member of the general public for recreational use.” Id. at 403.

Here, though, it is undisputed that Boston Minuteman does not “customarily charge for access to its recreational facilities” at T.L. Storer, so Soraghan is inapposite. 4 Boston Minuteman is entitled to summary judgment on the ground that New Hampshire’s recreational use statute bars Reed’s claim.

4 Reed nevertheless argues that Boston Minuteman allows access to the camp only “to further scouting objectives,” which is consistent with Boston Minuteman’s “business purposes” and therefore tantamount to a “charge” because “consideration need not be monetary.” Assuming, dubitante, that a “charge” for purposes of § 508:14 includes a non-monetary condition on an entrant’s “objectives,” there is simply no evidence that Boston Minuteman imposes any such restriction on the entrants to T.L. Storer. Cf. Wilson, 989 F.2d at 957-58 (rejecting the argument that recreational use immunity does not apply because the government’s “purpose in allowing admission to [an open military installation] is to develop [**13] public goodwill” in the armed services, at least without evidence that visitors to the property were “encouraged in any way to join the Army”).

2. The open and obvious danger doctrine

Boston Minuteman is also entitled to summary judgment on the alternative ground that it had no duty to warn Reed of the dangers of sledding. [HN5] Whether a duty exists in a particular set of circumstances is a question of law to be decided by the court. See, e.g., Everitt v. Gen. Elec. Co., 159 N.H. 232, 979 A.2d 760, 762 (N.H. 2009). [HN6] As a matter of law, “a defendant generally has no duty to warn and instruct a plaintiff of obvious dangers about which the plaintiff’s knowledge and appreciation equal the defendant’s.” Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 422, 807 A.2d 1274 (2002). Thus, in the case of a dangerous condition on the landowner’s premises, “the fact that the condition is obvious is usually sufficient to apprise [the plaintiff], as fully as the possessor, of the full extent of the risk involved in it,” relieving the landowner of any duty to warn. Dunleavy v. Constant, 106 N.H. 64, 67, 204 A.2d 236 (1964) (quoting Maxfield v. Maxfield, 102 N.H. 101, 103-04, 151 A.2d 226 (1959)).

In this context, “‘[o]bvious’ means that [**14] both the condition and the risk are apparent to and would be recognized by a reasonable man, in the position of the visitor, exercising ordinary perception, intelligence, and judgment.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A(1) cmt. b (1965). Because Reed was a child at the time of the accident, however, he is not held to the standard of conduct of “a reasonable man,” but rather “a reasonable person of like age, intelligence, and experience under the circumstances.” Id. § 283A; accord Dunleavy, 106 N.H. at 67 (noting [*188] that children “may fail to observe conditions which an adult might reasonably be expected to discover”).

There is no question that the danger of sledding over the jump while standing would have been apparent to a reasonable person of Reed’s age, intelligence, and experience, particularly in light of the circumstances. Reed had seen other scouts stumble in attempting to negotiate the jump while standing and, when he tried it himself the first time, slipped and landed on his back. 5 This is not a case, then, where the nature of the hazard could reasonably have been overlooked, even by a child. Cf. Wheeler v. Monadnock Cmty. Hosp., 103 N.H. 306, 308, 171 A.2d 23 (1961) (ruling that a retaining [**15] wall “was a known dangerous condition not likely to be appreciated by young children” where “from the side from which [the child] approached it had the appearance of a low curb”); Dunleavy, 106 N.H. at 68 (refusing “to assume that the risk of falling over [a] jack-handle in the dark was one a child of six would appreciate even though he might be assumed to appreciate the risk of falling over it in the daylight”).

5 There is no evidence that the T.L. Storer campmaster or anyone else from Boston Minuteman knew that the scouts had built the jump, or that any similar activity had occurred on the property previously. Thus, while Reed argues that the obvious nature of a danger does not negate the property owner’s nature to warn of it when the owner “should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness,” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A(1), there is no evidence that Boston Minuteman should have anticipated such a danger here.

Even aside from Reed’s immediate experience with the jump, moreover, “common experience in sledding suggests that sledding over a hill, mound, or similar terrain has a tendency to cause the sledder to go into the air.” Gould v. United States, 994 F. Supp. 1177, 1183-85 (W.D. Mo.) [**16] (ruling that the danger of injury from sledding over a terrace was open and obvious), rev’d in part, 160 F.3d 1194 (8th Cir. 1998). 6 Sledders build and use jumps for the very purpose of “going into the air”–and experiencing the concomitant challenge of trying to land successfully. It is hard to imagine that any sledder (except for perhaps the very young) needs to be told that such success is not guaranteed, and that failure may cause serious injury.

6 While the district court in Gould ruled that neither of the two plaintiffs could recover due to the obviousness of the danger, the appeals court upheld that ruling as to one plaintiff but reversed it as to the other. 160 F.3d at 1197. As the appeals court reasoned, the difference was that, after sledding over the terrace, the first plaintiff had merely “become airborne” but the second plaintiff had been launched at least four feet in the air. Id. at 1196. The appeals court ruled that the second plaintiff “could not reasonably have been expected to discover[] the risk of being propelled more than four feet high,” such that it was not open and obvious. Id. at 1196-97. Here, though, there is no evidence that Reed came off the jump at an [**17] unexpected height or, indeed, higher than he or any of the other scouts had in their previous attempts.

Consistent with this view, courts have generally found the danger of various sledding-related mishaps to be obvious–even to children–and therefore necessitating no warning as a matter of law. See, e.g., Barnett v. City of Lynn, 433 Mass. 662, 745 N.E.2d 344, 348 (Mass. 2001) (“[c]ommon sense dictates that the danger of sledding down stairs leading to a road well traveled by motor vehicles would be open and obvious even to an eleven or twelve year old child”); Mothershead v. Greenbriar Country Club, Inc.. 994 S.W.2d 80, 88 (Mo. App. Ct. 1999) (ruling that the danger of serious injury from sledding into trees at the bottom of a slope was obvious to a 16 year-old); Offringa v. Borough of Westwood, 132 N.J.L. 493, 41 A.2d 18, 20 (N.J. 1945) (ruling [*189] that 18 year-old plaintiffs, “blessed with the understanding and the mentality of the average boy and girl of their age group,” would appreciate the danger of sledding around a barrier and into a street); see also Friedman ex rel. Friedman v. Park Dist. of Highland Park, 151 Ill. App. 3d 374, 502 N.E.2d 826, 834, 104 Ill. Dec. 329 (Ill. App. Ct. 1986) (upholding verdict for defendant landowner on 8-year-old plaintiff’s [**18] claim arising out of her sledding into a fence post because that danger was obvious, particularly in light of the plaintiff’s prior knowledge of the hill); Pitre v. La. Tech. Univ., 673 So. 2d 585, 596 (La. 1996) (relying on the “obvious and apparent” danger of sledding into a utility pole at the bottom of a hill to rule that the property owner had no duty to warn a college student of it).

