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This is a hard case–hard not in the sense that it is legally difficult or tough to crack, but in the sense that it requires us to deny relief to a plaintiff for whom we have considerable sympathy.

We do what we must, for ‘it is the duty of all courts of justice to take care, for the general good of the community, that hard cases do not make bad law. 

Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

State: Rhode Island, Supreme Court of Rhode Island

Plaintiff: Dawn K. Roy, in her capacity as the administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy, et al.

Defendant: Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and two individuals in their official capacities as DEM employees 

Plaintiff Claims: 

Defendant Defenses: Open and Obvious and Recreational Use Statute 

Holding: for the Defendant 

Year: 2016 

Summary

The title is a quote from another case and states perfectly the situation most judges face when looking at a case. 

In this one, a man dove into a lake at a State Park in Rhode Island. He broke his neck and became a quadriplegic. The Rhode Island Supreme Court dismissed his claims because the assumed the risk and the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute prevented his claims. 

Facts 

The state owned the land in question and ran it as a state park. There was a man-made pond in the park that was “treated much like a swimming pool.” Because of changes to the pond, the decision was made to close the pond and now allow swimming. No swimming signs were posted, and no lifeguards were on duty. Other parks of the park were still open, including the bathhouses.

Rhode Island did not allow the operation of a body of water on a swim at your own risk basis. 

The plaintiff was a 29-year-old  husband and father of two. He went to the park with a friend. While at the park he ran and dove into the water breaking his neck and becoming a paraplegic. 

The plaintiff by and through his wife, as Administratrix of the estate of the plaintiff used the state and various agencies for his injuries. The case when to trial and the jury returned a verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted and the defendant filed this appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. 

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

The state based its appeal on the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute, and the state owed no duty for an open and obvious natural condition. 

The court first looked at the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute. The statute provided immunity to landowners and to state and municipalities. The limitation was not absolute. A landowner could be liable if the plaintiff could prove “…[f]or
the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity after   discovering the user’s peril…
” 

The state argued nothing it did established proof of willful or malicious failure to warn. The court could not find any evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims. On top of that, the best defense was provided by the plaintiff when he admitted
he knew about the dangers of diving into shallow water, and that he had not checked the depth of the water. Finally, he admitted he was probably irresponsible. 

The court then looked at the open and obvious danger defense. Here again, the plaintiff failed.  

This Court held that the defendants had not owed any duty of care to the plaintiff in that case in part because “requiring citizens to place warnings against[–]and barriers preventing persons from[–]diving into shallow water would provide little disincentive to individuals * * *. As a practical matter, the danger of diving into shallow water is one of common knowledge, and one [the plaintiff] admit he was aware of.” 

The court concluded. 

Because it is our considered opinion that the state bore no liability for Roy’s injuries–either because diving is an open and obvious danger or because it was protected under the Recreational Use Statute–we conclude that the trial justice erroneously denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law. 

So Now What? 

To many this case might suck, sending this young man to live a life without the financial support he may need. However, as the quote in the beginning said, the law is the law. When you undertake to engage in a sport or activity, you assume
the risks of those activities. 

More importantly when recreating on land for free, the landowner owes no duty to keep you safe from yourself. If not, recreation would only be on federal lands where the chance of proving a claim is negligible. State, City and County Parks and Open Spaces would all close because they could not afford the insurance needed to keep them open.

 What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

Dawn K. Roy, in her capacity as the administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy, et al.1 v. The State of Rhode Island et al.

1 The original plaintiff, Brett A. Roy, passed away while the instant appeal was pending. An order substituting “Dawn K. Roy, the  administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy” as a party in this case entered on April 15, 2016. See Rule 25(a) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

No. 2013-213-Appeal. No. 2014-39-Appeal.

SUPREME COURT OF RHODE ISLAND

139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

June 23, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Providence County Superior Court. (PC 09-2874). Associate Justice Susan E. McGuirl.

Roy v. State, 2013 R.I. Super. LEXIS 54 (2013)

CASE SUMMARY:

COUNSEL: For Plaintiffs: Patrick C. Barry, Esq., Douglas E. Chabot, Esq.

For State: Rebecca T. Partington, Department of the Attorney General; Adam J. Sholes, Department of the Attorney General.

JUDGES: Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION BY: Paul A. Suttell

OPINION

[*482] Chief Justice Suttell, for the Court. A wise jurist once wrote:

“This is a hard case–hard not in the sense that it is legally difficult or tough to crack, but in the sense that it requires us * * * to deny relief to a plaintiff for whom we have considerable sympathy. We do what we must, for ‘it is the duty of all courts of justice to take care, for the general good of the community, that hard cases do not make bad law.'” Burnham v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, 873 F.2d 486, 487 (1st Cir. 1989) (Selya, J.) (quoting United States v. Clark, 96 U.S. 37, 49, 24 L. Ed. 696, 13 Ct. Cl. 560 (1877) (Harlan, J., dissenting)).

This is indeed such a hard case. Tragically, on July 10, 2008, twenty-nine-year-old Brett A. Roy broke his neck when diving into the pond at World War II Veterans Memorial Park in Woonsocket, resulting in his paralysis from the neck down. Roy’s injuries were vast and undeniable. Roy and his wife, Dawn K. Roy (plaintiffs), individually and as the parents of their two children, [**2] filed this action against the state, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and two individuals in their official capacities as DEM employees (collectively, the state), alleging several counts of negligence and premises liability. After a multi-week trial and lengthy deliberations, a jury returned a verdict for the state, finding that the state had not “fail[ed] to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity” or against a “non-obvious, latent dangerous condition” at the pond. Subsequently, both parties filed renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, which the trial justice denied. However, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted. Thereafter, the state brought the instant appeal arguing that the trial justice erred in granting the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial, and that, as a matter of law, the state owed no duty to Roy. The plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal arguing that their motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted and that the trial justice erred in denying their motion for additur or alternatively their motion for a new trial on damages only. For the reasons set forth herein, [**3] we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

A

World War II Veterans Memorial Park and Pond

In July 2008, the pond at World War II Veterans Memorial Park in Woonsocket [*483] was one of several bodies of water operated by the state as a recreational facility. At trial several state workers testified to the condition and maintenance of the park and pond.

The director of DEM at the time of the incident, W. Michael Sullivan, testified that the man-made pond was “filled mechanically” and “treated much like a swimming pool.” Sullivan testified that, in June 2008, he made the decision to fill the pond, and he appeared at a press conference where he announced his decision.2 Sullivan stated that, in July 2008, there were “no swimming” signs posted, but DEM “expected that there would be people * * * using the park.” Sullivan explained that facilities such as the bathhouses were open, but he stated that he “did not ever consider the beach to be open.” Sullivan agreed that it was prohibited under DEM rules to operate the pond on a “swim-at-your-own-risk” basis, and he explained that, “if there were not lifeguards present at a swimming facility, that the swimming facility was closed.” Sullivan [**4] explained that, in July 2008, staff on-site at the park had been directed “to tell people that the beach — that the water was closed to swimming, to point to signage and refer them to that, but it was not expected that they would stand there and order people out [of the water] * * *.”

2 Sullivan had explained that, in February 2008, World War II Veterans Memorial Park had been “slated for closure” in the budget presented to the Legislature that year. However, at the end of June, after local officials expressed concern, he made the decision as the Director of DEM to fill the pond.

The Associate Director of Natural Resources for DEM, Larry Mouradjian, also testified at trial. He described the pond, explaining that there was a designated lap pool, a swim area, and a diving platform. He testified that he had seen the pond with and without water, and, based on his opinion, diving near the wall into the lap pool would be dangerous because it was too shallow. Mouradjian testified that the pond was typically not filled “until such time as we were able to fully staff the * * * swim area and invite the public to swim at the pond * * *.” Mouradjian stated that he thought the decision to fill the [**5] pond was untimely “[b]ecause the things normally done to prepare the pond to be open to the public had not been done * * *.” He testified that he had spoken to Sullivan and recommended that the pond be drained or left empty until DEM “beg[a]n to acquire the resources necessary.”

The DEM Chief of the Rhode Island Division of Parks and Recreation, Robert Paquette, and the Deputy Chief, John Faltus, also testified at trial. Paquette confirmed that Mouradjian was hesitant to open the pond and that Mouradjian told him that “we should really look into this.” However, Paquette testified that “[Sullivan] was ordering [him] to open up the facility.” Paquette also testified that he had never been told that “there was ever a problem with shallow water [along the wall of the pond].” Faltus testified that he was never “officially informed” that people were diving at the pond, but he had “heard hearsay that there’s possible diving activity after hours.” Faltus stated that generally they did not “allow diving at any [state] swimming areas.” However, he also admitted that “[p]eople [were] allowed to possibly do some shallow entry dives,” explaining that whether diving was allowed “[d]epends on how you define ‘dive.'”

William Mitchell [**6] Jr., the Regional Park Manager for DEM in 2008, testified that there was no “system that was in place to warn people of the depth of the water.” However, he stated that “if a patron * * * [*484] ask[ed] an employee * * * they would advise them as to the depth of the water, [and] if they asked about diving, [they] would tell them the rules and regulations * * *.” Mitchell agreed that Roy’s injury was “[g]enerally” the type of thing that he could foresee and he was concerned that it was the kind of injury that would happen when he was told to fill the pond before lifeguards had been hired.

Peter Lambert, a DEM caretaker supervisor who was employed at World War II Veterans Memorial Park from 1990 to 2008, testified at trial extensively about the physical characteristics and operation of the park and pond. He explained that, as the caretaker supervisor, he was the “acting park manager,” testifying that he “handled pretty much everything that had to do with the park itself: scheduling the staff, supervising the lifeguards, interviewing park rangers, interviewing seasonal people, assigning various work to people.” Essentially he either directly worked on or helped supervise everything that needed to be done at the [**7] park.

Lambert described the park as “16 acres * * * in the center of * * * Woonsocket [with] a man made [sic] pond, * * * two tennis courts, a playground area, horseshoe pits, * * * [an] Olympic pool area, * * * and the beach area * * *.” Lambert described the water depth near the wall where the Olympic pool met the beach area as being “pretty consistent over the years.” He testified that, when the pond was drained, he would try to “smooth the bottom” of it. Lambert explained that the pond “wouldn’t be perfectly level like a pool,” but testified that he “would try to eliminate any erosion, any heels, any high spots.” He testified that he was unable to do “any preparatory work to the bottom” of the pond in 2008 because he had been “informed that the park was closing and the beach wouldn’t be opened that year, and [his] job was being eliminated.” However, Lambert also explained that he did not rake the pond every year because “there were years when there was very little shifting on the bottom.” Subsequently, Lambert testified about the diving policies at the pond. He stated that diving had “never [been] allowed.” However, he admitted to seeing “people periodically dive * * * off of [the] [**8] wall on the pool area, [but] not during hours that [the pond was] in operation.”

B

The Events of July 10, 2008

Kenneth Henderson, a seasonal laborer for DEM who worked as a groundskeeper at the park in 2008, testified at trial that he was working on July 10, 2008. Henderson stated that he saw “about half a dozen” people swimming in the pond that day but did not tell them that swimming was prohibited because, in his words, “[he] had no authority.”

Laura Oliver and Carol Gear had also been at the park on July 10, 2008, and testified at trial. Oliver testified that on July 10 there were no lifeguards, lifeguard chairs, or buoy lines in the pond, and the fountain was off. Oliver said that she allowed her children to go swimming despite the “no swimming” signs “because there [had been] a write-up in the paper, and nobody told [them] different[ly].” She added that there were often “no swimming” signs in place, even when lifeguards were present and watching the swimmers. However, Oliver testified that a DEM employee, who she later learned was a groundskeeper, had told her children not to jump in the water. Oliver explained that she saw people jumping and “do[ing] all kinds of stuff” off the diving platform on July [**9] 10. However, she knew from experience that diving was not allowed in the pond because in previous years if someone [*485] dove into the water, then “lifeguards would be on top of it. If they kept doing it, [the lifeguards] would tell them they had to leave.” She added that she never saw anyone get hurt while diving prior to July 10. Oliver described Roy’s dive as “a belly flop kind of dive; not a complete dive.”

Gear testified that she had been to the pond to swim “[t]hree times” before July 10, 2008, and had seen people dive, but had never seen anyone injured from diving before Roy suffered his injury. Gear described Roy’s actions that she witnessed on July 10, stating: “He threw something on the ground, and [ran], like you run when you bowl, and then he just dove in.” She labeled Roy’s dive as a “[r]egular kind of dive.” She clarified that she would call it “a shallow dive.” She explained that “[i]t was more like he * * * just * * * put his head down and kind of went in. It wasn’t like a real dive like on a diving board.”

Hope Braybon, who accompanied Roy to the pond on July 10, also testified to the events of the day. Braybon stated that she watched Roy “jog” from the car in the parking lot and “d[i]ve in.” She testified [**10] that, as Roy was diving, she “was telling him not to dive over there * * * because it was shallow water.”

Roy was unable to testify at trial but his deposition was read into the record. Roy was six feet tall and twenty-nine years old at the time of the incident. Roy testified that on July 10 he had dropped Braybon, her daughter, and his children at the park and “they * * * walked towards the beach.” He recalled seeing “20 to 30 people, small children, adults, adolescent children in the middle of the pond” swimming, which indicated to him that the park was open. He testified that he “never saw a sign that said ‘[n]o [s]wimming.'” Roy further testified that, when he arrived at the park, he “walked over towards the corner [of the pond], * * * [a]nd * * * wasn’t going to jump in,” but, he described the day as “hot, * * * very hot. So, [he] figured * * * [he would] jump in.” He stated that he looked at the water and “[i]t looked deep enough.” He described the water as “murky” and said that he “definitely couldn’t see the bottom.” He explained that “if the water was too shallow, [he would] be able to see it.” Before jumping in, Roy returned to his car to put his things away and then he “walked down to the end[,] [**11] * * * dove in the water[,] and [he] broke [his] neck.” Roy described his dive as a “shallow dive, just like a normal, flat dive,” meaning, “the only parts that [he] would want to hit the water would be the * * * tops of [his] hand and [his] belly.” Roy testified that around July 2007 he dove in the same spot, and “[n]othing was ever said to [him].” Roy admitted that he knew there was soil erosion in the pond, and, consequently, that soil had been added to the pond in the past. Roy stated that “the way that [he] check[ed] the depth of the water * * * was probably irresponsible * * *.”

C

The Jury Verdict and Posttrial Motions

After the close of evidence, both parties filed motions for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, and the trial justice denied both motions. Subsequently, the jury was charged on May 25, 2011. During the course of deliberations, the jury exchanged over fifty notes with the trial justice. On the morning of the third day of deliberations, the trial justice addressed the jury and asked the jurors to keep deliberating because she was “really confident that the eight [jurors were] going to be able to * * * reach a decision that is fair and just for everyone.”

[*486] On the fourth day of deliberations, [**12] the jury asked the court to “clarify if [six] jurors are for one party and [two] jurors are for another[,] [d]o the questions have to be answered in favor of the way the six jurors feel and the [other two jurors would] not be able to express their own feelings[?]” The trial justice responded that she was “not exactly sure what [they] [were] asking but the jury’s verdict must be unanimous with all [eight] [jurors] agreeing.” Later that day, the trial justice held a chambers conference at which she suggested to counsel that, in light of the jury’s note, the jury might be split six to two.

During the fifth day of deliberations, the jury asked the trial justice to reinstruct them that they needed to follow the instructions of law and not their emotions. After a series of conferences with juror No. 109 and the jury foreperson, individually, the trial justice excused juror No. 109. At approximately 3:50 p.m. that day, the jury sent a note to the trial justice that it could not come to a unanimous agreement. Approximately ten minutes later the trial justice responded: “Is there anything we can do to assist you?” The jury responded that “nothing else will make a difference” and indicated a six-to-one [**13] split. Thereafter, the trial justice released the jurors for the day and asked counsel to think of options and to determine from their respective clients whether they would accept a split verdict.

The following day–day six of deliberations–both parties agreed to accept a six-to-one split decision if the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The parties expressed that they “understood at the time that the jury would be sent to deliberate” and that if the jury “inform[ed] the [c]ourt that it could not reach a unanimous verdict, [the trial justice] would then disclose [to the jury] that the parties [had] agreed to accept a [six] to [one] split decision * * *.” Subsequently, the jury exchanged additional notes with the trial justice and returned for additional instructions on the Recreational Use Statute and the issue of liability, included as questions 1 and 2 on the verdict form. Thereafter, the jury indicated that it had reached a verdict.

The jury reached a unanimous verdict and found that the state had not “willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity at the pond * * *” and therefore was not liable under question 1. However, the jury [**14] found that the state was liable under question 2 for “willfully or maliciously fail[ing] to guard against a non-obvious, latent dangerous condition, knowing that there existed a strong likelihood that a user of the swimming pond would suffer serious injury or death[.]” The jury rejected the assumption-of-the-risk defense and found that both parties were negligent and assigned a 50/50 split with “zero” damages. The trial justice then called counsel to sidebar where plaintiffs argued that the jurors were not following the instructions because they found in favor of them but awarded no damages; the state disagreed. The trial justice instructed the jury that they were required to award damages. At that time, the state moved for a mistrial “based on the inconsistencies of the answers to the questions on the verdict sheet”; plaintiffs objected, and the trial justice denied the motion. The jury then sent a note explaining that they had “reached a unanimous verdict [because] no money was awarded.” They explained that if they had to award damages, “part of [the] jury [would] have one answer [and] part [would] have another. In other words, [they would] have to begin again.” The trial justice clarified [**15] with the jury that they were “referring to the [six-to-one] split/vote” and then released the jury for the day.

[*487] After the jury was sent home, the trial justice held a chambers conference with counsel. The parties discussed four potential options to consider: (1) a mistrial; (2) accept a six-to-one verdict; (3) accept half of the verdict; or (4) allow the verdict to stand. On the seventh day of deliberations, plaintiffs made a motion for additur or, in the alternative, for a new trial on the issue of damages. The trial justice denied plaintiffs’ motion and offered the parties a choice of accepting a split verdict or a mistrial. Both parties agreed to accept a six-to-one split verdict. The trial justice notified the jury that the parties would accept a six-to-one verdict. The jury returned the verdict and answered “no” to questions 1 and 2–finding no liability on behalf of the state, and judgment entered.

Following the jury verdict, both parties made renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law. In support of its motion, the state argued that plaintiffs failed to establish the state’s liability under the Recreational Use Statute and that, as a matter of law, Roy’s conduct was so “highly [**16] dangerous” that “no duty was owed to him.” The plaintiffs argued that the state’s witnesses admitted sufficient facts at trial to establish the state’s liability as a matter of law under the Recreational Use Statute. Additionally, plaintiffs moved for a new trial on damages, or, in the alternative, a new trial on all the issues. The trial justice issued a written decision on March 26, 2013, denying both parties’ motions for judgment as a matter of law, and granting plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial on all the issues. The state timely appealed this decision, and plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal.

II

Parties’ Arguments on Appeal

On appeal, the state argues that the trial justice erred in refusing to apply the decisions in Banks v. Bowen’s Landing Corp., 522 A.2d 1222 (R.I. 1987) and Bucki v. Hawkins, 914 A.2d 491 (R.I. 2007), which, the state contends, “stand for the proposition that the [s]tate owed no duty to Roy to protect him from an open and obvious natural condition * * *.” The state maintains that, “under the proper application of the Recreational Use Statute, the evidence fails to establish that the state willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn against a dangerous condition.” The state also argues that “Roy assumed the risk of injury by diving into murky water without first checking [**17] its depth” and that plaintiffs failed to prove the element of causation. Furthermore, the state contends that it is shielded from liability under the theory of discretionary immunity. The state also asserts that “the trial justice misconstrued material evidence and committed significant errors of law in granting plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial.” However, the state adds, if the matter is remanded for a new trial, “the statutory cap on damages should apply.”

In response, plaintiffs argue that the trial justice properly granted their motion for a new trial. The plaintiffs aver that they proved liability under the Recreational Use Statute and that the “open and obvious danger” rule articulated in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 496, is inapplicable here due to distinguishable facts. The plaintiffs maintain that Roy could not have “assumed the risk” under these facts as a matter of law and that plaintiffs proved proximate causation. Furthermore, plaintiffs contend that the trial justice and two motion justices properly applied the law and limited the state’s defenses with respect to governmental immunity and the damages cap. On cross-appeal, plaintiffs argue that the trial justice incorrectly denied their motions for additur, [**18] a new trial on the issue [*488] of damages only, and judgment as a matter of law. Additionally, plaintiffs argue that a new trial was warranted based on other legal errors made by the trial justice and that the second jury verdict was “the result of bias, prejudice, or passion.”

Because we conclude that the state owed no duty to Roy, we shall address only the state’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.

III

Judgment as a Matter of Law

A

Standard of Review

[HN1] “In reviewing a trial justice’s decision on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, this Court is bound to follow the same rules and legal standards as govern the trial justice.” Hough v. McKiernan, 108 A.3d 1030, 1035 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Perry v. Alessi, 890 A.2d 463, 467 (R.I. 2006)). “The trial justice, and consequently this Court, must examine ‘the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, without weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and draw[] from the record all reasonable inferences that support the position of the nonmoving party.'” Id. (quoting Perry, 890 A.2d at 467). Thus, a trial justice should enter judgment as a matter of law “when the evidence permits only one legitimate conclusion in regard to the outcome.” Id. (quoting Long v. Atlantic PBS, Inc., 681 A.2d 249, 252 (R.I. 1996)).

B

Discussion

[HN2] The Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute, G.L. 1956 [**19] chapter 6 of title 32, limits the liability of landowners, declaring that one

“who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use that property for recreational purposes does not thereby:

“(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose;

“(2) Confer upon that person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; nor

“(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to any person or property caused by an act of omission of that person.” Section 32-6-3.

[HN3] The purpose of this statute “is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability to persons entering thereon for those purposes.” Section 32-6-1. In order to achieve this, “the [Recreational Use Statute] modifies the common law by treating users of public and private recreational properties as trespassers, thus greatly reducing the duty of care that owners owe to recreational users.” Symonds v. City of Pawtucket, 126 A.3d 421, 424 (R.I. 2015). As we have noted, “it is clear from the unambiguous language of the 1996 amendment [to the Recreational Use Statute] that the [L]egislature intended to include the state and municipalities among owners entitled to immunity [**20] under the statute.” Id. (quoting Pereira v. Fitzgerald, 21 A.3d 369, 373 (R.I. 2011)).3

3 In 1996, the General Assembly amended the definition of “owner” in G.L. 1956 § 32-6-2(3) to include the state and municipalities. P.L. 1996, ch. 234, § 1.

[HN4] Although the Recreational Use Statute limits liability, this limitation is not absolute. Section 32-6-5 provides, in relevant part: “(a) Nothing in this chapter limits in any way any liability which, but for this chapter, otherwise exists: (1) [f]or the willful or malicious failure to guard or [*489] warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity after discovering the user’s peril * * *.” “Thus, the Legislature declared that all people who use this state’s public recreational resources are classified as trespassers to whom no duty of care is owed, save to refrain from willful or malicious conduct as defined in the [Recreational Use Statute].” Berman v. Sitrin, 991 A.2d 1038, 1044 (R.I. 2010).

On appeal, the state argues that the evidence presented at trial did not establish that the state willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn against a dangerous condition. Specifically, the state argues that “there was no evidence of a substantial number of injuries flowing from a known dangerous condition”; that “the state did not fail to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, [**21] structure, or activity”; and that “no witness made testimonial admissions sufficient to extinguish protection under the Recreational Use Statute.” Conversely, plaintiffs argue that they proved liability under the Recreational Use Statute because the evidence supported a finding that the state “breached the duty to refrain from willful and malicious failures to guard and warn against known latent conditions.” In support of this argument, plaintiffs rely on Berman.

In Berman, 991 A.2d at 1042, the plaintiff was walking on the Newport Cliff Walk when the ground “gave way,” causing the plaintiff to suffer injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic. This Court specifically noted that this was “not * * * a case in which a visitor came too close to the edge of a cliff and fell off, as tragic as that would be.” Id. at 1049. Rather, “the events leading to [the plaintiff’s] tragic injury were caused by latent defects in the structure of the Cliff Walk that [were] not obvious to the occasional visitor.” Id. This Court explained that “the record before [it was] replete with evidence demonstrating that * * * the city knew that the forces of natural erosion were taking a toll on the Cliff Walk.” Id. at 1050. Thus, this Court concluded that “because [**22] of the multiple incidents of death and grievous injury * * * the city [could] not successfully defend [the plaintiff’s] claim based on an assertion that it had no specific knowledge of [the plaintiff] or any peril confronting him.” Id. at 1051. Consequently, this Court held that “the immunity provided by the [Recreational Use Statute] [was] not available to defendant City of Newport, in the context of the Cliff Walk” because a “fact-finder reasonably could find that * * * the city voluntarily and intentionally failed to guard against the dangerous condition, knowing that there existed a strong likelihood that a visitor to the Cliff Walk would suffer serious injury or death.” Id. at 1052, 1053.

The plaintiffs argue that this case is comparable to Berman because the “record is replete with evidence of DEM’s admitted knowledge of numerous unique dangerous conditions, including shallow water in areas where users had been known to dive from the park’s structures, and the historic presence of the sandbar in the same (normally deeper) area.” The plaintiffs maintain that the “shallow water and dangers of diving at this particular facility were not obvious to users * * * yet were in fact known to DEM.”

In the case at bar, [**23] although the state admitted knowledge of the unique features of the pond, Roy also admitted that he was aware of the danger of making a dive into shallow water and that “the way that [he] check[ed] the depth of the water * * * was probably irresponsible * * *.” He confirmed that he knew the soil in the pond was eroding and, consequently, that soil was added to the pond. We would note that, examining the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs as we [*490] must, the actions of the defendants are a far cry from the egregious conduct attributed to the City of Newport in Berman. There, we held that “[i]t is because of the multiple incidents of death and grievous injury that we conclude that the city may not successfully defend this claim based on an assertion that it had no specific knowledge of [the plaintiff] or any peril confronting him.” Berman, 991 A.2d at 1051. Here, there is only one indication in the record of a relatively minor injury reported several days before Roy’s catastrophic injuries. Therefore, we are of the opinion that, under these circumstances, this case is distinguishable from Berman. There is no evidence to support a finding that the state “willful[ly] or malicious[ly] fail[ed] to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, [**24] use, structure, or activity after discovering [a] user’s peril * * *.” See § 32-6-5(a)(1). Thus, the state’s motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted.

Moreover, even if the Recreational Use Statute did not apply, this Court has held that [HN5] the danger of diving in and of itself is an “open and obvious” danger, Bucki, 914 A.2d at 496, one of “common knowledge,” Banks, 522 A.2d at 1225, such that a landowner does not owe a duty of care to warn individuals who enter the premises. In Banks, 522 A.2d at 1224, the plaintiff filed a negligence claim for injuries he suffered after diving off a railing on the defendant’s property into the Newport Harbor. This Court held that the defendants had not owed any duty of care to the plaintiff in that case in part because “requiring citizens to place warnings against[–]and barriers preventing persons from[–]diving into shallow water would provide little disincentive to individuals * * *. As a practical matter, the danger of diving into shallow water is one of common knowledge, and one [the plaintiff] admit he was aware of.” Id. at 1225. Similarly, in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 493, the plaintiff filed a negligence claim for injuries he sustained after diving into a lake while he was a guest at one defendant’s waterfront property. This Court concluded that [**25] the plaintiff’s harm was foreseeable but again held that the defendants did not have a duty to warn of the dangers of diving. Id. at 496-97. This Court stated that:

“It is only reasonable for a diver, who cannot ascertain the water’s depth by looking, to further inspect the area before diving into dark water. The danger of diving into shallow water was open and obvious to a twenty-four-year-old man, regardless of whether a sign was erected alerting him to the danger.” Id. at 496.

Thus, this Court held that “as a matter of law, [the] plaintiff must be held to have had knowledge and an appreciation of this risk [because][,] [u]ltimately, it was [the] plaintiff’s own behavior that caused his injuries.” Id.

We also note that other courts have reached similar conclusions. For example, the Maryland Court of Appeals commented that:

“Bodies of water like the stream involved in this case have historically and consistently been afforded distinctive treatment in the law relating to landowners’ liability. The necessity, or at least desirability, of maintaining such bodies of water, coupled with known inherent dangers and the difficulty of effectively protecting against those dangers, have led courts across the country to pronounce [**26] water an ‘open and obvious danger,’ for which no warning or special precaution is ordinarily needed.” Casper v. Charles F. Smith & Son, Inc., 316 Md. 573, 560 A.2d 1130, 1134-35 (Md. 1989).

[*491] In a case affirming the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Chicago Park District against swimmers who were injured when they dove into Lake Michigan from concrete seawalls, Bucheleres v. Chicago Park District, 171 Ill. 2d 435, 665 N.E.2d 826, 827, 828, 839, 216 Ill. Dec. 568 (Ill. 1996), the Illinois Supreme Court pronounced:

“In cases involving obvious and common conditions, such as fire, height, and bodies of water, the law generally assumes that persons who encounter these conditions will take care to avoid any danger inherent in such condition. The open and obvious nature of the condition itself gives caution and therefore the risk of harm is considered slight; people are expected to appreciate and avoid obvious risks.” Id. at 832.

The Illinois Supreme Court further reasoned that “bodies of water are ordinarily considered to be open and obvious conditions and thereby carry their own warning of possible danger.” Id. at 835. This is clearly the position adopted by this Court in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 497, where this Court stated that “[w]e are of the opinion that in this case [the] defendant did not owe [the] plaintiff a duty of care, but, rather, that [the] plaintiff voluntarily exposed himself to the perils of an open and obvious danger.” [**27] Because it is our considered opinion that the state bore no liability for Roy’s injuries–either because diving is an open and obvious danger or because it was protected under the Recreational Use Statute–we conclude that the trial justice erroneously denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law.

IV

Conclusion

For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court and remand the case with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the state. The record shall be returned to the Superior Court.


Balloon ride in California is not a common carrier, and the release signed by the plaintiff bars the plaintiff’s claims even though she did not read or speak English

An outfitter must follow industry norms when dealing with guests. If the rest of the industry gives guests a safety talk, then you better give guests a safety talk. The problem arises when your guest cannot understand what you are saying.

Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., 14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two 

Plaintiff: Erika Grotheer 

Defendant: Escape Adventures, Inc., the pilot and Escape’s agent, Peter Gallagher, and Wilson Creek Vineyards, Inc.,

Plaintiff Claims: negligently or recklessly operated the balloon by (1) failing to properly slow its descent during landing and (2) failing to give the passengers safe landing instructions before the launch. Grotheer alleged the hot air  balloon company is a common carrier, and as such, owed its passengers a heightened duty of care 

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff could not satisfy the elements of a negligence claim and, even if she could, she had waived the right to assert such a claim by signing Escape’s liability waiver.

Holding: For the Defendant 

Year: 2017 

Summary

Being labeled a common carrier means you owe a higher degree of care to your guests than normal. However, a hot-air balloon ride is not classified as a common carrier because the analysis used under California law, whether the operator has control over the activity, is not met in ballooning. A balloon pilot can only control the ascent and descent of the balloon, all else is left to Mother Nature.

Assumption of risk under California law eliminates a duty that might be owed by the outfitter or in this case the balloon operator. However, not giving a safety talk before the ride is not an inherent risk assumed by the plaintiff. Since the industry, the ballooning industry, gives safety talks, then there is a duty on a balloon operator to give a safety talk to its guests.

However, if no safety talk was given, that still does not mean the outfitter is liable if the injury the plaintiff received was not proximately caused by the failure to give a safety talk.

Facts

The plaintiff is German and does not speak English. Her son signed her up for a balloon flight in the California wine country. The ride crash landed, as most balloon flights do and the plaintiff suffered a broken leg.

The three defendants were the balloon company, the balloon pilot and the winery where the launch and crash occurred. 

The plaintiff sued alleging negligence and because the defendant was a common carrier, the defendant owed the plaintiff a higher duty of care. 

A common carrier in most states is a business operating moving people from one place to another for a fee. The transportation company owes a higher degree of care to its passengers because the passenger has no control over the way the transportation is provided or how the transportation is maintained. 

A good example of this is a commercial airline. You have no idea if the plane is maintained, and you cannot fly the plane. Consequently, your life is totally in the hands of a commercial airline.

The other component of a common carrier is usually the movement is from point A to point B and the main reason is the passenger needs to get from point A to point B. In California the movement is not as important as it is in the other states.  In California, the decided factor is the control factor. California’s definition of a common carrier is much broader and  encompasses many more types of transportation, including transportation for recreation or thrills, not necessarily for getting from one place to the next. 

However, in California the analysis is not who has control but who has what control. 

For additional articles about common carriers see Zip line accused of being a common carrier who makes releases unenforceable. Issue still not decided, however, in all states common carriers cannot use a release as a defense and California case examines the relationship between a common carrier and public policy when applied to a ski area chair lift

The plaintiff based her claim on failing to instruct her in the risks of ballooning and what to do if the balloon were to crash. The balloonists met at the winery and then drove to the launch site. All but the plaintiff rode with the balloon company where the defendants claim they gave a safety speech. The plaintiff rode with her son to the launch site and did not hear the speech. 

More importantly, the plaintiff did not speak or understand English so even if she would have heard the safety talk, whether or not she could have understood it would be a question. 

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims find the plaintiff could not prove the element of duty; One of the four requirements to prove negligence. The trial court also found the plaintiff had assumed the risk and as such the defendants did not owe her any duty of care. The plaintiff appealed. 

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

The court started with the Common Carrier analysis.  

California law imposes a heightened duty of care on operators of transportation who qualify as “common carriers” to be as diligent as possible to protect the safety of their passengers. A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.

The court defined common carrier by statute as “A common carrier of persons is anyone “who offers to the public to carry persons.” This higher degree of care only applies to carriers who hold themselves out to the public for hire.

A carrier of persons without reward must use ordinary care and diligence for their safe carriage.” (Civ. Code, § 2096.) But “[c]arriers of persons for reward have long been subject to a heightened duty of care.” Such carriers “must use the utmost care and diligence for [passengers’] safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill. 

The level of care is not absolute; common carriers are not insurers of the safety of their passengers. However, they are required to do all that “human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances.” This heightened duty originated in England, prior to the US becoming a country and was based on: 

This duty originated in English common law and is “based on a recognition that the privilege of serving the public as a common carrier necessarily entails great responsibility, requiring common carriers to exercise a high duty of care towards their customers. 

In California, the common carrier status started with stage coaches. Since then the application of the term and the heightened duty has evolved and broadened to include recreational transportation, “scenic airplane and railway tours, ski lifts, and roller coasters “have all been deemed common carriers under California law.”

In California, the degree of care is defined more by the control the passenger has over the transportation. Roller Coasters are common carriers because the passenger has no control over the speed of the coaster or the maintenance on the coaster. At the same time, bumper cars are not common carriers because the passenger is able to steer and control the speed and direction of the bumper car. 

In California, the “inquiry in the common carrier analysis is whether passengers expect the transportation to be safe because the operator is reasonably capable of controlling the risk of injury.”

The court found the hot-air balloon was not a common carrier. Although the passenger has little if any control over the flight of the balloon, neither does the pilot of the balloon. The only control the pilot has is changing the altitude of the balloon. 

…balloon pilots do not maintain direct and precise control over the speed and direction of the balloon. A pilot directly controls only the balloon’s altitude, by monitoring the amount of heat added to the balloon’s envelope. A pilot has no direct control over the balloon’s latitude, which is determined by the wind’s speed and direction. A balloon’s lack of power and steering poses risks of midair collisions and crash landings, making ballooning a risky activity.

The analysis the court applied then turned on how much control the operator of the transportation had, not how little the passenger had. 

But there is a significant difference between the dangers of riding those conveyances and the dangers involved in ballooning. The former can be virtually eliminated through engineering design and operator skill, whereas the latter cannot be mitigated without altering the fundamental nature of a balloon. 

Thus a balloon pilot does not owe his or her customer a heightened duty of care. 

Assumption of the risk was the next defense the court examined. Under California law if the plaintiff assumes the risk, then the defendant does not owe the plaintiff any duty of care. 

Under California law, a balloon operator does not owe his or her passengers a duty of care for the inherent risks of the activity. “The doctrine applies to any activity “done for enjoyment or thrill … [that] involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.”

Because the pilot of a hot-air balloon can only control the ascent and descent of the balloon and no other control of the balloon, the passenger must assume the risk of all things ballooning. 

We therefore hold the doctrine applies to crash landings caused by the failure to safely steer a hot air balloon. We further hold Grotheer’s claim of pilot error falls under the primary assumption of risk doctrine because the claim goes to the core of what makes balloon landings inherently risky–the challenge of adjusting the balloon’s vertical movement to compensate for the unexpected changes in horizontal movement. As a result, Escape had no legal duty to protect Grotheer from crash landings caused by its pilot’s failure to safely manage the balloon’s descent. 

Consequently, the pilot and the balloon company owed no duty to the plaintiff. The inherent risks of ballooning include crashing. 

The court then looked at the issue of whether or not the plaintiff received any safety instructions prior to the flight. A guide, outfitter or operator of a balloon which is an inherently dangerous activity still owes a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the inherent risks. However, those steps must not fundamentality alter the activity. “The primary assumption of risk doctrine is limited to those steps or safety measures that would have a deleterious effect on recreational activities that are, by nature, inherently dangerous.” 

What the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not do, however, is absolve operators of any obligation to protect the safety of their customers. As a general rule, where an operator can take a measure that would increase safety and minimize the risks of the activity  without also altering the nature of the activity, the operator is required to do so. 

The issue then becomes whether or not the balloon operator owes a duty to provide safety instructions. 

Courts consider several factors in determining the existence and scope of a duty of care, including the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the policy of preventing future harm, and the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing the duty.

Foreseeability is a primary factor in determining whether a duty exists. In this case, the court concluded that providing a safety briefing was custom in the industry. Nor would giving a safety lecture be overly burdensome to the balloon operator or pilot.

The duty we recognize here does not compel anything so lengthy or complex as commercial airlines’ preflight instructions. It requires
only that a commercial balloon operator provide a brief set of safe landing procedures, which Escape’s pilot said is already his custom. Safety instructions are a common practice among operators of recreational activities, and we do not believe requiring balloon operators to set aside a few moments before launch to advise passengers how to position themselves in the basket and what to do in the event of a rough landing will have a negative impact on the ballooning industry. 

So the balloon operator did owe the plaintiff a duty to provide her with a safety instruction. However, that was not the end of the analysis. To prove negligence you must prove a duty, a breach of the duty an injury that was proximately caused by the breach of the duty and damages. In this case, the failure to provide a safety breeching was not the reason why the plaintiff broke her leg, or at least, the plaintiff could not prove the proximate causation. 

Examined another way, for the injury of the plaintiff to be proximately caused by the breach of duty of the defendant, the acts of the defendant must be a substantial factor in that injury. 

To be considered a proximate cause of an injury, the acts of the defendant must have been a “substantial factor” in contributing to the injury. Generally, a defendant’s conduct is a substantial factor if the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s conduct. If the injury “‘would have happened anyway, whether the defendant was negligent or not, then his or her negligence was not a cause in fact, and of course cannot be the legal or responsible cause.”

The balloon landing was called a jarring and violent crash by all witnesses. The plaintiff was on the bottom of the pile of people when the basket stopped moving, lying on its side. Any safety talk probably would not have helped the plaintiff prevent her leg from breaking in such a landing. “The accounts of the crash satisfied defendants’ burden of demonstrating the violence of the crash, not any lack of instructions, was the proximate cause of Grotheer’s injury.” 

Consequently, although the balloon operator breached his duty of care to the plaintiff, the injury that occurred to the plaintiff was due to the crash of the balloon which was a violent event rather than the plaintiff being able to deal with a normal landing properly.

So Now What? 

The safety instruction duty is troublesome. How is an outfitter supposed to provide a safety instruction if the customer  cannot comprehend what is being said. In this case, there might have been a way around it if the son could translate for  the plaintiff. However, in many cases a family from a foreign country with little or no English shows up for a recreational  activity with little or no understanding of the activity or the risks. The outfitter has no way of making sure the customer  understands the safety briefing if the outfitter does not speak the customer’s language. 

In California, if you have a customer who does not understand what you are saying, you must probably turn them away.

 What do you think? Leave a comment. 

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., 14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., 14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

Erika Grotheer, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., Defendants and Respondents.

E063449

Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two

14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

August 31, 2017, Opinion Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County, No. RIC1216581, John W. Vineyard, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: The Law Office of Robert J. Pecora and Robert J. Pecora for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Agajanian, McFall, Weiss, Tetreault & Crist and Paul L. Tetreault for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: Opinion by Slough, J., with Ramirez, P. J., and Codrington, J., concurring.

OPINION BY: Slough, J.

OPINION

SLOUGH, J.–Plaintiff and appellant Erika Grotheer is a non-English speaking German citizen who took a hot air balloon ride in the Temecula [*1288] wine country and suffered a fractured leg when the basket carrying her and seven or eight others crash-landed into a fence. Grotheer sued three defendants for her injuries: the balloon tour company, Escape Adventures, Inc. (Escape), the pilot and Escape’s agent, Peter Gallagher (Gallagher), and Wilson Creek Vineyards, Inc. (Wilson Creek) (collectively, defendants or respondents). Grotheer alleged Escape and Gallagher negligently or recklessly operated the balloon by (1) failing to properly slow its descent during landing and (2) failing to give the passengers safe landing instructions before the launch. Grotheer alleged the hot air balloon company is a common carrier, and as such, owed [**2] its passengers a heightened duty of care. (Civ. Code, § 2100.) Grotheer also alleged Wilson Creek was vicariously liable for Escape and Gallagher’s conduct because the vineyard shared a special relationship with the balloon company.

Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing Grotheer could not satisfy the elements of a negligence claim and, even if she could, she had waived the right to assert such a claim by signing Escape’s liability waiver before the flight. The trial court agreed Grotheer could not establish the element of duty, finding Grotheer had assumed the risk of her injury under the primary assumption of risk doctrine and, as a result, Escape and Gallagher owed her no duty of care whatsoever. (Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696] (Knight).) The trial court entered judgment in favor of defendants, and Grotheer appealed.

Grotheer contends the trial court erred in concluding her claim was barred by primary assumption of risk and reasserts on appeal that Escape is a common carrier. We affirm the judgment, but on a different ground than relied on by the trial court. We hold: (1) a balloon tour company like Escape is not a common carrier subject to a heightened duty of care; (2) the primary assumption of risk doctrine bars [**3] Grotheer’s claim that Gallagher negligently failed to slow the balloon’s descent to avoid a crash landing; and (3) Escape does have a duty to provide safe landing instructions to its passengers, but the undisputed evidence regarding the crash demonstrates that any failure on Escape’s part to provide such instructions was not the cause of Grotheer’s injury.

I

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Preflight

Grotheer’s son, Thorsten, purchased his mother a ticket for a hot air balloon tour with Escape during her visit to California, as a present for her [*1289] 78th birthday. On the morning of the tour, Grotheer and Thorsten met with the Escape crew and the other passengers in the parking lot of the vineyard owned by Wilson Creek, near the field where Escape launched its balloons. Thorsten later testified at his deposition that when they arrived to check in, he tried to explain his mother’s language barrier to the flight crew so Escape could ensure she understood any safety instructions. Thorsten said Gallagher, the pilot, responded by waving him away and saying, “Everything is going to be fine.” Thorsten tried telling two more Escape employees his mother could not understand English, but they appeared to be in [**4] a rush and told him he could not be in the immediate launch vicinity if he had not purchased a ticket. At some point during this check-in activity, Grotheer signed Escape’s liability waiver, which purported to release the company and its agents from claims based on “ordinary negligence.”

Gallagher then drove the passengers to the nearby launchsite. Grotheer drove over separately, with Thorsten. In his declaration, Gallagher said he gave the passengers safety instructions during the drive, as is his custom. He said the instructions covered what to do during landing: “I described to my passengers what to expect in terms of lifting off … and landing … I told them to bend their knees and hold on upon landing, and not to exit the basket until told to do so.”

According to passengers Boyd and Kristi Roberts, however, neither Escape nor Gallagher provided safety instructions. Boyd declared he sat in the front passenger seat next to Gallagher during the drive, which lasted a little over a minute and during which Gallagher described his credentials and years of experience. Boyd remembered receiving “a very general informational talk … about what to expect on [the] flight,” but said [**5] “[t]here was no mention of safety issues or proper techniques for take-off and landing.” Boyd’s wife, Kristi, also rode to the launchsite with Gallagher and said she never heard him give instructions, “other than to hold on as we took off.”

B. The Crash

The tour proceeded without incident until the landing. According to the four accounts in the record, as the balloon descended at a high rate of speed, the basket crashed into a fence then crashed into the ground and bounced and skidded for about 40 yards before finally coming to a stop, on its side. By all accounts, the event was forceful and caused the passengers to be tossed about the basket.

Boyd Roberts described the crash landing as follows: “The balloon was being pushed at a good clip by the wind and we were travelling in a horizontal direction as we were also descending. We were going sideways, [*1290] and … [b]efore we landed, we actually crashed into and took out several sections of [a] 3 rail fence.” After the basket collided with the fence, it hit the ground “with a hard bump and a bounce.” The passengers were “taken for a wild ride as [the basket] was getting dragged downwind [by the balloon].” The basket “became more and more horizontal” as [**6] it was being dragged. “We easily skipped 30 or 40 yards, with a couple of hard impacts along the way.” When the basket finally came to rest, it was “on its side, not its bottom,” with Grotheer’s section on the bottom and Boyd’s on top. He recalled that Grotheer was below him “lying on what was the side of the [basket] which was now the floor.”

Kristi Roberts’s account of the crash landing matches Boyd’s. She said, “we were going pretty fast towards the ground and it looked like we might hit the fence. We did hit the fence, as the [basket] crashed in the top of the three rails, and knocked it right apart.” After that, the basket “hit the ground hard.” Kristi recalled, “I was holding on as tight as I could to the [b]asket, but we were all standing up and it was hard to keep from falling over when we crashed into the ground.”

Gallagher described the landing similarly, though not in as much detail. He said the balloon had been “descending more quickly than anticipated” and the “passenger compartment of the balloon made a hard landing, first on a fence, then on the ground.” He believed the balloon’s descent had been hastened by a “false lift,” which he described as a condition where the wind travels [**7] faster over the top of the balloon than the rest of the balloon. The faster wind creates lift, but when the wind slows the aircraft can quickly lose altitude unless the pilot adds more heat to the balloon’s envelope. In his declaration, Gallagher said he “applied as much heat as possible to the envelope to add buoyancy,” but the additional heat was not sufficient to arrest the descent before the balloon hit the fence.

In her deposition, Grotheer said the balloon basket experienced two forceful impacts, first with the fence, then with the ground. She recalled she had been holding on to the metal rod in the basket when it hit the fence, but despite holding on, she was “still sliding.” She believed her leg broke upon the second impact–when the balloon hit the ground after the collision with the fence. She described her injury as follows: “The people in the balloon, they were all holding. It was hard. It hit the ground hard. And one woman just came like this (indicating).” Grotheer added, “[a]nd the lady is innocent because even her, she was pushed. She was pushed around by the other people in the basket.” Grotheer did not think anyone collided with her after that initial impact with the ground. [**8] She explained, “I just got myself real quick together. [The injury] was just at the beginning.” [*1291]

James Kitchel, Grotheer’s expert who has piloted balloons for over 25 years, concluded the cause of the crash landing was Gallagher’s “failure to maintain safe control over the ‘delta’ temperature[,] anticipate changing pressure differentials[,] and counterbalance the effects on the rate of descent.” He disagreed with Gallagher’s false lift theory, opining instead the balloon had likely simply experienced a wind shear. He believed all Gallagher had to do “to avoid this crash entirely” was add “sufficient heat” to the envelope “before the Balloon was already about to crash.”

Kitchel explained that many people perceive ballooning as a gentle, peaceful experience, but in reality, balloon rides “can be violent, high speed events with tragic results.” What makes a balloon a risky conveyance is the pilot’s inability to directly control the balloon’s movement. A pilot can directly control only the balloon’s altitude, which is done by managing the amount of heat added to the balloon’s envelope. The direction and speed of the wind determines lateral movement. Kitchel stated, “There is no way of steering [**9] a Balloon, such as by having a rudder. … [A] Balloon pilot never truly knows where the Balloon is going to land. He is at the mercy of the wind speed and direction.”

Kitchel also opined that the industry standard of care requires a commercial balloon operator to give “at the very least, one detailed safety presentation.” According to Kitchel, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Balloon Flying Handbook (FAA Handbook) suggests the following safety instructions to prepare passengers for a “firm impact” upon landing: (1) “Stand in the appropriate area of the basket”; (2) “Face the direction of travel”; (3) “Place feet and knees together, with knees bent”; (4) “‘Hold on tight’ in two places”; and (5) “Stay in the basket.” Kitchel did not believe any one particular set of instructions was required and he described the FAA Handbook’s safe landing procedures as a “good minimum standard.”

C. The Complaint

Grotheer’s complaint against defendants alleged she was injured when the balloon “crash land[ed] into a fence located on WILSON CREEK property.” She alleged her injury was a result of negligent piloting and failure to provide safety instructions. She also alleged Escape is a common carrier and [**10] has a duty to ensure the safety of its passengers.

D. The Summary Judgment Motion

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Grotheer’s negligence claim failed as a matter of law because she had assumed the risk of her injury under the primary assumption of risk doctrine. Defendants also [*1292] sought summary judgment on their liability waiver affirmative defense, claiming Grotheer had expressly waived her right to assert a negligence claim. In opposition, Grotheer argued: (1) the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not apply to common carriers like Escape; (2) the doctrine did not relieve Escape and Gallagher of a duty to avoid the crash landing and to provide safety instructions; and (3) the liability waiver was invalid because Escape knew she did not speak English and could not understand it. Grotheer also argued Wilson Creek was vicariously liable for Escape’s breach because the two companies were in a “symbiotic business relationship.”

After a hearing, the court concluded it was undisputed hot air ballooning is a risky activity that can involve crash landings, Grotheer assumed the risk of injury from a crash landing by voluntarily riding in the balloon, and defendants [**11] owed no duty whatsoever to protect her from her injury. The court also concluded Wilson Creek was not vicariously liable for Escape and Gallagher’s conduct. However, the court denied the motion for summary judgment on the liability waiver defense, stating, “there is at least an arguable duress in being separated from her son who was her translator at the time and not understanding the circumstances based on the language. I think that’s a triable issue of fact.” Based on its finding of no duty, the court concluded Grotheer’s negligence claim failed as a matter of law, and it entered judgment in favor of defendants.

II

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

[HN1] A trial court properly grants summary judgment when there are no triable issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) “The purpose of the law of summary judgment is to provide courts with a mechanism to cut through the parties’ pleadings in order to determine whether, despite their allegations, trial is in fact necessary to resolve their dispute.” (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 843 [107 Cal. Rptr. 2d 841, 24 P.3d 493] (Aguilar).)

[HN2] A defendant who moves for summary judgment bears the initial burden to show the action has no merit–that is, “one or more elements of the [**12] cause of action, even if not separately pleaded, cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to [that] cause of action.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subds. (a), (p)(2).) Once the defendant meets this initial burden of production, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of [*1293] material fact. (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 850-851.) “From commencement to conclusion, the moving party defendant bears the burden of persuasion that there is no triable issue of material fact and that the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Laabs v. Southern California Edison Co. (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1260, 1268-1269 [97 Cal. Rptr. 3d 241].) [HN3] We review the trial court’s ruling on a summary judgment motion de novo, liberally construing the evidence in favor of the party opposing the motion and resolving all doubts about the evidence in favor of the opponent. (Miller v. Department of Corrections (2005) 36 Cal.4th 446, 460 [30 Cal. Rptr. 3d 797, 115 P.3d 77].) We consider all of the evidence the parties offered in connection with the motion, except that which the court properly excluded.1 (Merrill v. Navegar, Inc. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 465, 476 [110 Cal. Rptr. 2d 370, 28 P.3d 116].)

1 Without supporting argument, Grotheer claims the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to consider her objections to defendants’ evidence, and her responses to defendants’ objections to her evidence, on the ground they were untimely filed on the day of the hearing. We will not consider this claim, however, because Grotheer has not explained why any of her objections or responses had merit, or how she was prejudiced by the court’s failure to consider them. (City of Santa Maria v. Adam (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 266, 287 [149 Cal. Rptr. 3d 491] [“we may disregard conclusory arguments that … fail to disclose [appellant’s] reasoning”].)

B. Escape Is Not a Common Carrier and Did Not Owe Grotheer a Heightened Duty To Ensure Her Safe Carriage

Grotheer claims Escape is a common carrier and therefore owed its passengers a heightened duty of care to ensure their safe carriage during the balloon tour. We conclude a hot air balloon operator like Escape is not a common [**13] carrier as a matter of law.

[HN4] (1) In general, every person owes a duty to exercise “reasonable care for the safety of others,” however, California law imposes a heightened duty of care on operators of transportation who qualify as “common carriers” to be as diligent as possible to protect the safety of their passengers. (See Civ. Code, §§ 1714, subd. (a), 2100, 2168.) “A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.” (Civ. Code, § 2100.) Contrary to Escape’s contention, it is necessary to resolve whether Escape is a common carrier because the heightened duty of care in Civil Code section 2100 precludes the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. (Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, L.P. (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1148, 1161 [150 Cal. Rptr. 3d 551, 290 P.3d 1158] (Nalwa).) [*1294]

Whether a hot air balloon operator is a common carrier is an issue of first impression in California.2 It is also a question of law, as the material facts regarding Escape’s operations are not in dispute.3 (Huang v. The Bicycle Casino, Inc. (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 329, 339 [208 Cal. Rptr. 3d 591] (Huang).)

2 The only published case addressing the issue is Balloons Over the Rainbow, Inc. v. Director of Revenue (Mo. 2014) 427 S.W.3d 815, where a hot air balloon operator argued it was a common carrier under Missouri law for tax purposes. The Supreme Court of Missouri upheld the administrative hearing commissioner’s determination the operator was not a common carrier because it exercised discretion regarding which passengers to fly and therefore did not “carry all people indifferently,” as the statutory definition required. (Id. at pp. 825-827.)

3 Escape claims it stipulated to being a common carrier in its motion for summary judgment. Actually, Escape stated was it was not “controvert[ing] at [that] time the assertion that it is a common carrier.” But even if it had so stipulated, [HN5] we are not bound by agreements that amount to conclusions of law. (E.g., People v. Singh (1932) 121 Cal.App. 107, 111 [8 P.2d 898].)

[HN6] (2) A common carrier of persons is anyone “who offers to the public to carry persons.” (Civ. Code, § 2168.) The Civil Code treats common carriers differently depending on whether they act gratuitously or for reward. (Gomez v. Superior Court (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1125, 1130 [29 Cal. Rptr. 3d 352, 113 P.3d 41] (Gomez).) “A carrier of persons without [**14] reward must use ordinary care and diligence for their safe carriage.” (Civ. Code, § 2096.) But “[c]arriers of persons for reward have long been subject to a heightened duty of care.” (Gomez, at p. 1128.) Such carriers “must use the utmost care and diligence for [passengers’] safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.” (Civ. Code, § 2100; accord, Gomez, at p. 1130.) While common carriers are not insurers of their passengers’ safety, they are required “‘to do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances.'” (Squaw Valley Ski Corp. v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th 1499, 1507 [3 Cal. Rptr. 2d 897].) This duty originated in English common law and is “based on a recognition that the privilege of serving the public as a common carrier necessarily entails great responsibility, requiring common carriers to exercise a high duty of care towards their customers.” (Ibid.)

Common carrier status emerged in California in the mid-19th century as a narrow concept involving stagecoaches hired purely for transportation. (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1131.) Over time, however, the concept expanded to include a wide array of recreational transport like scenic airplane and railway tours, ski lifts, and roller coasters. (Id. at pp. 1131-1136.) This expansion reflects the policy determination [**15] that a passenger’s purpose, be it recreation, thrill-seeking, or simply conveyance from point A to B, should not control whether the operator should bear a higher duty to protect the passenger. (Id. at p. 1136.)

In Gomez, the California Supreme Court concluded roller coasters are common carriers, despite their purely recreational purpose, because they are [*1295] “‘operated in the expectation that thousands of patrons, many of them children, will occupy their seats'” and are “held out to the public to be safe.” (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1136.) As with other recreational transportation like ski lifts, airplanes, and trains, “‘the lives and safety of large numbers of human beings'” are entrusted to the roller coaster operator’s “‘diligence and fidelity.'” (Ibid., quoting Treadwell v. Whittier (1889) 80 Cal. 574, 591 [22 P. 266].)

Despite the consistent trend toward broadening the common carrier definition to include recreational vehicles, almost a decade after Gomez the California Supreme Court refused to apply the heightened duty of care to operators of bumper cars, finding them “dissimilar to roller coasters in ways that disqualify their operators as common carriers.” (Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1161.) Crucial to the analysis in Nalwa was that bumper car riders “‘exercise independent control over the steering and acceleration,'” [**16] whereas roller coaster riders “‘ha[ve] no control over the elements of thrill of the ride; the amusement park predetermines any ascents, drops, accelerations, decelerations, turns or twists of the ride.'” (Ibid.) This difference in control convinced the court that “[t]he rationale for holding the operator of a roller coaster to the duties of a common carrier for reward–that riders, having delivered themselves into the control of the operator, are owed the highest degree of care for their safety–simply does not apply to bumper car riders’ safety from the risks inherent in bumping.” (Ibid., italics added.)

(3) This precedent teaches that [HN7] the key inquiry in the common carrier analysis is whether passengers expect the transportation to be safe because the operator is reasonably capable of controlling the risk of injury. (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1136; Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1161.) While a bumper car rider maintains a large degree of control over the car’s speed and direction, a roller coaster rider recognizes the thrills and unpredictability of the ride are manufactured for his amusement by an operator who in reality maintains direct control over the coaster’s speed and direction at all times. (Gomez, at p. 1136.) As our high court explained, the roller coaster rider “expects [**17] to be surprised and perhaps even frightened, but not hurt.” (Ibid.)

It is in this critical regard we find a hot air balloon differs from those recreational vehicles held to a common carrier’s heightened duty of care. Unlike operators of roller coasters, ski lifts, airplanes, and trains, balloon pilots do not maintain direct and precise control over the speed and direction of the balloon. A pilot directly controls only the balloon’s altitude, by monitoring the amount of heat added to the balloon’s envelope. A pilot has no direct control over the balloon’s latitude, which is determined by the wind’s speed and direction. A balloon’s lack of power and steering poses risks of midair collisions and crash landings, making ballooning a risky activity. (See [*1296] Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 333, 345-346 [214 Cal. Rptr. 194] [hot air ballooning “involve[s] a risk of harm to persons or property” because pilots cannot “direct their paths of travel … [or] land in small, targeted areas”]; Note, Negligence in the [Thin] Air: Understanding the Legal Relationship Between Outfitters and Participants in High Risk Expeditions Through Analysis of the 1996 Mount Everest Tragedy (2008) 40 Conn. L.Rev. 769, 772 [“hot air ballooning” is a “high-risk activity”].) As Kitchel, Grotheer’s expert, [**18] put it, a balloon pilot “is at the mercy of the wind speed and direction.” (See Note, On a Wind and a Prayer (1997) 83 A.B.A. J. 94, 95 [“winds … can transform a wondrous journey into a life-or-death struggle”].)

[HN8] (4) The mere existence of risk is not sufficient to disqualify a vehicle as a common carrier, however. Roller coasters, ski lifts, airplanes, and trains all pose “‘inherent dangers owing to speed or mechanical complexities.'” (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1136.) But there is a significant difference between the dangers of riding those conveyances and the dangers involved in ballooning. The former can be virtually eliminated through engineering design and operator skill, whereas the latter cannot be mitigated without altering the fundamental nature of a balloon.

Operators of roller coasters, ski lifts, airplanes, and trains can take steps to make their conveyances safer for passengers without significantly altering the transportation experience. For example, roller coaster operators can invest in state-of-the-art construction materials and control devices or task engineers with designing a ride that provides optimal thrills without sacrificing passenger safety. With a balloon, on the other hand, safety measures and pilot training [**19] go only so far toward mitigating the risk of midair collisions and crash landings. The only way to truly eliminate those risks is by adding power and steering to the balloon, thereby rendering vestigial the very aspect of the aircraft that makes it unique and desirable to passengers.

(5) Because no amount of pilot skill can completely counterbalance a hot air balloon’s limited steerability, ratcheting up the degree of care a tour company must exercise to keep its passengers safe would require significant changes to the aircraft and have a severe negative impact on the ballooning industry. For that reason, we conclude [HN9] Escape is not a common carrier as a matter of law.

C. The Trial Court Incorrectly Determined Escape Owed Grotheer No Duty of Care

Having concluded a hot air balloon company does not owe its passengers a heightened duty of care, we must decide whether Escape owed Grotheer any [*1297] duty of care to protect her from her injury. Grotheer claims Escape and Gallagher had a duty to safely pilot the balloon and to provide safety instructions. Escape contends it owed neither duty under the primary assumption of risk doctrine. We analyze each separately.

1. Balloon piloting and primary assumption [**20] of risk

Grotheer alleges her injury was caused in part by Gallagher’s subpar piloting. Her expert opined the cause of the crash was Gallagher’s failure to control the speed and direction of the balloon’s descent by anticipating changing pressure differentials and maintaining the proper amount of heat in the balloon’s envelope. According to Kitchel, Gallagher could have avoided the crash entirely by “adding sufficient heat … in a timely manner.”

[HN10] (6) “‘Although persons generally owe a duty of due care not to cause an unreasonable risk of harm to others … , some activities … are inherently dangerous,'” such that “‘[i]mposing a duty to mitigate those inherent dangers could alter the nature of the activity or inhibit vigorous participation.'” (Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1154, citation omitted.) Primary assumption of risk is a doctrine of limited duty “developed to avoid such a chilling effect.” (Ibid.) If it applies, the operator is not obligated to protect its customers from the “inherent risks” of the activity. (Id. at p. 1162.)

“‘Primary assumption of risk is merely another way of saying no duty of care is owed as to risks inherent in a given sport or activity. The overriding consideration in the application of this principle is to avoid imposing a duty [**21] which might chill vigorous participation in the sport and thereby alter its fundamental nature.'” (Jimenez v. Roseville City School Dist. (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 594, 601 [202 Cal. Rptr. 3d 536].) “Although the doctrine is often applied as between sports coparticipants, it defines the duty owed as between persons engaged in any activity involving inherent risks.” (Ibid.) The doctrine applies to any activity “done for enjoyment or thrill … [that] involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.” (Record v. Reason (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 472, 482 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 547]; see Beninati v. Black Rock City, LLC (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 650, 658 [96 Cal. Rptr. 3d 105] [by attending Burning Man festival plaintiff assumed risk of being burned during ritual burning of eponymous effigy].)

The test is whether the activity “‘involv[es] an inherent risk of injury to voluntary participants … where the risk cannot be eliminated without altering the fundamental nature of the activity.'” (Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1156.) As we concluded above in the section on common carriers, a balloon’s limited steerability creates risks of midair collisions and crash landings. Moreover, those risks cannot be mitigated except by adding power [*1298] and steering, which would fundamentally alter the free-floating nature of a balloon, turning it into a dirigible.4 “‘[T]he excitement of [ballooning] is that you never know exactly where you’re going to land. [¶] … [¶] … It’s taking something that is unsteerable [**22] and trying to steer it. That’s the challenge.'” (Note, On a Wind and a Prayer, supra, 83 A.B.A. J. at pp. 95, 94; cf. Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at pp. 1157-1158 [refusing to impose liability on bumper car operators for injuries caused in collisions as doing so would have the effect of “‘decreasing the speed'”–and ultimately the fun–of the ride].)

4 The term “dirigible” literally means “steerable.” It comes from the Latin verb dirigere, meaning “to direct,” and refers to lighter-than-air aircraft capable of being steered, like blimps and zeppelins. (Webster’s 3d New Internat. Dict. (1993) p. 642.)

(7) We therefore hold [HN11] the doctrine applies to crash landings caused by the failure to safely steer a hot air balloon. We further hold Grotheer’s claim of pilot error falls under the primary assumption of risk doctrine because the claim goes to the core of what makes balloon landings inherently risky–the challenge of adjusting the balloon’s vertical movement to compensate for the unexpected changes in horizontal movement. As a result, Escape had no legal duty to protect Grotheer from crash landings caused by its pilot’s failure to safely manage the balloon’s descent.

(8) To avoid this outcome, Grotheer alleged Gallagher’s piloting was not only negligent, but grossly negligent, thereby increasing the inherent risk of crash landing. Grotheer is correct [HN12] the primary assumption of risk does not eliminate an operator’s duty to refrain from engaging in reckless conduct that “unreasonably increase[s] the risks of injury beyond those inherent in the activity.” ( [**23] Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1162.) However, she has provided no evidence Gallagher’s piloting fell so outside the range of ordinary it unreasonably increased the inherent risk of crash landing.

Gross negligence is a want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct. (City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 754 [62 Cal. Rptr. 3d 527, 161 P.3d 1095].) In this context, such extreme conduct might be, for example, launching without sufficient fuel, in bad weather, or near electrical towers; using unsafe or broken equipment; or overloading the passenger basket. In the absence of evidence of such conduct, we hold the primary assumption of risk doctrine bars Grotheer’s piloting claim.

Grotheer compares Gallagher’s piloting to the conduct of the skier defendant in Mammoth Mountain Ski Area v. Graham (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1367 [38 Cal. Rptr. 3d 422] (Mammoth Mountain), but the analogy is inapt. In Mammoth Mountain, a snowboarding instructor was injured when he collided with a skier who had stopped midslope to throw snowballs at his brother. The [*1299] court reversed summary judgment granted on the basis of primary assumption of risk, concluding there was a factual issue as to whether the skier’s behavior was so “outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport of snowboarding” that it increased the inherent risk of colliding with others on the slope. [**24] (Id. at pp. 1373-1374.) Gallagher’s alleged failure to control the balloon’s descent is nothing like the skier’s conduct in Mammoth Mountain. Skiing does not entail throwing snowballs, whereas managing speed and direction in the face of changing wind conditions is the principal challenge in ballooning. As a result, the failure to surmount that challenge falls squarely within the range of ordinary activity for ballooning.

2. Safety instructions and the duty to take reasonable steps to minimize inherent risks

(9) Grotheer also claims her injury was caused, at least in part, by Escape’s failure to give safety instructions. The trial court rejected this theory of liability when it concluded ballooning was an inherently risky activity and, as a result, Escape owed Grotheer no duty at all to protect her from injury. We conclude that ruling was too broad. Under Knight, [HN13] even an operator of an inherently risky activity owes a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize those inherent risks, if doing so would not fundamentally alter the activity. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 317.) As we explain, instructing passengers on safe landing procedures takes little time and effort, and can minimize the risk of passenger injury in the event of a rough landing. [**25]

The primary assumption of risk doctrine is limited to those steps or safety measures that would have a deleterious effect on recreational activities that are, by nature, inherently dangerous. (Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th at pp. 484-485; Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1162 [“The primary assumption of risk doctrine helps ensure that the threat of litigation and liability does not cause such recreational activities to be abandoned or fundamentally altered in an effort to eliminate or minimize inherent risks of injury”].) For example, an obligation to reduce a bumper car’s speed or the rider’s steering autonomy would impede the most appealing aspect of the ride–the ability to collide with others. (Id. at pp. 1157-1158.) “‘Indeed, who would want to ride a tapper car at an amusement park?'” (Id. at p. 1158.) Similarly, in the context of white water rafting, an obligation to design the rafts to minimize the “risk of striking objects both inside and outside the raft,” would transform the activity into “a trip down the giant slide at Waterworld.” (Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 248, 256 [38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65].) Safety is important, but so is the freedom to engage in recreation and challenge one’s limits. The primary assumption of risk doctrine balances these competing concerns by absolving operators of activities with inherent risks from an obligation to protect [**26] their customers from those risks. [*1300]

(10) What the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not do, however, is absolve operators of any obligation to protect the safety of their customers. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 317-318.) As a general rule, where an operator can take a measure that would increase safety and minimize the risks of the activity without also altering the nature of the activity, the operator is required to do so. As the court explained in Knight, “in the sports setting, as elsewhere, the nature of the applicable duty or standard of care frequently varies with the role of the defendant whose conduct is at issue in a given case.” (Knight, at p. 318.) [HN14] When the defendant is the operator of an inherently risky sport or activity (as opposed to a coparticipant), there are “steps the sponsoring business entity reasonably should be obligated to take in order to minimize the risks without altering the nature of the sport [or activity].” (Id. at p. 317.)

Even before Knight, tort law imposed on operators a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the inherent risks of their activity. (See Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 317, citing Quinn v. Recreation Park Assn. (1935) 3 Cal.2d 725, 728-729 [46 P.2d 144]; Shurman v. Fresno Ice Rink (1949) 91 Cal.App.2d 469, 474-477 [205 P.2d 77].) Within our own appellate district we find precedent for imposing on hot air balloon operators and their pilots a duty of care to instruct passengers [**27] on how to position themselves for landing.

In Morgan v. Fuji Country USA, Inc. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 127 [40 Cal. Rptr. 2d 249] (Morgan), Division One of our appellate district held a golf course owner had a duty to design its course to minimize the risk of being hit by a golf ball, despite the fact such a risk is inherent to golfing, because doing so was possible “‘without altering the nature of [golf].'” (Id. at p. 134.) Our colleagues explained this duty stemmed from the fact the defendant was the golf course owner. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff had sued the golfer who had hit the errant ball, the action would have been barred by the primary assumption of risk doctrine. (Id. at pp. 133-134.)

Nearly a decade after Morgan, the same court held a race organizer had a duty to minimize the risks of dehydration and hyponatremia5–risks inherent to marathons–by “providing adequate water and electrolyte fluids along the 26-mile course” because “[s]uch steps are reasonable and do not alter the nature of the sport [of marathon running].” (Saffro v. Elite Racing, Inc. (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 173, 179 [119 Cal. Rptr. 2d 497].) Faced with a similar situation in Rosencrans v. Dover Images, Ltd. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 1072 [122 Cal. Rptr. 3d 22], this court held an owner of a motocross track had a duty to provide a system for signaling when riders have fallen in order to minimize the risk of collisions. (Id. at p. 1084.) Track owners could satisfy this duty by employing “caution flaggers,” [**28] or some similar device, which [*1301] would be relatively easy to implement and would not alter the nature of motocross. (Ibid.) As these cases demonstrate, the primary assumption of risk doctrine has never relieved an operator of its duty to take reasonable steps to minimize inherent risks without altering the nature of the activity.

5 A condition which occurs as a result of decreased sodium concentration in the blood.

(11) Having determined the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not absolve Escape of a duty to exercise reasonable care in all aspects of its operations, we turn to the existence and scope of the duty at issue here–safety instructions. (Castaneda v. Olsher (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1205, 1213 [63 Cal. Rptr. 3d 99, 162 P.3d 610] [HN15] [the existence and scope of a duty of care are questions of law for the trial court to determine in the first instance and the appellate court to independently review].) [HN16] Courts consider several factors in determining the existence and scope of a duty of care, including the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the policy of preventing future harm, and the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing the duty. (See, e.g., Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center (1993) 6 Cal.4th 666, 675, fn. 5 [25 Cal. Rptr. 2d 137, 863 P.2d 207].)

[HN17] (12) Foreseeability is the primary factor in the duty analysis. (Pedeferri v. Seidner Enterprises (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 359, 366 [163 Cal. Rptr. 3d 55].) Our task in evaluating foreseeability “‘is not to decide whether a particular plaintiff’s injury was reasonably foreseeable [**29] in light of a particular defendant’s conduct, but rather to evaluate more generally whether the category of negligent conduct at issue is sufficiently likely to result in the kind of harm experienced that liability may appropriately be imposed.'” (Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Co. (2011) 51 Cal.4th 764, 772 [122 Cal. Rptr. 3d 313, 248 P.3d 1170].) The existence and scope of a duty of care “is to be made on a more general basis suitable to the formulation of a legal rule” to be applied in a broad category of cases. (Id. at p. 773; see Huang, supra, 4 Cal.App.5th at pp. 342-343.)

In this case, the evidence is undisputed that giving passengers a brief presentation on safe landing procedures (such as the instructions Grotheer’s expert cites from the FAA Handbook) is a customary and standard practice in the ballooning industry. To paraphrase Grotheer’s expert, these safe landing procedures are: (1) stand in the appropriate area of the basket; (2) face toward or away from the direction of travel, but not sideways (to minimize the risk of a side-impact injury to the hips or knees); (3) place the feet and knees together, and bend the knees; (4) hold on tightly to the rope, handles, or other stabilizing device, and (5) stay inside the basket. Gallagher himself agreed safety instructions are crucial. He said he always explains what passengers can [**30] expect during launch and landing. In preparation for landing, he tells them to hold on to the handles, bend their knees, and not to exit the basket until told to do so. [*1302]

As to foreseeability, undisputed evidence in the record tells us that rough landings are a risk of ballooning and instructing passengers on proper landing positioning can reduce, though not eliminate, the likelihood of injury in the event the landing does not go smoothly. Additionally, we see no public policy reason why balloon operators should not be required to give safe landing instructions. (Huang, supra, 4 Cal.App.5th at p. 342.) As Kitchel, an experienced balloon pilot, owner, and operator, explained, “[a] detailed safety briefing takes no more than 5 minutes and is time well spent.” While “[m]any balloon landings are gentle, stand-up landings … the pilot should always prepare passengers for the possibility of a firm impact,” as rough landings can result in severe injuries.

(13) Escape contends the duty to provide safe landing instructions will be overly burdensome to balloon operators, citing the complexity of the preflight instructions operators of passenger-carrying airplanes are required to give under federal regulation. (See 14 C.F.R. § 121.571 (2017).) We find the concern misplaced. [**31] [HN18] The duty we recognize here does not compel anything so lengthy or complex as commercial airlines’ preflight instructions. It requires only that a commercial balloon operator provide a brief set of safe landing procedures, which Escape’s pilot said is already his custom. Safety instructions are a common practice among operators of recreational activities, and we do not believe requiring balloon operators to set aside a few moments before launch to advise passengers how to position themselves in the basket and what to do in the event of a rough landing will have a negative impact on the ballooning industry. (Cf. Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1161 [noting bumper car operator “enforce[d] various riding instructions and safety rules” before giving control of the car’s speed and steering to riders]; Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, supra, 32 Cal.App.4th at p. 251 [operator of white water rafting tour gave plaintiff “safety instructions,” such as “where to sit, that it was necessary to hold onto the raft while navigating rapids and where to hold on, and how to react if thrown out of the raft into the water”].) Because the evidence supports Grotheer’s allegation Escape failed to give safety instructions of any kind to any of its passengers, we need not go into precisely what warnings are required, [**32] including whether a commercial balloon operator must ensure passengers with known language barriers understand the safety instructions.

We therefore conclude the court incorrectly applied the primary assumption of risk doctrine to absolve Escape of a duty to provide safe landing procedures. However, this conclusion does not end our analysis. We must also consider whether Grotheer’s negligence claim fails as a matter of law because she has not demonstrated the existence of a triable issue of fact on causation. (Coral Construction, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco (2010) 50 Cal.4th 315, 336 [113 Cal. Rptr. 3d 279, 235 P.3d 947] [“‘[i]t is axiomatic that [HN19] we review the trial court’s rulings and not its reasoning'” and [*1303] “[t]hus, a reviewing court may affirm a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment for an erroneous reason”].)

D. Any Lack of Safety Instructions Was Not a Substantial Factor in Causing Grotheer’s Injury

[HN20] (14) “The elements of actionable negligence, in addition to a duty to use due care, [are] breach of that duty and a proximate or legal causal connection between the breach and plaintiff’s injuries.” (Onciano v. Golden Palace Restaurant, Inc. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 385, 394 [268 Cal. Rptr. 96] (Onciano).) [HN21] (15) To be considered a proximate cause of an injury, the acts of the defendant must have been a “substantial factor” in contributing to the injury. (Rutherford v. Owens-Illinois, Inc. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 953, 969 [67 Cal. Rptr. 2d 16, 941 P.2d 1203].) Generally, a defendant’s conduct is a substantial [**33] factor if the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s conduct. (Ibid.) If the injury “‘would have happened anyway, whether the defendant was negligent or not, then his or her negligence was not a cause in fact, and of course cannot be the legal or responsible cause.'” (Toste v. CalPortland Construction (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 362, 370 [199 Cal. Rptr. 3d 522], quoting 6 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 1185, p. 552.) As our high court has explained, “‘a force which plays only an “infinitesimal” or “theoretical” part in bringing about injury, damage, or loss is not a substantial factor.'” (Bockrath v. Aldrich Chemical Co. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 71, 79 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 846, 980 P.2d 398].)

[HN22] While proximate cause ordinarily is a question of fact, it may be decided as a question of law if “‘”‘under the undisputed facts, there is no room for a reasonable difference of opinion.'”‘” (Onciano, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at p. 395.) As noted, once a defendant claiming the plaintiff cannot satisfy an element of his or her claim meets the initial burden of production, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate a triable issue of fact. (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 850-851.) When the evidence supports only one reasonable inference as to the cause of the plaintiff’s injury, courts should not engage in “unreasonable speculation that other contradictory evidence exists but was not adduced in the summary judgment proceedings.” (Constance B. v. State of California (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 200, 211 [223 Cal. Rptr. 645] [dismissal [**34] of negligence claim was proper because no reasonable fact finder could find a causal nexus between defendant store owner’s improper lighting and the assault on plaintiff based on the evidence presented during the summary judgment proceedings].)

As explained in the previous part, the purpose of the safety instructions is to reduce injury in the event of rough landings. Here, however, the undisputed descriptions of the landing establish it was not merely rough, but rather [*1304] was a forceful and violent event–a crash. According to Boyd and Kristi Roberts, whose uncontested descriptions are the most detailed, the basket was descending “pretty fast” when it hit the fence with such force it “knocked it right apart,” taking out several fence sections. The basket then hit the ground “hard” and skidded for about 40 yards, becoming more and more horizontal as it was dragged, before coming to a stop on its side with Grotheer’s section on the bottom. Gallagher, the pilot, said the balloon had been descending more quickly than he had anticipated when the basket made a “hard landing, first on the fence and then on the ground.” Grotheer too described both impacts as “hard.” Both Grotheer and Kristi [**35] said they had been holding on to the handles (Kristi as tightly as she could) but were unable to keep from slipping or falling.

From these descriptions, we gather the crash landing was a jarring and violent experience, a “wild ride” so forceful that several passengers fell–even one who had tried desperately not to fall by gripping the basket handles as tightly as possible. (See Endicott v. Nissan Motor Corp. (1977) 73 Cal.App.3d 917, 926 [141 Cal. Rptr. 95] [“If the violence of a crash is the effective efficient cause of plaintiff’s injuries to the extent that it supersedes other factors … and makes them immaterial, plaintiff cannot recover”].) The accounts of the crash satisfied defendants’ burden of demonstrating the violence of the crash, not any lack of instructions, was the proximate cause of Grotheer’s injury. The burden then shifted to Grotheer to explain how things may have played out differently had everyone been instructed on proper body positioning during landing. She produced no such evidence. Instead, she said at her deposition she believed everyone had in fact been holding on to the basket handles during the descent. While one could speculate that Kristi had been the only passenger holding the handles correctly and the woman who fell into Grotheer [**36] had employed an improper grip (say, using only one hand or not holding “tight,” as the FAA Handbook instructs), Grotheer presented no evidence to support such a theory. As a result, she did not meet her burden of demonstrating an evidentiary dispute about whether the provision of instructions would have produced a different outcome.

(16) We conclude any failure to instruct on Escape’s part was not a proximate cause of Grotheer’s injury, and we affirm the grant of summary judgment on that ground. Given our holding that defendants are not liable for negligence, it is unnecessary to review the trial court’s ruling on Wilson Creek’s vicarious liability or its ruling on defendants’ liability waiver defense.6

6 Defendants asked us to review the ruling on their affirmative defense in the event we reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, citing Code of Civil Procedure section 906, which allows a respondent, without appealing from a judgment, to seek appellate review (at the court’s discretion) of any ruling that “substantially affects the rights of a party,” for “the purpose of determining whether or not the appellant was prejudiced by the error … upon which he relies for reversal.” Because we do not reverse the grant of summary judgment, we need not reach the issue of defendants’ affirmative defense.

[*1305]

III

DISPOSITION

We affirm the judgment. The parties shall bear their costs on appeal.

Ramirez, P. J., and Codrington, J., concurred.


When an organization makes rules and regulations that a subsidiary organization is supposed to obey, and then fails to follow, both organizations are liable to any plaintiff injured due to the failure to follow or enforce the organizational rules, policies, regulations or standards.

In this case, the national organization was also sued for failing to instruct and enforce the regional organization in the rules, regulations, standards or policies. If you are going to make rules, and you say the rules must be followed you have to make sure you train in the rules and that everyone follows the rules.

If you make a rule you have to enforce it if you are in charge of making rules.
Otherwise, don’t make rules!

T.K., a minor, v. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, et. al. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87005 

State: Illinois, United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division

Plaintiff: T.K., a minor, by and through his natural Father and Next Friend, Timothy Killings, and Timothy Killings, individually

Defendant: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc., and Mary K. Paulin

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and willful and wanton misconduct

Defendant Defenses: Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted filed in a Motion to dismiss

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2017

This case is a federal diversity case. That means the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s) were legally residents of different states, and the amount claimed by the plaintiff was greater than $75,000.00. In this case, the plaintiff was from California, and the Defendant was located in Illinois.

The plaintiff was in Illinois and attending the Decatur Boys & Girls Club, which was part of the America Boys & Girls Club. America Boys & Girls Club was based in Georgia.

America Boys & Girls Club provided policies, procedures, rules, guidelines and instructions to the Decatur Boys & Girls Clubs, and all other Boys & Girls Clubs. The Boys & Girls Clubs are required to follow the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions.

While attending the club, the plaintiff was taken to a local farm. Neither of the defendants had permission to transport the minor plaintiff to the farm. While there the plaintiff was riding on a trailer (probably a hay ride)that did not have guardrails, seats, seatbelts or other equipment designed from keeping people from falling off. (But then very few hay rides do.) The tractor and trailer were pulled onto a public highway with 15-20 children on it. While on the highway the plaintiff either jumped or fell off or might have been pushed
off sustaining injuries.

The farm trailer was not designed or intended to transport people, and the trailer lacked guardrails, seats, seatbelts, and other equipment that might prevent people from falling off it. Defendant Paulin pulled the trailer, with T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children riding on it, onto a public highway with a tractor defendant.

The issue that the trailer was not designed to be on a highway and did not have seats, seatbelts or other equipment to keep people from falling off was repeatedly brought up by the court.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and this opinion is court’s response to that motion.

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

A motion to dismiss is a preliminary motion filed when the allegations in the complaint do not meet the minimum requirements to make a legally recognizable claim.

“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Plausibility means alleging factual content that allows a court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. A plaintiff’s complaint must suggest a right to relief, “raising that possibility above a speculative level.” “The required level of factual specificity rises with the complexity of the claim.”

When reviewing a motion to dismiss the court must look at the plaintiff’s pleadings as true and any inference that must be drawn from the pleadings is done so in favor of the plaintiff.

To plead negligence under Illinois’s law the plaintiff must prove “…that the defendant owed plaintiff a duty, it breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injury.” In Illinois, every person owes all other persons “a duty to exercise ordinary care to guard against injury which naturally flows as a reasonably probable and foreseeable consequence of his act.”

Whether this duty arises in a particular context depends on “the reasonable foreseeability of the injury, the likelihood of the injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on defendants.” Id. A child’s caretaker has a duty to protect the child from harm.

It is a legal question to be decided by the court if a legal duty exists.

…the relationship between him and America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club imposed on the two  organizations a duty of care to adequately supervise him and protect him from harm, any unreasonable risk of harm, dangerous instrumentalities, and dangerous conditions.

The plaintiffs argued the duty of care of the two organizations was breached by:

(1) negligently supervising him, (2) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him, (3) failing to warn or failing to adequately warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer, (4) failing to properly supervise the minors they placed on the trailer, and (5) failing to provide enough staff members to monitor the children they placed on the trailer.

The plaintiff’s also argued there was a greater responsibility and as such duty on the part of the America Boys & Girls Club to train the Decatur club on its rules, regulations and policies and failing to train on them was  also negligent.

T.K. further alleges that it failed to properly train Decatur Boys & Girls Club on the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions of America Boys & Girls Club, and that it failed to supervise Decatur Boys & Girls Club to ensure that the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions were followed.

In this case, the duty of care was created by the rules, regulations, policies and procedures created by the America Boys & Girls Clubs upon the Decatur Boys & Girls Club.

The plaintiff went on to argue, and since it was quoted by the court, accepted by the court that:

Defendant Paulin put him on the farm trailer even though Defendant Paulin did not have the requisite permission to  give him a ride on the trailer. Defendant Paulin towed the trailer, while T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children were on board, with a tractor onto a public highway. According to T.K., Defendant Paulin owed him a duty of care to protect him from any unreasonable risk of harm and breached that duty by (1) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him; (2)
failing to warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer and pulling the trailer onto a public highway; (3) failing to warn him that the trailer was dangerous and not reasonably safe given that the trailer had no railings, barriers, walls, or seats; and (4) creating a dangerous condition by placing him on the trailer and pulling it onto a public highway.

The court held this was enough to create a duty of care and proved a possible negligence claim.

Furthermore, of note was a statement that a statutory violation of a statute in Illinois does not create a negligence per se claim.

A violation of a statute or ordinance designed to protect human life or property is prima facie evidence of negligence. . . . The violation does not constitute negligence per se, however, and therefore the defendant may prevail by showing that he acted reasonably under the circumstances.”

The court then looked at the minor plaintiff’s father claims to see if those met the requirements to prove negligence in Illinois.

To state a negligence cause of action, Mr. Killings must plead enough facts to make it plausible that he was harmed as a proximate result of Defendants’ breach of a duty they owed to him.

However, the father was not able to prove his claim because it is separate and distinct from the minor’s claim. “The fact that Defendants were responsible for T.K.’s well-being on July 17, 2015, does not mean that Defendants had any duty to Mr. Killings.”

It was T.K., not Mr. Killings, who was placed on an unsafe farm trailer and pulled onto a public road. Defendants, therefore, had a duty to exercise ordinary care to prevent injury to T.K., not Mr. Killings. Further, Mr. Killings does not claim that he was physically injured as a result of Defendants’ negligence; his only claimed injury is the money he has spent and the money he will spend in the future for T.K.’s past and future medical treatment. In short, Mr. Killings has not met the pleading requirements for a negligence claim against any Defendant.

The father also pleaded a claim for loss of aid, comfort, society and companionship of his child. However, Illinois’s law does not allow for recovery of those emotional damages unless the child’s injury is a fatality.

The claim is not one for damages stemming from the child’s physical injury, but one founded on the parents’ liability for the minor’s medical expenses under the Illinois Family Expense Act.

However, the father did have a claim for the medical expenses the father paid on behalf of his minor son for the injuries he incurred.

The plaintiff also pleaded res ipsa loquitur.

Res ipsa loquitur allows “proof of negligence by circumstantial evidence when the direct evidence concerning cause of injury is primarily within the knowledge and control of the defendant.” The doctrine “is meant to bridge an evidentiary gap when an injury could not have happened but for the defendant’s negligence.” Accordingly, res ipsa lo-quitur applies only when the facts “admit of the single inference that the accident would not have happened unless the defendant had been negligent.”

Res ipsa loquitur is a claim that when an incident has occurred, the control of the instrumentality was solely within the control of the defendant.

Under Illinois law, a plaintiff bringing a negligence claim based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur must plead that he was injured “in an occurrence that ordinarily does not happen in the absence of negligence” and that it was caused “by an agency or instrumentality within the defendant’s exclusive control.

An example of res ipsa loquitur is a passenger in an airplane that crashes. The pilot is the defendant, and the
control of the airplane is solely with the pilot.

Indeed, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur can be appropriate if the instrument that caused the injury was in the defendant’s exclusive control “at a time prior to the injury and there is no change in conditions or intervening act that could reasonably have caused the event resulting in the injury.

However, the allegations of the plaintiff did not meet the requirements of res ipsa loquitur in Illinois.

Plaintiff’s final allegation discussed in the opinion was one for willful and wanton misconduct on the part of the defendants. Under Illinois’s law to establish a claim for willful and wanton conduct, the plaintiff must.

…plead facts establishing the elements of a negligence claim–duty, breach, proximate causation, and harm–and “either a deliberate intention to harm or an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff.

Generally, this is the same standard to prove willful and wanton conduct in most states. Once the negligence claim is proved, then the allegations only need to support the additional acts as willful and wanton.

Therefore, to state claims for willful and wanton misconduct against Defendants, T.K. need only additionally allege either intentional or reckless willful and wanton misconduct committed by Defendants.

The court defined willful and wanton conduct.

Reckless willful and wanton misconduct is conduct committed with an utter indifference of or a conscious disregard for the safety of others. To meet this standard, the defendant “must be conscious of his conduct, and, though having no intent to injure, must be conscious, from his knowledge of the surrounding circumstances and existing conditions, that his conduct will naturally and probably result in injury.

With the allegations plead, the court found sufficient information to confirm the plaintiff going forward with willful and wanton claims. Those allegations include:

Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club placed him and 15 to 20 other minors on an unsafe farm trailer with no guardrails, sidewalls, barriers, or seats while providing inadequate supervision. T.K. further alleges that the trailer was not designed to transport people.

Putting kids on a trailer was a major issue for the court. Kids on a highway on a vehicle not created to transport people were enough to create willful and wanton conduct.

The defendant argued that the allegations that created the negligence claim were also allowed to be the same facts. No new allegations needed to be plead to support the claims for willful and wanton conduct.

Under Illinois’s law, “[t]he same acts by a defendant, if sufficiently egregious, can constitute both negligence and willful and wanton conduct.” Therefore, “one can plead the same facts in two counts, one characterizing them as negligence and the other as willful and wanton conduct, if the same facts could support both theories.

The plaintiff had pled enough facts that the court found relevant and substantial to continue with the negligence and willful and wanton claim.

So Now What?

The actual rules, regulations, procedures were not identified by the court in making its decision. However, the continuous restatement of the plaintiff’s allegations in the same order and words. However, the court specifically stated the defendants failed to follow their own rules.

If you have rules, regulations, policies, procedures, or you must abide by such you MUST follow them. There are no loop holes, exceptions or “just this one time” when dealing with rules, policies and procedures that affect safety or affect minors. If you make them, you must follow them.

If you make them, you must make sure everyone is trained on them. One of the big issues the plaintiff pleads and the court accepted was the rules made by the parent organization were not known or followed by the subsidiary organization. The parent organization when making rules is under a requirement to make sure
the rules are understood and followed according to this decision in Tennessee.

The other major issue was transporting the plaintiff away from the location where the parents thought the plaintiff would be without their permission and then transporting the plaintiff on a road without meeting the requirements of state law, seats, seat belts, etc.

When you have minors, especially minors under the age of ten, you are only acting within the realm and space permitted by the parents. The line that makes me cringe every time I hear it on the news is “If I would have known they were going to do ______________, I never would have let me kid go.” Listen and you
will realize you will hear it a lot when a minor is injured.

You need to prepare your program and your parents so that line is never spoken about you.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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T.K., a minor, v. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, et. al. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87005

T.K., a minor, v. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, et. al. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87005

T.K., a minor, by and through his natural Father and Next Friend, Timothy Killings, and Timothy Killings, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc., and Mary K. Paulin, Defendants.

Case No. 16-cv-03056

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS, SPRINGFIELD DIVISION

2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87005

June 6, 2017, Decided

June 7, 2017, E-Filed

CORE TERMS: trailer, willful, farm, wanton misconduct, res ipsa loquitur, negligence claims, pleaded, cognizable, exclusive control, wanton, medical expenses, supervision, pulled, negligence per se, public road, legal conclusions, pulling, seat, factual allegations, right to relief, conscious disregard, indifference, speculative, supervise, reckless, notice, owed, public highway, guidelines, transport

COUNSEL: [*1] For T.K., a Minor, By And Through His Natural Father and Next Friend, Timothy Killings, Timothy Killings, Plaintiffs: Christopher Ryan Dixon, THE DIXON INJURY FIRM, St Louis, MO.

For Boys & Girls Club of America, Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc., Defendants: Randall A Mead, LEAD ATTORNEY, DRAKE NARUP & MEAD PC, Springfield, IL.

For Mary K Paulin, Defendant: Daniel R Price, LEAD ATTORNEY, WHAM & WHAM, Centralia, IL.

JUDGES: SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: SUE E. MYERSCOUGH

OPINION

SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, U.S. District Judge:

Before the Court are Defendants Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Boys & Girls Club of Decatur, Inc.’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 32) and Defendant Mary K. Paulin’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 33). The motion filed by Defendants Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc. (Decatur Boys & Girls Club) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (America Boys & Girls Club) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Defendant Paulin’s motion is DENIED. In the Second Amended Complaint, T.K., a [*2] minor, through his father, Timothy Killings, sufficiently pleads negligence and willful and wanton misconduct causes of action against all Defendants. In addition, Mr. Killings pleads cognizable claims for T.K.’s past and future medical expenses against all Defendants. However, the allegations of the Second Amended Complaint are not sufficient to render the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applicable against Decatur Boys & Girls Club or America Boys & Girls Club.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts come from Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint. The Court accepts them as true at the motion to dismiss stage. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

On July 17, 2015, T.K., a then-eight-year-old resident of California, was a member of Decatur Boys & Girls Club, a corporate citizen of Illinois and a licensed child-care facility. On that same date, Decatur Boys & Girls Club was operating a summer camp through its agents and employees, and T.K. was under the paid care and supervision of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club. America Boys & Girls Club, a corporate citizen of Georgia, provides operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions regarding how Decatur Boys & Girls Club is to operate. Decatur [*3] Boys & Girls Club is required to follow these operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions.

On July 17, 2015, T.K. was taken from the premises of Decatur Boys & Girls Club in Decatur, Illinois, to property in Clinton, Illinois, owned by Defendant Paulin, an Illinois citizen. Neither Decatur Boys & Girls Club nor America Boys & Girls Club had permission to transport T.K. from Decatur to Defendant Paulin’s property in Clinton. Defendants,1 again without permission, put T.K. on a farm trailer owned by Defendant Paulin and located on Defendant Paulin’s property. The farm trailer was not designed or intended to transport people, and the trailer lacked guardrails, seats, seatbelts, and other equipment that might prevent people from falling off it. Defendant Paulin pulled the trailer, with T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children riding on it, onto a public highway with a tractor Defendant Paulin owned. The trailer was not being used in connection with a parade or a farm-related activity.

1 The use of “Defendants” in this Opinion will refer collectively to Decatur Boys & Girls Club, America Boys & Girls Club, and Mary K. Paulin.

While riding on the trailer, T.K. fell or jumped off the trailer or was pushed off. As a result, T.K. sustained injuries to his head, face, eyes, chest, neck, back, arms, lungs, hands, legs, [*4] and feet. T.K. underwent medical treatment for his injuries and will have to undergo additional treatment in the future. T.K’s father, Timothy Killings, a citizen of California, has incurred expenses related to his son’s medical care and will incur additional expenses in the future for his son’s future medical care.

On March 3, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint (d/e 1) against Defendants. Plaintiffs subsequently filed their First Amended Complaint (d/e 26) on May 23, 2016, and their Second Amended Complaint (d/e 31) on June 17, 2016. The Second Amended Complaint contains five counts. Counts 1 through 3 allege claims against Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club for, respectively, negligence, negligence based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, and willful and wanton misconduct. Counts 4 and 5 allege negligence and willful and wanton misconduct claims, respectively, against Defendant Paulin.

On June 27, 2016, Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club filed their Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, asking the Court to dismiss Counts 1 through 3 for failing to [*5] state cognizable claims or, in the alternative, to strike certain paragraphs of the Second Amended Complaint. On June 30, 2017, Defendant Paulin filed her Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint, asking the Court to dismiss Counts 4 and 5 for failing to state cognizable claims or, in the alternative, to strike certain paragraphs of the Second Amended Complaint.

II. JURISDICTION

This Court has original jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims because no Plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any Defendant and Plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1); McMillian v. Sheraton Chi. Hotel & Towers, 567 F.3d 839, 844 (7th Cir. 2009) (“When the jurisdictional threshold is uncontested, we generally will accept the plaintiff’s good faith allegation of the amount in controversy unless it appear[s] to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. LEGAL STANDARD

“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). Plausibility means alleging factual content that allows a court to reasonably infer [*6] that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). A plaintiff’s complaint must suggest a right to relief, “raising that possibility above a speculative level.” Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 476, 480 (7th Cir. 2016). “The required level of factual specificity rises with the complexity of the claim.” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616-17 (7th Cir. 2011).

When faced with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court “accept[s] as true all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Roberts v. City of Chicago, 817 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2016). “[L]egal conclusions and conclusory allegations merely reciting the elements of the claim are not entitled to this presumption of truth.” McCauley, 671 F.3d at 616. Further, the Court is “not obliged to ignore any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiff’s claim.” R.J.R. Servs., Inc. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir. 1989). The Court may “strike from a pleading . . . any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(f).

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Count I and Count IV Sufficiently Plead Negligence and Medical Expense Claims Against All Defendants.

1. T.K. has pleaded cognizable negligence claims against all Defendants.

In a case where federal jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, “[s]tate substantive law applies, but federal procedural rules govern.” Doermer v. Callen, 847 F.3d 522, 529 (7th Cir. 2017). “To state a claim for negligence under Illinois law, a plaintiff must plead [*7] that the defendant owed plaintiff a duty, it breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injury.” Allstate Indem. Co. v. ADT LLC, 110 F. Supp. 3d 856, 862-63 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (citing Simpkins v. CSX Transp., Inc., 2012 IL 110662, 965 N.E.2d 1092, 1097, 358 Ill. Dec. 613 (Ill. 2012). In Illinois, “every person owes to all other persons a duty to exercise ordinary care to guard against injury which naturally flows as a reasonably probable and foreseeable consequence of his act.” Jane Doe-3 v. McLean Cnty. Unit Dist. No. 5 Bd. of Dirs., 2012 IL 112479, 973 N.E.2d 880, 890, 362 Ill. Dec. 484 (Ill. 2012). Whether this duty arises in a particular context depends on “the reasonable foreseeability of the injury, the likelihood of the injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on defendants.” Id. A child’s caretaker has a duty to protect the child from harm. Ryan v. Yarbrough, 355 Ill. App. 3d 342, 823 N.E.2d 259, 262, 291 Ill. Dec. 249 (Ill. App. Ct. 2005). Whether a duty exists is a question of law to be decided by the Court. Simpkins, 965 N.E.2d at 1096.

In support of his negligence claims against America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club, T.K.2 alleges that he was a member of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and was entrusted to the care of both organizations on July 17, 2015. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 15-16. America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club agreed to accept the “care, custody, and control” of T.K. for the purpose of providing child care. Id. ¶ 16. T.K. also alleges [*8] that on July 17, 2015, the relationship between him and America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club imposed on the two organizations a duty of care to adequately supervise him and protect him from harm, any unreasonable risk of harm, dangerous instrumentalities, and dangerous conditions. Id. ¶¶ 42-43.

2 Plaintiffs do not separate T.K’s claims from Mr. Killings’ claims in the Second Amended Complaint. To avoid confusion, the Court will address the allegations of the Second Amended Complaint as those of T.K. when analyzing T.K’s claims and as those of Mr. Killings when analyzing Mr. Killings’ claims.

Further, according to T.K., America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club breached the duty of care they owed him in several ways, including by (1) negligently supervising him, (2) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him, (3) failing to warn or failing to adequately warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer, (4) failing to properly supervise the minors they placed on the trailer, and (5) failing to provide enough staff members to monitor the children they placed on the trailer. Id. ¶ 45. With respect to America Boys & Girls Club, T.K. further alleges that it failed to properly train Decatur Boys & Girls Club on the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions of America Boys & Girls Club and [*9] that it failed to supervise Decatur Boys & Girls Club to ensure that the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions were followed. Id. ¶¶ 46-47. In addition, T.K. claims that the actions of America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club proximately caused his injuries. Id. ¶¶ 33-39, 49.

In support of his negligence claim against Defendant Paulin, T.K. alleges that on July 17, 2015, Defendant Paulin put him on the farm trailer even though Defendant Paulin did not have the requisite permission to give him a ride on the trailer. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 21, 23. Defendant Paulin towed the trailer, while T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children were on board, with a tractor onto a public highway. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. According to T.K., Defendant Paulin owed him a duty of care to protect him from any unreasonable risk of harm and breached that duty by (1) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him; (2) failing to warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer and pulling the trailer onto a public highway; (3) failing to warn [*10] him that the trailer was dangerous and not reasonably safe given that the trailer had no railings, barriers, walls, or seats; and (4) creating a dangerous condition by placing him on the trailer and pulling it onto a public highway. Id. ¶¶ 72-73. In addition, T.K. alleges that the actions of Defendant Paulin proximately caused his injuries. Id. ¶¶ 33-39, 75.

Based on these allegations, T.K. has sufficiently pleaded negligence claims against Decatur Boys & Girls Club, America Boys & Girls Club, and Defendant Paulin. The allegations in Count I and Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint give Defendants notice of the basis for T.K.’s negligence claims against them and are sufficient to establish that T.K. has a plausible, as opposed to speculative, right to relief against Defendants. This is all that is required of a plaintiff under the federal notice pleading regime. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547.

Defendants do not seem to dispute such a finding. Indeed, their arguments for the dismissal of Count I and Count IV focus on the allegations in the Second Amended Complaint relating to an alleged violation of 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11-1408, a provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code, and claims that their alleged statutory violations constitute [*11] negligence per se. See Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 32), at 1-2; Memorandum of Law (d/e 21), at 4-6; Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 33), at 1-2; Memorandum of Law (d/e 34), at 1-2. Defendants are correct that Illinois does not recognize statutory violations as negligence per se. See Kalata v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., 144 Ill. 2d 425, 581 N.E.2d 656, 661, 163 Ill. Dec. 502 (Ill. 1991) (“A violation of a statute or ordinance designed to protect human life or property is prima facie evidence of negligence. . . . The violation does not constitute negligence per se, however, and therefore the defendant may prevail by showing that he acted reasonably under the circumstances.”). But the inclusion of allegations regarding violations of 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11-1408 and negligence per se do not require the dismissal of Count I or Count IV. As the Court has explained above, T.K. has sufficiently pleaded negligence claims against Defendants without the allegations relating to statutory violations. Cf. Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992) (“[T]he complaint need not identify a legal theory, and specifying an incorrect theory is not fatal.”).

2. Timothy Killings has pleaded cognizable medical expense claims against all Defendants.

Just because T.K. has cognizable negligence claims against Defendants does not mean that Timothy Killings, T.K.’s father, also has such claims. To state a [*12] negligence cause of action, Mr. Killings must plead enough facts to make it plausible that he was harmed as a proximate result of Defendants’ breach of a duty they owed to him. Allstate, 110 F. Supp. 3d at 862-63. Mr. Killings has failed to meet his burden. The fact that Defendants were responsible for T.K.’s well-being on July 17, 2015, does not mean that Defendants had any duty to Mr. Killings. See Bruntjen v. Bethalto Pizza, LLC, 2014 IL App (5th) 120245, 385 Ill. Dec. 215, 18 N.E.3d 215, 231 (Ill. App. Ct. 2014) (“The criterion in a duty analysis is whether a plaintiff and a defendant stood in such a relationship to each other that the law imposed an obligation upon the defendant to act for the protection of the plaintiff.”). It was T.K., not Mr. Killings, who was placed on an unsafe farm trailer and pulled onto a public road. Defendants therefore had a duty to exercise ordinary care to prevent injury to T.K., not Mr. Killings. Further, Mr. Killings does not claim that he was physically injured as a result of Defendants’ negligence; his only claimed injury is the money he has spent and the money he will spend in the future for T.K.’s past and future medical treatment. See Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 38-39. In short, Mr. Killings has not met the pleading requirements for a negligence claim against any Defendant.

But just because Mr. [*13] Killings has not pleaded cognizable negligence claims against Defendants does not mean that he has pleaded no cognizable claims against them. In Illinois, parents have a cause of action against a tortfeasor who injures their child and causes them to incur medical expenses. Pirrello v. Maryville Acad., Inc., 2014 IL App (1st) 133964, 386 Ill. Dec. 108, 19 N.E.3d 1261, 1264 (Ill. App. Ct. 2014). The claim is not one for damages stemming from the child’s physical injury, but one founded on the parents’ liability for the minor’s medical expenses under the Illinois Family Expense Act. Id.; see also 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/15(a)(1) (obligating parents to pay for the “expenses of the family”). T.K. has pleaded cognizable negligence claims against Defendants. Mr. Killings alleges that he has been saddled with bills stemming from T.K.’s medical care, some of which he has paid, and that he will incur additional medical bills in the future as a result of the injuries T.K. suffered on account of Defendants’ negligence. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 38-39. Mr. Killings is the father of T.K., a minor, and is required by law to pay for T.K.’s medical expenses, Mr. Killings has adequately pleaded claims against Defendants for the recovery of the amounts paid or to be paid for T.K.’s past and future medical expenses stemming from Defendants’ negligence.

One [*14] final point merits a brief discussion. In the Second Amended Complaint, Mr. Killings alleges that he has suffered, as a result of T.K.’s injuries, “loss of aid, comfort, society, companionship, pleasure, and the family relationship.” Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶ 40. However, in Illinois, a parent may not “recover for loss of the society and companionship of a child who is nonfatally injured.” Vitro v. Mihelcic, 209 Ill. 2d 76, 806 N.E.2d 632, 633, 282 Ill. Dec. 335 (Ill. 2004). Therefore, Mr. Killings has no valid claim for loss of society and companionship in this case.

3. The Court strikes paragraph 27 from Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint.

As an alternative to the dismissal of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, Defendants Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club ask the Court to strike paragraphs 50 through 55 of the Complaint. Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 32), at 2. Similarly, Defendant Paulin asks the Court, as an alternative to the dismissal of Count IV, to strike paragraphs 76 through 81 of the Second Amended Complaint. Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 33), at 1-2. According to Defendants, the Court should strike these paragraphs because they are ultimately used to claim that Defendants’ alleged statutory violations constitute negligence per se.

Additionally, Defendants [*15] Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club request that the Court strike paragraph 27 from the Second Amended Complaint for being duplicative of paragraph 25 and strike paragraphs 42, 43, 44, 48, 68, 69, and 70 because those paragraphs are legal conclusions. Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 32), at 4. But even assuming that the aforementioned paragraphs are legal conclusions, as opposed to factual allegations, that is no reason to strike them from the Second Amended Complaint. Although Plaintiffs are required to plead facts that indicate they have a plausible, as opposed to a speculative, right to relief, see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, they are not prohibited from also pleading legal conclusions that might help to provide Defendants with notice of the claims brought against them or provide context for the factual allegations. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Riley, 199 F.R.D. 276, 278 (N.D. Ill. 2001) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S. Ct. 1827, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1989)) (noting that “legal conclusions are an integral part of the federal notice pleading regime” and that Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires parties to respond to all allegations contained within a pleading, including legal conclusions). Therefore, the Court strikes only paragraph 27 of the Second Amended Complaint, as it is duplicative of paragraph 25.

B. The Allegations of Plaintiffs’ Second Amended [*16] Complaint Are Insufficient to Render the Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur Applicable Against Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club.

Res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence applicable to a negligence claim, not a distinct theory of recovery. Rice v. Burnley, 230 Ill. App. 3d 987, 596 N.E.2d 105, 108, 172 Ill. Dec. 826 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992). Res ipsa loquitur allows “proof of negligence by circumstantial evidence when the direct evidence concerning cause of injury is primarily within the knowledge and control of the defendant.” Metz v. Cent. Ill. Elec. & Gas Co., 32 Ill. 2d 446, 207 N.E.2d 305, 307 (Ill. 1965). The doctrine “is meant to bridge an evidentiary gap when an injury could not have happened but for the defendant’s negligence.” Buechel v. United States, 746 F.3d 753, 765 (7th Cir. 2014). Accordingly, res ipsa loquitur applies only when the facts “admit of the single inference that the accident would not have happened unless the defendant had been negligent.” Britton v. Univ. of Chi. Hosps., 382 Ill. App. 3d 1009, 889 N.E.2d 706, 709, 321 Ill. Dec. 441 (Ill. App. Ct. 2008). Whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies is a question of law to be determined by the Court. Imig v. Beck, 115 Ill. 2d 18, 503 N.E.2d 324, 329, 104 Ill. Dec. 767 (Ill. 1986).

Under Illinois law, a plaintiff bringing a negligence claim based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur must plead that he was injured “in an occurrence that ordinarily does not happen in the absence of negligence” and that it was caused “by an agency or instrumentality within the defendant’s exclusive control.” Avalos-Landeros v. United States, 50 F. Supp. 3d 921, 927 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (citing Heastie v. Roberts, 226 Ill. 2d 515, 877 N.E.2d 1064, 1076, 315 Ill. Dec. 735 (Ill. 2007)). Although, in the past, [*17] a plaintiff had to allege that the “the injury occurred under circumstances indicating that it was not due to any voluntary act or neglect on the part of the plaintiff,” this requirement was removed due to the adoption of comparative fault principles in Illinois. Heastie, 877 N.E.2d at 1076. With respect to the requirement of “exclusive control,” a defendant’s control over the instrumentality “at the time of the alleged negligence is not defeated by lack of control at the time of the injury.” Darrough v. Glendale Heights Cmty. Hosp., 234 Ill. App. 3d 1055, 600 N.E.2d 1248, 1252-53, 175 Ill. Dec. 790 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992). Indeed, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur can be appropriate if the instrument that caused the injury was in the defendant’s exclusive control “at a time prior to the injury and there is no change in conditions or intervening act that could reasonably have caused the event resulting in the injury.” Id. at 1253.

T.K. alleges that “a minor child under the care and supervision of a registered, licensed professional child care facility does not ordinarily sustain serious injuries when properly supervised in the absence of negligence.” Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶ 60. Further, T.K. claims that at the time he sustained his injuries, the farm trailer that injured him was under the exclusive control of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys [*18] & Girls Club. Id. ¶ 61. These allegations are not sufficient to render the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applicable here. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545 (noting that “a formulaic recitation of a cause of action’s elements” will not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss). And although the Second Amended Complaint contains numerous factual allegations regarding the incident in which T.K. was injured, those allegations do not indicate a plausible right to relief for T.K. under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

Because the facts pleaded in Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint provide no support for the second prong in the res ipsa loquitur analysis–whether an injury was caused by an object within the defendant’s exclusive control–the Court’s res ipsa loquitur analysis will begin and end with that prong. Even assuming that the incident in which T.K. was injured was one that does not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence, T.K.’s account of the circumstances surrounding the accident indicate that it was Defendant Paulin, not Decatur Boys & Girls Club or America Boys & Girls Club, who had exclusive control of the farm trailer. According to the Second Amended Complaint, the farm trailer that injured T.K. was owned [*19] by Defendant Paulin and located on Defendant Paulin’s property. Defendant Paulin was the one who pulled the trailer onto a public road with T.K. and several other minor children on board. Defendant Paulin owned the tractor with which the trailer was pulled. Although T.K. claims that Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club were responsible for placing him on the farm trailer, he makes the same allegation with respect to Defendant Paulin. See Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 22-23. In short, there is nothing in the Second Amended Complaint to support T.K.’s allegation that Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club were in exclusive control of the farm trailer at any time.

Based on this analysis, the Court has determined that the factual allegations of the Second Amended Complaint are not sufficient to render the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applicable. In doing so, the Court again notes that res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary rule, not a distinct theory of recovery. If facts uncovered through the discovery process sufficiently support the application of res ipsa loquitur against any Defendant, the Court will allow T.K. to rely on the doctrine at the summary judgment [*20] stage and will allow the trier of fact to consider and apply the doctrine as to that Defendant.

C. Count III and Count V Sufficiently Plead Willful and Wanton Misconduct Claims Against the Defendants.

To state a claim under Illinois law for willful and wanton misconduct, a plaintiff must plead facts establishing the elements of a negligence claim–duty, breach, proximate causation, and harm–and “either a deliberate intention to harm or an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff.” Kirwan v. Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protections Dist., 349 Ill. App. 3d 150, 811 N.E.2d 1259, 1263, 285 Ill. Dec. 380 (Ill. App. Ct. 2004) (quoting Adkins v. Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Ctr., 129 Ill. 2d 497, 544 N.E.2d 733, 743, 136 Ill. Dec. 47 (Ill. 1989)). As noted above, T.K. has sufficiently pleaded negligence causes of action against all Defendants. T.K. has incorporated the allegations comprising his negligence claims into his willful and wanton misconduct claims against Defendants. Therefore, to state claims for willful and wanton misconduct against Defendants, T.K. need only additionally allege either intentional or reckless willful and wanton misconduct committed by Defendants. Reckless willful and wanton misconduct is conduct committed with an utter indifference of or a conscious disregard for the safety of others. Kirwan, 811 N.E.2d at 1263. To meet this standard, the defendant “must be conscious of his conduct, [*21] and, though having no intent to injure, must be conscious, from his knowledge of the surrounding circumstances and existing conditions, that his conduct will naturally and probably result in injury.” Id.

In the Second Amended Complaint, T.K. alleges that on July 17, 2015, Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club placed him and 15 to 20 other minors on an unsafe farm trailer with no guardrails, sidewalls, barriers, or seats while providing inadequate supervision. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 22, 65. T.K. further alleges that the trailer was not designed to transport people. Id. ¶ 24. T.K claims that Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club failed to take necessary safety precautions and operated their summer camp recklessly or with gross negligence. Id. ¶¶ 64, 68. According to T.K., the actions and inaction of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club were “willful, wanton, grossly negligent, careless, [and] reckless” and “showed an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of [T.K.].” Id. ¶ 70.

T.K. also includes several allegations in Count III about what Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club “knew or should have [*22] known.” Specifically, according to T.K., Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club knew or should have known that the farm trailer was unreasonably dangerous, that additional supervision was required for the 15 to 20 children riding on the farm trailer, and that there was no way for the children to be properly seated on the farm trailer. Id. ¶¶ 66-68. Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club also knew or should have known that placing children on the farm trailer and pulling it with a tractor without proper supervision posed a high probability of serious physical harm to T.K. Id. ¶ 69.

With respect to Defendant Paulin, T.K. alleges that Defendant Paulin placed T.K. on a farm trailer that was not designed or intended to transport people and had no guardrails, seats, or seat belts to prevent people from falling off it. Id. ¶¶ 23, 25-26. Further, T.K. claims that Defendant Paulin had no intention of making sure that T.K. was safe when she placed him on the farm trailer and pulled it onto a public road. Id. ¶ 83. T.K. also claims that Defendant Paulin failed to take necessary safety precautions. Id. ¶ 85. Defendant Paulin’s conduct, according to T.K., was “willful, [*23] wanton, grossly negligent, careless, [and] reckless” and showed a “conscious disregard for the safety of [T.K.].” Id. ¶ 87.

As with Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club, T.K. includes allegations in the Second Amended Complaint regarding what Defendant Paulin “knew or should have known.” Specifically, T.K. alleges that Defendant Paulin knew or should have known that the farm trailer was unreasonably dangerous, that pulling children onto a public road while on the trailer was unreasonably dangerous, and that placing children on the farm trailer and pulling the trailer onto a public roadway without proper supervision posed a high probability of serious physical harm or death. Id. ¶¶ 83-84, 86.

T.K.’s allegations are sufficient to plead willful and wanton misconduct claims against Defendants. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a pleading include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not plead enough facts to show that he is likely to prevail on his claim; rather, he is required only to include enough facts to raise his claim from speculative to plausible. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The allegations set forth [*24] above are sufficient to make it plausible that Defendants committed willful and wanton misconduct when they put T.K. on an unsafe farm trailer not designed for transporting people, failed to take necessary safety precautions, and either failed to properly supervise T.K. or pulled the trailer, with T.K. on it, onto a public road. See Worthem v. Gillette Co., 774 F. Supp. 514, 517 (N.D. Ill. 1991) (holding that the plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded willful and wanton misconduct claims where she alleged that “willful and wanton acts or omissions [were] committed or omitted with conscious indifference to existing circumstances and conditions” and went on to “enumerate specific instances of willful and wanton conduct”).

Although T.K.’s “knew or should have known” allegations against Defendants may have been insufficient to meet his pleading burden with respect to willful and wanton misconduct claims, see id. (admitting that the court “might agree” with the defendant’s arguments that “knew or should have known” allegations are mere negligence allegations insufficient to merit punitive damages), T.K. does not rely solely on these allegations in his willful and wanton misconduct claims against Defendants. Indeed, as the Court has noted above, Count III [*25] and Count V of the Second Amended Complaint, which incorporate the allegations from the counts preceding them, contain specific factual allegations regarding the actions Defendants took. Further, the Court does not view T.K.’s “knew or should have known” allegations as completely irrelevant to a willful and wanton misconduct claim under Illinois law, which holds that willful and wanton misconduct can be found where there is a failure to discover a danger through carelessness when it could have been discovered through the exercise of ordinary care. Ziarko v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 161 Ill. 2d 267, 641 N.E.2d 402, 406, 204 Ill. Dec. 178 (Ill. 1994).

The fact that T.K. bases his willful and wanton claims on the same facts as his negligence claims is of no concern. Under Illinois law, “[t]he same acts by a defendant, if sufficiently egregious, can constitute both negligence and willful and wanton conduct.” Bastian v. TPI Corp., 663 F. Supp. 474, 476 (N.D. Ill. 1987) (citing Smith v. Seiber, 127 Ill. App. 3d 950, 469 N.E.2d 231, 235, 82 Ill. Dec. 697 (Ill. App. Ct. 1984). Therefore, “one can plead the same facts in two counts, one characterizing them as negligence and the other as willful and wanton conduct, if the same facts could support both theories.” Bastian, 663 F. Supp. at 476 (citing O’Brien v. Twp. High Sch. Dist. 214, 83 Ill. 2d 462, 415 N.E.2d 1015, 1018, 47 Ill. Dec. 702 (Ill. 1980).

V. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Defendants Boys & Girls Club of America and Boys & Girls Club of Decatur, Inc.’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion [*26] to Strike Portions of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 32) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Count II of Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Further, the Court STRIKES paragraph 27 of Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint as duplicative. Defendant Mary K. Paulin’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 33) is DENIED. Pursuant to Rule 12(a)(4)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants have 14 days from the date they receive a copy of this Order to file an answer to Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint.

ENTER: June 6, 2017.

/s/ Sue E. Myerscough

SUE E. MYERSCOUGH

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE