Donahue v. Ledgends, Inc., 2014 Alas. LEXIS 153

Donahue v. Ledgends, Inc., 2014 Alas. LEXIS 153

Claire A. Donahue, Appellant and Cross-Appellee, v. Ledgends, Inc. d/b/a Alaska Rock Gym, Appellee and Cross-Appellant.

Supreme Court Nos. S-14910/14929, No. 6932

SUPREME COURT OF ALASKA

2014 Alas. LEXIS 153

August 1, 2014, Decided

NOTICE:

THIS OPINION IS SUBJECT TO CORRECTION BEFORE PUBLICATION IN THE PACIFIC REPORTER. READERS ARE REQUESTED TO BRING ERRORS TO THE ATTENTION OF THE CLERK OF THE APPELLATE COURTS.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Andrew Guidi, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-10-07305 CI.

CASE SUMMARY:

OVERVIEW: HOLDINGS: [1]-Plaintiff alleged injured party’s negligence claim failed because a release stated waived risks, used “negligence,” stated important factors in emphasized language, specifically disclaimed liability, did not imply safety standards conflicting with a release, was not contested on public policy grounds, and was not modified by advertising; [2]-The Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, AS 45.50.471 et seq., did not apply because conflicts with a personal injury claim barred assuming such a legislature intent, which “ascertainable loss of money or property” in AS 45.50.531(a) did not state; [3]-It was no clear error to find defendant gym waived Alaska R. Civ. P. 68 attorney’s fees because it only raised its offer of judgment when seeking fees under an indemnity clause, and only raised enhanced fees under Alaska R. Civ. P. 82, before its reconsideration motion.

OUTCOME: Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: Christine S. Schleuss, Law Office of Christine S. Schleuss, Anchorage, for Appellant and Cross-Appellee.

Tracey L. Knutson, Girdwood, for Appellee and Cross-Appellant.

JUDGES: Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION BY: MAASSEN

OPINION

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises from an injury at a climbing gym. Claire Donahue broke her tibia during a class at the Alaska Rock Gym after she dropped approximately three to four-and-a-half feet from a bouldering wall onto the floor mat. Before class Donahue had been required to read and sign a document that purported to release the Rock Gym from any liability for participants’ injuries.

Donahue brought claims against the Rock Gym for negligence and violations of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). The Rock Gym moved for summary judgment, contending that the release bars Donahue’s negligence claim. It also moved to dismiss the UTPA claims on grounds that the act does not apply to personal injury claims and that Donahue failed to state a prima facie [*2] case for relief under the act. Donahue cross-moved for partial summary judgment on the enforceability of the release as well as the merits of her UTPA claims. The superior court granted the Rock Gym’s motion and denied Donahue’s, then awarded attorney’s fees to the Rock Gym under Alaska Civil Rule 82.

Donahue appeals the grant of summary judgment to the Rock Gym; the Rock Gym also appeals, contending that the superior court should have awarded fees under Alaska Civil Rule 68 instead of Rule 82. We affirm the superior court on all issues.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Ledgends, Inc. does business as the Alaska Rock Gym, a private indoor facility that is open to the public. Its interior walls have fixed climbing holds and routes; for a fee, it provides classes and open gym or free climbing time. There are signs posted around the Rock Gym warning of the dangers of climbing, including falling; at her deposition Donahue did not dispute that the signs were there when she visited the gym.

Donahue had been thinking about trying rock climbing for several years, and she finally decided in March 2008 to attend a class at the Rock Gym called “Rockin’ Women.” She testified that she chose the class because she thought it could be tailored to specific [*3] skill levels, and because she “got the impression [from the advertisements] that that is the type of group it was, that it was a . . . safe way to learn to climb.” She also testified she understood that the essential risk of climbing is falling.

Donahue had no rock climbing experience, but she was an occasional runner and cyclist and had pursued other high-risk athletic activities such as kite-boarding. She had been a river guide on the Colorado River after college. She had engaged in physical occupations such as commercial fishing and construction. She testified that she understood the nature of risky activities and felt competent to decide about them for herself. In connection with other recreational activities, she had signed releases and waivers similar to the one she signed at the Rock Gym. She testified that she understood that parties who sign contracts generally intend to be bound by them.

When Donahue arrived at the Rock Gym for her first class, she was given a document entitled “Participant Release of Liability, Waiver of Claims, Assumption of Risks, and Indemnity Agreement — Alaska Rock Gym.” She was aware of the document’s nature and general intent but testified that although [*4] she signed it voluntarily, she did not read it closely.

The release contains nine numbered sections on two single-spaced pages. There is also an unnumbered introductory paragraph; it defines the Rock Gym to include, among others, its agents, owners, participants, and employees, as well as “all other persons or entities acting in any capacity on its behalf.”

Section one of the release contains three paragraphs. The first recites the general risks of rock climbing, including injury and death, and explains that these risks are essential to the sport and therefore cannot be eliminated. The second paragraph lists about a dozen specific risks inherent in rock climbing, including “falling off the climbing wall,” “impacting the ground,” “the negligence of other[s],” and “my own negligence[,] inexperience, . . . or fatigue.” The third paragraph asserts that the gym and its instructors “seek safety, but they are not infallible.” It describes some errors instructors might make, including being ignorant of a participant’s abilities and failing to give adequate warnings or instructions. The final sentence in the third paragraph reads, “By signing this [release], I acknowledge that I AM ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE [*5] for my own safety during my use of or participation in [Rock Gym] facilities, equipment, rentals, or activities.”

Section two begins, “I expressly agree and promise to accept and assume all the risks . . .”; it then highlights the voluntary nature of participation in Rock Gym activities.

Section three is the clause that releases the Rock Gym from liability (the releasing clause). It reads in full,

I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless the [Rock Gym] from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in these activities or my use of [the Rock Gym’s] equipment, rentals or facilities, including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of [the Rock Gym].

The next six sections of the release address other issues: indemnification for attorney’s fees, certification that the participant is fit to climb, permission to provide first aid, permission to photograph for promotional purposes, the voluntariness of participation and signing the release, and jurisdiction for claims arising from the release.

The ultimate paragraph is printed in bold. It reads in part,

By signing this [*6] document, I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or killed or property is damaged during my participation in or use of [Rock Gym] activities or premises or facilities or rental equipment, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against [the Rock Gym] on the basis of any claim from which I have released them herein.

Finally, centered on the second page, in bold capital letters directly above the signature line, the release reads: “I HAVE HAD SUFFICIENT OPPORTUNITY TO READ THIS ENTIRE DOCUMENT. I HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD IT, AND I AGREE TO BE BOUND BY ITS TERMS.”

Donahue’s hand-printed name and the date appear on the first page of the release, and her initials are at the bottom of the page; her signature appears on the second page, along with her printed name, her contact information, and the date.

Donahue completed her first class on harnessed climbing on March 23, 2008, and returned for a second class on May 11. When class began she was told that the day’s focus would be on bouldering, or unharnessed climbing on low walls. She did not express any hesitation. She climbed for almost two hours, successfully ascending and descending a number of routes. [*7] During this time she saw other people drop from the wall without injury. After another successful ascent near the end of the lesson, she felt unable to climb down using the available holds. Her feet were somewhere between three and four-and-a-half feet from the ground. Her instructor suggested that she drop to the mat and told her to be sure to bend her knees. Donahue landed awkwardly and broke her tibia in four places. She was attended to immediately by Rock Gym personnel and a physician who happened to be present.

The Rock Gym had run various advertisements during the two years preceding Donahue’s accident, using a number of different slogans. One newspaper ad, running on at least three occasions, stated: “[T]the only safe place in town to hang out.” Another Rock Gym ad showed an adult bouldering and a child climbing while harnessed; its text contained the same slogan and added, in part, “Trust us, it still exists. . . . [E]very child in your family will be reminded of what it’s all about — friends and fun.” A third ad described climbing programs for everyone in the family and said, “[Y]ou have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” In an affidavit, Donahue testified she had read these ads.

Donahue [*8] sued the Rock Gym for negligent failure to adequately train and supervise its instructors. She alleged that the Rock Gym was liable for its employee’s negligent instruction to drop from the bouldering wall. She also alleged a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, contending that the Rock Gym’s advertisements “misleadingly advertised [the gym] as a safe place where users of its services had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The Rock Gym moved for summary judgment on all of Donahue’s claims. She opposed the motion and cross-moved for partial summary judgment herself, arguing that the Rock Gym had violated the UTPA as a matter of law and that the release she had signed was null and void.

The superior court granted the Rock Gym’s motion and denied Donahue’s cross-motion. It then granted the Rock Gym, as prevailing party, partial attorney’s fees under Civil Rule 82(a)(3).

III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

[HN1] We review grants of summary judgment de novo, determining whether the record presents any genuine issues of material fact.1 In making this determination, we construe the facts in favor of the non-moving party.2 If the record fails to reveal a genuine factual dispute and the moving [*9] party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment must be affirmed.3

1 Hill v. Giani, 296 P.3d 14, 20 (Alaska 2013) (citing Yost v. State, Div. of Corps., Bus. & Prof’l Licensing, 234 P.3d 1264, 1272 (Alaska 2010)).

2 Id. (citing McCormick v. City of Dillingham, 16 P.3d 735, 738 (Alaska 2001)).

3 Kelly v. Municipality of Anchorage, 270 P.3d 801, 803 (Alaska 2012).

[HN2] We decide questions of law, including statutory interpretation, using our independent judgment.4 We will adopt the most persuasive rule of law in light of precedent, reason, and policy.5 This requires us, when interpreting statutes, to “look to the meaning of the language, the legislative history, and the purpose of the statute.”6

4 Therchik v. Grant Aviation, Inc., 74 P.3d 191, 193 (Alaska 2003).

5 ASRC Energy Servs. Power & Commc’ns, LLC v. Golden Valley Electric Ass’n, 267 P.3d 1151, 1157 (Alaska 2011).

6 Id.

[HN3] “A superior court’s determination whether waiver occurred is a question of fact that we review for clear error.”7

7 Sengul v. CMS Franklin, Inc., 265 P.3d 320, 324 (Alaska 2011).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. The Release Is Enforceable And Bars Donahue’s Negligence Claims.

Three cases define Alaska law on pre-activity releases from liability.8 [HN4] These cases consistently state that such releases are not per se invalid;9 in each of the cases, however, we concluded that the release at issue did not bar the plaintiff’s claim.

8 Ledgends, Inc. v. Kerr, 91 P.3d 960 (Alaska 2004); Moore v. Hartley Motors, Inc., 36 P.3d 628 (Alaska 2001); Kissick v. Schmierer, 816 P.2d 188 (Alaska 1991).

9 Kerr, 91 P.3d at 961-62 (noting that “under Alaska law pre-recreational exculpatory releases are held to a very high standard of clarity”); Moore, 36 P.3d at 631 (noting that “an otherwise valid release is ineffective when releasing a defendant from liability would violate public policy” (emphasis added)); Kissick, 816 P.2d at 191 (“A promise not to [*10] sue for future damage caused by simple negligence may be valid.” (quoting 15 Samuel Williston, A Treatise on the Law of Contracts § 1750A, at 143-45 (3d ed. 1972)); see also Mitchell v. Mitchell, 655 P.2d 748, 751 (Alaska 1982) (upholding provision not to sue in settlement agreement and noting that, “[a]s a matter of law, . . . a valid release of all claims will bar any subsequent claims covered by the release”).

Kissick v. Schmierer involved a plane crash that caused the deaths of all four people aboard.10 The three passengers had signed a covenant not to sue before they boarded the plane.11 They agreed in the release not to bring a claim “for any loss, damage, or injury to [their] person or [their] property which may occur from any cause whatsoever.”12 When the passengers’ surviving spouses filed wrongful death claims against the pilot, their claims were allowed to proceed despite the release.13 We ruled that [HN5] “[i]ntent to release a party from liability for future negligence must be conspicuously and unequivocally expressed.”14 We also held that a release must use the word “negligence” to establish the required degree of clarity, something the release in Kissick did not do.15 Further, since liability for “death” was not specifically disclaimed and the term “injury” [*11] was ambiguous, we held that the release did not apply to claims for wrongful death, construing it against the drafter.16

10 Kissick, 816 P.2d at 188.

11 Id. at 189.

12 Id.

13 Id.

14 Id. at 191 (citations omitted).

15 Id. (citing W.Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 483-84 (5th ed.1984) (footnotes omitted)).

16 Id. at 191-92.

The second case, Moore v. Hartley Motors, involved an injury during a class on driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).17 We first addressed whether the plaintiff’s signed release violated public policy.18 We noted that the type of service involved was neither essential nor regulated by statute;19 these factors, along with the voluntariness of the plaintiff’s participation, persuaded us that the defendants 20 had no “decisive advantage in bargaining strength.”21 We therefore held that the release did not violate public policy.22

17 36 P.3d 628, 629 (Alaska 2001).

18 Id. at 631-32.

19 Id. at 631-32 (noting that ATV riding is similar to parachuting, dirt biking, and scuba diving, for which releases have been upheld in other jurisdictions).

20 The defendants included the dealer that sold the plaintiff the ATV and referred her to the safety course, the ATV Safety Institute that developed the curriculum, and the individual instructor. Id. at 629.

21 Id. at 631-32.

22 Id.

We did decide, however, that the release did not conspicuously and unequivocally [*12] express an intent to release the defendants from liability for the cause of the exact injury that occurred — a rollover when the plaintiff drove over a big rock hidden in tall grass.23 The release covered the inherent risks of ATV riding, but we found that it also included “an implied and reasonable presumption that the course [was] not unreasonably dangerous.”24 We found there to be fact questions about whether “the course posed a risk beyond ordinary negligence related to the inherent risks of off-road ATV riding assumed by the release,” and we held that summary judgment for the defendants on the basis of the release was therefore improper.25

23 Id. at 632.

24 Id.

25 Id. at 633-34.

The third case, Ledgends, Inc. v. Kerr, involved the same rock gym as this case.26 It involved a similar injury as well, sustained when the plaintiff fell from a bouldering wall.27 Unlike Donahue, however, who landed squarely on the floor mat, the plaintiff in Kerr was allegedly injured when her foot slipped through the space between two floor mats.28 The plaintiff alleged the gym knew of the defect in the landing area but had failed to fix it.29

26 91 P.3d 960 (Alaska 2004).

27 Id. at 961.

28 Id.

29 Id.

The superior court, whose order we approved and attached as an appendix to our opinion, cited Kissick [*13] for the notion that a pre-activity release for tortious conduct must be “clear, explicit, and comprehensible in each of its essential details.”30 The superior court also noted the requirement that “such an agreement, read as a whole, must clearly notify the prospective releasor or indemnitor of the effect of signing the release.”31 With these principles in mind, the superior court pointed to language in the release that was problematic because it was internally inconsistent: the release stated that the gym would try to keep its facilities safe and its equipment in good condition, but it simultaneously disclaimed liability for actions that failed to meet such standards.32 The superior court construed this ambiguity against the drafter and held that the release was not valid as a bar to the plaintiff’s negligence claims, a holding we affirmed.33

30 Id. at 961-62 (quoting Kissick v. Schmierer, 816 P.2d 188, 191 (Alaska 1991)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

31 Id. at 962 (quoting Kissick, 816 P.2d at 191) (internal quotation marks omitted).

32 Id. at 963.

33 Id.

In this case, the superior court concluded that Kissick, Moore, and Kerr, considered together, meant that [HN6] “an effective liability release requires six characteristics.” We agree with the superior court’s formulation of the list:

(1) the risk being waived must [*14] be specifically and clearly set forth (e.g. death, bodily injury, and property damage); (2) a waiver of negligence must be specifically set forth using the word “negligence”; (3) these factors must be brought home to the releasor in clear, emphasized language by using simple words and capital letters; (4) the release must not violate public policy; (5) if a release seeks to exculpate a defendant from liability for acts of negligence unrelated to inherent risks, the release must suggest an intent to do so; and (6) the release agreement must not represent or insinuate standards of safety or maintenance.

The superior court found that each of these characteristics was satisfied in this case, and again we agree.34

34 Donahue does not challenge the release on public policy grounds, so the fourth characteristic of a valid release is satisfied here. Alaska recognizes that recreational releases from liability for negligence are not void as a matter of public policy, because to hold otherwise would impose unreasonable burdens on businesses whose patrons want to engage in high-risk physical activities. Kissick, 816 P.2d at 191 (“A promise not to sue for future damage caused by simple negligence may be valid.” (internal citations [*15] and quotation marks omitted)). The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a case involving claims against a health club, held that liability releases in gym cases do not violate public policy in part because gyms remain liable for their gross negligence or recklessness — levels of culpability not alleged in this case. Stelluti v. Casapenn Enters., 203 N.J. 286, 1 A.3d 678, 681 (N.J. 2010); see also City of Santa Barbara v. Super. Ct., 41 Cal. 4th 747, 62 Cal. Rptr. 3d 527, 161 P.3d 1095, 1102-03 (Cal. 2007) (surveying jurisdictions and concluding that “[m]ost, but not all” hold that releases of ordinary negligence in recreational activities do not violate public policy but “the vast majority of decisions state or hold that such agreements generally are void” if they attempt to release “aggravated misconduct” such as gross negligence).

1. The risks being waived (falling and instructor negligence) are specifically and clearly set forth.

[HN7] A conspicuous and unequivocal statement of the risk waived is the keystone of a valid release.35 Here, the release clearly and repeatedly disclosed the risk of the specific injury at issue: injury from falling while climbing. The following are excerpts from the Rock Gym’s release:

I specifically acknowledge that the inherent risks associated with rock climbing . . . include[], but [are] not limited to: falling off of the climbing wall, . . . impacting [*16] the ground . . . , general slips/trips/falls or painful crashes while using any of the equipment or walls or bouldering areas or landing pits or work-out areas or the climbing structures or the premises at large, climbing out of control or beyond my or another participant’s limits, . . . my own negligence or inexperience, dehydration or exhaustion or cramps or fatigue . . . .

To the extent that the risk at issue is the risk of hitting the ground after falling (or dropping in what is essentially an intentional fall), the first characteristic of a valid release is satisfied by this language.

35 Kerr, 91 P.3d at 961; Moore v. Hartley Motors, Inc., 36 P.3d 628, 632 (Alaska 2001); Kissick, 816 P.2d at 191.

Rather than focusing on her injury, however, Donahue focuses on its alleged cause, which she argues was the negligent training and supervision of Rock Gym instructors and the consequently negligent instructions she was given. She claims that the release did not specifically and clearly set forth this risk, and that she was therefore unaware that she was waiving the right to sue for instructor negligence.

But the release did cover this risk. The first paragraph expressly incorporates “employees” into the definition of the entity being released. The release further warns that Rock Gym “instructors, [*17] employees, volunteers, agents or others . . . are not infallible” and that “[t]hey may give inadequate warnings or instructions.” In its on-site interactions with the public, the Rock Gym necessarily acts through its instructors and other employees; Donahue knew she would be taking a class and that classes require instructors. It would not be reasonable to conclude that the Rock Gym sought a release only of those claims against it that did not involve the acts or omissions of any of its employees, and we cannot construe the release in that way.36 We agree with the superior court’s conclusion that “the Release clearly expresses that it is a release of liability for the negligence of the releasor-participant, other participants, climbers, spotters or visitors, as well as [the Rock Gym’s] negligence, including [Rock Gym] employees.”

36 See Kahn v. E. Side Union High Sch. Dist., 31 Cal. 4th 990, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 103, 75 P.3d 30, 40 (Cal. 2003) (holding that “the risks associated with learning a sport may themselves be inherent risks of the sport. . . . [A]nd . . . liability should not be imposed simply because an instructor asked the student to take action beyond what, with hindsight, is found to have been the student’s abilities” (internal citations and quotation marks omitted)).

Donahue also argues that [*18] she could not understand the risks involved due to the release’s appearance and presentation. However, even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to her, the record does not support her argument. Although Donahue did not carefully read the release before signing it,37 she was aware she was signing a liability release. She has signed a number of such documents in the past and was familiar with their general purpose. When asked to read the release at her deposition, she testified that she understood the pertinent risks it described. There is no reason to believe that she would have found it less comprehensible had she read it at the time she signed it.

37 [HN8] Failure to read a contract in detail before signing it is no defense to its enforceability. Lauvetz v. Alaska Sales & Serv., 828 P.2d 162, 164-65 (Alaska 1991).

2. The waiver of negligence is specifically set forth using the word “negligence.”

Kissick and Kerr both emphasize that a valid release from liability for negligence claims requires use of the word “negligence.”38 This requirement is met here.

38 Kerr, 91 P.3d at 961; Kissick, 816 P.2d at 191.

The Rock Gym’s release first lists negligence among the inherent risks of climbing (“the negligence of other climbers or spotters or visitors or participants” and “my own negligence”). It then provides: [*19] “I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless the [Rock Gym] from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, . . . including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of [the Rock Gym].” (Emphasis added.) The phrase “any and all claims” is thus expressly defined to include claims for negligence.

Cases from other jurisdictions support the conclusion that the language in the Rock Gym’s release covers all of Donahue’s negligence claims. In Rosencrans v. Dover Images, Ltd., the plaintiff was injured on a motocross track after falling from his bike and being struck by two other riders.39 A California Court of Appeal concluded that the signed waiver releasing the track from liability for “any losses or damages . . . whether caused by the negligence of [the Releasees] or otherwise” precluded the plaintiff’s claim “for ordinary negligence as well as negligent hiring and supervision” of employees at the racetrack (though it did not release the track from liability for gross negligence — a claim not made here).40

39 192 Cal. App. 4th 1072, 122 Cal. Rptr. 3d 22, 27 (Cal. App. 2011).

40 Id. at 30. See also Morris v. JTM Materials, Inc., 78 S.W.3d 28, 49 (Tex. App. 2002) (“Negligent hiring, retention, and supervision claims are all simple negligence causes of action based on an [*20] employer’s direct negligence rather than on vicarious liability.” (citations omitted)).

In short, the requirement that a waiver of negligence be specifically set out using the word “negligence” is satisfied by the Rock Gym’s release.

3. The important factors are brought home to the releasor in clear, emphasized language with simple words and capital letters.

Donahue argues that although “negligence” is expressly mentioned and disclaimed in the release, its placement at the end of long sentences written in small font rendered its presence meaningless to her. Quoting a California case, she argues that when the risk of negligence is shifted, a layperson “should not be required to muddle through complex language to know that valuable, legal rights are being relinquished.”41 Donahue also cites New Hampshire and Washington cases in which the structure and organization of releases obscured the language that purported to shield the defendants from claims.42 These cases considered factors such as “whether the waiver is set apart or hidden within other provisions, whether the heading is clear, [and] whether the waiver is set off in capital letters or in bold type.”43 In one Washington case, a release [*21] was invalidated because the releasing language was in the middle of a paragraph.44

41 Conservatorship of the Estate of Link v. Nat’l Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 158 Cal. App. 3d 138, 205 Cal. Rptr. 513, 515 (Cal. App. 1984).

42 See Wright v. Loon Mtn. Recreation Corp., 140 N.H. 166, 663 A.2d 1340, 1342 (N.H. 1995); Johnson v. UBAR, LLC, 150 Wn. App. 533, 210 P.3d 1021, 1023 (Wash. App. 2009).

43 Johnson, 210 P.3d at 1023 (citing Baker v. City of Seattle, 79 Wn.2d 198, 484 P.2d 405 (Wash. 1971)).

44 Baker, 484 P.2d at 407.

Fundamentally, Donahue argues that the Rock Gym’s release was so ambiguous and laden with legalese that she lacked any real ability to understand that she was agreeing to release the Rock Gym from the negligence of its instructors. She complains of the release’s “lengthy, small-printed, and convoluted” language which required a “magnifying glass and lexicon” to decipher. She points out that the clause purporting to release the Rock Gym from liability is not obvious or emphasized through bold print or capital letters. She testified at her deposition that she believed the waiver shielded the gym only “from frivolous lawsuits, from people blaming them for something that’s not their fault.”