Accordingly, the court rules that Boston Minuteman had no duty to warn Reed of the danger of sledding over the jump while standing, because that danger would have been obvious to a reasonable person of Reed’s age, intelligence, and experience under the circumstances. On this basis, as well as on the basis of the recreational use immunity statute, Boston Minuteman is entitled to summary judgment on Reed’s failure to warn claim. 7

7 While Reed’s second amended complaint alleges that Boston Minuteman “failed to provide adequate safety personnel to assist [him] in obtaining medical assistance[] following his traumatic fall,” he affirmatively disclaimed any such theory against Boston Minuteman in his surreply to its summary judgment motion. Furthermore, Reed essentially conceded at oral argument that he [**19] lacked the expert medical testimony necessary to recover on that theory or, indeed, anything but speculation to support it. Cf. Room v. Caribe Hilton Hotel, 659 F.2d 5, 7-8 (1st Cir. 1981) (upholding direct verdict for defendant on claim for negligent delay in providing medical care in the absence of expert testimony that it caused plaintiff any further physical injury).

B. The BSA’s motions in limine

1. The motions to exclude Reed’s medical bills

The BSA has filed two motions in limine seeking to exclude evidence of Reed’s medical expenses from the upcoming trial. First, the BSA argues that only Reed’s mother–who is not a plaintiff here–can recover for the medical expenses incurred on his behalf before he reached the age of majority. Second, the BSA argues that, insofar as Reed seeks to recover medical expenses he incurred after he reached the age of majority (which appear to amount to no more than $ 1,000 of the nearly $ 70,000 in medical expenses allegedly caused by the sledding accident) he should not be allowed to introduce the medical bills as proof of those expenses, because much of those charges was “written off” by Reed’s providers under their contracts with his insurers.

[HN7] Under [**20] New Hampshire law, “a parent rather than a minor is liable for the minor’s medical or hospital expenses when the minor is living with or supported by his parents. As result, . . . the parent, rather than the child, is entitled to recover the medical expenses . . . incurred on his behalf during his minority due to [an] accident” negligently caused by another. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of N.H.-Vt. v. St. Cyr, 123 N.H. 137, 141, 459 A.2d 226 (1983). So it is Reed’s mother, rather than Reed himself, who has the right to recover against the BSA for the medical expenses, caused by its alleged negligence, that he incurred as a minor; there is no dispute that Reed was living with and supported by his mother during that time. But it is Reed, and not his mother, who is the plaintiff here. 8 Accordingly, there is simply no claim in this action for recovery of the medical [*190] expenses incurred on Reed’s behalf while he was a minor. The BSA’s motion to exclude evidence of those expenses is granted. 9

8 Because, as noted supra, this case was not brought until after Reed attained the age of majority–and thus nearly seven years after the accident–the statute of limitations had already run on any claim by Reed’s mother. [**21] See, e.g., Garay v. Overholtzer, 332 Md. 339, 631 A.2d 429, 436-40 (Md. 1993) (collecting cases).

9 As Reed suggests in his objection to the motion, he may still introduce evidence of the medical care he received during that time as proof of the pain and suffering and lost enjoyment of life he experienced during that period.

That does not stop Reed from attempting to recover the medical expenses he incurred after he reached the age of majority (though, again, those expenses total only around $ 1,000). Even as to those expenses, though, the BSA argues that Reed may not introduce the corresponding medical bills, because “the medical providers will testify that they agreed to ‘write off’ all amounts in excess of the contract rate” established by their contract with Reed’s health insurers. The BSA argues that the contract rate, rather than the face amount of the bills, is therefore all Reed can recover.

As the BSA acknowledges, this court has rejected similar arguments as at odds with New Hampshire’s collateral source rule. See Aumand v. Dartmouth Hitchcock Med. Ctr., 611 F. Supp. 2d 78, 90-92 (D.N.H. 2009) (Laplante, J.); Williamson v. Odyssey House, Inc., 2000 DNH 238, 1-3 (DiClerico, J.). [HN8] That rule “provides [**22] that ‘if a plaintiff is compensated in whole or part for his damages by some source independent of the tort-feasor, he is still permitted to make full recovery against the tort-feasor.'” Aumand, 611 F. Supp. 2d at 90 (quoting Williamson, 2000 DNH 238, 2 (further quotation marks and bracketing omitted)). Thus, this court has refused “to exclude evidence of the billed cost of medical services” in favor of “the amounts actually paid” in satisfaction of those costs by the plaintiff’s health insurers. Aumand, 611 F. Supp. 2d at 91; Williamson, 2000 DNH 238, 1.

The BSA nevertheless argues that the collateral source rule does not apply to charges billed but later “written off” by a plaintiff’s medical provider, since those amounts were never “paid” by a collateral source or, indeed, anybody. This argument has found favor in several unpublished decisions by the New Hampshire Superior Court, cited by the BSA, that excluded evidence of such “written off” sums. See Taranov v. Vella, No. 05-C-302, slip op. at 2 (N.H. Super. Ct. Aug. 12, 2009) (Lynn, C.J.); Sica v. Britton, No. 05-C-213, 2007 WL 1385661 (N.H. Super. Ct. Feb. 1, 2007) (Houran, J.); Cook v. Morin-Binder, No. 05-C-319, 2007 WL 6624298 (N.H. Super. Ct. Jan. 12, 2007) [**23] (Houran, J.); Debski v. JMC Equities Corp., No. 97-C-1161, slip op. at 5 (N.H. Super. Ct. July 7, 1999) (Sullivan, J.). But there are also a number of other unpublished New Hampshire Superior Court decisions to the contrary, which the BSA does not cite. See Michaud v. Bridges, No. 07-C-055, 2008 WL 4829387 (N.H. Super. Ct. June 30, 2008) (Brown, J.); Veilleux v. Noonan, No. 06-C-207, 2008 Extra LEXIS 60, 2008 WL 6016234 (N.H. Super. Ct. Apr. 7, 2008) (Houran, J.); Gulluscio v. Hall, No. 06-C-0045, 2007 Extra LEXIS 31, 2007 WL 6647429 (N.H. Super. Ct. Oct. 1, 2007) (Mohl, J.); Plummer v. Optima Health-Catholic Med. Ctr., No. 98-C-1010, 2000 WL 35730973 (N.H. Super. Ct. Nov. 13, 2000) (McHugh, J.). 10

10 It should be noted that the same judge who issued Sica and Cook, which the BSA cites in support of its position, later explained that those orders do not approve “a sweeping proposition of law that only those medical bills actually paid by or for a plaintiff may be claimed at trial,” but simply that “the law permits, in appropriate circumstances as determined on a case by case basis, consideration of write offs by a plaintiff[‘]s health care provider.” Veilleux, 2008 Extra LEXIS 60, 2008 WL 6016234, at *1 n.3. In Veilleux, then, that judge refused [**24] to grant the very same relief the BSA seeks here, i.e., to “bar the plaintiffs from introducing evidence of medical bills in excess of amounts actually paid by a third party and accepted as payment in full by medical providers.” 2008 Extra LEXIS 60, [WL] at *1 (footnote omitted).

[*191] The BSA also relies on cases from other jurisdictions to support its position. See Hanif v. Hous. Auth., 200 Cal. App. 3d 635, 246 Cal. Rptr. 192, 195-97 (Cal. Ct. App. 1988); Coop. Leasing, Inc. v. Johnson, 872 So.2d 956, 958-60 (Fla. App. Ct. 2004); Bates v. Hogg, 22 Kan. App. 2d 702, 921 P.2d 249, 252-53 (Kan. App. Ct. 1996); Moorhead v. Crozer Chester Med. Ctr., 564 Pa. 156, 765 A.2d 786, 790-91 (Pa. 2001). 11 Again, though, there is substantial caselaw to the contrary. See, e.g., Pipkins v. TA Operating Corp., 466 F. Supp. 2d 1255, 1259-62 (D.N.M. 2006); Lopez v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 212 Ariz. 198, 129 P.3d 487, 496 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2006); Mitchell v. Haldar, 883 A.2d 32, 40 (Del. 2005); Hardi v. Mezzanotte, 818 A.2d 974, 985 (D.C. 2003); Olariu v. Marrero, 248 Ga. App. 824, 549 S.E.2d 121, 123 (Ga. Ct. App. 2001); Bynum v. Magno, 106 Haw. 81, 101 P.3d 1149, 1159-60 (Haw. 2004); Wills v. Foster, 229 Ill. 2d 393, 892 N.E.2d 1018, 1033, 323 Ill. Dec. 26 (Ill. 2008); White v. Jubitz Corp., 347 Ore. 212, 219 P.3d 566, 583 (Or. 2009); Haselden v. Davis, 353 S.C. 481, 579 S.E.2d 293, 295 (S.C. 2003); [**25] Papke v. Harbert, 2007 SD 87, 738 N.W.2d 510, 536 (S.D. 2007); Acuar v. Letourneau, 260 Va. 180, 531 S.E.2d 316, 322-23 (Va. 2000); Leitinger v. DBart, Inc., 2007 WI 84, 302 Wis. 2d 110, 736 N.W.2d 1, 13-14 (Wis. 2007).

11 The court notes that, of these cases, only Moorhead in fact supports the BSA’s position here. Cooperative Leasing applied a Florida statute that, in essence, rejects the collateral source rule, reducing a plaintiff’s damages award “‘by the total of all amounts which have been paid for [his] benefit,'” but also providing that “‘benefits received under Medicare . . . shall not be considered a collateral source.'” 872 So. 2d at 959-60 (quoting Fla. Stat. § 768.76). Reasoning that the statute “excludes Medicare benefits as a collateral source because the federal government has a right to reimbursement . . . for payments it has made on [a plaintiff’s] behalf,” the court held that, as used in the statute, the term “benefits received” does not include “the amount that was written off by her medical providers” because “the government’s right to reimbursement does not extend to amounts never actually paid.” Id. Thus, allowing a plaintiff to recover those amounts “would result in a windfall that is contrary to the legislative policy [**26] evidenced by” the statute. Id. New Hampshire, of course, has no such statute, but follows the common-law collateral source rule. In that version, the collateral source rule contemplates just such a windfall to the plaintiff, as discussed infra.

And both Hanif and Bates have since been restricted so as to make them inapposite here. As discussed infra at note 11, the Kansas Supreme Court has clarified that “the Bates decision is limited to cases involving Medicaid” as the third-party payor, so that the collateral source rule does apply to billed amounts written off by any other public or private insurer, including Medicare. Rose v. Via Christi Health Sys., Inc., 276 Kan. 539, 78 P.3d 798, 803 (Kan. 2003). The California Court of Appeals has since clarified that Hanif did not prevent plaintiffs from introducing “evidence of the amounts billed, as they reflected on the nature and extent of plaintiffs’ injuries and were therefore relevant to their assessment of the an overall general damage award.” Katiuzhinsky v. Perry, 152 Cal. App. 4th 1288, 62 Cal. Rptr. 3d 309, 314 (Cal. Ct. App. 2007). Here, in contrast, the BSA wants to exclude evidence of Reed’s medical bills altogether. While Hanif does hold that a plaintiff cannot [**27] recover for medical bills in excess of “the actual amount paid” by a third-party insurer, 246 Cal. Rptr. at 197, this court disagrees with that understanding of the collateral source rule, as explained supra.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court appears to take the majority view. That court has expressly rejected the argument that

the plaintiff cannot recover unless he has paid for the services rendered or [*192] incurred a legal liability therefor. On principle it should make no difference to the defendants whether the payment was made by virtue of friendship, philanthropy or contract with a third party . . . . It is no concern of the wrongdoer whether the bills for medical expenses were paid by an indulgent uncle, a liberal employer or a relief association.

Clough v. Schwartz, 94 N.H. 138, 141, 48 A.2d 921 (1946) (emphasis added). The BSA does not explain, with reference to the cases it cites or otherwise, why it nevertheless should make a difference that a plaintiff’s providers agreed to accept less for their services from third parties paying on the plaintiff’s behalf than the provider would have accepted from the plaintiff himself.

And the vast majority of courts have held that it makes no difference, because–consistent [**28] with the view of the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Clough– [HN9] “the focal point of the collateral source rule is not whether an injured party has ‘incurred’ certain medical expenses. Rather, it is whether a tort victim has received benefits from a collateral source,” and “amounts written off are as much of a benefit” to the plaintiff “as are the actual cash payments made by his health insurance carrier to the health care providers.” Acuar, 531 S.E.2d at 322; see also, e.g., Pipkins, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 1260-61; Lopez, 129 P.3d at 495; Bynum, 101 P.3d at 1156; Wills, 892 N.E.2d at 1030; White, 219 P.3d at 579-80.

Indeed, even if a provider agrees to accept less from the plaintiff himself by “forgiving” all or part of a bill–a scenario identical to a “write-off” in the sense that not all of the billed amount is ever paid by anyone–the collateral source rule would still apply to the forgiven amount, because “the fact that the doctor did not charge for his services . . . does not prevent [the plaintiff’s] recovery for the reasonable value of the medical services.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 920A cmt. c(3), at 515 (1979). Not only has the New Hampshire Supreme Court cited approvingly [**29] to § 920A of the Restatement in explaining this state’s verison of the collateral source rule, see Moulton v. Groveton Papers Co., 114 N.H. 505, 509, 323 A.2d 906 (1974), that court has recognized that a plaintiff who receives medical care for less than its reasonable value is nevertheless “entitled to recover the full value of the services from the third-party tort-feasor.” Lefebvre v. Gov’t Employees Ins. Co., 110 N.H. 23, 25, 259 A.2d 133 (1969) (noting that, under the collateral source rule, a plaintiff who received medical care with a reasonable value of $ 918 in a military hospital but had to pay only $ 31.50 for it could have recovered $ 918 from the party who injured her).

A number of courts have reasoned that because “write-offs” are the same as free medical services in this sense, the collateral source rule applies to both. See, e.g., Pipkins, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 1260-61; Lopez, 129 P.3d at 495; Bynum, 101 P.3d at 1156; Wills, 892 N.E.2d at 1030-31; White, 219 P.3d at 579-80. 12 The BSA [*193] and the cases it cites do not question that the collateral source rule encompasses medical services for which the provider collects no fee–as opposed to a reduced fee–nor do they explain why these two materially identical [**30] situations should lead to opposite outcomes.

12 Other courts characterize “write-offs” as flowing from the plaintiff’s insurance policy, reasoning that to deprive the plaintiff of the benefit of the write-offs would be to deprive him of the benefit of his insurance contract in violation of the collateral source rule. See, e.g., Hardi, 818 A.2d at 985; Olariu, 549 S.E.2d at 123; Acuar, 531 S.E.2d at 322. Relying on this analogy, at least one court has reasoned that the collateral source rule applies to write-offs by private insurers (and Medicare, which the court considered to be materially the same as private insurance because it requires enrollees to pay premiums) but not Medicaid. See Rose, 78 P.3d at 806. But this court need not decide here whether New Hampshire would follow that unique approach, because there is no indication in the record that Medicaid was the insurer in question.

Instead, the BSA and most of its authorities rely on comment h to § 911 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. See Hanif, 246 Cal. Rptr. at 196; Coop. Leasing, 872 So.2d at 958; Moorhead, 765 A.2d at 790; Sica, No. 05-C-213, slip op. at 3; Cook, No. 05-C-319, 2007 WL 6624298, slip op. at 4; Debski, No. 97-C-1161, [**31] slip op. at 5. That comment, entitled “Value of services rendered,” appears in the section of the Restatement defining “Value,” and provides in relevant part that

The measure of recovery of a person who sues for the value of his services tortiously obtained by the defendant’s fraud or duress, or for the value of services rendered in an attempt to mitigate damages, is the reasonable exchange value of the services at the place and time . . . .

. . .

When the plaintiff seeks to recover for expenditures made or liability incurred to third persons for services rendered, normally the amount recoverable is the reasonable value of the services rather than the amount paid or charged. If, however, the injured person paid less than the exchange rate, he can recover no more than the amount paid, except when the low rate was intended as a gift to him.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 911 cmt. h, at 476-77.

The BSA and its authorities, however, ignore the first sentence of this comment, which makes clear that it applies only in valuing services the plaintiff gave as a result of the defendant’s tort, or that the plaintiff obtained “in an attempt to mitigate damages.” And insofar as medical care necessitated [**32] by the plaintiff’s injury could be considered part of “an attempt to mitigate damages” within the meaning of this comment, see id. § 919(2), at 507, the Restatement elsewhere makes clear that “[t]he value of medical expenses made necessary by the tort can ordinarily be recovered although they have created no liability or expense to the injured person, as when a physician donates his services. (See § 920A).” Id. § 924 cmt. f, at 527. So even if § 911 comment h generally limits the plaintiff’s recovery for the services he obtained from a third party to “the amount paid, except when the low rate was intended as a gift,” then § 924 comment f creates an exception to that rule for “medical expenses.” See Lopez, 129 P.3d at 493-94; Bynum, 101 P.3d at 1159-60; Wills, 892 N.E.2d at 1028; White, 219 P.3d at 581 n.15; Moorhead, 765 A.2d at 795 (Nigro, J., dissenting).

The BSA makes no attempt to reconcile § 924 comment f with its reading of § 911 comment h–in fact, neither the BSA nor any of the cases it cites but one even acknowledges § 924 comment f, and that case, Moorhead, simply declares without explaining that the court finds § 911 comment h “to be more applicable to the instant case.” 765 A.2d at 791 n.4. [**33] The BSA’s proposed reading would nullify not only § 924 comment f, but also § 920A comment c(3), which, again, specifically provides that “the fact that a doctor did not charge for his services or the plaintiff was treated [for free] in a veterans hospital does not prevent his recovery for the reasonable value of the services.” It would rob that provision of all meaning if § 911 comment h indeed limited recovery in this context to “no more than the amount paid” because “the injured person paid less than the exchange rate.” There is no reason to think the New Hampshire [*194] Supreme Court would read the Restatement in this self-contradictory manner. Cf. LaChance v. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., 156 N.H. 88, 97, 931 A.2d 571 (2007) (noting the court’s “practice of attempting to construe statutes that deal with similar subject matter harmoniously”).

The BSA and some of the cases it cites also point out that requiring the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for sums he or she never paid in the first place provides the plaintiff with a “windfall.” See, e.g., Moorhead, 765 A.2d at 790; Taranov, No. 05-C-302, slip op. at 2. But awarding that windfall to the plaintiff, rather than to the defendant, is one of the [**34] principal aims of the collateral source rule. See Aumand, 611 F. Supp. 2d at 91 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 920A cmt. b, at 514). Yet, the BSA protests, when medical charges have been “written off” rather than paid, exempting them from plaintiffs’ recovery does not in fact award any windfall on defendants–“it merely means that they will not have to pay for expenses that have not been incurred.” Taranov, No. 05-C-302, slip op. at 2.

This argument ignores the reality that, as just discussed, when a medical provider agrees to “write-off” an amount it would otherwise charge, that confers just as much of a benefit on the plaintiff (and, if disallowed as an element of damages, would in fact confer just as much of a windfall on the defendant) as if the “written off” amount had been paid by a third party. See, e.g., Acuar, 531 S.E.2d at 322. As the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision in Clough teaches, [HN10] the collateral source rule applies to all benefits the plaintiff receives from third parties as a result of his injuries by the defendant, regardless of their nature. 94 N.H. at 141. In other words, the rule “does not differentiate between the nature of the benefits, so long as [**35] they did not come from the defendant or a person acting for him.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 920A cmt. b, at 514.

Accordingly, the BSA has failed to convince this court that its decisions in Aumand and Williamson were wrong in refusing to exclude evidence of the billed cost of medical services in favor of the amounts actually paid in satisfaction of those costs by the plaintiff’s health insurers. This is not to say, as this court explained in Aumand, that New Hampshire’s collateral source rule bars a defendant from “questioning the face amounts of the medical bills as equivalent to the reasonable value of [the plaintiff’s] medical services,” which, of course, is the proper measure of those damages under New Hampshire law. 611 F. Supp. 2d at 90-92 & n.13. But unless and until this state’s version of the collateral source rule is changed by the New Hampshire legislature or New Hampshire Supreme Court, this court will continue to apply it to billed amounts “written off” [**36] by a plaintiff’s providers, in accordance with existing law here and in the vast majority of other jurisdictions. The BSA’s motion to exclude Reed’s post-majority medical bills from evidence on this basis is denied.

2. The motion to exclude evidence of Reed’s lost wages

Finally, the BSA moves to preclude Reed from offering evidence as to any future lost wages he has suffered as a result of the accident. The BSA points out that, [HN11] under New Hampshire law, “an award for future damages must be reduced to present value and, given the complexity of the modern economic environment, . . . the reduction must be based upon specific economic evidence and not merely upon personal knowledge the jury may or may not possess.” Hutton v. Essex Group, Inc., 885 F. Supp. 331, 334 (D.N.H. 1994). [*195] Furthermore, “the plaintiff bears the burden of coming forward with evidence of the proper rate of discounting,” either through the testimony of an economic expert or other “economic data” supported by “a proper foundation.” Id. at 334-35. Reed does not dispute these requirements, nor does he claim to have any evidence to satisfy them. So he cannot seek recovery for any lost wages he allegedly will suffer in the [**37] future, i.e., from the time of trial going forward. The BSA’s motion to exclude evidence of future lost wages is granted.

III. Conclusion

Boston Minuteman’s motion for summary judgment 13 is GRANTED. The BSA’s first and third motions in limine 14 are GRANTED but its second motion in limine 15 is DENIED.

13 Document no. 28.

14 Document nos. 46, 48.

15 Document no. 47.

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Joseph N. Laplante

Joseph N. Laplante

United States District Judge

Dated: February 3, 2010

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Herbst v. L.B.O. Holding, Inc., 2011 DNH 72; 783 F. Supp. 2d 262; 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46977; 85 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 285

Herbst v. L.B.O. Holding, Inc., 2011 DNH 72; 783 F. Supp. 2d 262; 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46977; 85 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 285

Edward Herbst v. L.B.O. Holding, Inc., d/b/a Attitash Bear Peak Resort

Civil No. 09-cv-233-JL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

2011 DNH 72; 783 F. Supp. 2d 262; 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46977; 85 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 285

May 2, 2011, Decided

May 2, 2011, Filed

COUNSEL:  [**1] For Edward Herbst, Dina Herbst, Plaintiffs: R. Peter Taylor, McNeill Taylor & Gallo PA, Dover, NH.

For L.B.O. Holding, Inc., Defendant: Thomas B.S. Quarles, Jr., Devine Millimet & Branch PA (Manchester), Manchester, NH.

JUDGES: Joseph N. Laplante, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Joseph N. Laplante

 OPINION

 [*264]  MEMORANDUM ORDER

This case arises from injuries, including a broken ankle, that plaintiff Edward Herbst suffered after falling off an alpine slide at Attitash Bear Peak Resort, a ski area in Bartlett, New Hampshire that offers the slide as a summer recreational activity. Herbst brought suit against the resort’s owner, L.B.O. Holding, Inc. (“Attitash”), asserting claims for strict products liability and negligence. Specifically, he alleges that the slide is unreasonably dangerous to its riders, that Attitash was negligent in operating it, and that Attitash failed to adequately instruct and warn Herbst on its proper use. Attitash denies those allegations and asserts that Herbst’s  [*265]  own negligence caused the accident. This court has subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) (diversity).

Both parties have moved in limine to admit or exclude various types of evidence at the upcoming jury trial, currently [**2] scheduled for May 2011. See L.R. 16.2(b)(3). Specifically, Attitash has moved to admit evidence of Herbst’s prior conviction for mail fraud, to exclude evidence of the face amount of Herbst’s medical bills, and to preclude Herbst’s expert witness from testifying about the adequacy of the slide’s warnings. Herbst, in turn, has moved to admit evidence of prior and subsequent accidents on Attitash’s alpine slide. Following oral argument, this court rules on the limine motions as set forth below.

I.Attitash’s motion to admit prior conviction1

1 Document no. 19.

Attitash has moved to admit evidence that Herbst was convicted of felony mail fraud, see 18 U.S.C. § 1341, in a New York federal court on July 30, 1999, when he was 46 years old. See United States v. Herbst, No. 98-cr-771-001 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 1999). Specifically, Herbst pled guilty to using the mails in connection with bribing an employee of the New York City Department of Finance to reduce or eliminate his overdue property taxes and interest. He served a three-month prison sentence, ending on or before January 1, 2000, and then remained on supervised release for a period of three years.

As a general rule, [HN1] “evidence that any witness [**3] has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted” for impeachment purposes “if it readily can be determined that establishing the elements of the crime required proof or admission of an act of dishonesty or false statement by the witness.” Fed. R. Evid. 609(a)(2). Herbst concedes that his mail fraud conviction involved dishonesty or false statement and therefore falls within that rule. See, e.g., United States v. Orlando-Figueroa, 229 F.3d 33, 46 (1st Cir. 2000).

But evidence of such a conviction “is not admissible if a period of more than ten years has elapsed since the date of the conviction or of the release of the witness from the confinement imposed for that conviction, whichever is later, unless the court determines, in the interests of justice, that the probative value of the conviction supported by specific facts and circumstances substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect.” Fed. R. Evid. 609(b).2

2 Rule 609(b) also requires “sufficient advance written notice to provide the adverse party with a fair opportunity to contest the use” of the prior conviction, which Herbst concedes he has received.

More than ten years have passed since Herbst was released from the confinement imposed [**4] for his mail fraud conviction. Attitash argues that Herbst is to blame for that fact, because he waited nearly three years after his 2006 accident to bring this action, and then requested a trial continuance in 2010. But Attitash has not shown that Herbst acted improperly in either regard, or that he “manipulated either the calendar or the scheduling process in order to postpone the trial and allow the clock to run on [his] conviction.”3 United States v. Nguyen, 542 F.3d 275, 280 (1st Cir. 2008) (rejecting a similar argument that “had [the] trial started a few months earlier–as did the trial of [certain] codefendants–the ten-year window would have  [*266]  remained open”). So there is no reason not to apply Rule 609(b) here. Id. at 281.

3 Indeed, personal injury actions are routinely brought near the end of the limitations period, so as to allow the nature of the injury to become fully understood.

 [HN2] “Given the tenor of Rule 609(b), common sense suggests that felony convictions more than ten years old should be admitted only sparingly and in especially compelling circumstances,” based on a “particularized showing” that their probative value substantially outweighs their prejudicial effect. Id. at 278  [**5] (citing 4 Jack B. Weinstein & Margaret A. Berger, Weinstein’s Federal Evidence § 609.06[1] (2d ed. 2007)). Factors to consider in making that determination “may include (i) the impeachment value of the particular convictions, (ii) their immediacy or remoteness . . .; (iii) the degree of potential prejudice that they portend; (iv) the importance of the defendant’s testimony; and (v) the salience of the credibility issue in the circumstances of the particular case.” United States v. Brito, 427 F.3d 53, 64 (1st Cir. 2005).

Here, Herbst’s mail fraud conviction has a direct bearing on his credibility and veracity, and thus a high degree of impeachment value. He demonstrated a willingness to defraud others to improve his own financial situation. Because Herbst is the primary, and in some respects only, witness to his accident and the ride(s) leading up to it (which allegedly affected his state of mind, making him feel the need to slide faster), and because Attitash contends that Herbst himself was at fault for the accident, his testimony is likely to be of great importance at trial, and his credibility is likely to be a particularly salient issue for the jury.

“Of course,  [HN3] the mere fact that  [**6] [a witness’s] credibility is in issue . . . cannot, by itself, justify admission of evidence of convictions over ten years old,” because that “would make the ten year limit in Rule 609(b) meaningless.” United States v. Brown, 603 F.2d 1022, 1028 (1st Cir. 1979). But the case for admitting evidence of Herbst’s mail fraud conviction is especially compelling here, given the fraudulent nature of his crime, the likely importance of his testimony and credibility with regard to events that only he (and, in some respects, his daughter) witnessed, and that his conviction, which occurred when he was 46 years old, is barely older than ten years.4

4 In fact, as noted supra, had this action been filed earlier, or trial not been continued, impeachment would have been permitted under Rule 609(a).

While the admission of a prior felony conviction always carries some risk of prejudice, that risk is much lower here than it would be, for example, in a criminal case brought against Herbst. See, e.g., Orlando-Figueroa, 229 F.3d at 46 (noting that “Rule 609 is primarily concerned with potential unfairness to a [criminal] defendant when his prior convictions are offered” and concluding that, even under the particular  [**7] circumstances of that criminal case, the court could have admitted evidence of a witness’s mail fraud conviction under Rule 609(b), over the defendant’s objection).

The risk of prejudice is further reduced because Herbst suffered objectively verifiable injuries in the accident (including a broken ankle) and is not the only person who has done so in recent years. See Part IV, infra. Given that evidence, the jury is unlikely to regard the accident itself, or Herbst’s decision to bring this lawsuit, as fraudulent, or to reject his claims merely because he has a criminal history. Rather, it is likely to consider Herbst’s conviction for the limited, and proper, purpose of determining whether to believe his specific testimony regarding his conduct on the slide, the reasons for it (including his state of mind), and the pain and suffering it caused him.

 [*267]  Having considered the specific facts and circumstances of this case, the court concludes that the probative value of Herbst’s mail fraud conviction substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect, and that it is in the interests of justice to admit it into evidence. Attitash’s motion to admit that evidence is therefore granted. To further reduce  [**8] any risk of prejudice, Herbst may request a limiting instruction to the jury, both when the evidence is admitted and in the final jury charge. See, e.g., United States v. Tracy, 36 F.3d 187, 194 (1st Cir. 1994).

II.Attitash’s motion to exclude medical bills5

5 Document no. 20.

Attitash has moved to preclude Herbst from introducing evidence of the face amounts of his medical bills, arguing that the reasonable value of medical services is the amount actually paid for them (here, by Medicaid), not the higher amount billed.  [HN4] This court has repeatedly refused, however, “‘to exclude evidence of the billed cost of medical services’ in favor of ‘the amounts actually paid’ in satisfaction of those costs by the plaintiff’s health insurers.” Reed v. Nat’l Council of Boy Scouts of Am., Inc., 706 F. Supp. 2d 180, 190 (D.N.H. 2010) (quoting Aumand v. Dartmouth Hitchcock Med. Ctr., 611 F. Supp. 2d 78, 91 (D.N.H. 2009)); see also Bartlett v. Mut. Pharm. Co., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142906, 2010 WL 3156555, at * 2; Williamson v. Odyssey House, Inc., 2000 DNH 238, 2000 WL 1745101, at *1 (DiClerico, D.J.).

As explained more fully in those decisions, Medicaid write-offs fall within the scope of New Hampshire’s collateral source  [**9] rule, which “provides that ‘if a plaintiff is compensated in whole or part for his damages by some source independent of the tort-feasor, he is still permitted to make full recovery against the tort-feasor.'” Reed, 706 F. Supp. 2d at 190 (quoting Moulton v. Groveton Papers Co., 114 N.H. 505, 509, 323 A.2d 906 (1974)). Accordingly, this court has not only permitted plaintiffs to present evidence of the amounts billed, but has prohibited defendants from presenting evidence of the amounts actually paid, deeming such evidence unfairly prejudicial. See, e.g.,  Bartlett, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142906, 2010 WL 3156555, at *2 (citing Fed. R. Evid. 403).

Attitash notes that a number of New Hampshire Superior Court judges have reached the opposite conclusion. But this court considered much, if not all, of that case law in Reed, which noted that there is Superior Court precedent in both directions and announced that “unless and until this state’s version of the collateral source rule is changed by the New Hampshire legislature or New Hampshire Supreme Court, this court will continue to apply it to billed amounts ‘written off’ by a plaintiff’s providers, in accordance with existing law here and in the vast majority of other jurisdictions.”  [**10] 706 F. Supp. 2d at 190, 194.6

6 This is not to say, however, that the court finds the contrary Superior Court decisions wholly unpersuasive, at least as a policy matter, particularly in the context of private health insurance (as opposed to Medicaid or other public health insurance). But it is this state’s legislature–or, with respect to common-law rules, its Supreme Court–which decides such matters, not this court.

Attitash’s motion in limine is therefore denied. It is important to note, however, that Attitash may still challenge whether the billed amounts reflect the reasonable value of Herbst’s medical services, provided it does not use evidence of the Medicaid write-offs to do so, and otherwise complies with the rules of evidence. See  [*268] Bartlett, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142906, 2010 WL 3156555, at *2 (citing Reed, 706 F. Supp. 2d at 194).

III.Attitash’s motion to exclude expert testimony on warnings7

7 Document no. 34. The court discussed this issue with the parties at oral argument (before Attitash’s motion had been filed) and then gave both parties an opportunity to brief it before trial.

Attitash has also moved to preclude Herbst’s expert witness, engineer John Mroszczyk, from testifying that the slide’s warnings were [**11] inadequate, arguing that no such opinion was disclosed in his expert report. See [HN5] Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B) (expert “report must contain . . . a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them“) and 37(c)(1) (where “a party fails to provide information . . . as required by Rule 26(a),” it “is not allowed to use that information . . . at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless“). The only warning-related opinion expressly set forth in Mroszczyk’s report was that the slide had “a number of instruction and warning signs at the slide loading area” (photos of which he attached to the report), but “no speed limit signs posted along the slide.”

Herbst concedes “that it would certainly have been preferable to ensure that Mroszczyk clearly expressed his opinion” about the warnings in his expert report, see document no. 33, at 4, but nevertheless argues that it is a reasonable inference from the report that he considers the warnings inadequate, and that he should therefore be allowed to offer that opinion at trial. See, e.g., Metavante Corp. v. Emigrant Sav. Bank, 619 F.3d 748, 762 (7th Cir. 2010) (expert report need  [**12] not “replicate every word that the expert might say on the stand,” as long as it sufficiently “convey[s] the substance of the expert’s opinion . . . so that the opponent will be ready to rebut, to cross-examine, and to offer a competing expert, if necessary”) (quotation omitted).

Herbst has submitted an affidavit from Mroszczyk clarifying that he “do[es] not believe that any warning in a sign regarding the particular problems” that Herbst encountered on the alpine slide “would be adequate to make this ride safe,” i.e., he “do[es] not believe that this condition in the slide could be made safe by warnings.” Document no. 33-1, at 2. This court agrees that such an opinion can be reasonably inferred from his report, which, after noting the existing signs and the lack of speed limits, states that riders have no ability to gauge their speed anyway and that, even “at a reasonable speed,” they could still “leave the track.” The strong implication is that no warning would be adequate.

The problem with that opinion, at least for Herbst, is that it means that Attitash’s alleged failure to warn did not cause his accident and injuries, because, according to Mroszczyk, no warning would have been adequate  [**13] to protect Herbst from the particular problems he encountered. See, e.g., Trull v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 145 N.H. 259, 264, 761 A.2d 477 (2000) (“failure to warn must be [a] proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries”); LeBlanc v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 141 N.H. 579, 586, 688 A.2d 556 (1997) (“[t]he issue in [a] failure to warn claim . . . is whether the danger . . . was or could have been made reasonable by the issuance of adequate warnings”). In other words, the opinion supports Herbst’s unreasonable dangerousness theory, but at the expense of his failure-to-warn theory.

Nevertheless, if Herbst wishes to offer Mroszczyk’s opinion at trial that the slide’s warnings were inadequate because no warning regarding the particular problems [*269]  that Herbst encountered would have made the ride safe, this court will allow him to do so. While not expressly disclosed in Mroszczyk’s report, that opinion can be reasonably inferred from the substance of the report, and Attitash has received sufficient notice to “be ready to rebut [it], to cross-examine, and to offer a competing expert, if necessary.” Metavante, 619 F.3d at 762. Attitash’s motion to exclude such testimony is denied.8

8 Mroszczyk should be careful, however, not to venture  [**14] beyond the limited opinion set forth above, or to suggest (contrary to that opinion) that some other warning by Attitash would have been adequate to prevent Herbst’s accident.

IV.Herbst’s motion to admit evidence of other accidents9

9 Document no. 15.

Herbst, in turn, has moved to admit evidence of various other accidents on Attitash’s alpine slide, including 21 that occurred between 2004 and 2006 (either prior to or just after his accident), and also one that his expert witness, Mroszczyk, happened to observe in 2010 while conducting a site visit for purposes of inspecting the slide and preparing his expert report in this case.10 Attitash objects that those accidents were not substantially similar to Herbst’s accident and that, in any event, evidence of other accidents–particularly the one Mroszczyk witnessed in 2010–would be unfairly prejudicial, would confuse the jury, and would unduly delay the trial. See Fed. R. Evid. 403.

10 Herbst initially sought to admit evidence of even more accidents, including some involving collisions between two riders. At oral argument and in his subsequent briefing, however, he narrowed his request to those accidents that he considers most similar to his  [**15] own.

 [HN6] “Evidence of prior accidents is admissible . . . only if the proponent of the evidence shows that the accidents occurred under circumstances substantially similar to those at issue in the case at bar.” Moulton v. Rival Co., 116 F.3d 22, 26-27 (1st Cir. 1997) (quoting McKinnon v. Skil Corp., 638 F.2d 270, 277 (1st Cir. 1981)). Both parties agree that the same requirement applies to subsequent accidents, as other courts have held. See, e.g., Reddin v. Robinson Prop. Group, LP, 239 F.3d 756, 760 (5th Cir. 2001). “At bottom, the ‘substantially similar’ requirement is a more particularized approach to the requirement that evidence be probative.” Trull v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 187 F.3d 88, 98 n.9 (1st Cir. 1999).

“‘Substantial similarity’ is a function of the theory of the case.” Moulton, 116 F.3d at 27. Here, Herbst’s theory (supported by expert testimony) is that Attitash’s alpine slide causes riders to move side-to-side within the slide and sometimes to lose control, particularly through curves; and that if a rider reaches the end of a curve embankment in that state, there is a risk of falling off the slide, as allegedly happened in his accident. According to Herbst’s expert, many [**16] curves in the slide pose that risk. In light of that theory, this court construes “substantially similar” to mean, for purposes of this case, that the rider in the other accident must have lost control around a curve and fallen off the slide.

A.2004-2006 accidents

Herbst has made evidentiary proffers regarding each of the accidents at issue. For the 21 accidents occurring between 2004 and 2006, he has submitted accident reports (6 from the New Hampshire Department of Safety and 15 from Attitash itself). The reports, however, provide very little detail. Most of them [*270] indicate that the rider fell off the slide, but not how or where it happened. Mroszczyk believes that each accident “probably” involved loss of control and ejection around a curve, because riders ordinarily would not fall off the slide on a straightaway. But at least two of the accidents were described as occurring on a straightaway, and some had other causes (e.g., a squirrel in the track). So that assumption seems flawed.

This court has closely reviewed each of the accident reports and finds that Herbst has met his burden of showing substantial similarity only as to four accidents:

·         the accident on July 12, 2005 (where the  [**17] rider “came through [the] dip, came to next set of banks, came out of track”);

·         the accident on July 23, 2005 (where the “sled came off track” near a bank);

·         the accident on August 3, 2005 (where the rider “hit the curve, jumped the track”); and

·         the accident on July 16, 2006 (where the rider “came from a right turn into a left turn and his cart flew off”).

All of the other accidents involved materially different circumstances, or at least were not sufficiently described for this court to deem them substantially similar. See, e.g., Downey v. Bob’s Disc. Furniture Holdings, Inc., 633 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2011) (affirming the exclusion of such evidence where plaintiffs proffered only a “bare bones” printout containing a “cryptic description” of prior incidents, with “no details,” and “conducted no investigation into the underlying facts”).11

11 Herbst argues that Attitash admitted, in an interrogatory, that all 15 of the accident reports it produced involved “accidents similar to the plaintiff’s: where an operator left the track and was injured.” But,  [HN7] for purposes of discovery, “a flexible treatment of relevance is required and the making of discovery . . . is not a concession or determination  [**18] of relevance for purposes of trial,” or admissibility. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1), advisory committee notes (1970). Attitash’s interrogatory answer was not an admission of substantial similarity within the meaning of Moulton.

Attitash argues that evidence of even the substantially similar accidents should be excluded as unfairly prejudicial, confusing to the jury, and likely to unduly delay the trial. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. But this court sees little to no risk in any of those respects. Because the accident reports provide so little detail, and appear to be the only available evidence of what happened, the use of such evidence will necessarily be limited in scope. Its main purpose is simply to show that riders occasionally lose control and fall off the track around a curve, as Herbst did, and that Attitash had notice of that risk. That is a proper and probative purpose, which outweighs any of the countervailing concerns listed in Rule 403.

This court therefore grants Herbst’s request to admit evidence of the four accidents noted above, but denies his request to admit evidence of the other accidents between 2004 and 2006. If Herbst believes that this court has overlooked any accident(s)  [**19] with circumstances comparably similar to those four accidents, or has additional evidence of substantial similarity beyond that proffered to date, he may raise that issue and/or make a further evidentiary proffer at trial, outside the presence of the jury.

B.2010 accident

For the accident in 2010, Herbst has submitted an affidavit from Mroszczyk explaining what he observed. According to Mroszczyk, that accident, like Herbst’s, involved a rider’s loss of control, side-to-side movement within the slide, and then  [*271]  ejection from the slide around a curve (albeit a different curve, more than 100 feet down the slide from where Herbst fell). Mroszczyk claims that sequence of events “is precisely what I believe occurred to Mr. Herbst.” Based on that proffer, this court finds that Herbst has sufficiently shown that the 2010 accident was substantially similar to his own, clearing that hurdle for admissibility.12

12 Attitash argues that the 2010 accident resulted from the rider going airborne over a slide feature called “the dip” (not from being ejected around a curve), but that strikes the court as implausible, given the considerable distance between the dip and the place where the rider landed. Attitash  [**20] has not proffered any evidence to support that version of events. In any event, if Attitash wishes to challenge Mroszczyk’s testimony regarding how that accident happened, it may do so at trial. An adjuster from Attitash’s insurance company also witnessed the accident and could be called as a witness.

Attitash argues that evidence of the 2010 accident should nevertheless be excluded as unfairly prejudicial, confusing to the jury, and likely to unduly delay the trial. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. It is true that such evidence may pose some risk of prejudice and juror confusion, since the accident happened, incidentally, on the day when Herbst’s expert was inspecting the slide, which might suggest to the jury that accidents happen on the alpine slide with greater frequency than they actually do. Attitash, though, has the ability to present evidence of how often accidents actually happen.13 The jury should not have any trouble understanding or accepting that the timing was just a coincidence.

13 The standard for defendants to introduce evidence of prior accidents is more lenient than for plaintiffs. See Trull, 187 F.3d at 98 n.9.

Conversely, evidence of the 2010 accident has very high probative [**21] value. Mroszczyk’s direct observation of an accident substantially similar to the one that Herbst suffered has the ability to inform, and even corroborate, his expert opinions about what happened to Herbst, and the reason(s) for it. That firsthand experience could make his testimony much more persuasive and helpful to the jury, whereas preventing him from discussing the accident could leave the jury with an incomplete, and potentially inaccurate, understanding of the basis for and reliability of his opinions.

On balance, this court concludes that the probative value of the 2010 accident outweighs the risk of prejudice and juror confusion, and therefore grants Herbst’s motion to admit evidence of that accident. As to Attitash’s argument that such evidence will cause undue delay, this court doubts that will happen, but will keep that concern in mind during trial and will be open to any proposals that Attitash may have (short of outright exclusion) for reasonably limiting the amount of such evidence, and the manner in which it is presented, so as to avoid undue delay and reduce the risk of prejudice.

V.Conclusion

For the reasons set forth above, Attitash’s motion to admit evidence of Herbst’s  [**22] prior conviction14 is GRANTED, Attitash’s motion to exclude evidence of Herbst’s medical bills15 is DENIED, Attitash’s motion to preclude Mroszczyk from testifying about the slide’s warnings16 is DENIED, and Herbst’s motion to admit evidence of  [*272]  prior and subsequent accidents17 is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

14 Document no. 19.

15 Document no. 20.

16 Document no. 34.

17 Document no. 15.

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Joseph N. Laplante

Joseph N. Laplante

United States District Judge

Dated: May 2, 2011

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