It is true that the release’s text is small and the releasing clause is in the middle of the document toward the bottom of the first page. But the clauses addressing negligence do not appear to be “calculated to conceal,” as Donahue argues. Though not highlighted, they are in a logical place where they cannot be missed by someone who reads the release. The clause releasing the Rock Gym from liability is [*22] a single sentence set out as its own numbered paragraph, and it is not confusing or needlessly wordy.45 The inherent risks of climbing are enumerated in great detail but using ordinary descriptive language that is easy to understand.46 Several sentences are devoted to the role of the gym’s “instructors, employees, volunteers, agents or others,” stating that they “have difficult jobs to perform,” that they “seek safety, but they are not infallible,” and that they may “be ignorant of mine or another participant’s fitness or abilities” and “may give inadequate warnings or instructions.”

45 Paragraph 3 of the release reads: “I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless the [Rock Gym] from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in these activities or my use of [the Rock Gym’s] equipment, rentals or facilities, including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of [the Rock Gym].”

46 Paragraph 1 of the release lists the inherent risks of climbing as including “but . . . not limited to”:

falling off of the climbing wall, being fallen on or impacted by other participants, poor or [*23] improper belaying, the possibility that I will be jolted or jarred or bounced or thrown to and fro or shaken about while climbing or belaying, entanglement in ropes, impacting the ground and/or climbing wall, loose or dropped or damaged ropes or holds, equipment failure, improperly maintained equipment which I may or may not be renting from [the Rock Gym], displaced pads or safety equipment, belay or anchor or harness failure, general slips/trips/falls or painful crashes while using any of the equipment or walls or bouldering areas or landing pits or work-out areas or the climbing structures or the premises at large, climbing out of control or beyond my or another participant[‘s] limits, the negligence of other climbers or spotters or visitors or participants who may be present, participants giving or following inappropriate “Beta” or climbing advice or move sequences, mine or others’ failure to follow the rules of the [Rock Gym], my own negligence or inexperience, dehydration or exhaustion or cramps or fatigue — some or all of which may diminish my or the other participants’ ability to react or respond.

Because [HN9] releases should be read “as a whole” in order to decide whether they “clearly [*24] notify the prospective releasor or indemnitor of the effect of signing the agreement,”47 we consider these provisions in the context of the entire document. Three other sections of emphasized text mitigate Donahue’s complaints about ambiguity and incomprehensibility. First, section one reads in part, “I AM ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE for my own safety during my use of or participation in [Rock Gym] facilities, equipment, rentals or activities” (bold in original). This alone makes it clear to the reader that the Rock Gym, to the extent it is allowed to do so, intends to shift responsibility to the climber regardless of the actions of anyone else. Second, a final unnumbered paragraph, set out in bold letters, reads in part: “By signing this document, I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or killed or property is damaged during my participation in or use of [Rock Gym] activities or premises or facilities or rental equipment, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against [the Rock Gym] on the basis of any claim from which I have released them herein.” And finally, directly above the lines where Donahue entered her signature, her printed name, her contact [*25] information, and the date, the release reads, in bold and capital letters, “I HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD [THE RELEASE], AND I AGREE TO BE BOUND BY ITS TERMS.” If Donahue had read the release and found herself genuinely confused about any of its terms, she was prominently notified that she should inquire about it before signing.

47 Kissick v. Schmierer, 816 P.2d 188, 191 (Alaska 1991).

The New Hampshire case on which Donahue relies, Wright v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., examined the release in question to determine whether “a reasonable person in the position of the plaintiff would have understood that the agreement clearly and specifically indicated the intent to release the defendant from liability for its own negligence.”48 Applying that test here, we conclude that a reasonable person in Donahue’s position could not have overlooked or misunderstood the release’s intent to disclaim liability. Our case law’s third characteristic of a valid release is therefore satisfied.

48 140 N.H. 166, 663 A.2d 1340, 1343-44 (N.H. 1995); see also Johnson, 210 P.3d at 1021 (holding reasonable persons could disagree about the conspicuousness of the release provision in the waiver, and remanding for trial).

4. Regardless of whether falling and instructor negligence are inherent risks of rock climbing, the release specifically disclaims [*26] liability for them.

The fifth characteristic set forth by the superior court 49 is that “if a release seeks to exculpate a defendant from liability for acts of negligence unrelated to inherent risks, the release must suggest an intent to do so.”50 This requirement stems from the release’s ill-defined scope in Moore; the injury that occurred — arguably caused by an unreasonably dangerous ATV training course — was not obviously included in the inherent risks of riding ATVs, which the signed release did intend to cover.51 Here, in contrast, the injury and its alleged causes are all expressly covered by the release, as explained above. Negligence claims are specifically contemplated, as are “falls,” “impact” with the ground, and “inadequate warnings or instructions” from Rock Gym instructors. Regardless of whether these are inherent risks of climbing, they are specifically covered by the release. This characteristic of a valid release is therefore satisfied.

49 As noted above, the fourth characteristic of a valid release — that it not violate public policy — is not at issue on this appeal. See supra note 34.

50 See Moore v. Hartley Motors, Inc., 36 P.3d 628, 633-34 (Alaska 2001).

51 Id.

5. The release does not represent or imply standards of safety or maintenance that [*27] conflict with an intent to release negligence claims.

The sixth characteristic of a valid release is that it does not imply standards of safety or maintenance that conflict with an intent to waive claims for negligence.52 The Rock Gym argues that nothing in the release confuses its purpose, unlike the release at issue in Kerr, which at least implicitly promised that equipment would be kept “in good condition.”53 We agree. In fact, far from providing assurances of safety, the release highlights the fallibility of the Rock Gym’s employees, equipment, and facilities, explicitly stating that the equipment may “fail,” “malfunction[,] or be poorly maintained” and that the staff is “not infallible,” may be ignorant of a climber’s “fitness or abilities,” and “may give inadequate warnings or instructions.”

52 See Ledgends, Inc. v. Kerr, 91 P.3d 960, 962-63 (Alaska 2004).

53 Id. at 963.

Donahue agrees that the release is not internally inconsistent, but she argues that the advertisements run by the Rock Gym had the same confounding impact on her understanding of it as the release’s language about equipment maintenance had in Kerr. She contends that she relied on the ads’ assurances that the gym was “a safe place” and the class “would be a safe way to learn to climb” when [*28] she enrolled in the climbing class. She argues that these assurances created ambiguity that, as in Kerr, requires that the release be interpreted in a less exculpatory way.

Although extrinsic evidence may be admissible as an aid to contract interpretation,54 the release here clearly defines climbing as an inherently risky activity. And we have said that

[HN10] where one section deals with a subject in general terms and another deals with a part of the same subject in a more detailed way, the two should be harmonized if possible; but if there is a conflict, the specific section will control over the general.55

Were we to give the Rock Gym’s advertisements any weight in our analysis of the release, we would not find that their use of the word “safe” overrode the release’s very clear warnings about the specific risks of climbing.

54 Norville v. Carr-Gottstein Foods Co., 84 P.3d 996, 1004 (Alaska 2004) (citing Municipality of Anchorage v. Gentile, 922 P.2d 248, 256 (Alaska 1996)).

55 Id. (quoting Estate of Hutchinson, 577 P.2d 1074, 1075 (Alaska 1978)).

Because the advertisements cannot reasonably be considered as modifications to the release, and because the release does not otherwise contain implicit guarantees of safety or maintenance that could confuse its purpose, we find the final requirement of a valid release to be satisfied. The release thus satisfies all characteristics of a valid release [*29] identified by our case law, and we affirm the superior court’s grant of summary judgment to the Rock Gym on this issue.

B. The UTPA Does Not Apply To Personal Injury Claims.

[HN11] Under the UTPA, “[a] person who suffers an ascertainable loss of money or property as a result of another person’s act or practice declared unlawful by AS 45.50.471 may bring a civil action to recover for each unlawful act or practice three times the actual damages . . . .”56 Donahue alleges that, by publishing ads that gave the impression the Rock Gym was safe, the Rock Gym engaged in “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce” which are unlawful under the statute.57 [HN12] We have not yet decided whether the statutory phrase “loss of money or property” includes personal injury claims. We now hold that it does not.

56 AS 45.50.531(a) (emphasis added).

57 AS 45.50.471(a).

[HN13] The UTPA was “designed to meet the increasing need in Alaska for the protection of consumers as well as honest businessmen from the depredations of those persons employing unfair or deceptive trade practices.”58 The act protects the consumer from deceptive sales and advertising practices,59 and it protects honest businesses from their unethical [*30] competitors.60 Donahue concedes that we have limited the UTPA to “regulating practices relating to transactions involving consumer goods and services.”61 She contends, however, that because we have never restricted the types of damages available for conduct within the UTPA’s reach, damages for personal injury should be recoverable.

58 W. Star Trucks, Inc. v. Big Iron Equip. Serv., Inc., 101 P.3d 1047, 1052 (Alaska 2004) (quoting House Judiciary Committee Report on HCSCS for S.B. 352, House Journal Supp. No. 10 at 1, 1970 House Journal 744) (court’s emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted).

59 See, e.g., Kenai Chrysler Ctr., Inc. v. Denison, 167 P.3d 1240, 1244-45 (Alaska 2007) (affirming superior court’s award of treble damages against a car dealer for its insistence on enforcing an invalid contract); Pierce v. Catalina Yachts, Inc., 2 P.3d 618, 624 (Alaska 2000) (holding unconscionable sailboat manufacturer’s warranty in favor of buyers).

60 See, e.g., Garrison v. Dixon, 19 P.3d 1229, 1230-31, 1236 (Alaska 2001) (holding suit to be frivolous where real estate buyer’s agents sued competitors, alleging false and misleading advertising); Odom v. Fairbanks Mem’l Hosp., 999 P.2d 123, 127, 131-32 (Alaska 2000) (holding viable physician’s claims against hospital for retaliatory and anticompetitive behavior).

61 See Roberson v. Southwood Manor Assocs., LLC, 249 P.3d 1059, 1062 (Alaska 2011) (holding the UTPA does not apply to residential leases) (citing Aloha Lumber Corp. v. Univ. of Alaska, 994 P.2d 991, 1002 (Alaska 1999) (holding the UTPA does not apply to the sale of standing timber because it is real property rather than a consumer good)).

The superior court observed that there is nothing [*31] in the UTPA’s legislative history to support Donahue’s contention that the Alaska Legislature intended the act “to expand liability for personal injury or wrongful death or to supplant negligence as the basis for such liability.” The superior court identified “significant incongruities between the elements of common law personal injury claims and the UTPA, which suggest that the two claims cannot be reconciled.” The court explained:

For most of the past twenty years the Alaska Legislature has enacted and amended, in various forms, multiple iterations of tort reform aimed at reducing, not expanding, the scope of civil liability for personal injury and wrongful death. Expanding UTPA liability to personal injury and wrongful death would contradict many of the tort reform provisions enacted by the legislature in AS 09.17.010-080. For example, AS 09.17.020 allows punitive damages only if the plaintiff proves defendant’s conduct was outrageous, including acts done with malice or bad motives, or with reckless indifference to the interest of another person. The UTPA, on the other hand, does not require such a culpable mental state and almost as a matter of course allows a person to receive trebled actual damages. [*32] AS 09.17.060 limits a claimant’s recovery by the amount attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault; the UTPA, in contrast, does not provide a contributory fault defense. Moreover, AS 09.17.080 apportions damages between multiple tortfeasors whereas the UTPA does not permit apportionment of damages. A UTPA cause of action for personal injury or wrongful death would sidestep all of these civil damages protections.

We agree with the superior court that [HN14] the private cause of action available under the UTPA conflicts in too many ways with the traditional claim for personal injury or wrongful death for us to assume, without clear legislative direction, that the legislature intended the act to provide an alternative vehicle for such suits. The language of AS 45.50.531(a) — “ascertainable loss of money or property” — does not provide that clear direction. The legislature is well aware of how to identify causes of action involving personal injury and wrongful death, does so in other contexts,62 and declined to do so in this statute.

62 See, e.g., AS 04.21.020(e) (for purposes of statute governing civil liability of persons providing alcoholic beverages, ” ‘civil damages’ includes damages for personal injury, death, or injury to property of a person”); [*33] AS 05.45.200(4) (in statutes governing liability of ski resorts, “‘injury’ means property damage, personal injury, or death”); AS 09.10.070(a) (providing general statute of limitations for “personal injury or death”); AS 09.17.010 (limiting noneconomic damages recoverable “for personal injury or wrongful death”); AS 46.03.825(b)(1) (providing that limitations on oil spill damages do not apply to “an action for personal injury or death”).

Other states have similar laws, and their courts’ interpretations are helpful. Section 531(a) has a counterpart in Oregon’s UTPA, which likewise allows private actions by those who suffer a “loss of money or property.”63 The Oregon Court of Appeals, considering an action for personal injuries occurring after a mechanic allegedly misrepresented the state of a car’s brakes, held that the UTPA was not a vehicle for the pursuit of personal injury claims.64 It held that the Act plainly had a restitutionary purpose — “i.e., restitution for economic loss suffered by a consumer as the result of a deceptive trade practice.”65 It noted the lack of any legislative history “to the effect that by the adoption of that provision the legislature intended to confer upon private individuals a new cause of action for personal injuries, including [*34] punitive damages and attorney fees,” or of “any decisions to that effect by the courts of any of the many other states which have adopted similar statutes.”66 It emphasized the availability of common law remedies, which provided a range of possible causes of action for personal injury — negligence, breach of warranty, and strict products liability — and noted that these remedies provide for a more expansive range of damages, such as pain and suffering, not available under the UTPA.67

63 ORS 646.638(1); ORS 646.608.

64 Gross-Haentjens v. Leckenby, 38 Ore. App. 313, 589 P.2d 1209, 1210-11 (Or. App. 1979).

65 Id. at 1210; see also Fowler v. Cooley, 239 Ore. App. 338, 245 P.3d 155, 161 (Or. App. 2010).

66 Gross-Haentjens, 589 P.2d at 1210-11.

67 Id. at 1211. Other courts have reached similar conclusions. See Beerman v. Toro Mfg. Corp., 1 Haw. App. 111, 615 P.2d 749, 754 (Haw. App. 1980) (“[T]hough individual actions based on damage to a consumer’s property may be within the purview of [the Hawaii consumer protection act], the scope of the statutes does not extend to personal injury actions.”); Kirksey v. Overton Pub, Inc., 804 S.W.2d 68, 73 (Tenn. App. 1990) (“We must hold that the General Assembly intended for the Consumer Protection Act to be used by a person claiming damages for an ascertainable loss of money or property due to an unfair or deceptive act or practice and not in a wrongful death action.”); Stevens v. Hyde Athletic Indus., Inc., 54 Wn. App. 366, 773 P.2d 871, 873 (Wash. App. 1989) (“We hold actions for personal injury do not fall within the coverage of the [Washington consumer protection act].”).

We agree with the reasoning of the Oregon court and conclude that Alaska’s [*35] UTPA does not provide the basis for a claim for personal injury.

C. The Superior Court Did Not Clearly Err In Finding That The Rock Gym Waived Any Claim For Rule 68 Attorney’s Fees.

The superior court granted the Rock Gym, as the prevailing party, 20 percent of its reasonable, actual attorney’s fees under Civil Rule 82(b)(2). [HN15] Twenty percent of “actual attorney’s fees which were necessarily incurred” is the presumptively reasonable award for a party who prevails in a case resolved short of trial but who does not recover a money judgment.68

68 See Williams v. Fagnani, 228 P.3d 71, 77 (Alaska 2010) (“Awards made pursuant to the schedule of Civil Rule 82(b) are presumptively correct.”).

The Rock Gym contends that it should have been awarded fees under Civil Rule 68 instead. [HN16] Rule 68 provides that (a) where an adverse party makes an offer to allow judgment entered against it in complete satisfaction of the claim, and (b) the judgment finally entered is at least five percent less favorable to the offeree than the offer, the offeree shall pay a percentage of the reasonable actual attorney’s fees incurred by the offeror from the date of the offer, the percentage depending on how close the parties are to trial when the offer is made. The Rock Gym made a Rule 68 offer of judgment on February 7, 2012, over two months before [*36] the April trial date. Donahue rejected the offer. Under these facts, once judgment was granted in the Rock Gym’s favor, the conditions for an award of 30 percent of “the offeror’s reasonable actual attorney’s fees” under the Rule 68 schedule were satisfied.69

69 Alaska R. Civ. P. 68(b)(3). We note that the award of fees under Rule 68 was likely to be only nominally greater than that under Rule 82. Rule 68 affects only fees incurred after the date the offer is made, here February 7, 2012. The parties had already completed their summary judgment briefing by that time, and summary judgment was entered a month later.

The question presented here, however, is whether the Rock Gym waived any request for Rule 68 fees. The Rock Gym initially argued to the superior court that it should be awarded full fees because of express language in the release, which reads:

Should [the Rock Gym] or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney’s fees and costs to enforce this agreement, I agree to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs.

While arguing this point, the Rock Gym noted in a footnote that it was eligible for full fees under AS 09.30.065 (the statute authorizing the Rule 68 procedure). But it made that observation only in support of its argument [*37] for full fees under the release. Its motion did not otherwise mention Rule 68; rather, as an alternative to fees under the indemnity clause, the Rock Gym asked the court to use its discretion to award up to 80 percent of its fees under Rule 82 — far more than the scheduled award of 20 percent — in light of Donahue’s “vexatious” behavior, particularly having complicated the case with claims under the UTPA.

The superior court denied the Rock Gym’s request for full fees based on the release and ordered it to submit an affidavit detailing its counsel’s billings. The order also stated, “Plaintiff should address the effect, if any, of defendant’s Rule 68 offer on the amount of fees that may be awarded.” The Rock Gym submitted the required fee affidavit and also moved for reconsideration, again arguing that full fees should be awarded under the release’s indemnity clause; again relying on Rule 82 as an alternative; and failing to mention Rule 68 at all. Donahue submitted no response.

The superior court again rejected the Rock Gym’s argument based on the release’s indemnity clause and ordered the Rock Gym to submit a more detailed fee affidavit. The Rock Gym filed another affidavit which did not address the offer of judgment. [*38]

In its third order, the superior court again rejected the Rock Gym’s request for full attorney’s fees and awarded 20 percent of its fees under Rule 82(b)(2). The Rock Gym again moved for reconsideration. This time the Rock Gym argued that it was entitled to 30 percent of its fees under Rule 68, relying on the footnote in its first motion to contend that the argument was not waived.70

70 As noted above, the increased percentage of attorney’s fees would only apply to those fees incurred after the date the offer of judgment was made; the amount at issue thus appears to be minimal.

The superior court then issued its fourth order on fees. It reaffirmed its Rule 82 award, finding that the Rock Gym had not adequately or timely made a claim under Rule 68. The court observed that the Rock Gym’s failure to make the claim earlier was likely a “tactical decision, initially, to pursue full attorney fees based on indemnity rather than present all of its alternative fee award theories at once.”

[HN17] The superior court’s finding that the Rock Gym waived a request for fees under Rule 68 is reviewed for clear error.71 We see no clear error here. The Rock Gym’s reference to its offer of judgment in its motion for attorney’s fees was made only to support its [*39] request for full fees under the indemnity provision of the release; the only alternative it expressly requested was an award of enhanced fees under Rule 82. As the superior court observed, it was not the court’s duty in this context “to solicit additional arguments for a moving party.”72 Nor was the superior court obliged to consider the Rule 68 argument when it was raised for the first time in motions for reconsideration.73 And under the circumstances of this case, including the modest difference between fee awards under Rule 82 and Rule 68 and an apparent deficiency in the Rule 68 offer itself,74 we cannot see plain error.75

71 See Sengul v. CMS Franklin, Inc., 265 P.3d 320, 324 (Alaska 2011).

72 See, e.g., Forshee v. Forshee, 145 P.3d 492, 498 (Alaska 2006).

73 See Haines v. Cox, 182 P.3d 1140, 1144 (Alaska 2008) (holding that the plaintiff’s submission of evidence only when she moved for reconsideration forecloses her claim that the court abused its discretion by failing to rely on that evidence); Koller v. Reft, 71 P.3d 800, 805 n.10 (Alaska 2003) (noting that superior court is not obliged to consider documents presented for the first time with a motion for reconsideration).

74 The offer did not encompass the Rock Gym’s counterclaim against Donahue for contractual indemnity. See Progressive Corp. v. Peter ex rel. Peter, 195 P.3d 1083, 1089 (Alaska 2008) (“Both Rule 68 and AS 09.30.065 . . . implicitly require that an offer of judgment include all claims between the parties and be capable of completely resolving the case by way of a final [*40] judgment if accepted.”).

75 [HN18] The plain error doctrine requires a party to prove that the error waived below was “so prejudicial that failure to correct it will perpetuate a manifest injustice.” Forshee, 145 P.3d at 500 n.36 (quoting Hosier v. State, 1 P.3d 107, 112 n.11 (Alaska App. 2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

V. CONCLUSION

The judgment of the superior court is AFFIRMED.


Making statements contrary to release can be barred by a release, maybe, but may be gross, wilful and wanton negligence which the release does not stop.

Plaintiff signed a release to participate in the Warrior Dash race. An employee of the race was encouraging participants to dive into a mud pit. Plaintiff dove into the mud pit rendering himself a quadriplegic.

Sa v. Red Frog Events, LLC, 979 F. Supp. 2d 767; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151355

State: Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

Plaintiff: James Sa

Defendant: Red Frog Events, LLC, an Illinois corporation

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct

Defendant Defenses: release and failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted

Holding: for the defendant on the negligence claim because of the release, for the plaintiff on the gross negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct claims

Year: 2013

This case is possible still ongoing. How the final decision will evolve is unknown. However, the federal district court did arrive at some great analysis of the case.

This case comes out of the new fad, extreme obstacle racing. In these races participants run through live electrical wires, jump through fire and here, crawl through a mud pit. These races are known by various names, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race and Tough Mudder are the most well-known.

In this case, the plaintiff signed up for a Warrior Dash 5K race and signed a release. The release specifically warned against diving into the mud pit. The mud pit was right in front of the bleachers and the last obstacle on the course.

At the mud, pit was an employee of the defendant with a microphone, and loudspeaker “acting as an emcee” for the event.

Over the course of the event, this individual continually enticed, encouraged, and specifically told participants to dive into the mud pit. It was common knowledge among participants that diving into the mud pit was not only permitted, but encouraged.

So many people were diving into the mud pit that people were blogging about it and posting photos online.

The plaintiff followed the emcee’s “encouragement” and dove into the mud pit resulting in paralysis from the chest down. The plaintiff sued, and the defendant filed a motion to dismiss.

A motion to dismiss is usually filed by the defendant prior to filing an answer. The basis is the pleadings are so lacking in any facts or there is no law to support a claim. In reviewing the motion, the court must accept the allegations and facts in the complaint as true. It is unclear in reading this case when the motion to dismiss was filed. This opinion is the court’s response to the motion to dismiss.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at whether the release acted to stop the negligence claims of the plaintiff. Releases are valid in Michigan. Under Michigan law a release’s validity:

…turns on the intent of the parties. A release must be fairly and knowingly made to be valid. If the language of a release is clear and unambiguous, the intent of the parties is ascertained from the plain and ordinary meaning of the language.

Whether the release is valid is a question of law. The plaintiff did not argue that he signed the release. The court pointed out possible ways the plaintiff could void the release which the plaintiff did not use.

He does not argue, for example, that (1) he “was “dazed, in shock, or under the influence” when he signed the Waiver; (2) “the nature of the instrument was misrepresented, or (3) there was other fraudulent or overreaching conduct.

Ninety-nine percent of the time plaintiff’s attack the validity of the release based on their competence or understanding of the release. In not doing so, I would guess the plaintiff shocked the judge so he put in this language. The plaintiff’s first argued the release was invalid because:

…that “Red Frog fails to indemnify itself from its own negligent acts” because it “did not use the term ‘negligent’ and/or ‘negligence’ anywhere within the four corners of it’s (sic) Waiver & Release Agreement.

(This argument has been used endlessly and is so easily avoided. Use the word negligence in your release.)

Here the language used by the defendant met the requirements to put the plaintiff on notice that he was giving up his rights to sue for negligence. “…although an indemnity provision does not expressly state that the indemnitee will be shielded from its own negligence, such language is not mandatory to provide such indemnification.”

The release language under Michigan’s law is called the indemnity provision or clause. That translation of the phrase is different from most other states. Here, it is like saying, by signing the release the plaintiff agrees to indemnify himself for his injuries.

…the Waiver, titled as a “Waiver and Release of Claims, Assumption of Risk and Warning of Risk,” informed Plaintiff that he was relinquishing his right to sue Defendant for claims resulting from his participation in the Warrior Dash.

The next argument of the plaintiff’s is brilliant and if successful would bring down hundreds of releases across the United States. Releases written by attorneys or non-attorneys in an attempt to soften the blow will put statements in the release about how safe the activity is, how well run the operation is or that accidents rarely happen.

The plaintiff argued that other statements in the release gave the plaintiff the impression that the defendant would not be negligent in the operation of the race.

For support, Plaintiff points to the disclaimer portion of the Waiver stating that Red Frog: (1) “is committed to conducting its race and activities in a safe manner and holds the safety of participants in high regard;” and (2) “continually strives to reduce such risks and insists that all participants follow safety rules and instructions that are designed to protect the participants’ safety.

The court did not accept this argument because the paragraph this language was in went on stating there was a risk of injury entering the race.

The final argument by the plaintiff was also unique and if accepted would invalidate dozens of releases. The plaintiff argued that the statements by the employee of the defendant, the emcee, invalidated the release. In legal language, the statements of the emcee “constituted a waiver and modification of the release of liability.”

In sum, Plaintiff argues, “[t]his conduct led James [the plaintiff] to believe a waiver had occurred and it was okay and safe to dive into the mud pit. Red Frog failed to correct the actions of participants who dove into the mud pit or further instruct through the speaker system that this type of behavior was not permitted.”

Under Michigan’s law, any waiver of a written contract must be in writing unless the waiver language is consistent with the strict compliance language of the contract. Meaning the waiver language must be of the same type and of the same legal tone as the original contract.

Even assuming that Michigan law permits parties to orally modify a waiver and release, the most Plaintiff has alleged is that Defendant’s actions modified the provision prohibiting Plaintiff from diving into the mud pit head first. Defendant’s actions cannot be interpreted, as pled by Plaintiff, as an agreement to modify the Waiver such that Plaintiff could hold Defendant liable for negligence due to injuries arising out of his participation in the Warrior Dash. Therefore, the Waiver bars Plaintiff’s negligence claim.

The court upheld the validity of the release and held the release stopped the simple negligence claims of the plaintiff.

On the second and third claims, gross negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct, a release under Michigan’s law does not work. The issue then becomes are there enough allegations to the facts in the complaint and documents filed with the court to this point to support the plaintiff’s claim of gross negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct.

Under Michigan’s law:

Gross negligence is “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether injury results.” M.C.L. § 600.2945(d); Xu, 257 Mich. App. at 269. “Evidence of ordinary negligence does not create a question of fact regarding gross negligence.”

Under Michigan’s law, a release does not stop claims for gross negligence. So the gross negligence claim survives the defense of release. The issue then is whether the plaintiff as plead enough facts that a jury may find give rise to gross negligence.

…it is plausible that the act of encouraging Plaintiff — and other participants — to dive into the mud pit head first was so reckless to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury would result.

The court, based upon the statements of the emcee at the mud pit encouraging people to dive into the pit were enough to possibly support a claim for gross negligence.

Under Michigan’s law, Wilful and Want misconduct is different and distinct from gross negligence.

“[W]ilful and wanton misconduct . . . [is] qualitatively different from and more blameworthy than ordinary, or even gross, negligence.”). The elements of a willful and wanton misconduct claim are: “(1) knowledge of a situation requiring the exercise of ordinary care and diligence to avert injury to an-other, (2) ability to avoid the resulting harm by ordinary care and diligence in the use of the means at hand, and (3) the omission to use such care and diligence to avert the threatened danger, when to the ordinary mind it must be apparent that the result is likely to prove disastrous to another.”

…willful and wanton misconduct is made out only if the conduct alleged shows an intent to harm or, if not that, such indifference to whether harm will result as to be the equivalent of a willingness that it does. Willful and wanton misconduct is not . . . a high degree of carelessness.

Here again, the court found the actions of the emcee in encouraging participants to dive into the mud pit might be found to be an intent to harm or an indifference.

Here, a reasonable jury might conclude that the act of encouraging participants to jump head-first into the mud pit despite knowing the risks, to the contrary — at the end of a grueling physical endurance challenge when participants are likely to be physically and mentally exhausted — could be interpreted as such “indifferen[ce] to the likelihood that catastrophe would come to a [race participant.]”

Consequently, the court granted the motion to dismiss on the negligence claims and denied the motion to dismiss on the claims of gross negligence and wilful and wanton misconduct.

Again, this case probably is not over yet.

So Now What? 

Don’t give an injured participant the opportunity to sue you. Don’t dance with the possibility that your language you use instead of the word negligence will meet the requirements of the law.

JUST USE THE WORD NEGLIGENCE IN YOUR RELEASE!

Second, don’t allow anyone who is an employee or may appear to participants to be an employee to encourage people to take actions that might injure them or is contrary to the rules of your activity.

It seems to be common sense; however, in the heat of the activity or an unfounded belief the release is ironclad, people get excited and might encourage a participant to take risks they are not expected or ready for.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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The Iowa Supreme Court reaffirms a Permission Slip is not a release, but leaves open the argument that releases may stop a minor’s claim for negligence.

City Parks Department sued for injuries of an eight-year-old girl hit by a flying bat at a baseball game field trip.

Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873; 2009 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 26

State: Supreme Court of Iowa

Plaintiff: Tara Sweeney, Individually, and by Cynthia Sweeney, Her Mother and Next Friend

Defendant: City of Bettendorf and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release (Permission Slip), No duty owed,

Holding: Split, the permission slip was not a release however there triable issues to the defense of duty owed

Year: 2009

The city recreation department would take kids on field trips to see minor-league baseball games in other cities. The plaintiff was an eight-year-old girl who loved baseball and her mother. The minor went on several of these field trips in the past. Her mother signed the permission slip and she went off on the trip.

In the past, the participants had sat behind home plate which was protected by netting from flying objects. This time the kids were taken to bleachers along the third baseline. They were told they had to sit there and could not move.

During the game, a player lost his grip on the bat which sailed down the third baseline hitting the girl. The minor had turned to talk to her friend when she was struck. No adults were around at the time.

The plaintiffs sued for negligent. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment citing a permission slip the mother had signed as a release and that the plaintiff had not shown a breach of duty owed to the injured minor.

The plaintiff’s opposed the motion for summary judgment arguing:

The plaintiffs further argued that even if the permission slip amounted to a valid release, it was fatally flawed because it purported to release only the Department and not the City. Finally, plaintiffs asserted even if the permission slip amounted to an anticipatory release of future claims based on acts or omissions of negligence, statutory and common law public policy prevents a parent from waiving such claims on behalf of a minor child.

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment based on the permission slip no evidence of a breach of duty. The plaintiff’s appealed.

Summary of the case

The court reviewed several procedural issues and then looked into releases under Iowa law. The court found the permission slip was deficient in many ways.

…the permission slip contains no clear and unequivocal language that would notify a casual reader that by signing the document, a parent would be waiving all claims relating to future acts or omissions of negligence by the City. The language at issue here refers only to “accidents” generally and contains nothing specifically indicating that a parent would be waiving potential claims for the City’s negligence.

Based on the language in the permission slip the court found it could not enforce the release because it was not a release.

Next the court looked at whether being hit by a bat at a baseball game was an inherent risk of being a spectator at a baseball game. In Iowa this is called the inherent risk doctrine. (This doctrine is very similar to a secondary assumption of risk argument.) What created a difference in this issue, is the issue of whether a flying bat is an inherent risk, is a defense of the baseball team/promoter/owner or field rather than a city recreation department field trip.

In the majority of cases, spectators sitting outside protective netting at baseball stadiums have been unable to recover from owners or operators for injuries related to errant bats and balls on the ground that such injuries were an “inherent risk” of attending the game.

Regardless of whether the approach is characterized as involving inherent risk or a limited duty, courts applying the doctrine have held that the owner or operator of a baseball stadium is not liable for injury to spectators from flying bats and balls if the owner or operator provided screened seating sufficient for spectators who may be reasonably anticipated to desire such protection and if the most dangerous areas of the stands, ordinarily the area behind home plate, were so protected.

Because the inherent risk was not one of a field trip, the court found differently than if the defense was argued by the owner of the field. The issue was not one of attending a sporting event invited by the event, but supervision of a minor child by a recreation department.

A negligent supervision case is fundamentally different than a case involving premises liability. The eight-year-old child in this case made no choice, but instead sat where she was told by the Department. The plaintiffs further claim that there was inadequate adult supervision where the child was seated. The alleged negligence in this case does not relate to the instrumentality of the injury, but instead focuses on the proper care and supervision of children in an admittedly risky environment.

As a negligent supervision case, the recreation department owed a different type and a higher degree of care to the minor.

Viewed as a negligent supervision case, the City had a duty to act reasonably, under all the facts and circumstances, to protect the children’s safety at the ball park. The gist of the plaintiffs’ claim is that a substantial cause of the injury was the supervisors’ decision to allow the children, who cannot be expected to be vigilant at all times during a baseball game, to be seated in what a jury could conclude was an unreasonably hazardous location behind third base instead of behind the safety of protective netting.

Add to this the change in sitting and the restrictions the adults placed on where the minors could sit and the court found there was a clear issue as to liability.

The third issue reviewed by the court was whether the recreation department failed to provide an adequate level of care to the minor. Here the court agreed with the recreation department. Not because the level of care was sufficient, but because the plaintiff could not prove the level of care was inadequate.

There was a dissent in this case, which argued that the risk of being hit by a bat was an inherent risk of attending a baseball game and that the permission slip was a valid release.

The case was then sent back for trial on the negligence claims of the plaintiff.

So Now What?

What is of interest is the single sentence that argues a release signed by an adult stops the claims of a minor. It was argued by the plaintiff’s as one of the ways the permission slip was invalid. However, the court did not look at the issue in its review and decision in the case.

The court’s review was quite clear on releases. If you do not have the proper language in your release, you are only killing trees. It was a stretch, and a good one, by the recreation department to argue that a document intended to prove the minor could be on a field trip was also a release of claims.

Releases are different legal documents and require specific language.

You also need to remember that defenses that are available to a lawsuit are not just based on the activity, like baseball, but the relationship of the parties to the activity. If the minor child had attended the baseball game on her own or with her parents, the Iowa Inherent Risk Doctrine would have probably prevented a recovery. However, because the duty owed was not from a baseball game to a spectator, but from a recreation department to a minor in its care, the inherent risk defense was not available.

 

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Proof of negligence requires more than an accident and injuries. A Spectator at a rodeo needed proof of an improperly maintained gate.

Spectators are business invitees, which are owed a high degree of care and never sign a release. Any event, sport, race or contest, the greatest chance of a lawsuit winning comes from those watching.

Mahan v. Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo, 320 Ark. 473; 897 S.W.2d 571; 1995 Ark. LEXIS 296; 68 A.L.R.5th 813

State: Arkansas Supreme Court

Plaintiff: Melonie Mahan as Next and Best Friend of Shawn Mahan

Defendant: Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: no negligence

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 1995

The injured minor paid to attend a rodeo put on by the defendant at the local fairgrounds. After finding their seat, the minor and a friend went to get a drink. They then walked around looking at the event. A horse bucked it’s rider off, circled the inside of the arena then broke through the gate where the two youth were standing injuring them. The plaintiff also argued that their view of the horse coming at them was blocked by the rodeo announcer.

The mother of the injured youth sued on behalf of herself and her son. The fairground was sued and settled out of court. The rodeo was put on by the defendant Keith Hall Rodeo. The court directed a verdict for the defendant finding the plaintiff had not proven their case. No evidence was presented that the defendant Rodeo was negligent.

A directed verdict is a decision by the court that one party has completely failed to prove their case, and the other party must win. Directed verdicts can be granted at any time during a trial or after the jury has rendered its verdict. “A motion for directed verdict may only be granted if there is no substantial evidence to support a jury verdict.” Directed verdicts are rare.

Summary of the case

The injured youth was a business invitee which the defendant owed a “duty to use reasonable care to prevent injuries” to him. The plaintiff argued that the fact the horse got through the gate was proof the gate was not secure. However, proof of an injury is not proof of negligence.

The trial court agreed, finding that while Ms. Mahan had proven an accident and had shown where it had occurred, she had not shown any breach of duty on the part of Mr. Hall. It is from the trial court’s granting of Mr. Hall’s motion for a directed verdict that Shawn appeals.

The court defined negligence as:

…the failure to do something which a reasonably careful person would do; a negligent act arises from a situation where an ordinarily prudent person in the same situation would foresee such an appreciable risk of harm to others that he would not act or at least would act in a more careful manner.

However, the plaintiff was not able to present any testimony or proof that the gate was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition. “…the fact that a[n] injury, collision or accident occurred is not of itself evidence of negligence or fault on the part of anyone.”

The Supreme Court upheld the directed verdict of the trial court.

So Now What?

Two important points can be found in this decision. The first is just because there is an injury does not mean there is a lawsuit. The defendant must have done something or not done something to create liability.

The second is the identification of a very large group of potential plaintiffs. If you host/put on/conduct events/contests/races or other activities were spectators are present, anything goes wrong injuring a spectator you might be liable. Spectators are owed a high degree of care, based on the state, and you are probably required to keep them safe. Spectators don’t sign releases and if they are viewing the activity in an area where you have allowed them to stand, then assumption of the risk is probably not available as a defense.

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Well written decision from Wyoming defines release law and how releases should be written.

This case is interesting because one of the attempts to remove the release from the decision was a claim the plaintiff was at the defendant gym working out because he was told to by a physician, and the gym was owned by a different physician.

Massengill, v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

Plaintiff: James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill

Defendant: S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence, loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

The plaintiff was injured when a pin in a lat-pull-down machine that secured the weights came out, and he fell backwards injuring his wrist. The plaintiff sued, and the defendant raised the defense of release.

The plaintiff was told by his physician to exercise more. One day while at a drugstore, he had met an owner of the defendant gym, a physician, who talked to him about the gym.

The plaintiff and his wife went to the gym. They were given a release and told to take it home and read it. Three days later the plaintiff’s came back, signed the release and began to use the facilities.

The plaintiff had not asked for instructions on the lat-pull-down machine and did not ask for any because he had used one previously. He had been using the particular machine for a month and had noticed that the pin did not appear to fit when he was injured.

The trial court ruled the release was valid and barred the claims of the plaintiffs, dismissing the case. The plaintiff’s appealed. This case is based in Wyoming, which only has trial courts and the Wyoming Supreme Court, in intermediate appellate courts.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the language of the release, to determine if the language was clear and unequivocal.

Our reading of the Agreement and Release convinces us that the intention of S.M.A.R.T., and the Massengills is expressed in clear and unequivocal language. The language clearly assigns the risk to members who agree to be liable for any and all risks. The Agreement and Release continues with an unequivocal statement that S.M.A.R.T. shall not be liable for any injuries or damages to any member or the member’s property, including those caused by the negligence of S.M.A.R.T.

The court found the language was clear and unequivocal as well as broad and specially released the defendant from claims and actions for negligence.

The court then examined the release based on contract law. Releases are contracts and are interpreted using traditional contract principles. The entire document is examined as a whole.

The language of the Agreement and Release is clear in manifesting an intention to release S.M.A.R.T. and those involved with the facility from liability; it specifically states that S.M.A.R.T. will not be held liable for “those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents.”

Wyoming has four factors to examine to determine if a release is valid.

(1) whether a duty to the public exists;

(2) the nature of the service performed;

(3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and

(4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language

The court found the release in question was properly reviewed by the trial court, and the release met all four tests. The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims the release violated public policy. Under Wyoming law, a duty to the public exists “if the nature of the business or service affects the public interest, and the service performed is considered an essential service.” A release that affecting a public interest giving rise to a duty to the public is one that:

“concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it * * *. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.”

In Wyoming, this list of businesses would be “common carriers, hospitals and doctors, public utilities, innkeepers, public warehousemen, employers, and services involving extra-hazardous activities.”

A health club or gym is recreational in nature and do not meet the requirements and do not qualify as a business suitable for public regulation. A gym or health club is not essential.

The services offered by S.M.A.R.T. to its members were those of a private recreational business which did not qualify as suitable for public regulation because they did not affect the public interest nor could they be considered as necessary or essential….

Then court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims that he was at the gym for medical reasons. However, the court could find no evidence that the plaintiff was at the gym engaging in rehabilitation.

The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claim that there was a disparity of bargaining power between the parties which should void the release. However, this argument also failed.

Since membership in a private recreational facility such as S.M.A.R.T. is purely optional and does not qualify as an essential service, no decisive bargaining advantage exists. “A disparity of bargaining power will be found when a contracting party with little or no bargaining strength has no reasonable alternative to entering the contract at the mercy of the other’s negligence.

The plaintiff’s raised one final argument that claimed the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123:

…creates a statutory duty on the part of providers of a sport or recreational opportunity because it preserves actions based upon negligence if damage or injury is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity.

The court called this a convoluted argument and did not agree with the argument.

The final argument was based on the wife’s claim for loss of consortium. The court held there were two different ways this claim also failed. The first was the wife signed a release at the same time as her husband; the plaintiff and the release stopped her suit. Also because her claim of loss of consortium is derivative, meaning only can exist if the original claim exists, then her claim fails also.

The record reflects that Massengill’s participation was purely recreational and S.M.A.R.T. did not owe him a public duty. S.M.A.R.T. is not engaged in a type of business generally thought suitable for public regulation, and Massengill was engaged in a recreational activity not an activity pursuant to a physician’s order.

The court upheld the trial courts dismissal of the claims.

So Now What?

This is a great decision to assist in writing a release in Wyoming. Of interest was the fact the court pointed out, the plaintiffs were given three days to review the release before signing.

The four requirements for a release are similar to most other states. How you deal with the issue of someone at your facility for health or rehabilitation reasons might present a problem.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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What do most attorneys think of extreme sports? ABA article provides some idea of their thinking.

However, even the American Bar Association (ABA) article is almost evenly written. What it does is bring up additional way’s plaintiff’s attorneys are attacking releases. It is well worth the read.

Here are some interesting quotes from the article.

However, unlike in other sports, the inherent risks aren’t always obvious; indeed, they are often intentionally magnified to titillate participants and crowds. This pushes the new sport somewhat outside the traditional framework of negligence and assumption of risk.

There seems to be a theory that the inherent risks are part of the necessity of a release. I’m not sure I agree, but I always suggest you include the risks, inherent and otherwise in your release.

Indeed, Tough Mudder racers often brag about having “survived” the event after signing what they like to call the “death waiver,” essentially a catchy phrase for any liability waiver that encompasses death. Obstacle course racing companies routinely tout the fact that participants could die during their event, upping the ante for thrill-seekers.

You can die doing anything. Consequently, you should point out in any release that a participant can die. I’ve known of a two lawsuits where someone had a heart attack while rafting, then fell in the river.

But critics argue that the waivers don’t adequately disclose the full panoply of dangers, and that many of the obstacles are made unnecessarily perilous.

The issue here is if the injured plaintiff can argue and prove that you purposely left out risks your release may be void. You are always at risk if you increase the risk of an activity and do not inform your guests.

“Lines have to be drawn between what the participants are signing up for and what they’re actually getting,” says Sengupta’s attorney, Robert J. Gilbert of the Andover, Mass.-based firm Gilbert & Renton. “Participants sign up for the challenge, but it’s less clear that they sign up for the dangers—particularly the undisclosed dangers or gratuitous dangers.”

Here again, this is another argument showing that you cannot mislead your guests or participants.

For example, defendants typically cannot escape liability in the event that their conduct in any way increased the risk of the activity, say, purposely shaping a ski jump to be wantonly dangerous or failing to put water stations on a marathon course. Another question pertaining to the enforceability of a waiver is whether the risk could be removed without changing the nature of the activity.

The first issue is obvious. The second, whether the increased risk can be changed, is where people, in these case writers and attorneys get lost. They do not understand the personal and emotional goals someone receives when they reach these goals or participate in these sports.

The following quote sums up the legal issues that you must be aware of!

On the one hand Tough Mudder holds up signs saying ‘Remember you signed a death waiver’ … while trying to downplay the same risk that they’re encouraging their participants to accept. That leads to questions of fraudulent inducement.”

Fraudulent inducement voids a release, and in some states would make you liable for additional damages and/or claims of negligence greater than ordinary negligence.

What I did get a kick out of was the sign from the Tough Mudder events.

clip_image002

Based on the sign, I think you opted out of death, right?

Read the article and read the comments both are enlightening.

See: Extreme sports are more popular than ever, prompting questions about legal liability.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Indiana decision upholds release signed by mother for claims of an injured daughter for the inherent risks of softball. However, language of the decision may apply to well written releases to stop all claims for negligence.

Decision appears to add Indiana to the list of states were a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries.

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

Date of the Decision: August 31, 2012

Plaintiff: Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. f/k/a Wabash Community Service, Appellant-Defendant

Defendant: Taylor M. Thompson, a minor, by next friends, Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson

Plaintiff (Defendant on Appeal) Claims: negligent and violated its duty to protect Taylor by its failure to inspect, warn, and implement preventive measures designed to eliminate or reduce dangers posed by the condition of the second base “such that it was fixed as a rigid obstacle for participants to encounter while sliding into the base and, thereby, posing a clear safety hazard

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Release signed by the mother of the injured plaintiff (defendant on appeal) barred claims for the inherent risks of playing softball

Again, the plaintiff on appeal was the defendant in the trial court. The defendant at the trial court level filed a motion to dismiss. The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed that decision. Because of that timeline, the defendant became the plaintiff on appeal. Because of the confusion, I’ll just refer to the parties by their names: YMCA and Thompson.

The mother of Thompson, 17 years old at the time of her injury, signed a release to allow her daughter to play softball. The release was quite bad. It did not contain solid language, the word release, or explain any risks except the inherent risks of softball. The trial court rejected the YMCA’s argument and denied its motion for summary judgment based on the release.

The YMCA appealed the decision to the Indiana Appellate Court which reversed the decision.

Of note and of interest, Indian defines negligence in three steps, not the normal four steps as defined by the appellate court in this case.

In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff is required to prove:

(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;

(2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and

(3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach.”

Basically, Indiana combines the majority third and fourth step into Indiana’s third step to define the requirements to prove negligence.

Summary of the case

Thompson first argued that an Indiana statute required any release for a minor to be approved by the court before it became effective. Many states require court approval of the settlement of the claims of minors.

The court quickly dismissed this argument because the statute in question was part of the probate law of Indiana and only dealt with post injury claims. Thompson did not raise any other arguments against the release so the court declared the release valid.

The court then went through the requirements for a valid release under Indiana’s law.

It is well established in Indiana that exculpatory agreements are not against public policy. “Generally, parties are permitted to agree that a party owes no obligation of care for the benefit of another, and thus, shall not be liable for consequences that would otherwise be considered negligent.” However, this court has held that an exculpatory clause will not act to absolve a party from liability unless it “‘specifically and explicitly refer[s] to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability.'” An exculpatory clause may be found sufficiently specific and explicit on the issue of negligence even in the absence of the word itself. Furthermore, an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity.

Of greater note was this statement from the court. “The requirement of specificity is only necessary when the risk of harm is a latent danger, i.e. the defendant’s own negligence.”

This may lead you to believe, and I believe properly that a properly written release would top a minor’s claim for negligence under Indiana Law.

The court concluded the release signed by the mother did not release the YMCA for all negligent acts because it was written so poorly. However, it will release the YMCA for what was stated in the release, the inherent risks of softball.

The court then reviewed whether sliding into a base was an inherent risk of softball.

Sliding into second base, notwithstanding its rigidity, is an activity inherent in the nature of playing baseball or softball and we conclude that Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity.

So Now What?

It appears that Indiana will allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. A well-written release, including the magic word negligence, which identifies the risks other than the inherent risks, would stop a claim for negligence.

A well-written release would have eliminated half of this decision, maybe even the appeal. If the proper language, the magic word negligence and a broader definition of the risks were in the release, this case would have been decided faster and with less worthy.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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New York judge uses NY law to throw out claim for gross negligence because the facts did not support the claim. The release stopped the claims the plaintiff suffered running in a half marathon.

The plaintiff slipped and fell on ice while trying to leave the course to tie his shoe. He sued the City of New York, NYC Department of Parks, New York Road Runners, Inc. and Road Runners Club of America for his injuries. He alleged gross negligence for having him leave the course if he had a problem where he fell on ice.

Zuckerman v. The City of New York, 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 465; 2011 NY Slip Op 30410(U)

Plaintiff: Jonathan Zuckerman

Defendant: The City of New York, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, New York Road Runners, Inc. and Road Runners Club Of America

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the defendants

 

At the beginning of this half marathon that ran through Central Park in New York City, the plaintiff was instructed with other runners to leave the course if they had a problem. This was done so runners would not run into each other.

The plaintiff was an experienced runner who had participated in 100 events. During the race, he left the course to tie his shoe. He slipped on ice next to the course suffering this injury.

The release in this case was short; however, it was long enough to cover the important points according to the court. The release specifically mentioned “falls” as a risk of the activity and had the plaintiff agree to release claims due to negligence.

The release was signed by the plaintiff electronically. The signors had to elect to accept the terms or reject the terms. If they runner rejected the terms of the release, they could not register for the race.

Summary of the case

The court started by looking at the legal requirements in New York that affect the validity of a release.

Contractual agreements to waive liability for a party’s negligence, although frowned upon, are generally enforceable were not expressly prohibited by law.

Language relieving one from liability must be unmistakable and easily understood.

Agreements to indemnify for gross negligence or willful behavior, however, are void.

The court also defined the requirements to support a claim for gross negligence in an effort to overcome a release. “Gross negligence, when invoked to pierce an agreed-upon limitation of liability . . . must smack of intentional wrongdoing . . . that evinces a reckless indifference to the rights of others.”

It is refreshing to see the court recognize the claim as one trying to evade the release as a defense. The court stated, “I need only address whether there exist factual issues as to whether NYRR was grossly negligent and whether the accident was outside the scope of the waiver.”

The court reviewed the release and found the risk the plaintiff undertook was specifically identified in the release, a fall. The court also found the instructions the race official gave to the participants to leave the race course were reasonable. There was no greater liability attributed to the race promoter for having runners leave the course because to fail to do so would have runners running into each other on the course.

Having looked at the facts and the release, the court found that gross negligence could not reasonably be drawn from those facts.

City of New York’s Motions

The City of New York moved to amend its complaint to include the defense of Release. The city was named in the release as an entity to be protected by the release but had not pled the defense of release. As such the court had to grant the cities motion to amend its answer so it could plead the additional defense.

In another action that is rarely done in courts, the court reviewed the law on granting motions to amend and then granted the motion. The court then said since it had already ruled that a release stopped the plaintiff’s claims against the sponsor, it would also stop the plaintiff’s claims against the city and dismissed the city from the case.

So Now What?

It is rare to see a court take the initiative to do undertake these two actions. The first to throw out the gross negligence claims and the second to throw out the negligence claims of the city without a motion for summary judgment. Courts are reluctant to take such acts or the rules of civil procedure will not allow a court to do so.

The decision is also valuable because it defines what gross negligence is in New York.

Here an electronic release that was well written stopped the plaintiff’s claims against the race promoter and the entities the release also protected.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Zuckerman v. The City of New York, 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 465; 2011 NY Slip Op 30410(U)

Zuckerman v. The City of New York, 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 465; 2011 NY Slip Op 30410(U)

[**2] Jonathan Zuckerman, Plaintiff, -against- The City of New York, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, New York Road Runners, Inc. and Road Road Runners Club Of America, Defendants.

105044/2010

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY

2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 465; 2011 NY Slip Op 30410(U)

February 18, 2011, Decided

February 23, 2011, Filed

NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.

CORE TERMS: runner, marathon, gross negligence, affirmative defense, amend, enforceable, reply, factual issues, participating, oppose, ice, exit, nunc pro tunc, risks associated, reckless indifference, grossly negligent, collectively, spectators, humidity, website, weather, traffic, invoked, waive, heat, void, registration, disbursements, encompassed, registrant

COUNSEL: [*1] For Plaintiff: Frank Taubner, Esq., Jasne & Florio, LLP, White Plains, NY.

For defendant NYRR: Deborah Peters Jordan, Esq., Havkins, Rosenfeld et al, New York, NY.

For defendant City: Anthony Bila, ACC, Michael A. Cardozo, Corporation Counse, New York, NY.

JUDGES: Barbara Jaffe, JSC.

OPINION BY: Barbara Jaffe

OPINION

DECISION & ORDER

By notice of motion dated August 20, 2010, defendants New York Road Runners, Inc. and Road Runners Club of America (collectively, NYRR) move pursuant to CPLR 3212 for an order summarily dismissing the complaint, and defendant Road Runners Club of America, Inc. (RRCA) moves pursuant to CPLR 3211(c) for an order dismissing the complaint. Plaintiff opposes as to NYRR, and does not oppose as to RRCA. Defendants City and New York City Department of Recreation (collectively, City) move separately pursuant to CPLR 3025(c) for an order granting leave to amend their answer nunc pro tunc to add an affirmative defense, and pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) and (a)(7) for an order dismissing the complaint. Plaintiff opposes City’s motion.

[**3] I. FACTS

NYRR conducts more than 100 events a year, including the Manhattan Half Marathon (Half Marathon). (Affirmation of Kenneth L. Winell, Esq., dated Aug. 20, 2010 [Winell [*2] Aff.], Exh. D). Participants in the Half Marathon register through NYRR’s website which contains the following provision:

I know that participating in NYRR events is a potentially hazardous activity. I agree not to enter and participate unless I am medically able and properly trained. I agree to abide by any decision of an event official relative to my ability to safely complete the event. I am voluntarily entering and assume all risks associated with participating in the event, including, but not limited to, falls, contact with other participants, spectators or others, the effect of the weather, including heat and/or humidity, traffic and the conditions of the course, all such risks being known and appreciated by me. I grant to the Medical Director of this event and his designee access to my medical records and physicians, as well as other information, relating to medical care that may be administered to me as a result of my participation in this event. Having read this Waiver and knowing these facts, and in consideration of your acceptance of this application, I, for myself and anyone entitled to act of my behalf, waive and release New York Road Runners Club, Inc., Road Runners Club [*3] of America, USA Track & Field, the City of New York and its agencies and departments, the Metropolitan Athletics Congress, and all sponsors, and their representatives and successors, from present and future claims and liabilities of any kind, known or unknown, arising out of my participation in this event or related activities, even though such claim or liability may arise out of negligence or fault on the part of the foregoing persons or entities. I grant permission to the foregoing persons and entities to use or authorize others to use any photographs, motions pictures, recordings, or any other record of my participation in this event or related activities for any legitimate purpose without remuneration.

(Id., Exhs. C.F. [emphases added]). The registrant must then either select “I accept and agree to the above waiver,” or “I do not accept and do not agree to the above waiver.” (Id.) If the registrant selects the latter, he cannot register. (Id., Exh. C).

Plaintiff, a member of NYRR, is an experienced runner, having participated in over 100 NYRR events. (Affirmation of Frank Taubner, Esq., dated Oct. 11, 2010 [Taubner Aff.]). He registered for the 2009 Half Marathon online approximately [*4] one week earlier, and recalls seeing [**4] a waiver as part of the registration procedure. (Id.).

At approximately 8:00 a.m. on January 25, 2009, plaintiff arrived at the starting area of the Half Marathon in Central Park. (Id.). Snow banks flanked the course’s pathways. (Id.). An NYRR official orally instructed the participants that if they had to stop for any reason, they were to exit the course and proceed to the shoulder of the roadway so as not to block other participants. (Id.). While running, plaintiffs shoe became untied and seeing no designated exit areas, he stepped off the path as instructed and proceeded to what he believed to be a patch of dirt. (Id.). There, he slipped on ice that he had not seen, and fell backward, seriously injuring himself. (Id.).

II. NYRR’S MOTION

A. Contentions

NYRR contends that it is entitled to summary dismissal as plaintiff executed a valid and enforceable waiver of liability, and because it did not organize, supervise or control the half marathon. (Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, dated Aug. 2010 [NYRR Mem.]). In support, it annexes the affidavits of three of its employees, (id., Exhs. C, D, E), a copy of the waiver (id, [*5] Exh. F), and proof of plaintiffs registration (id., Exh. F).

Plaintiff argues that in light of defendants’ gross negligence and his compliance with the instructions given at the commencement of the half marathon that he exit the course if he needed to stop, the waiver is unenforceable. He also denies having assumed the risk of slipping on ice when exiting the course. (Taubner Aff.).

In reply, NYRR asserts that plaintiff’s injury is encompassed by the waiver and that plaintiff has failed to establish that NYRR’s conduct rises to the level of gross negligence. (Reply [**5] Affirmation of Deborah Peters Jordan, Esq., dated Nov. 18, 2010).

B. Analysis

Contractual agreements to waive liability for a party’s negligence, although frowned upon, are generally enforceable where not expressly prohibited by law. (Gross v Sweet, 49 NY2d 102, 105, 400 N.E.2d 306, 424 N.Y.S.2d 365 [1979]). Language relieving one from liability must be unmistakable and easily understood. (Id. at 107). Agreements to indemnify for gross negligence or willful behavior, however, are void. (Id. at 106). “Gross negligence, when invoked to pierce an agreed-upon limitation of liability . . . must smack of intentional wrongdoing . . . that evinces a reckless indifference [*6] to the rights of others.” (Sommer v Fed. Signal Corp., 79 NY2d 540, 554, 593 N.E.2d 1365, 583 N.Y.S.2d 957 [1992]; Abacus Fed. Sav. Bank v ADT Sec. Servs., Inc., 77 A.D.3d 431, 433, 908 N.Y.S.2d 654 [1st Dept 2010]).

As plaintiff does not deny that he agreed to the waiver or that it is generally enforceable and not void as a matter of law or public policy, I need only address whether there exist factual issues as to whether NYRR was grossly negligent and whether the accident was outside the scope of the waiver. That the waiver references the “conditions of the course” does not remove plaintiff’s accident from its scope as the waiver extends to “all risks associated with participating in the event, including, but not limited to, falls, contact with other participants, spectators or others, the effect of the weather, including heat and/or humidity, traffic and the conditions of the course.” The breadth of the provision permits the inference that plaintiff was aware that by executing the waiver, he assumed the risks of running through Central Park in the winter, where the presence of ice is reasonably anticipated, which risks are reasonably deemed part of the activity, and not just of the course. (See Bufano v Nat. Inline Roller Hockey Assn., 272 A.D.2d 359, 707 N.Y.S.2d 223 [**6] [2d Dept 2000] [*7] [plaintiff assumed risk of injury during fight while playing inline roller hockey]), Nothing in the provision precludes its application to accidents incurred by a participant who momentarily steps off the course.

And, although plaintiff acted in compliance with defendants’ instruction to leave the race course if he needed to stop, such an instruction constitutes a sensible means of protecting participants from colliding with one another, and neither invites nor would naturally lead to an accident sufficient to constitute reckless indifference. Consequently, an inference of gross negligence is not reasonably drawn therefrom. (See Lemoine v Cornell Univ., 2 AD3d 1017, 769 N.Y.S.2d 313 [3d Dept 2003], lv denied 2 N.Y.3d 701, 810 N.E.2d 912, 778 N.Y.S.2d 459 [2005] [plaintiff fell from wall after rock-climbing instructor told her where to place her hands and feet; waiver of liability enforced; not gross negligence]). And, assuming that NYRR had a duty to keep the park free of slippery substances, the failure to do so constitutes ordinary negligence at best.

Given this result, I need not address RRCA’s alternative argument that it did not organize, supervise, or control the half marathon.

III. CITY’S MOTION

A. Contentions

City argues that it should [*8] be granted leave to amend its answer to add an affirmative defense that the action is barred by plaintiffs execution of a written release. It observes that leave is freely granted, that plaintiff will no suffer no prejudice, and that, although this motion was served after joinder of issue, it is procedurally proper as City moves pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) as well as (a)(5). (Affirmation of Anthony Bila, ACC, dated Sept. 29, 2010).

Plaintiff asserts that City is not entitled to dismissal given the factual issues as to City’s [**7] gross negligence and whether plaintiff’s accident is encompassed by the waiver, and that the motion to amend should be denied because the affirmative defense is meritless and prejudicial. (Taubner Aff.).

In reply, City maintains that as it moves only pursuant to CPLR 3211, the existence of factual issues is immaterial. It contends that the amendment is meritorious and will not prejudice plaintiff, and that plaintiffs accident falls squarely within the scope of the waiver and that there is no evidence of gross negligence. (Reply Affirmation of Anthony Bila, ACC, dated Nov. 18, 2010).

B. Analysis

Although objections pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) are waived if not invoked [*9] in the movant’s answer (CPLR 3211 [e]), a motion to amend an answer may be granted in order that the affirmative defense be addressed on the merits. (Siegel, NY Prac § 274, at 435 [3d ed]; Marks v Macchiarola, 221 AD2d 217, 634 N.Y.S.2d 56 [1st Dept 1995]). Thus, and absent any discernible prejudice given plaintiffs having addressed the substance of the motion above (II. A.), leave is granted. (Cf Young v GSL Enter., Inc., 170 AD2d 401, 566 N.Y.S.2d 618 [1st Dept 1991] [Supreme Court properly addressed merits of proposed affirmative defense in motion to amend]; Scheff v St. John’s Episcopal Hosp., 115 AD2d 532, 534, 496 N.Y.S.2d 58 [2d Dept 1985] [same]).

Although plaintiff executed the waiver on NYRR’s website, City was expressly included therein. (See Brookner v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., 51 AD3d 841, 858 N.Y.S.2d 348 [2d Dept 2008], lv denied 11 N.Y.3d 704, 894 N.E.2d 1198, 864 N.Y.S.2d 807 [upholding waiver against NYRR and City]; cf Tedesco v Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Auth, 250 AD2d 758, 673 N.Y.S.2d 181 [2d Dept 1998] [bicycle tour waiver included party not specifically named in release]). Moreover, the waiver of liability is a release within the meaning [**8] of CPLR 3211(a)(5). (See Brookner, 51 AD3d 841, 858 N.Y.S.2d 348).

Having already determined that the waiver is enforceable as against plaintiff, and as NYRR’s [*10] conduct was not grossly negligent, the same result is reached as to City.

IV. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED, that the motion for summary judgment by New York Road Runners, Inc. and Road Runners Club of America is granted, and the complaint dismissed against them with costs and disbursements to defendants as taxed by the Clerk upon the submission of an appropriate bill of costs; it is further

ORDERED, that the motion by City of New York and New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for leave to serve an amended answer is granted, and the annexed answer is deemed timely served, nunc pro tunc; and it is further

ORDERED, that the motion for dismissal as against City of New York and New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is granted, and the complaint dismissed against them with costs and disbursements to defendants as taxed by the Clerk upon the submission of an appropriate bill of costs.

This constitutes the decision and order of the court.

/s/ Barbara Jaffe

Barbara Jaffe, JSC

DATED: February 18, 2011

New York, New York

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Will New York entertain counterclaims for attorney fees and costs to a prevailing defendant?

Underlying claim is dismissed for assumption of the risk. Falling out of the sky is obviously dangerous.

Nutley v SkyDive the Ranch, 2009 NY Slip Op 6153; 883 N.Y.S.2d 530; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5999 (N.Y. Appel. First 2009)

Plaintiff: Lisa Nutley

Defendant: SkyDive the Ranch

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release and Assumption of the risk, counterclaim for attorney fees based on the release

Holding: for the defendant on the claims based on assumption of the risk

 

This is an interesting case. To understand the case, I’ve also posted the trial court opinion leading to the appeal of this case.

The spouse of the plaintiff bought her a tandem sky dive as a gift. During the jump, the main shoot did not open. The reserve shoot did open. During the jump, the plaintiff broke her third and fourth fingers on her right hand. She sued for negligence.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims based on the three releases she had signed and the video and instruction she had watched.

The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment (Nutley v. Skydive The Ranch, 22 Misc. 3d 1122(A); 881 N.Y.S.2d 365; 2009 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 274; 2009 NY Slip Op 50223(U); 241 N.Y.L.J. 23) and the defendant appealed.

Summary of the case

The basis of the denial of the motion for summary judgment is a New York statute which prohibited the use of a release for recreational activities. New York General Obligations Law (“GOL”) §5-326. The lawsuit was dismissed because the trial court found the defendant operated a sky-diving  facility as a recreational business. The Defendant had argued that it was an educational business which does not fall under §5-326.

The appellate court found the releases were void under the New York statute.

The appellate court found that the risks of the activity were fairly obvious, and the plaintiff had assumed the risk of her injuries.

Here, the risk of the main parachute failing to open during a tandem sky dive was perfectly obvious. Indeed, plaintiff was given a reserve parachute. Plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the injury-causing event resulted from defendant’s negligence, creating unique and dangerous conditions beyond those inherent in the sport

The court then went back to its decision on releases and found the language attempting to release the defendant for negligence was void; however, the rest of the release was still valid.

So much of the waiver and release signed by plaintiff as purports to exempt defendant from its own negligence is void under General Obligations Law § 5-326. Severance of that provision leaves the rest of the contract intact…

Part of one of the releases had included a clause that any suit required the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s damages of attorney fees and costs. The defendant filed  a counterclaim against the plaintiff based upon this clause. The court did not rule on this issue finding that the trial court needed to look into whether this clause violated public policy as advanced by the statute that voids releases.

As to defendant’s counterclaims, however, we note that whether agreements not to sue a defendant and to pay its attorney’s fees and litigation costs might transgress the public policy of promoting recreational activities advanced by § 5-326 does not appear to have been considered by the courts.

The matter was sent back to the trial court to determine if the counterclaim for attorney fees and costs of the defendant violated New York Public policy and for any defenses the plaintiff may have to the defendant’s counterclaims.

So Now What?

The defendant lost on the defense of release, but won on the defense of assumption of the risk. The defendant might win on the opportunity to sue the plaintiff for attorney fees and costs in the assumption of risk agreements (since the releases are void).

This case appears to be fairly clear in its approach and decision. You can get hurt if you fall out of the sky. That is pretty obvious. Therefore, you assume the risk.

The argument about the sky-diving  facility being an educational business rather than recreation is discussed in the trial court decision. That argument made by the defendant was based on Lemoine v Cornell University, 2 A.D.3d 1017; 769 N.Y.S.2d 313; 2003 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 13209 (NY 2003). In Lemoine, the university was subject to the statute which voids releases in New York, but because it was an educational organization and not one for recreation, the statute did not apply.

What is different is the issue that the court held out the possibility that a demand for attorney fees and costs to a prevailing defendant may be viable in New York.

Four years has passed since this decision, and no other cases have been reported. Consequently, as of this time we do not have a decision to rely upon for this issue.

Even if there is not a valid claim because it violates public policy, there are several other theories on how a defendant can recover attorney fees in situations like this that may survive.

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Bateman v. Sport Photo and EMS, Inc., 1983 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15461 (S.D. New York 1983)

Bateman v. Sport Photo and EMS, Inc., 1983 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15461 (S.D. New York 1983)

Maureen S. Bateman, Plaintiff, against Sport Photo and EMS, Inc., Defendants.

 

No. 81 Civ. 4790 (MJL)

 

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

 

1983 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15461

 

July 14, 1983

 

COUNSEL: [*1] J. DENNIS McGRATH, ESQ., 321 East 89th Street, New York, New York 10028, for plaintiff.

ROGERS & WELLS, 200 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10166, for defendants.

OPINION BY: LOWE

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARY JOHNSON LOWE, D. J.

This action, brought pursuant to New York Civil Rights Law Sections 50 and 51, was originally commenced in New York Supreme Court. The action was subsequently removed by the defendants to this Court. Plaintiff alleges that defendants used a photograph of her taken during the 1980 Perrier 10 Kilometer Run in New York Ciry, for advertising purposes, without her written consent, in violation of the above-mentioned statute. 1 Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff signed a release on her entry blank which gave the New York Roadrunners Club [“NYRRC”] and its assigns “full permission… to use any photographs, video tapes, motion pictures, recordings, or any other record of this event [the Perrier 10 Kilometer Run] for any legitimate purpose.” Defendants claim that NYRRC assigned the rights, acquired by virtue of plaintiff’s release, to Sportphoto for use in connection with Sportphoto’s business of soliciting [*2] mail order sales of photographs from contestants in competitive foot races.

1 Briefly stated, defendants’ business operates as follows. Defendants’ employees take photographs of runners as they participate in a race. Thereafter, defendants obtain the names and addresses of the participants from the sponsor of the race, and mail the participants “proof cards” of the photograph along with an offer to sell them a color copy of the photograph. During the course of the Perrier 10K defendants took plaintiff’s photograph, which was subsequently purchased by plaintiff’s husband. Plaintiff does not object to the sending of the proof card or the sale of her photograph to her husband. Rather, plaintiff objects to the use of her photograph as part of an advertisement of defendants’ Special Poster Offer”. Almost 6,000 copies of the Special Poster Offer, including plaintiff’s photograph, were printed and mailed to participants in the 1981 New York Marathon. (Evenson Dep. at 55).

Plaintiff argues that there are two major issues of material fact which preclude the granting of summary judgment in favor of defendants; first, whether plaintiff, by signing the so-called “release”, consented [*3] to the use of her photograph for advertising purposes unrelated to the event in which she was running; and second, whether there was a valid assigment by NYRRC to Sportphoto. The Court agrees that there are genuine issues of material fact in this case which render summary judgment inappropriate.

The parties’ dispute concerning the correct interpretation of the “release” centers around the use of the phrase “for any legitimate purpose”. Defendants argue that “legitimate” should be given its dictionary meaning, which would clearly encompass advertising and commercial purposes. Plaintiff responds, and the Court agrees, that the phrase should not be construed without reference to the “circumstances under which the entry blank was signed, and the purpose for which it was required – getting a number to run a race.” Plaintiff’s Op. Memo., at 20.

[HN1] The law is clear with respect to the interpretation of releases generally that their “meaning and coverage necessarily depend as in the case of contracts generally, upon the controversy being settled and upon the purpose for which the release was actually given. Certainly, a release may not be read to cover matters which the parties did [*4] not desire or intend to dispose of”. Cahill v. Regan, 5 N.Y.2d 292, 299, 184 N.Y.S.2d 348, 354, 157 N.E.2d 505, 510, quoted in Tarantola v. Williams, 48 AD 2 552 371 N.Y.S.2d 136, 139. The ultimate question in this case is whether, in light of all of the surrounding circumstances, the parties could reasonably have intended plaintiff’s signature on her entry blank to signify her consent to the use of her photograph for commercial purposes in connection with a different race a year and a half later; or whether, as plaintiff contends, the only use contemplated was promotional activity in connection with the race plaintiff was then entering. 2 The Court is convinced on the record before it that this question should be resolved by the trier of fact.

2 Plaintiff’s affidavit makes clear that if a photograph of her running in the Perrier 10K appeared in an article about that race, or if the sponsor of the race showed a video-tape of the race, in which plaintiff happened to appear she would deem those uses “legitimate” within the meaning of the release. Bateman Aff. P29.

This case is not, as defendants suggest, analagous to cases in which courts have broadly construed releases [*5] entered into by professional models and actors. Unlike the plaintiffs in those cases, who knowingly signed releases for commercial purposes in pursuit of their careers, the plaintiff here is an amateur athlete who signed a release for the sole purpose of entering a footrace. What constitutes a “legitimate use” of an individual’s photograph may vary from one context to another. Thus, the present case raises factual questions concerning the intent of the parties and the proper interpretation to be given the release.

Plaintiff also claims that there is a genuine issue of material fact with respect to whether defendants were the assignees of whatever rights NYRRC obtained by virtue of the entry blank “release”. Plaintiff acknowledges that there was a verbal agreement in 1979 (and renewed thereafter), between NYRRC and defendants giving defendants the exclusive right to take photographs of runners at the Perrier 10K for subsequent mail order sale. However, she argues that this agreement did not constitute an “assignment” of any rights on the entry blank; nor did it contemplate the use of one runner’s photograph for advertising directed at other runners.

Defendants maintain that [*6] in construing the agreement between NYRRC and defendants, the intent of the parties is controlling. They argue that in this case, the intent of the parties has been explicitly set out in the affidavits of Mr. Lebow, president of the NYRRC, and Mr. Evenson, president of defendants. Both Mr. Lebow and Mr. Evenson state that NYRRC intended to assign defendants the right to use runners’ photographs for all legitimate purposes, including advertising in connection with defendants’ business of selling photographs by mail. It is defendants’ position that in light of these clear expressions of intent, the assignment issue should be resolved as a matter of law.

Plaintiff argues that the rest of the evidence, including portions of Mr. Evenson’s own deposition testimony, contradicts the statements of Mr. Lebow and Mr. Evenson with respect to their intent at the time the agreement was reached, and thus raises a triable issue of fact. For example, Mr. Evenson testified during his deposition that he and Mr. Lebow never discussed the language of the entry blank “release”, the assignment of rights under the entry blank “release”, or the use of a participant’s photograph in the manner challenged [*7] herein, during negotiations for the agreement.Mr. Lebow testified that he could not recall whether these issues had been discussed. Defendants respond that the parties need not have anticipated or discussed every specific application of the agreement so long as the agreement was sufficiently broad to encompass those applications.

We find that the plaintiff has raised questions of credibility and intent which, even where the evidence weighs strongly in favor of one side, are better left to the trier of fact.

For the reasons stated above, defendants’ motion for summary judgment is hereby denied.

It is So Ordered.

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Release saves riding school, even after defendant tried to show plaintiff how to win the case.

As an expert you just can’t state facts, you have to prove your facts.

Azad v. Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11218

Plaintiff: Nicole Azad

Defendant: Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendant

This is a horseback riding case. The plaintiff was a beginner rider taking lessons from the defendant. The defendant’s instructor placed her in the jumping ring for training. Another horse in the ring spooked, which spooked the horse the plaintiff was riding. The plaintiff’s horse jumped the ring fence. The plaintiff fell off breaking her leg.

The plaintiff had signed a release before starting the lessons. The release was well labeled stating on each page that it was a release. The release also had a notice right above the signature line indicating the signor was giving up their legal rights.

The release, however, specifically stated that it did not prevent claims for gross negligence.

The plaintiff sued for negligence and after getting educated by the defendant, for gross negligence. The trial court dismissed the case after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

On appeal the plaintiff claimed:

…there are material issues of fact regarding whether the release was clear and whether it exempted the challenged conduct. She also argues MCEC increased the risk to Azad beyond that inherent in horseback riding.

The court first looked at the validity of the release against a case argued by the plaintiff that found a release was insufficient. The court then only compared the release in this case to the arguments made in the case raised by the plaintiff.

The release was a two-page document. On the first page, it contained a titled, “LIABILITY RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT.” On all other pages, it stated, “RIDING INSTRUCTION AGREEMENT AND LIABILITY RELEASE FORM.” Above the signature line, there was a statement that the signer was aware of the legal issues and acknowledgement of the legal issues.

The court found the release worked to stop claims of ordinary negligence but not gross negligence.

The court then reviewed California law on the duty owed by instructors in sports.

By consenting to participate in a sport that includes risks, a person consents to assume the risks inherent in the sport. A person does not consent to a breach of a duty by another that increases the risks inherent in the sport.  “‘[A] purveyor of recreational activities owes a duty to a patron to not increase the risks inherent in the activity in which the patron has paid to engage. . . .'”

A sports instructor must intentionally injury a student or engages in conduct that is totally outside the range of ordinary activity to be liable. Other than those two issues, the participant assumes the risk of the sport.

… a sports instructor breaches a duty of care only “‘if the instructor intentionally injures the student or engages in conduct that is reckless in the sense that it is ‘totally outside the range of the ordinary activity.’

In this case, the plaintiff had not raised any issues or facts, other than statements of the plaintiff’s expert witness who could support a claim of gross negligence. The plaintiff’s expert alleged the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent but did not demonstrate any facts showing an “extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” The court also pointed out the plaintiff stated the instructor was inadequately trained but not support her statement with proof.

The court in stating there was not proof of gross negligence stated:

Gross negligence is defined as “‘”the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”‘” This definition is similar to the standard employed in Kahn – conduct totally outside the range of ordinary activity.

The court upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint.

So Now What?

This release had 2 great points. The title and the heading on each page said this is a release. I’ve continuously stated that you cannot hide your release in other documents. It must be presented as a release to the signor and must plainly set forth the signor is giving up their legal rights.

However, don’t help the plaintiff sue you? Here the release said this document is no good if you prove I was grossly negligent. So what did the plaintiff need to do, prove gross negligence to win.

The facts of the case were pretty tame, and the injury to the plaintiff was relatively minor.

The court did look at what it would take to prove gross negligence from reviewing other cases. One was having a manual and showing an extreme departure from the manual.

If you write it down as the “way,” you better follow it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Strava wins lawsuit claim it was responsible for cyclist death

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

Background:

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

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

His family filed suit claim that Strava was liable.

Stupid right!

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Vinson v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3380

Vinson v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3380

Robert Vinson, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al., Defendants and Appellants.

B237965

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION FOUR

2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3380

May 14, 2013, Opinion Filed

NOTICE: NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 8.1115(a), PROHIBITS COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 8.1115(b). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 8.1115.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC446030, Michelle R. Rosenblatt, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS: rope, inflatable, unambiguous, climbing, nonsuit, rock-climbing, fitness, economic damages, new trial, injury suffered, sponsored, noneconomic damages, climber’s, climb, private agreement, ordinary negligence, recreational activities, expressing, misconduct, membership, participating, partial, harness, signing, pulley, top, risk of injury, claims of negligence, injuries resulting, preclude liability

COUNSEL: Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Jeffry A. Miller; Matthew B. Stucky; Pollard Mavredakis Cranert Crawford & Stevens and Terrence L. Cranert for Defendants and Appellants.

Law Offices of I. Allan Oberman, I. Allan Oberman; and Debra Fischl for Plaintiff and Respondent.

JUDGES: EPSTEIN, P. J.; MANELLA, J., SUZUKAWA, J. concurred.

OPINION BY: EPSTEIN, P. J.

OPINION

Appellants Paramount Pictures Corporation, Viacom, Inc. and Elite Special Events, Inc. (collectively appellants) appeal from a money judgment in favor of respondent Robert Vinson. The jury awarded Vinson past economic damages sustained after a fall from an inflatable rock-climbing wall at an event hosted and sponsored by appellants, finding appellants’ negligence caused the harm to Vinson. They contend: (1) the trial court erred in denying appellants’ motion for nonsuit because a release and waiver signed by Vinson precluded a finding of liability; (2) the trial court erred in finding the primary assumption of the risk doctrine did not apply, and its failure to instruct the jury on the relevant duty owed by appellants was prejudicial; [*2] and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by granting a partial new trial on the limited issue of damages.

We conclude the release signed by Vinson was valid as to the rock-climbing activity underlying his claims. Vinson expressly consented to waive any claims based on injuries incurred while participating in any activities sponsored by appellants, precluding liability. We reverse the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

Vinson was a member of the Paramount “Studio Club” (the Club). To be a member of the Club, he was required to complete an application and pay a fee. The application contained a section entitled “Assumption of Risk and Release” (the Release). The Release provided, in relevant part: “By enrolling as a member in [the Club], member hereby acknowledges that from time to time the Club sponsors certain events and activities that might present a risk of harm to the participants. In consideration of the Club’s arranging such events and activities . . . , member hereby assumes all risks associated with or resulting from such participation and member . . . releases . . . [appellants] of and from any and all claims . . . , which member may have or which may hereafter accrue [*3] on account of . . . any and all known and unknown, foreseen and unforeseen bodily and personal injuries . . . resulting or to result from any accident . . . which may occur as a result . . . of the member’s participation in any of the events or activities sponsored by the Club.” In January 2009, Vinson signed the application and initialed the Release provision.

In December 2009, the Club held a holiday party at Paramount Studios. The party included carnival games, food booths and performances. One attraction was an inflatable rock-climbing wall. The wall was approximately 30 feet tall with inflated protrusions which serve as hand and foot holds for potential climbers. When climbing on this type of wall, a climber is strapped into a harness connected to a rope. The rope then passes through a pulley at the top of the wall and loops back down to an operator of the wall. That operator uses a device called a grigri to control the amount of rope let out. The parties presented conflicting accounts of what occurred during Vinson’s participation in this activity.

Vinson claimed he was given no instruction on how to secure the harness or how to climb the wall. He testified that once he reached [*4] the top of the wall, he asked the two operators attending the wall what to do next. Vinson said the operators told him to remove his hands from the wall, grab the rope, and lean back. Shortly thereafter, all of the tension in the rope gave way and Vinson went into a free fall. He stated that he hit an inflatable apron at the base of the wall, bounced at least three feet into the air, then came crashing down on the concrete pavement surrounding the wall.

Appellants presented testimony that the operator holding the rope for Vinson gave him instructions on how to put on the harness and how to climb the wall. Once Vinson reached the top, he began to jump up and down off the wall and push back and forth, in response to encouragement from his friends below. Testimony indicated that the operator holding the rope told Vinson to stop and eventually began lowering him down the wall. At some point between 50 and 75 percent down the wall, enough slack was released on the rope to allow Vinson to reach the bottom. Vinson jumped and landed on the inflatable apron and, according to both of the operators, never hit the concrete.

Based on testimony from the operators themselves and an expert in rock-wall [*5] climbing, the operators should have had full control of the rope at all times, regardless of what the climber was doing. The amount of rope released from such a mechanism is solely controlled by the operators and thus the pace of a climber’s descent is determined by the operator releasing rope through the pulley system. The operators testified that neither of them had seen the manual that accompanied the inflatable wall and provided detailed instructions on how to operate it. The operator who controlled Vinson’s climb received only one hour of training. An expert testified that one half to a full day of training is typical, followed by constant supervision during the first day of operating a wall. The expert testified that, based on the evidence, the operator in this case failed to understand the mechanics of the pulley system and was negligent in his operation during Vinson’s climb. Vinson produced evidence that he suffered physical and psychological injuries as a result of the fall, leading to lost wages and lost earnings.

Vinson brought suit against appellants for past and future economic damages and past and future noneconomic damages. At the close of Vinson’s evidence, appellants [*6] moved for nonsuit on two grounds. First, they argued the Release, signed by Vinson, constituted a waiver of any claims arising out of participation in any events at the Club, precluding liability. The trial court found the Release was “not clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing either the activity, the risk, or the intent of the parties” and denied appellants’ motion on that ground. Second, they argued the primary assumption of the risk doctrine should apply to preclude liability because Vinson assumed the risks inherent in climbing the wall. They argued that general negligence principles did not apply, and because there was no evidence that the operators increased the risk of injury beyond that inherent in the activity, a nonsuit should be granted. The court found the climbing of an inflatable rock wall was somewhere between a carnival ride and a sport. It concluded the doctrine did not apply and denied the motion for nonsuit.

The jury returned a verdict for Vinson, finding appellants were negligent and that their negligence caused Vinson’s injuries. It awarded Vinson $70,620 in past economic damages, but nothing for future economic damages and nothing for the noneconomic damages [*7] he sought. Vinson moved for new trial limited to the issue of general damages or, in the alternative, for an addittur in an amount to be determined by the court. The court concluded there was no proper reason for the jury to award Vinson over $70,000 in special damages yet find that he did not incur any pain and suffering as a result of the incident. It reasoned that even if the jury found Vinson was malingering, and thereby inflating his claim for general damages, awarding no noneconomic damages was improper. The court granted Vinson’s motion for a partial new trial subject to appellants’ consent to an additur in the amount of $80,000. Appellants declined to accept the additur, and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

Appellants contend the trial court erred in denying their motion for nonsuit on two grounds. They argue the court should have found Vinson’s signature on the Release precluded liability. They also argue that even if the Release did not bar the claim, voluntarily participating in the climbing activity involved an assumption of the risk that negated appellants’ duty to eliminate the risks inherent in that activity.

Persons generally have a duty to use due care to avoid injuring [*8] others, and liability may result if their negligent conduct causes injury to another. (Civ. Code, § 1714; Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 315.) However, a private party may expressly agree to release any claims of negligence against another by contract; such an agreement “is valid unless it contravenes public policy.” (6 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 1292, p. 686; see also City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 758 [future liability for ordinary negligence generally may be released].)1 Implied assumption of the risk, on the other hand, involves exemption from liability based on the nature of a specific activity and the relationship of the parties to that activity, rather than on an express agreement. (Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, Inc. (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 217, 228.)

1 Our Supreme Court has noted that California courts have invalidated releases of liability for ordinary negligence when it is determined that the “particular release concerns a service that transcends a purely private agreement and affects the public interest.” (City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court, supra, 41 Cal.4th at pp. 757-758.) But, private agreements [*9] made in connection with various sporting events or recreational activities generally have been upheld, as they do not involve necessary services and therefore do not contravene public policy or “transcend the realm of purely private matters.” (Id. at p. 759.) We find this release, signed in consideration for participation in various activities at a private club, constitutes “a purely private agreement”; Vinson’s participation in the rock-climbing activity did not involve necessary services and was a recreational activity well within the broad range of activities in which a number of California cases have upheld express waivers. (Id. at pp. 757, 759-760.)

“To be effective, a written release purporting to exculpate a tortfeasor from future negligence or misconduct must be clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing the intent of the subscribing parties.” (Bennett v. United States Cycling Federation (1987) 193 Cal.App.3d 1485, 1490, declined to follow by Madison v. Superior Court (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 589, 602, fn. 9.) “‘It is also necessary that the expressed terms of the agreement be applicable to the particular misconduct of the defendant . . . .’ [Citation.].” (Ibid., italics omitted.) [*10] “With respect to the question of express waiver, the legal issue is not whether the particular risk of injury [plaintiff] suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies [citations], but simply the scope of the Release.” (Cohen v. Five Brooks Stable (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1484.)

The trial court denied appellants’ motion for nonsuit based on the signing of the Release, concluding it did not apply to Vinson’s claim because the “release [did] not ensure that [Vinson] knew the risks and hazards of this activity when he was signing a waiver of liability for negligence” on appellants’ part. The court reasoned that the Release was “not clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing either the activity, the risk, or the intent of the parties.”

Appellants argue the Release was explicitly intended to cover any activity at the Club and was sufficiently unambiguous to cover the activity at issue. They argue it was unnecessary to specifically identify rock-climbing as a covered activity, or the risks involved, in order for the Release to be effective. We agree.

Here, the plain language of the Release is explicit as to its breadth. According to its terms, the signer [*11] was releasing “any and all claims” against appellants based on “any and all injuries” resulting from “any accident” arising out of his or her “participation in any of the events or activities sponsored by the Club.” Vinson argues the specific activity involved here, inflatable rock wall climbing, was not comprehended by the release. Similarly, the trial court relied on the theory that the Release failed to identify the specific risk involved or that the risks were unknown to Vinson when he signed it. However, “[w]hen a release expressly releases the defendant from any liability, it is not necessary that the plaintiff have had a specific knowledge of the particular risk that ultimately caused the injury.” (Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1351, 1357.) “While it is true that the express terms of any release agreement must be applicable to the particular misconduct of the defendant [citation], that does not mean that every possible specific act of negligence of the defendant must be spelled out in the agreement or even discussed by the parties.” (Madison v. Superior Court (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 589, 601.) Furthermore, “[t]he inclusion of the term ‘negligence’ is simply [*12] not required to validate an exculpatory clause.” (Sanchez v. Bally’s Total Fitness Corp. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 62, 67.)

In Sanchez v. Bally’s Total Fitness Corp., supra, 68 Cal.App.4th at page 67, the court dealt with a release in the fitness center context. The court found the defendant health club unremarkably foresaw potential injuries to members of its club and rationally required them to sign a release and assumption of risk as a condition of membership. (Ibid.) The release broadly covered injuries “‘arising out of or connected with the use of the fitness center.”‘ (Id. at p. 69.) The court found the release covered the injury suffered by the plaintiff as it occurred while using the fitness center.

In Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica, supra, 104 Cal.App.4th at page 1358, the court discussed a release signed by the plaintiff upon joining the defendant fitness center. The release stated the signer was waiving liability for injuries suffered while on the defendant’s premises, “‘whether using exercise equipment or not.'” (Ibid.) The court found the purpose of the release was to protect the defendant from future liability in consideration for granting the plaintiff access to defendant’s premises. [*13] (Ibid.) The plaintiff was then injured while adjusting a television on defendant’s premises. (Id. at p. 1355.) The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the release should not apply to an activity which was secondary to his membership in the fitness center, especially when the risk of a falling television was not known to him at the time the release was signed. (Id. at pp. 1357-1359.) The court concluded that the broad, unambiguous language of the release served to preclude liability on the part of the defendant for any injuries suffered by plaintiff on defendant’s premises. (Id. at p. 1358.)

Here, Vinson signed a release of all claims for any injuries suffered on appellants’ premises in consideration for membership in the Club and access to certain events. Similar to the releases discussed in the cases above, we find the language of the release signed by Vinson broad and unambiguous. The fact that the activity resulting in the injury was not specifically mentioned in the express terms of the release does not make it ineffective. Having consented to release any claims against appellants based on injuries incurred while participating in any activities at the Club, Vinson absolved [*14] appellants of liability for ordinary negligence during his participation in this particular activity.

Because we have concluded Vinson expressly released appellants from liability, thereby serving as a bar to his claim of negligence, appellants’ contentions regarding primary assumption of the risk are moot.

Appellants also contend the jury’s decision to award substantial economic damages, but no noneconomic damages, was clearly a compromise verdict. They argue the trial court’s granting of a partial new trial solely on the issue of damages was an abuse of discretion, and a full new trial should have been ordered. Again, we need not address this issue as we have concluded the negligence claim was precluded by Vinson’s signing of the Release.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is reversed, and the case remanded with instructions. Appellants to have their costs on appeal.

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS

EPSTEIN, P. J.

We concur:

MANELLA, J.

SUZUKAWA, J.


Release for bicycle tour wins on appeal but barely

Travent, Ltd., v. Schecter, 718 So. 2d 939; 1998 Fla. App. LEXIS 12840; 23 Fla. L. Weekly D 2384 (Fl App 1998)

If the release were written properly, the appeal would not have occurred; maybe the lawsuit would not have occurred.

The decision from the Florida Court of Appeals looks at a release sued by the defendant bicycle tour company. An accident occurred when the front wheel fell off the bike injuring the plaintiff.

There are few facts in the decision. It is not clear if it was purely a bike rental or was a bike tour that included bikes. It appears it was a tour. Nor does the case describe how the wheel fell off or the injuries of the plaintiff.

At the trial court, the case went to trial with a jury decision for the defendant.

The jury found that the agreement signed by the Schecters released Travent from “any acts of negligence,” and that there was no negligence on Travent’s part legally causing damage to the Schecters.

Post-trial the plaintiff filed several motions to have the jury verdict reversed for a new trial. A new judge granted the motion for a new trial finding the release at issue failed to contain specific unambiguous language needed under Florida’s law for a release to be valid.

The defendant appealed.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff’s argument on appeal was the language of the release at issue did not have the necessary language. However, the court found the argument and the cases cited by the plaintiff to not be similar to the release at question.

Releases are valid under Florida’s law: “… waivers or exculpatory clauses are “valid and enforceable in Florida if the intent to relieve a party of its own negligence is clear and unequivocal.”

The release in question used the word negligence and relieved the defendant of all liability.

So Now What?

The entire release quoted by the court consisted of one paragraph. It is not clear if the release was longer or contained any other language; however, based on how the court quoted the release it does not appear to be.

The release squeaked through after spending thousands of dollars to defend and probably three or more years of time.

If you have your release properly written it is going to be much longer than one paragraph. That length may add three or more years to your life that do not contain litigation.

Plaintiff: Mark Schecter and Karen Schecter

 

Defendant: Travent, Ltd.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

Holding: For the defendant. The release was sufficient to stop the claims.

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Pavane v. Marte, 37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

Pavane v. Marte, 37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane, Plaintiff(s), against Samidra Marte, Oasis Community Corporation and Oasis Children’s Services, Defendant(s).

33473/08

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, KINGS COUNTY

37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

August 9, 2012, Decided

NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.

CORE TERMS: summary judgment, bicycle, street, crossing, counselor, emergency, crosswalk, walk, emergency doctrine, triable issues of fact, stop sign, deposition, cyclist, annexed, proximate cause, red light, matter of law, emergency situation, party opposing, affirmative defense, traffic light, reasonableness, deliberation, speculative, unexpected, proceeded, favorable, surprise, sudden, pushed

HEADNOTES

[*1216A] Negligence–Emergency Doctrine.

JUDGES: [**1] Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Acting Justice.

OPINION BY: Bernard J. Graham

OPINION

Bernard J. Graham, J.

Decision:

The captioned lawsuit was commenced by filing of a summons and complaint on or about December 8, 2008, by plaintiffs, Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane, against defendants Samira Marte (incorrectly identified as “Samidra Marte”), Oasis Community Corporation, and Oasis Children’s Services, LLC. Plaintiffs’ claim is a negligence action against defendants stemming from a fall at Central Park and a derivative claim on behalf of plaintiff, Merrill Pavane.

Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR § 3212 for dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint alleging that there are no triable issues of fact and that defendants are free from liability pursuant to the Emergency Doctrine’.

Background

Defendant Oasis Children’s Services, LLC (“Oasis”) is a company that runs summer enrichment programs for at-risk children in the tri-state area. They have several camp locations in New York City, including one in Central Park.

Defendant Oasis Community Corporation is a named defendant which is ostensibly related to Oasis Children’s Services, LLC.

During the summer of 2008, Oasis hired 18-year-old defendant Samira Marte [**2] (“Marte”) as a camp counselor. On August 22, 2008, Marte and another counselor, Rachel Carrion (“Carrion”), entered Central Park at 96th Street with their campers to reach a swimming pool at 110th Street. Their route required them to cross West Drive.

According to the deposition testimony of Ms. Marte, Rachel Carrion and several children crossed West Drive first. The walk signal changed to “do not walk” before Ms. Marte was able to cross with the rest of the group, so she stayed on the sidewalk with the children to wait for the light to change again. When the signal changed to “walk”, Ms. Marte followed camp guidelines and proceeded to the middle of the crosswalk to hold up her “stop/children crossing” sign. According to the deposition of Richard Thompson McKay, who is an Oasis supervisor and not a named party to the action, Oasis provided protocol training for all camp counselors on how to cross the street. Counselors are instructed to stand in the middle of the street with the stop sign before children may begin to pass. Counselors were also told that if it appears that a cyclist will not stop, then the counselors must first be “loud and verbal” and ask the cyclist to stop. If the [**3] cyclist still does not stop, then counselors must “put [their] body as best as [they] can in between bicyclist and the children that [they] have to protect.” (See Dep. of Richard Thompson McKay, pg. 11-12, annexed as Ex. “H” to the Aff. of Rodney E. Gould in support of motion for summary judgment).

Ms. Marte states that several bicyclists were traveling down West Drive and that all of them stopped for the red light except for “one person that kept going.” (See Dep. of Samira Marte, pg. 60-61, 73-74, annexed as Ex. “F” to the Aff. of Rodney E. Gould in support of motion for summary judgment). Ms. Marte observed the defendant, Martin Pavane (“Pavane”), approaching the red light on his bicycle and alleges that Mr. Pavane did not slow down. Since children were beginning to cross the street, Ms. Marte anticipated that the bicycle would collide with the crossing children and herself. In order to get Mr. Pavane to stop, Ms. Marte first waived her stop sign and yelled for him to stop. When the bicycle still did not stop or slow down, she tried to put herself in between the bicycle and the children by standing in front of the bicycle’s [***2] path. However, Ms. Marte was forced to move aside because [**4] she states that the bicycle was going too fast. She was afraid that the bicycle would run right into her and the children. Ms. Marte states that was the moment she decided to push Mr. Pavane’s arm with the stop sign (Marte Dep. pg. 74-77).

Discussion

In opposition to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the defendants failed to include the Emergency Doctrine’ as an affirmative defense in their answer.

However, where the party opposing summary judgment has knowledge of the facts relating to the existence of an emergency and would not be taken by surprise with the use of the emergency defense, the doctrine does not have to be pleaded as an affirmative defense (see Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d 58, 61, 783 N.Y.S.2d 648 (2nd Dept. 2004)). Here, plaintiffs cannot claim that they were taken by surprise by defendants’ emergency defense. The depositions provide full descriptions of facts describing an emergency situation.

A common law emergency doctrine is recognized in New York and it applies “when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance that leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration, or causes the actor to be reasonably so [**5] disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct. [The] actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context”. (Caristo v. Sanzone, 96 NY2d 172, 174, 750 N.E.2d 36, 726 N.Y.S.2d 334 (2001) (citing Rivera v. New York City Tr. Auth., 77 NY2d 322, 327, 569 N.E.2d 432, 567 N.Y.S.2d 629 (1991); see also Marks v. Robb, 90 AD3d 863, 935 N.Y.S.2d 593 (2nd Dept. 2011)). The depositions show that Marte was confronted with a sudden and unexpected emergency circumstance that left her with little time for deliberation. The evidence is credible that Marte pushed Pavane from his bicycle in order to prevent children from getting injured.

Ordinarily, the reasonableness of a party’s response to an emergency situation will present questions of fact for a jury, but it may be determined as a matter of law in appropriate circumstances (Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d at 60; see also Koenig v. Lee, 53 AD3d 567, 862 N.Y.S.2d 373 (2nd Dept. 2008); Vitale v. Levine, 44 AD3d 935, 844 N.Y.S.2d 105 (2nd Dept. 2007)).

In this case, defendants seek an award of summary judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ claim which would require a determination by this Court that, as a matter of law, the actions taken by Ms. Marte were reasonable [**6] and did not present a question which should be presented to a jury. Although summary judgment is a drastic remedy, a court may grant summary judgment when the moving party establishes that there are no triable issues of material fact (see Rotuba Extruders v. Ceppos, 46 NY2d 223, 385 N.E.2d 1068, 413 N.Y.S.2d 141 (1978); Sillman v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 144 N.E.2d 387, 165 N.Y.S.2d 498 (1957)).

Rachel Carrion, the co-counselor who is not a named party to the action, testified that she saw Pavane ride his bicycle towards the crosswalk where herself and Marte were crossing the street with children from the Oasis summer camp (see Carrion Dep. pg. 8-9 annexed to Gould [***3] Aff. in support of motion for summary judgment). Carrion testified that Pavane was approaching them “at [a] speed” and “would not stop” (Carrion Dep. pg. 10). The testimony of Ms. Carrion is completely consistent and corroborative of Ms. Marte’s testimony. Ms. Marte stated that Mr. Pavane was not going to stop and was about to hit the four children who were crossing in the crosswalk (Marte Dep. pg 61).

The majority of Pavane’s testimony consists of mere speculative and conclusory assertions because he claims to not recall most details. For example, Pavane did not recall [**7] whether he saw children on the street (see Pavane Dep. pg. 17, annexed to the Aff of Leon Sager in opposition to the motion for summary judgment), but states that “it’s certainly possible there were people there.” (Pavane Dep. pg. 17). Carrion testified that there definitely were children on both sides of the crosswalk and some crossing in the middle before Marte pushed Pavane off his bicycle (Carrion Dep. pg. 11). Pavane also does not recall whether Marte was holding a “stop, children crossing” sign or whether she was waving at him, but he does remember Marte being a young woman in her teens (Pavane Dep. Pg. 17), who was “doing something with her hands at the particular time when she stepped in front of [him]” (Pavane Dep. pg. 18).

In reviewing the offered testimony in support of the motion and the opposition to the motion, the evidence submitted must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion (see Branham v. Loews Orpheum Cinemas, Inc., 8 NY3d 931, 866 N.E.2d 448, 834 N.Y.S.2d 503 (2007)). Even assessing the available evidence in a light most favorable to Mr. Pavane, a neutral reading of the evidence would support a conclusion that Ms. Marte and the children were crossing the street with [**8] the “walk” sign in their favor; that Ms. Marte was positioned with her stop sign at the cross walk; and that Mr. Pavane was cycling into the crosswalk against the traffic light.

While this Court is hesitant to declare the actions of any party in an alleged tort claim to be reasonable as a matter of law, in certain cases, such as this, summary judgment may be appropriate. (see Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d 58, 783 N.Y.S.2d 648 (2004). The actions of the defendant, Marte, must be considered reasonable given the emergency she faced and the potentially harmful consequences to the children she was protecting. It is also apparent that Mr. Pavane proceeded into the intersection against the traffic light and, would fairly be considered to be the proximate cause of his injury. Where it is clear that the plaintiff’s actions were the sole proximate cause of the accident, plaintiff’s mere speculative assertions that defendant may have failed to act properly is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact to defeat a summary judgment motion. (see Goff v. Goudreau, 222 AD2d 650, 650, 635 N.Y.S.2d 699 (2nd Dept. 1995); Vitale v. Levine, 44 AD3d 935, 844 N.Y.S.2d 105 (2nd Dept. 2007)).

Conclusion

It is the finding of this Court that Mr. Pavane’s [**9] own failure to stop at the red light and yield to children crossing the street was the sole proximate cause of the incident. The actions of the camp counselor, Ms. Marte, in the context of crossing the street with young children who she feared would be injured by the cyclist can only be considered reasonable and appropriate in the given circumstances. Mr. Pavane has not offered evidence which would raise a triable issue of fact as to the reasonableness of Ms. Marte’s actions and to subject the defendants here to the expenses of a trial on this matter would be exceedingly unjust.

Accordingly, defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted and the plaintiff’s complaint is dismissed.

This shall constitute the decision and order of this Court.

Dated: August 9, 2012

/s/

Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Acting Justice

Supreme Court, Kings CountyBottom of Form

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In Nebraska a release can defeat claims for gross negligence for health club injury

Palmer v. Lakeside Wellness Center, 281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

Manufacturer of the health club equipment was able to squeak out a win by making sure the equipment met the applicable standards when the treadmill was manufactured.

This case is a health club fitness which is interesting because it covers several legal issues in ways that most courts will not. It also points out some simple things you can do to keep yourself out of court or losing in court.

A husband and wife, plaintiffs, joined a health club. After five weeks at the club the wife, went to get on a treadmill. She did not notice it was running and upon stepping on the treadmill she was thrown backwards into an elliptical trainer. The plaintiff had an injured hand and chest from the accident.

The area around the treadmill was allegedly, not well lit, however the plaintiff had not complained about the lighting. When she stepped on the treadmill she looked at the control panel but did not look at the belt. The treadmill was in a row of treadmills and the treadmills on either side of the treadmill in question were running. The plaintiff also said the treadmill area was loud.

The plaintiff had been using treadmills for 21 years. She had been using treadmills at the defendants approximately five times a week for five weeks and had used the treadmill in question 10 to 15 times. When she joined the defendant health club she received instructions from a trainer, but she stated she did not need instructions on how to operate a treadmill. The plaintiff also had a treadmill at home.

When the plaintiff and her husband joined the defendant health club she signed two documents which contained releases. The first was titled Membership agreement what had a release that included the word negligence in the language of the contract. The second form was a health history questionnaire which was signed by the plaintiff and also included release language.

The plaintiff and her husband sued the manufacturer of the treadmill, Precor, and the health club, Lakeside Wellness Center for her injuries. She claimed both defendants were negligent and were grossly negligent. Precor was allegedly negligent in making a treadmill without proper safety features and the health club was liable for not providing adequate lighting around the treadmill. There was also a claim that the health club had modified the treadmill belt so that it was unsafe.

The trial court granted both of the defendant’s motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed saying the trial court erred in:

(1) granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor;

(2) holding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire signed by Palmer were clear, understandable, and unambiguous; and

(3) holding that Palmer assumed the risk of using the treadmill.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the issue of the release. The court ignored the issues of whether the release worked against negligence and reviewed the issues of releases and claims of gross negligence. However before starting its analysis, it dismissed Precor’s argument that it was a third party beneficiary of the release.

A third party beneficiary of a contract is usually identified as someone who is not named in the agreement, but obvious to all parties that they are to receive benefits of the agreement. An example would be a contract between a health club and a supplier of fitness equipment. The third party beneficiaries of that agreement would be the membership of the health club. When the third party beneficiary is not obvious in the agreement then the third parties as usually not construed as beneficiaries and do not have an interest in the contract.

In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue thereon must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly interpreted or construed.

Here the court found that the agreement between a member and the health club did not identify the defendant manufacture by name or by any other identification. Because of that, the manufacturer could not be a third party beneficiary of the release.

Court then went back to the issue of the claim of gross negligence. Under Nebraska law gross negligence is defined as

Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty. 5 Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule.

Under Nebraska law the court could rule on whether the allegations of the complaint give rise to gross negligence. Here the court found the allegations did not. Inadequate lighting and the installation of a new belt on the treadmill did not meet the level needed to prove gross negligence.

Precor, the making of the treadmill in its motion to the trial court presented an affidavit stating that at the time the treadmill was made the treadmill “met or exceeded the voluntary guidelines set by the American Society for Testing and Materials” The affidavit included photographs of the treadmill to show what handrails existed and the fact that treadmill came with a clip that could be attached to the user’s clothing. If the clip was pulled it would disconnect and stop the treadmill. The treadmill was also made 7 years prior to the accident.

The plaintiff hired an expert who stated that the treadmill “should” have various safety features that were not on the treadmill. The court took note that the plaintiff’s expert did not say the treadmill had to have, did not speak in absolutes with regard to the safety features. Because the plaintiff’s expert was hesitant or could not be explicit on what was missing the court held that Precor was not negligent.

A third defense was raised on appeal, assumption of the risk, by the defendants. Because the court had dismissed the claims raised by the plaintiff already, the court did not get into that defense.

So Now What?

Obviously the better your release the greater your chances of winning. However there are several other issues here that you should pay attention too.

The plaintiff claimed that her injury was due to the fact the new belt on the treadmill did not contain markings that would indicate the treadmill was moving. If you replace or repair something, make sure you use equipment that meets the manufactures specs when you bought the machine or better. If the manufacturer had markings on the treadmill belt that indicated that the belt was moving you need to install a replacement belt that has similar markings.

Moreover, if you have the opportunity, whether or not the original belt was marked, to install a belt with markings, why not.

The assumption of the risk defense was not discussed by the court in its analysis, but was definitely part of the facts. In this case the defense team was able to elicit a lot of treadmill experience from the plaintiff. Many times, after an accident, the plaintiff will change their story. Getting experience or history up front is always safer.

And why not!

Why not include in your release language that protects everyone you can from litigation. There was a claim by the husband that one of the people running on the treadmill next to the one at issue had left that treadmill on. In some states, that would be enough to bring that other gym member into the suit. Write your release to keep you out of a lawsuit, also write it to keep everyone associated with your or that you benefit from out of the lawsuit. Just because you might not be named as the negligent party, you can still be brought in by the person who is named as the defendant. Protect you, your employees, other guests, visitors, volunteers, sponsors, and manufacturers dependent on what you do.

How many new customers are going to sign up as members if the word gets out you allowed one of them to be sued for an accident to another member.

If you do hear of problems from your guests or members, you need to respond. One issue that would have made the outcome different in this case would be a stack of “accident forms” or complaints about the lighting. If the plaintiff could prove that the lighting was bad because other people had complained about it or blamed it for their injuries, then I believe this would have had a different outcome. Don’t collect paperwork, solve problems.

 

Plaintiff: April Palmer

 

Defendant: Lakeside Wellness Center, Doing Business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Release, Assumption of the Risk

 

Holding: for the defendants

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Hawaii’s deceptive trade practices act sends this case and release back to the trial court

Courbat v. Dahana Ranch, Inc., 111 Haw. 254; 141 P.3d 427; 2006 Haw. LEXIS 386

Court agrees that the issue of not finding out that you had to sign a waiver until the time of the activity might be a deceptive practice.

This is a very interesting case. A couple booked several activities through a third party booking agency. The activity in question was a horseback ride. The plaintiffs had booked the ride several months in advance of the ride and upon showing up, were handed a release.

Upon arriving at the defendants, the plaintiff read the waiver and signed it and passed it on to her husband. The husband signed it, testifying in his deposition that he relied on his wife to read such documents.

The record demonstrates that the Courbats were given adequate time and opportunity to fully review the waiver presented to them before they signed it and that both knew that by signing it; they were waiving legal rights in return for being allowed to participate in the ride.

Of note was a statement made by the court that no guest of the defendant had ever refused to sign the waiver.

During the ride, one horse kicked the plaintiff in the shin causing her an injury. She and her husband sued for negligence, gross negligence and for unfair and deceptive practices.

The defendant responded with the plaintiff assumed the risk, the release barred the plaintiff’s claims and the ranch had done nothing to bring it into the purview of the Hawaiian Deceptive Trade Practices Act. (HRS §§ 480-2 and 480-13)

The trial court had granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the decision was appealed.

Summary of the case

The court spent the most time on the issue that booking a ride several months in advance and not finding out that a waiver had to be signed on arrival was a deceptive practice.

…they assert that the Ranch’s practice of booking ride reservations through an activity company, receiving payment prior to the arrival of the guest, and then, upon the guest’s arrival at the Ranch, requiring the guest to sign a liability waiver as a precondition to horseback riding is an unfair and deceptive business practice to which the remedies of HRS ch. 480 apply.

The plaintiffs did not argue that the waiver was deceptive, only the fact that they were not informed that a waiver had to be signed. If the practice was found to be deceptive, then the waiver would be void.

The Courbats do not allege that the waiver itself is deceptive; rather, they urge that the deceptive practice at issue was the booking agent’s failure to inform them of the waiver requirement during the negotiation and execution of the underlying contract. Nevertheless, if any deceptive omission occurred with respect to the negotiation and execution of the original contract, the operation of HRS § 480-12, see supra note 1, would render both the original contract and the waiver, signed afterward, void.

After analyzing the fact the court found that there was an issue: “…whether a waiver requirement would be materially important in booking a horseback tour remains one for the trier of fact.

However, if the trier of fact (jury) finds that a failure to warn the plaintiff was not deceptive, then the waiver would be valid.

The court then looked at the wavier to determine if met Hawaiian law. The court found that if the plaintiff signed the wavier, then the plaintiff was bound by its terms. Waivers, exculpatory contracts, are valid if they are “knowingly and willingly made and free from fraud.”

Waivers can be voided for three reasons in Hawaii.

“‘exculpatory clauses will be held void if the agreement is

(1) violative of a statute,

(2) contrary to a substantial public interest, or

(3) gained through inequality of bargaining power.'”

The court then looked at what was a public interest and found a public interest had the following characteristics:

[1] It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation.

 [2] The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often [***30]  a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.

 [3] The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards.

 [4] As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive ad-vantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.

 [5] In exercising a superior bargaining power the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence.

 [6] Finally, as a result of the transaction, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller of the service, subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.

Recreational activities are unsuitable for public regulation; therefore, they do not violate the Hawaiian public interest definition that would void a release.

…while such waivers may be contracts of adhesion, in that they are presented on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis, they are not unconscionable, but “are of a sort commonly used in recreational settings” and “are generally held to be valid.

Contracts of adhesion are ‘unenforceable if two conditions are present: (1) the contract is the result of coercive bargaining between parties of unequal bargaining strength; and (2) the contract unfairly limits the obligations and liabilities of, or otherwise unfairly advantages, the stronger party.

Because the plaintiffs had time to read and review the waiver, there was no coercion.

The court reviewed one final issue, waivers under Hawaiian law, like most other states do not stop claims for gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Consequently, the case was sent back for a jury to determine if the acts of the defendant, by and through its booking agency, acted deceptively or if the acts of the defendant were grossly negligent. If so the plaintiff would win the suit. If the acts of the defendant were not deceptive or the defendant was not grossly negligent the defendants would win at trial.

There was a dissent which found that the acts were not deceptive by law.

So Now What?

It is so easy to avoid most of the issues that were part of this appeal. One some signs up for a trip or activity, whether through you or a third party, they must be informed that they are going to sign a release.

It is that easy. Put it on the receipt, put it on the website, put it on the paperwork, in the brochure; put it everywhere. If you are in a state where the release is valid you will not go through the time, cost and expense of this type of litigation.

Every state has a deceptive trade practice’s statute. The statutes are enacted to protect consumers from dishonest businesses. The court did not examine the facts in light of an intentional act; just the practice alone was deceptive.

Don’t learn the act, just inform your guests.

 

Plaintiff: Lisa Courbat and Steven Courbat

 

Defendant: Dahana Ranch, Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, violation of the Hawaiian Deceptive Trade Practices statute.

 

Defendant Defenses: assumption of the risk, release, did not violate the deceptive practices act

 

Holding: reversed and sent back for trial

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Georgia does not have a lot of skiing, but you can rent skis there.

Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

Release for renting skis stops litigation over failing of the binding to release.

In this case, the plaintiff rented skis from the defendant in Georgia. The plaintiff completed the rental agreement which included a fairly well written release. The rental company from the decision, asked the proper questions to calculate the DIN setting which in this case was 5 ½.

The plaintiff took the rented equipment on a ski trip. He made several runs, falling “uneventfully” the first day. None of those falls released the plaintiff from the bindings. On the last run while attempting to stop he fell releasing one binding but not the other. The leg in binding that failed to release suffered the classic skiing injury, torn ligaments in the plaintiff’s knee.

After the injury, the ski rental shop tested the binding which the test showed the binding passed.

The plaintiff sued for “breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence” and the plaintiff’s spouse sued for loss of a consortium. The defendant used the defense of release, and the trial court granted the defense motion for summary judgment.

Summary of the case

The first area of the law the court spoke to was the fact the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant were bailor-bailee. Normally, this term is applied to someone in possession of another’s property. A valet is the bailee of your car when you hand over the keys. You are the bailor, the legal owner who has given temporary possession to another.

Once the court determined the relationship between the parties, then the court could conclude that the relationship was governed by the rental agreement.

The court then found that the plaintiff had failed to produce any evidence of negligence upon the part of the defendant. Then in a footnote, the court found that if the plaintiff had found evidence of negligence, the plaintiff still would have been bound by assumption of the risk. The court then went back to release and stated that even if negligence had been shown, the release would have prevented the suit.

“…in Georgia, the general rule is that a party may exempt himself by contract from liability to the other party for injuries caused by his negligence, and the agreement is not void for contravening public policy.”

The court then concluded the release did just that.

The remaining claims of the plaintiff were dismissed based on the analysis or the release.

The court finished with this line.

It is difficult to envision how the waiver language here could have been any clearer.

So Now What?

Get a good release written. Have your clients sign the release. Make sure your equipment meets the standards of the industry and maybe if you are faced with this issue, you will see this short and sweat answer to any litigation.

 

Plaintiff: Mr. and Mrs. Benford, no first name was ever given

 

Defendant: RDL, Inc. d/b/a Rocky Mountain Ski Shop

 

Plaintiff Claims: breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence and Mrs. Benford’s claim of loss of consortium

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

Holding: For the defendant on the release

 

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You have to be prepared way before trial, and you have to win at trial, because judges are given wide discretion in controlling your chances on appeal.

Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc., 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2506

This case significantly changed the ski industry.

This decision out of the Washington Appellate Court offers value in understanding some issues that occur at trial. It also offers an example of how much control a judge has in a trial and why a judge really can control the outcome of your trial if you are not prepared.

The plaintiff in this case was an experienced skier who had gone over the table-top  jump at issue before. There is conflicting testimony on how fast the plaintiff was skiing; however, he landed far down the hill beyond the landing zone. The injuries rendered him a quadriplegic. The case was taken to trial, and the jury found the plaintiff 55% liable and the ski area 45% liable. The jury awarded $30 million in damages, resulting in a $14 million-dollar  recovery for the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued “alleging that it designed and built an unreasonably dangerous ski jump, and that it failed to close the jump or to warn of its dangers.” The defense argued that the risk was an inherent part of skiing, and the plaintiff was negligent and therefore, the cause of his injuries.

Summary of the case

Washington like all other states has comparative negligence. However, unlike the majority of the states, this is a pure comparative negligence state. That means the jury awards an amount and decides what percentage each party to the litigation is at fault. In the majority of states if the plaintiff is more than 50% or 51% at fault the plaintiff recovers nothing. This is not true in Washington. The percentage is applied to the damages, and the plaintiff receives that percentage of the damages. 45% of $30 million is about $14 million.

Washington has a Skier Safety Statute. However, it is very weak and does not define the risks of skiing. In this case, the statute provided very little benefit to the defendant.

The majority of the decision focuses on the jury instructions. Jury instructions are the actual written instructions the jury takes with them into the jury room that explain the law. The legal issues and definitions are each on a separate on a piece of paper that is numbered. By reading through the instructions in numerical order the jury is helped to decide the legal issues or more importantly decide how the facts apply to the law.

Some states have pre-printed jury instructions. Federal courts and several states the jury instructions are created by the parties and the judge. In both cases, the opposing attorneys and judge creates the final instructions that the jury will read.

The judge is given wide discretion in creating jury instructions and unless the jury instructions are plain wrong, they are rarely overturned. That was the case here. The defendant argued several issues with the jury instructions, and the appellate court found none of the issues were so great as to be wrong. The judge has vast discretion to determine the jury instructions.

“The court need not include specific language in a jury instruction, so long as the instructions as a whole correctly state the law.”

Washington Skier Safety Act does not have any definitions for terrain parks or jumps. Like many ski area acts, Washington’s has not been updated to keep up with the changes in the sport.

This left the defendant with a tough burden of proving the risks of jumping in a terrain park was an inherent risk of skiing.

Washington applies the landowner test to the duty owed to patrons at a ski area. Because the skier is there for the financial benefit of the ski area, the skier is a business invitee which the ski area owes “a duty to a skier to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the invitees, unless it is known or obvious.” The Appellate Court quoted from the Restatement of Torts to support its opinion, which places a very high burden upon a ski area.

An invitee is entitled to expect that the possessor will take reasonable care to ascertain the actual condition of the premises and, having discovered it, either to make it reasonably safe by repair or to give warning of the actual condition and the risk involved therein.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343, cmt. d (1965).

The defendant argued that a notice on a whiteboard was sufficient to warn of the dangers. However, the court found otherwise. The plaintiff’s experts also opined that there should have been an entrance to the jump so skiers could not get so much speed. That was supported by 15 incidents reports the plaintiff placed  into evidence of injuries from people landing beyond the jump landing zone. This was reduced from 66 the plaintiff had originally tried to have admitted.

If you keep paperwork showing a problem, you better also have paperwork showing what you did about the problem.

The ski area also argued they were not required to create a start point or place a sign there because the speed that a skier entered a jump was up to the skier.

The court, however, did make some statements from a skier’s perspective that seemed at odds with reality.

Lifts further contends that it had no duty to warn Salvini because he had used the jump before and was fully aware of its condition. This argument is not persuasive. Salvini’s previous use of the jump would not necessarily put him on notice that its design could increase the risk of severe injury from overshooting. Whether the jump’s deficiencies were “known and obvious” and whether Salvini should have anticipated the harm is a question of fact for the jury.

.. . . .

The trial court rejected most of the 66 incident reports offered by Salvini because it found that they were not sufficiently similar, and it admitted only “[t]hose accident reports documenting an injury occurring as a result of overshooting the jump in question, on either skis or snowboards (which go slower than skis.) … .” CP at 2635. If overshooting was a problem for slower moving snowboarders, it is reasonable to expect it to be a problem for skiers as well.

The first issue is that using a jump does not give you notice that the jump is dangerous seems to be at odds with reality. The issue that if you go over a jump and do not realize that it has increased dangers over skiing on flat terrain does not seem logical. Anytime you are going faster than you feel comfortable or above the ground without holding on to something seems to indicate an increase in risk that should be obvious to everyone.

At the same time, after you have done something dangerous enough times, enough being a different number for everyone, you become accustomed to the risk. However, being able to deal with the risk does not mean that you have totally lost the ability to understand or appreciate the risk.

The second is the court’s statement about snowboards going slower than skiers which does not seem to be supported in the opinion and could be argued in a lot of cases is as irrelevant. It is the skill of the person wearing the board or skis that have more of an influence on the speed rather than the implement itself.

This decision is a nasty one for ski areas. $14 million is a lot of money, especially for a small area and a small insurance pool

So Now What?

You cannot create risks just because every other competitor is doing it. If you state does not have the laws, or you do not have either the skills and knowledge or the defenses to deal with the risk you are over your head.

Find out what your competitors are doing. How they are approaching the risk. In this case, what fencing they are using, how they are building their features and who they are allowing in the features.

There were some very interesting things that occurred with this trial; however, that is the system we have in the US, and sometimes you get screwed.

Plaintiff: Kenneth Salvini

Defendant: Ski Lifts, Inc. (dba Snoqualmie Summit Ski Area)

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: inherent risks and signage

Holding: for the plaintiff

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

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Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

Carrie Lewis, Lesa Moffatt, Appellants, v. Snow Creek, Inc., Respondent.

WD 55070

COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT

6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

March 31, 1999, Opinion Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Passed June 1, 1999. Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to the Supreme Court Denied July 27, 1999. Opinion Readopted and Mandate Issued January 6, 2000, Reported at: 2000 Mo. App LEXIS 7.

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri. The Honorable Ward B. Stuckey, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

COUNSEL: Fritz Edmunds, Jr., Overland Park, KS, for Appellants.

Thomas Magee, St. Louis, MO, for Respondent.

JUDGES: Albert A. Riederer Judge. Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: ALBERT A. RIEDERER

OPINION

[*391] This is an appeal from summary judgments granted in each of two separate suits filed by two different plaintiffs making identical claims against Respondent. Pursuant to a motion filed by Appellants and Respondent, the cases have been consolidated on appeal. Because we find that there is disputed evidence regarding both Respondent’s liability as a possessor of land and Appellant’s implied assumption of the risk, and because we find that express assumption of the risk did not apply under the facts in this record, we reverse on those issues. However, because there is no disputed evidence regarding count III of the petitions, and because Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that count, we affirm as to that count.

Factual and Procedural Background

On January 8, 1995, Appellant Lesa Moffatt rented skis at Snow [**2] Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” On January 21, 1995, Appellant Carrie Lewis rented skis at Snow Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” The form states in pertinent part:

10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.

This document was signed by both Lewis and Moffatt during the process of renting equipment. Lewis and Moffatt both stood in line with people in front of and behind them when they received this form. The form had to be completed before obtaining skis and equipment. Both Lewis and Moffatt claim that they felt pressured to move along and did not have an adequate opportunity to read and fully comprehend the rental form.

Lewis [**3] and Moffatt both fell on ice at Snow Creek and were injured. Lewis and Moffatt each filed a separate petition against Respondent which included the same four counts: I. Defendant owed a duty to plaintiff as a business invitee, and breached that duty by failure to warn of the icy condition where the fall occurred; II. Defendant negligently adjusted and maintained the bindings on Plaintiff’s skis because they failed to properly release when plaintiff fell, injuring plaintiff’s leg; III. Defendant created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow; and IV. Defendant was grossly negligent in failing to warn plaintiff of the dangerous condition on its premises. Respondent generally [*392] denied Appellant’s claims in its answer and asserted affirmative defenses of comparative fault and assumption of the risk.

Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment in each case. Respondent submitted as evidence the “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form” and the deposition of the plaintiff in each case. In response to Respondent’s motions for summary judgment, each Appellant submitted additional evidence in the form of her own affidavit. Both motions for summary judgment were granted. Lewis’ and Moffatt’s [**4] claims are identical, and they have been consolidated on appeal.

Standard of Review

[HN1] Our standard of review of a summary judgment is essentially de novo. Lawrence v. Bainbridge Apartments, 957 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1997) (citing, ITT Commercial Finance Corp., v. Mid-America Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993)). We review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered and grant the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record. Id. [HN2] To be entitled to summary judgment a movant must demonstrate that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

In accordance with the law, we analyze whether summary judgment is appropriate on the record developed by the parties and presented to this court. The Respondent advances several arguments why summary judgment is appropriate. First, it claims as a possessor of land, it has no duty to warn a business invitee of dangers which are open and obvious as a matter of law and that the ice alleged to have caused the fall and injury was [**5] open and obvious as a matter of law. Second, it claims Appellants expressly assumed the risk of this injury by signing the Rental Form. Third, it claims Appellants impliedly assumed the risk of this injury by engaging in the sport of skiing. Fourth, it claims the Rental Form operates as a release.

I. Duty of the Possessor of Land

Respondent claims that the presence of ice on a ski slope should be determined to be an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.

A. Duty Owed To A Business Invitee

” [HN3] The standard of care owed by a possessor of land is dependent upon the status of the injured party.” Peterson v. Summit Fitness, Inc., 920 S.W.2d 928, 932 (Mo. App. 1996). An invitee “is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.” Harris v. Niehaus, 857 S.W.2d 222, 225 (Mo. banc 1993) (quoting, Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 332 (1965). As [HN4] business invitees, the Appellants were entitled to reasonable and ordinary care by Respondent to make its premises safe. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 932. A possessor of land is [**6] liable to an invitee only if the possessor:

(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and

(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger or will fail to protect themselves against it, and

(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.

Id. Generally, [HN5] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Id. at 933. “The exception to this rule is where ‘the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.'” Id. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id.

Given the preceding principles, the pivotal question is whether the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land [*393] as a matter of law. If we determine the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land as a matter of law, Respondent as possessor has no liability – unless he should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness. Id. [**7] Thus, the next question would be whether Respondent could reasonably rely on its invitees – skiers – to protect themselves from the danger of ice or whether Respondent should have expected that skiers would not appreciate the danger thus posed. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. We need not reach the second question because this court is unwilling, under the facts as developed in this case, to declare that the conditions on Respondent’s property, which allegedly caused the fall, were open and obvious as a matter of law. To the contrary, we find there is a genuine dispute regarding a material fact: the nature and character of the ice alleged to have caused the fall. “For purposes of Rule 74.04, [HN6] a ‘genuine issue’ exists where the record contains competent materials that evidence two plausible, but contradictory, accounts of the essential facts.” ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 382. “A ‘genuine issue’ is a dispute that is real, not merely argumentative, imaginary or frivolous.” Id. In this case, Appellants characterized the ice as large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow. The evidence is that the Appellants fell on ice which they did not see because [**8] of the snow. Respondent maintained that both Appellants encountered ice on trails that the Appellants had been down several times before they fell. This is not sufficient evidence for this court to find that the ice Appellants encountered was an open and obvious danger as a matter of law. It is not clear that the Appellants should have reasonably been expected to have discovered the icy condition. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. ” [HN7] When there is disputed evidence – as in this case – on whether the landowner had reason to expect this type of accident . . ., the case properly belongs to the jury.” Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 229. Therefore, we find that Respondent was not entitled to summary judgment because there is a genuine issue regarding the ice, and the ice in question was not an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.

II. Assumption of Risk

Appellants claim that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the defense of assumption of the risk requires a jury determination as to disputed material facts. Specifically, Appellants claim that a jury should decide whether they knew of the ice and whether they understood and appreciated the [**9] danger posed by the ice. Respondent claims that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of a risk inherent in the sport of skiing, and therefore, the Appellants assumed the risk, or in the alternative, that Appellants expressly assumed the risk by signing the rental form. [HN8] Assumption of risk is generally categorized as express, implied primary, and implied secondary (reasonable and unreasonable). Sheppard v. Midway R-1 School District, 904 S.W.2d 257, 261-62 (Mo. App. 1995).

A. Express Assumption of Risk

[HN9] Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff expressly agrees in advance that the defendant owes him no duty. Id. Recovery is completely barred since there is no duty in the first place. Id. Respondent argues that the Rental Form, signed by both Appellants, specifically mentioned the snow. Respondent correctly argues that the Rental Form relieves it of liability for injury due to snow. The evidence is that the Appellants knew about the snow and voluntarily assumed that risk. However, we cannot agree that the Rental Form relieves Respondent from injury liability due to ice. First, the Rental Form did not mention injury due to ice. [**10] In addition, the Rental Form could only relieve Respondent of such liability if the general reference to “negligence” is sufficient to do so. The clause of the Rental Form reads as follows:

[*394] 10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.

” [HN10] Although exculpatory clauses in contracts releasing an individual from his or her own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited as against public policy.” Alack v. Vic Tanny International of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 334 (Mo. 1996). “However, contracts exonerating a party from acts of future negligence are to be ‘strictly construed against the party claiming the benefit of the contract, and clear and explicit language [**11] in the contract is required to absolve a person from such liability.'” Id. (quoting, Hornbeck v. All American Indoor Sports, Inc., 898 S.W.2d 717, 721 (Mo. App. 1995)).

“Historically, [HN11] Missouri appellate courts have required that a release from one’s own future negligence be explicitly stated.” 923 S.W.2d at 336 (emphasis in original). The Court in Alack determined that the best approach was to follow precedent and decisions from our state as well as others and to require [HN12] clear, unambiguous, unmistakable, and conspicuous language in order to release a party from his or her own future negligence. 923 S.W.2d at 337. The language of the exculpatory clause must effectively notify a party that he or she is releasing the other party from claims arising from the other party’s own negligence. Id. General language will not suffice. Id. “The words ‘negligence’ or ‘fault’ or their equivalents must be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs.” Id. [HN13] Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law to be decided by the court. Id. “An ambiguity arises when there is [**12] duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the words used in the contract.” Id.

Respondent’s exculpatory clause uses the term “negligence.” However, that does not end our inquiry. We must determine whether the exculpatory clause uses “clear, unmistakable, unambiguous and conspicuous language.” Id. The exculpatory clause purports to shield Respondent from “any claim based on negligence and . . . any claim based upon . . . other legal theory. . . .” Alack teaches us that “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” Id. Respondent argues that the language from paragraph 8 of the rental form “does not purport to release defendant from liability for intentional torts, gross negligence, or activities involving the public interest ” and that use of the word “negligence” results in a clear understanding of the acts for which liability is released. We disagree. The exculpatory clause uses general language, to wit, “any claim based on . . . other legal theory.” This language includes intentional torts, [**13] gross negligence or any other cause of action not expressly listed. ” [HN14] A contract that purports to relieve a party from any and all claims but does not actually do so is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain.” Id. Here, the Rental Form purports to relieve Respondent of all liability but does not do so. Thus, it is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain, Id., and thence arises an ambiguity. Rodriguez v. General Accident, 808 S.W.2d 379, 382 (Mo. banc 1991).

In addition, the exculpatory language and its format did not effectively notify the Appellants that they were releasing Respondent from claims arising from its negligence. The form the Appellants signed was entitled “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” It did not indicate it [*395] was a release. This title was in large type and could not be reasonably construed to include release of liability. By contrast, the exculpatory clause is in approximately 5 point type at the bottom of the form. “[ [HN15] A] provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 335. The Appellants had to sign [**14] the Rental Form to receive ski equipment and had to do so while in a line. The language and format of the exculpatory clause leaves doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to the clause actually would understand what future claims he or she is waiving. Id. at 337-38. The language drafted by Respondent is not “unambiguous” or “conspicuous,” and thus does not meet the standard of Alack. Id.

Thus, Respondent cannot rely on that language to claim the Appellants expressly assumed the risk of the injury complained of in the petition.

B. Implied Assumption of Risk

[HN16] Implied assumption of risk includes two sub-categories, implied primary and implied secondary. Implied primary assumption of risk involves the question of whether the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from the risk of harm. Sheppard, 904 S.W.2d at 261. It applies where the parties have voluntarily entered a relationship in which the plaintiff assumes well-known incidental risks. Id. The plaintiff’s consent is implied from the act of electing to participate in the activity. Id. Implied primary assumption of the risk is also a complete bar [**15] to recovery. Id. at 262. On the other hand, [HN17] implied secondary assumption of the risk occurs when the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff but the plaintiff knowingly proceeds to encounter a known risk imposed by the defendant’s breach of duty. Id. In implied secondary assumption of the risk cases, the question is whether the plaintiff’s action is reasonable or unreasonable. Id. If the plaintiff’s action is reasonable, he is not barred from recovery. Id. If the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering a known risk is unreasonable, it is to be considered by the jury as one element of fault. Id. This case involves implied primary assumption of the risk.

Appellants claim the trial court erred when it ruled, “the court finds that the Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by skiing on the Defendant’s ski slope and that Plaintiff’s injuries were of a type inherent to the sport of skiing and that this incident involves dangers so obvious that the Defendant does not owe a duty to the Plaintiff and therefore is not required to warn the Plaintiff of such danger.” Respondent argues that the Appellants are barred by [**16] implied primary assumption of risk because by engaging in the sport of skiing, they impliedly assumed the risk of falling on the ice.

“Generally, [HN18] assumption of risk in the sports context involves primary assumption of risk because the plaintiff has assumed certain risks inherent in the sport or activity.” Id.

[HN19] Under comparative fault, if the plaintiff’s injury is the result of a risk inherent in the sport in which he was participating, the defendant is relieved from liability on the grounds that by participating in the sport, the plaintiff assumed the risk and the defendant never owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from that risk. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff’s injury is the result of negligence on the part of the defendant, the issue regarding the plaintiff’s assumption of that risk and whether it was a reasonable assumption of risk, is an element of fault to be compared to the defendant’s negligence by the jury.

Id. at 263-64. [HN20] The basis of implied primary assumption of risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk. Id. “If the risks of the activity are perfectly obvious or fully comprehended, plaintiff has consented to [**17] them and defendant has performed [*396] his or her duty.” Martin v. Buzan, 857 S.W.2d 366, 369 (Mo. App. 1993).

[HN21] As a “defending party,” Respondent may establish a right to summary judgment by showing that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support its properly pleaded affirmative defense and that those factors show Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381. In order for Respondent to have established its right to summary judgment based upon implied primary assumption of the risk, Respondent had to show that there was no genuine dispute that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of falling on ice, and that ice was a risk inherent in the sport of skiing. While there is no question that the Appellants’ injuries were a result of falling on ice, there is a genuine dispute regarding whether encountering the ice in this case is an inherent risk of skiing. Respondent notes that many states including Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia have all enacted statutes which codify assumption of the risk as is pertains to the sport [**18] of snow skiing. However, there is no such statute in Missouri, and this court is not willing to say, as a blanket rule, that all ice encountered on Respondent’s property is an inherent risk in the sport of snow skiing. There is a genuine dispute as to the nature of the ice. Was it “large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow on the ski slopes,” as the Appellants claim, or was it ice on the slopes that the Appellants had been over several times prior to falling. These are questions which must be answered by a fact-finder. [HN22] While the basis of implied primary assumption of the risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk, the plaintiff must be aware of the facts that create the danger and they must appreciate the danger itself. Shepard, 904 S.W.2d at 264. Thus, the standard is a subjective one: “what the particular plaintiff in fact sees, knows, understands and appreciates.” Id. Here, the record does not include evidence that the Appellants were aware of the facts that created the danger or that they appreciated the danger itself. In fact, there was only evidence to the contrary, that the Appellants did not know, understand or appreciate [**19] the ice because it was under snow.

Therefore, we find that summary judgment cannot, on this record, be based upon express or implied primary assumption of the risk.

III. Release

Respondent argues on appeal that the “Rental Form” operated as a release. Respondent did not plead release as an affirmative defense in its answer. [HN23] Release is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded in an answer. Rule 55.08. Failure to plead an affirmative defense constitutes a waiver of the defense. Leo’s Enterprises, Inc. v. Hollrah, 805 S.W.2d 739, 740 (Mo. App. 1991). Since Respondent did not plead the affirmative defense of release, summary judgment would not be proper based upon the theory of release.

Artificial Snow

We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on Count III of the Appellants’ petitions. The Appellants state in Count III of their petitions that Respondent created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow and dispersing it on the ski slope and that Respondent owed a duty to them as business invitees not to create dangerous conditions on the premises. The trial court was correct in granting Respondent’s summary judgment [**20] on Count III, because [HN24] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id. Respondent could be liable only if it was not reasonable [*397] for it to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk and to take reasonable precautions. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. Artificial snow at Snow Creek is an open and obvious condition, and it is reasonable for Respondent to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk of artificial snow and to take appropriate precautions.

Conclusion

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed as to Count III of each of the petitions. It is reversed and remanded for further proceedings on counts I, II, & IV.

Albert A. Riederer, Judge

Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

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Bad luck or about time, however, you look at this decision, you will change the way you work in the Outdoor Recreation Industry

Foster, et al., v. Kosseff, et al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5380

It is an industry, and it is not based on dreams or what your think it should be: Welcome to the real world

Simply, someone went into a climbing wall at a university, was paid to review the risk-management issues, created a report and is now being sued because of it.

The plaintiff was a student and employee of Whitman College of Spokane Washington. The plaintiff worked at the climbing wall as an instructor. She was injured when she fell 32 feet from the climbing wall. (Some of this information I got from a news article Student crushes vertebrae in climbing wall fall.) The court opinion says she was training on the wall. The article says she was cleaning holds when she fell.

She fell because a shut failed to work properly. The decision said the plaintiff failed to use the shut properly. The manufacturer of the Shut was not included in the lawsuit.

Alex Kosseff and Adventure Safety International, LLC, (ASI) were named as defendants. ASI had been hired by the college to perform a “risk management audit.” A document was prepared by ASI, which was titled Whitman College Outdoor Programs Draft Risk Management Audit. One of the major arguments was the report was labeled a draft report.

ASI, according to the article, was also hired by the college after the accident to investigate the complaint.

The plaintiff sued, and ASI filed an answer to the complaint. This motion was then filed moving to have ASI dismissed from the suit.

The court found that the plaintiff could continue her claim against the defendant because she was a third party beneficiary of the agreement between the college and the defendant or because as an employee of the college at the time of the accident, she was part of the agreement. Plaintiff would not have a claim against the defendant if she was an incidental beneficiary of the contract.

The question then “depends upon the extent to which ASI agreed to undertake the risk management audit for the benefit of the college’s employees and students rather than for the benefit the college itself.”

So if she was an employee of college at the time of the accident, is the basis for this claim a worker’s compensation subrogation claim?

Summary of the case

The basis of ASI’s motion was it did not owe a duty to the plaintiff.

The crux of ASI’s argument is that it did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care because the dangerous condition which caused her accident was simply “outside the scope of the risk-management audit” that it agreed to perform. Specifically, ASI argues that the scope of the audit was limited to “gain[ing] a general understanding of [Whitman College’s] risk management practices,” and that it did not “guarantee that future operations will be free of safety incidents.”

ASI is saying that they were working for the college, not the plaintiff. The court did not buy the argument.

The court held the audit report was not the only reason for its decision and was not necessarily required by the plaintiff to prove her case. That issue, whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.

The court looked at the plaintiff as the intended recipient, the third party beneficiary, of the work done by ASI. I also think the court could have held that the plaintiff was the intended beneficiary of the report because she was an employee of the College.

If you are hired to work for a college and the work, you are performing is for the benefit of the patrons of the college, you are possibly liable to the students.

This was just a preliminary motion, there is a lot of litigation and trial left in this case, and ASI may eventually be dismissed. However, ASI will have to find better arguments.

So Now What?

1.      If you are performing this type of work, you can be sued. I’ve known it for years, and I’m amazed the number of people who are astounded by this decision.

2.    If you do this type of work, you need insurance to cover your liability.

3.    If you do this type of work, based on this decision, you can’t miss anything.

4.    If you do this type of work you better not be stupid enough to call what you do an audit.

Remember that marketing makes promises that risk management has to pay for. Audit sounded like a cool word to use to describe walking into a program and looking around. However, audit has a much more definitive definition. Wikipedia uses the following words to define “audit:” thoroughly examines and reasonable assurance that the statements are free from material error.

5.     Why are you doing this work? Do you have the credentials and the experience to make these decisions? What is your engineering degree? What ASTM committees that are involved in the creation of the equipment and facilities that you audit are you on? What equipment are you taking with you to perform the appropriate tests?

And this is not the only way that a third party can be brought into a suit like this. They misrepresented their abilities (Which I believe every single one of them is doing) which can lead to liability.

You just can’t say I’ve done it for 10 years. Therefore, I can tell you how to do it. You have to study and inspect and test. You have to take the climbing wall apart and see if the structure is built correctly. Are the bolts the proper size and strength and not just was some pseudo organization says but what the ASTM says it should be? What is the force the climbing wall can sustain? Is all the equipment in the chain where force will be applied, built and maintained to sustain that force?

This is a bad case, but not one that is unexpected just took longer to occur then I would have guessed.

If you do have an accident, you can’t hire the person who did your inspect to do the accident inspection. Besides that, inspection is not protected and is discoverable by the plaintiff.

The three largest payouts in the OR industry occurred after third party investigators were hired to determine what happened. In one, the plaintiffs took the investigators report and turned it into the complaint.

If you have a wall or run a program hire professional. Not people you may meet at a show, but people with real credentials after their name.

If you think, you still want to keep doing this, make sure your agreement with the program defines what you can and cannot do, and that you are not liable for the programs’ failure to follow your recommendations.

 

Plaintiff: Stephanie Foster

 

Defendant: Alex Kosseff, et al.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Defendant was negligent in failing to discover the risk posed by the Super Shut anchor.

 

Defendant Defenses: Defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care.

 

Holding: Defendant’s motion to dismiss was denied.

 

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Ski Binding Failure to Release under Indiana Law

Moore v. Sitzmark Corporation and Salomon North America, Inc., 555 N.E.2d 1305; 1990 Ind. App. LEXIS 769; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P12,523

Indiana, like most states’, product liability law is controlled by statute which severely limits the defenses available to a defendant. Here the retailer and manufacture were sued for injuries when a ski binding failed to release, both being in the chain of the sale of the product. The plaintiff had signed a “sales slip” which contained release language when she picked up the skis; however the sales slip (release) was only effective against one of the three claims of the plaintiff.

The defendants had filed a motion for summary judgment at the trial court which was granted on all counts. The plaintiff appealed and the appellate court reversed on two of the three product liability claims.

The plaintiff had purchased new skis and bindings from the retailer Sitzmark Corporation which included bindings manufactured by Salomon North America. On the plaintiff’s third run while skiing and her first fall on her new equipment she fell suffering a compound fracture.

The plaintiff sued claiming negligence and strict liability. The negligence claim included two sub-claims negligent design of the bindings and negligent adjustment of the bindings by the retailer. The defenses were “incurred risk” and the release contained in the sales slip. Indiana uses the term incurred risk instead of the term assumption of the risk.

Summary of the case

The language in the sales slip that constituted the release language, excerpted below, did not contain the magic word release. It only talked about assumption of the risk issues. The plaintiff did acknowledge understanding the language.

I have been instructed in the use of my equipment, I have read the manufacturer’s instruction pamphlet (new bindings only), I have made no misrepresentation in regard to my height, weight, age, or skiing ability . . . . I understand that there are inherent and other risks involved in the sport for which this equipment is to be used, snow skiing, that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of the sport and I freely assume those risks. I understand that the ski boot binding system will not release at all times or under all circumstances, nor is it possible to predict every situation in which it will release and is therefore no guarantee for my safety. I therefore release the ski shop and its owners, agents and employees from any and all liability for damage and from the selection, adjustment and use of this equipment, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury which may result.

The court reversed the lower court and reinstated the plaintiff’s strict liability claim. Strict liability is set out by statute in Indiana, Ind. Code 33-1-1.5-1 et seq. The court stated the statute had a three part test for the manufacture and retailer to use as a defense in a strict liability claim.

First, a plaintiff’s knowledge of the defect.

Second, a plaintiff’s unreasonable use of the product despite knowledge of the defect.

Third, a plaintiff’s injuries caused by the product.

The court analyzed the arguments and decided that neither defendant could prove that the plaintiff new of any defect in the binding. This was different from the argument they could prove, through the release language that “Moore knew her bindings would not release under all circumstances.” Because neither defendant could win on step one the case was sent back.

The first negligence claim was a common law negligence claim. Common law meaning the law that evolved over time (and not based on statute), usually from the law carried over from Great Britain. The common law was developed in England during the 1500’s from the King’s decrees and the church’s equity decisions. As time progressed these laws became more streamline and eventually codified, or written down. The common law still exists in all states and is the basis for the law in every state (Louisiana being the sole exception). Only when a statute has been created will a section of the common law for that state disappear or cease to exist. Ninety-nine percent of all negligence claims are common law. A state may have a void in its common law, an area that has never been decided in the state before, however this is getting rare now days.

A common law product liability action in Indiana can be defeated by the defense of incurred or assumption of the risk. However assumption of the risk as a defense had been merged into comparative negligence in Indiana at this time.

The defendants argued that by signing the sales slip the plaintiff assumed the risk of the defect in the product. The court however found the sales slip was proof of assumption of the risk, but not of assumption of negligence the difference is the greater requirement of knowledge required by the statute. Because the first time she fell was also the time she was injured the plaintiff had no direct knowledge of the defect of the product. In this case defect would mean failure of the binding to release. As such, the defense failed because there was no proof of assumption of the risk of negligence. Because the binding has not failed to release prior to the injury, the plaintiff had no knowledge of the binding failing to release that she could assume. This claim was also sent back to the lower court.

The third and final claim was based on negligently “setting, adjusting or checking the bindings.” Here the sales slip with its release language was effective. The court stated “These alleged acts of negligence are exactly those for which Moore granted Sitzmark a release of liability when she read and signed the sales slip.” This final claim was dismissed by the appellate court.

This case is a little confusing because of two issues. Indiana law on product liability is different from many states and the release language in the sales slip was very poorly written. There is not much that can be done about Indiana’s product liability law and the limitation on the defenses available manufacture’s and retailers. However a well written release might have prevented one of the product liability claims.

So Now What?

The release is not clearly identified, other than in a sales slip in this opinion. However during this period, these releases were fairly uniform and used by shops across the US. These preprinted forms are written in a way as to not cause a problem with any state laws rather than to effectively stop a claim.

Having a release in this case that specifically used the word the negligence and identified the defendants as the shop, by name and all manufactures would be the first start. The court spent a lot of space finding a way to bring the manufacture into the defense provided by the release language when the language did not specifically mention the manufacture. The language of the release should incorporate the necessary defenses of the Indiana Strict Liability Act so that the defense in the act is available. The negligence claims should be identified both for negligent acts, negligent mounting and setting and negligent in the design, manufacture or construction of the product. The language should also include more specific assumption of the risk language so the purchaser or customer who is having repairs done understands the risks are not that the binding may not work, but that the risk is the binding will not work and that the user should ski knowing that and in a safe way.

A well written release, based on Indiana law may be difficult to do. However, a well written release will still be better than the one at issue here. Each claim that survives the motions and appeal increases the cost of litigating and the cost of a possible settlement. If the release had eliminated one more of the claims a lower settlement would be easier to achieve, maybe even a complete win at trial.

Plaintiff: Eldonna Moore

 

Defendant: Sitzmark Corporation and Salomon North America, Inc.,

 

Plaintiff Claims: negligence (product liability) and strict liability

 

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk (Incurred Risk) and Release

 

Holding: One claim dismissed based on the release and the two remaining claims sent back to the trial court.

 

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If you really are bad, a judge will figure out a way to void your release

Davis, v. 3 Bar F Rodeo, 2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423

Appellate court sends back to trial court on issue that release did not protect against Gross Negligence, and the deceased did not have time to read the release.

I guess I knew that these contests happened. I grew up in a rural community where we had greased pig contests, but nothing like this. The plaintiff entered a contest where he went into a rodeo and stood in a white circle. There were other participants also standing in circles. A bull was released into the ring. The last person standing in a white circle won. Prize money was $50.00. The contest was called the “Ring of Fear.” The bull struck the deceased bursting his liver.

$50.00?

The plaintiff’s spouse sued. The deceased prior to entering the ring signed a release. The release was comprehensive but apparently had all participant signatures on one form. Allegedly, the deceased was not given any time to read the release.

Prior to the bull being released into the ring, the bull was allegedly provoked by jabbing him with a wooden object and beating sticks against the bull’s cage. (I’m guessing PETA is not big in this part of Kentucky…….)

The trial court dismissed the complaint based on the release signed by the deceased. The plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

The appellate court first looked at the Kentucky Farm Animals Activities Act (FAAA) KRS 247.401 through KRS 247.4029. The court found the statute was applicable to the facts in this case. The court also found that the warnings found in the act provided immunity to defendants who posted the warnings. Failure to post the warnings did not create a claim of negligence per se or strict liability as the plaintiff argued. Failing to post the warnings simply failed to provide the immunity under the statute.

The court also found that the FAAA allowed farm animal event sponsors to sue the act if they posted the warning signs.

The court found that the FAAA had no duty to reduce or eliminate the inherent risks found in farm animal activities. The court also found that act did not protect sponsors that intentionally mistreat or aggravate a farm animal. That would be the antithesis of the purpose of the act.

The court then looked at the issue of the release and stated,

While agreements to exempt future liability for either ordinary or gross negligence are not invalid per se, they are generally disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying upon them. [Emphasize added]

Although not a definitive statement on the issue, it appears that under Kentucky law, a release will protect a defendant against a claim of gross negligence.

Releases in Kentucky will be upheld if they meet the following tests if:

(1) it explicitly expresses an intention to exonerate by using the word “negligence;” or

(2) it clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release a party from liability for a personal injury caused by that party’s own conduct; or

(3) protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction of the contract language; or

(4) the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision.

From a legal point, this is an extremely broad language about how a release will be interpreted by the courts.

The court then examined the release and found no language the court could interpret that could be used to say the release was going to stop a gross negligence claim. The court also found that intentionally mistreating the bull would “at the very least constitute gross negligence.”

The court followed up by stating that infuriating a bull would constitute willful of wanton conduct which “a party may not contract away any liability through a release.”

Finally, the court looked at a laundry list of additional issues raised by the plaintiff:

..that Appellees should have inquired as to the abilities of the participants to participate in the Ring of Fear. Finally, Susan contends that Charles did not have an opportunity to read the release prior to signing it.

The court stated that those were all factual issues to be resolved by a trier of fact.

So Now What?

Although the issue that a release in Kentucky may protect against gross negligence is great as well as the broad language that can be used in a release in Kentucky, the last two issues mentioned by the court allow numerous ways to void releases in Kentucky and place a burden upon the business or program operating in Kentucky and using a release.

That is requiring an outfitter to see if a guest has the sufficient skills, ability and desire to undertake the activities and making sure the person signing a release has sufficient time to read the release.

Solving the problems of the Defendant

First, I would have raised an assumption of risk argument, although I am not sure of the status of A/R in Kentucky. However, I believe that it is pretty obvious that you can get gored by a bull in a ring. The deceased and the plaintiff were going to the event for a rodeo so it had to have been obvious, to some extent.

Second by having separate releases rather than one sign-up sheet, the argument that the deceased did not have time to read the release could have been diffused if not eliminated. If each person has a sheet of paper, then there is no rush to get all the signatures on one sheet of paper.

Still to be resolved

The issue that the defendant did not enquire as to the ability of the participant to participate in the Ring of Fire is an open-ended opportunity for every lawsuit in Kentucky to go to trial.

How are you going to determine the requirements for a participant to undertake an activity? No matter what system, test or determination you make, you did not do a good job if someone is hurt or injured on your trip. Nor can you use medical information to determine if someone can participate because unless you are a physician, that would require diagnosis which you cannot do.

The only solution you can come up with to create a system so the participants can self-determine if they are able to participate. Show a video or create a checklist.  Make sure your release states that the person has watched the video, seen your website and reviewed the checklist and understands it is their responsibility to determine if they are able to participate in the activity.

This could be a nightmare in Kentucky.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Oldja v. Warm Beach Christian Camps And Conference Center, 793 F. Supp. 2d 1208; 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67966

Oldja v. Warm Beach Christian Camps And Conference Center, 793 F. Supp. 2d 1208; 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67966

Ted Oldja, Plaintiff, v. Warm Beach Christian Camps And Conference Center, Defendant.

CASE NO. C09-0122-JCC

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON

793 F. Supp. 2d 1208; 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67966

June 24, 2011, Decided

June 24, 2011, Filed

COUNSEL: [**1] For Ted Oldja, Plaintiff: Kenneth R Friedman, LEAD ATTORNEY, FRIEDMAN RUBIN, BREMERTON, WA; Michael N White, FRIEDMAN RUBIN, (BREMERTON), BREMERTON, WA.

For Warm Beach Christian Camps and Conference Center, Defendant: David R Goodnight, Vanessa Soriano Power, STOEL RIVES (WA), SEATTLE, WA; Francis S Floyd, Nicholas L Jenkins, FLOYD PFLUEGER & RINGER PS, SEATTLE, WA.

JUDGES: John C. Coughenour, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: John C. Coughenour

OPINION

[*1209] ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant’s motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 49), Plaintiff’s response (Dkt. No. 53), and Defendant’s reply. (Dkt. No. 59.) Having thoroughly considered the parties’ briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained herein.

I. BACKGROUND

In the summer of 2007, Ted Oldja attended a camp at Warm Beach Christian Camp (“Warm Beach”) in Stanwood, Washington. Mr. and Mrs. Oldja decided to ride on the zip line operated by Warm Beach. The zip line carried riders in a harness suspended from a cable by two ropes: a white rope, which acts as the primary connection between the harness and the cable, and bears the load of the rider’s weight; and [**2] a black rope, which acts as a secondary connection between the harness and the cable, and can be used as a safety line to slow the rider down.

Before a user rides the zip line, it is the job of the launch facilitator to follow a safety procedure. First, the facilitator tells the rider that they can hold on to either the white and black ropes during the ride, or just the white rope. The facilitator instructs riders not to hold only the black secondary line, because it will slow them down or stop them completely. The facilitator then double-checks the harness configuration, pulley attachments, safety helmet, and carabiners. The launch facilitator calls “zip clear” to the landing facilitator to communicate that the rider is ready, and the landing facilitator responds “zip clear” to communicate that the path is clear for the rider.

After watching his wife on the ride, it was Mr. Oldja’s turn. The launch facilitator, Paul Matthewson, testified that he followed the proper safety procedures. (Dkt. No. 49 Ex. 2 at 51- 53.) Matthewson testified that he did not see Oldja wrap his fingers in the white primary rope, and that Oldja’s fingers were not wrapped in the rope when Matthewson cleared him [**3] to go. (Id. at 60.) Some time after Matthewson called “zip clear,” Mr. Oldja, a mechanical engineer, wrapped his fingers in the white primary rope, and stepped off the platform. The load-bearing rope tightened [*1210] around his hand and crushed his fingers. Mr. Oldja was rushed to a hospital and has had several surgeries on his hand. Plaintiff filed suit against Warm Beach for negligence, product liability, and negligence per se under a variety of theories. Defendant now moves for summary judgment dismissal of all three of these claims. Plaintiff does not oppose summary judgment on the product liability claim.

II. APPLICABLE LAW

[HN1] Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) mandates that a motion for summary judgment be granted when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). There exists a genuine issue as to a particular fact–and hence that fact “can be resolved only by a finder of fact” at trial–when “[it] may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party”; conversely, there exists no genuine issue when reasonable [**4] minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-52, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Whether a particular fact is material, in turn, is determined by the substantive law of the case: “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248. Summary judgment, then, demands an inquiry into “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law”; if applying the relevant law to those facts about which no two reasonable factfinders could disagree dictates that the moving party must prevail, then a motion for summary judgment must be granted. Id. at 250-52.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Duty of Ordinary Care

Plaintiff argues that it is well established that every business has a duty to use ordinary care in keeping its premises reasonably safe for use by business invitees. (Dkt. No. 53 at 10.) Defendant argues that Section 388 of the Second Restatement of Torts should govern the analysis. [**5] The Court addresses Section 388 below, but Section 388 governs only the duty to disclose and does not govern the duty of ordinary care. Defendant has not shown an absence of a genuine issue of material fact with respect to its alleged breach of the duty of ordinary care. Accordingly, summary judgment dismissal of this claim is denied.

B. Duty to Disclose

[HN2] With reference to a duty to disclose, The Supreme Court of Washington has adopted Section 388 of the Second Restatement of Torts, which states that the supplier is liable if he:

a) knows or has reason to know that the chattel is or is likely to be dangerous for the use for which it is supplied, and

b) has no reason to believe that those for whose use the chattel is supplied will realize its dangerous condition, and

c) fails to exercise reasonable care to inform them of its dangerous condition or of the facts which make it likely to be dangerous.

Fleming v. Stoddard Wendle Motor Co., 70 Wn.2d 465, 423 P.2d 926, 928 (Wash. 1967).

Plaintiff argues that he is choosing not to pursue his claims under Section 388. Rather, Plaintiff argues that the Court [*1211] should consider Section 343A, which creates a duty to protect invitees from known or obvious dangers when the [**6] landowner should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge and obviousness.

Plaintiff is misguided. [HN3] He may choose the claims he brings, but he cannot choose the standard the Court will apply to those claims. Section 343 governs liability for an activity or condition on the land. Section 388 governs liability for use of a chattel. “Chattel” means movable or transferable property. Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009). Defendant argues that the zip line is movable property, and Plaintiff does not challenge this characterization. The Court agrees. Plaintiff’s injury was caused by equipment on the land, not the land itself. Accordingly, Section 388 governs Plaintiff’s claims. Lunt v. Mt. Spokane Skiing Corp., 62 Wn. App. 353, 814 P.2d 1189, 1192 (Wash. Ct. App. 1991) (where injury arises from equipment not land, Section 388 not Section 343 governs).

[HN4] Each of the three criteria in Section 388 must be satisfied. The Court will begin with consideration of the second criterion. To prevail on this element at the summary judgment phase, Plaintiff must show some evidence that Defendant had no reason to believe that riders of the zip line would realize the dangerous condition. This is a dense piece of legal language, [**7] so an illustration is helpful.

In Fleming v. Stoddard Wendle Motor Co., 70 Wn.2d 465, 423 P.2d 926 (Wash. 1967), a man disabled a safety feature on a truck that was designed to prevent the motor from starting if the car was in gear. He sold the truck to a mechanic and did not disclose that the safety feature had been disabled. When the purchaser started the truck, it lurched forward, striking and injuring the plaintiff. The Supreme Court of Washington noted that the man who had sold the car had no reason to believe that any future operator of the car would know that the safety feature had been disabled. Id. at 928. Because the seller had no reason to believe the defect would be discovered, he had a duty to warn of that defect. The defect was latent and no amount of common sense or automotive knowledge could inform a driver about that particular hazard. Dismissal of the seller was reversed.

In contrast, Mele v. Turner, 106 Wn.2d 73, 720 P.2d 787 (Wash. 1986) concerns a case where a young man borrowed a lawn mower from his neighbors, inserted his hand into the mower housing to clean out some wet grass, and injured four fingers. The young man admitted in an affidavit: “I obviously realized that one should not put [**8] his hand under the machine where the blade runs . . . .” Id. at 790. The Court held that because the dangerous condition was obvious and known, defendants had no legal duty to warn. Id. There was nothing latent about the defect, and common sense would inform the user of the hazard.

The present case is much closer to Mele than Fleming. Plaintiff’s injury was the natural result of wrapping a rope around one’s hand and then suspending one’s body from that rope. This was not a latent or hidden condition that only Defendant could know. Common sense of a capable adult is sufficient to inform a rider of this danger. Plaintiff admitted as much in his deposition:

Q. Did you know that if you wrapped the rope around your fingers and then you put weight on the rope, that that would tighten and cinch around your fingers?

A. The thought did not cross my mind.

Q. Okay. You didn’t think about that correct?

A. Correct.

Q. But if you had thought about it, you would have been able to figure that out, correct?

[*1212] A. If someone asked me?

Q. Yes.

A. Yes.

(Dkt. No. 50 at Ex. A 196:14-197:1.) Given Plaintiff’s admission that he would have realized the danger if he had thought about it, Plaintiff cannot credibly argue [**9] that Defendant had no reason to believe that he would realize the danger.

The only evidence Plaintiff offers on this point is the testimony of Dr. Richard Gill, a Human Factors Engineering consultant. Dr. Gill was disclosed as a rebuttal expert, and testified that the scope of his work was to provide rebuttal testimony to the three defense experts. (Dkt. No. 60 at Ex. 1, Ex 2 16:8-9.) Dr. Gill’s expert report provides a series of conclusions about the behavior of zip line riders that does not rebut any of the testimony of Defendant’s experts. Rather, this type of testimony should have been disclosed in the initial expert discovery responses and is therefore untimely. Accordingly, Dr. Gill’s testimony regarding the behavioral tendencies of zip line or challenge course participants is STRICKEN. Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact with respect to Defendant’s liability under Section 388.

C. Liability for violation of state regulations

Plaintiff’s next argument is that Defendant was negligent pursuant to RCW 5.40.050 for violation of a state statute. [HN5] WAC 296-403A-190 states that amusement rides must be inspected by certified inspectors. RCW 67.42.010 and [**10] WAC 296-403A-100(2) provide the definition of amusement rides, but do not mention zip lines. Plaintiff argues that these definitions do include zip lines, and relies on a series of communications with the State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”) in 2009 and 2010 in support of this contention. (Dkt. No. 50 at Ex. 11.)

The Court interprets these communications very differently from Plaintiff. It is clear from these emails that the decision to include zip lines in the definition of “amusement ride” under WAC 296-403A-100(2) was not made until late 2009 or early 2010, more than two years after Plaintiff injured his hand on Defendant’s zip line. (Dkt. No. 50 at Ex. 11.) Plaintiff does not address this chronology in his briefing. It is misleading in the extreme for Plaintiff to characterize Defendant’s zip line as “unlicensed” when the licensing body had not yet decided that a license was required. Plaintiff has failed to show a genuine issue of material fact with respect to Defendant’s failure to comply with licensing requirements.

D. Common Carrier Liability

Plaintiff’s third argument is that Defendant is subject to common carrier liability. [HN6] Under Washington law, the duty [**11] of a common carrier to safeguard passengers from injury requires the carrier to exercise the highest degree of care consistent with the practical operation of its business or its type of transportation. Benjamin v. Seattle, 74 Wn.2d 832, 447 P.2d 172 (1968). Plaintiff acknowledges that there is no Washington caselaw addressing the issue of whether a zip line qualifies as a “common carrier,” but argues that this Court should expand the definition to include zip lines and similar amusement rides. In support of this argument, Plaintiff mentions a series of California decisions holding that a higher standard of care applies to amusement rides. Gomez v. Superior Court, 35 Cal. 4th 1125, 29 Cal. Rptr. 3d 352, 113 P.3d 41, 47 (Cal. 2005) (holding that the same high standard of care applied to carriers of passengers should also apply to operators of roller [*1213] coasters); Neubauer v. Disneyland, 875 F. Supp. 672, 673 (C.D. Cal. 1995) (holding that under California’s broad common carrier statute, a Disneyland amusement ride may be a common carrier).

This argument stumbles into the yawning gap between the Washington and California common-carrier statutes. [HN7] California’s common carrier statute is broad: Every one who offers to the public to carry persons, [**12] property, or messages, excepting only telegraphic messages, is a common carrier of whatever he thus offers to carry. Cal Civ Code § 2168. Washington’s common carrier statute is narrow and exhaustive:

“Common carrier” includes all railroads, railroad companies, street railroads, street railroad companies, commercial ferries, motor freight carriers, auto transportation companies, charter party carriers and excursion service carriers, private nonprofit transportation providers, solid waste collection companies, household goods carriers, hazardous liquid pipeline companies, and every corporation, company, association, joint stock association, partnership, and person, their lessees, trustees, or receivers appointed by any court whatsoever, and every city or town, owning, operating, managing, or controlling any such agency for public use in the conveyance of persons or property for hire within this state.

RCW 81.04.010(11). Plaintiff offers no argument or evidence for the proposition that this definition includes a zip line. Again, Plaintiff has failed to show a genuine issue of material fact with respect to Defendant’s liability as an alleged common carrier.

IV. CONCLUSION

Defendant’s motion [**13] for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 49) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Plaintiff’s claims for breach of the duty of ordinary care survive summary judgment. Plaintiff’s claims for breach of the duty to disclose, claims relating to the violation of the WAC, and claims relating to common carrier liability are DISMISSED.

DATED this 24th day of June 2011.

/s/ John C. Coughenour

John C. Coughenour

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE