Colorado Appellate Court rules that fine print and confusing language found on most health clubs (and some climbing wall) releases is void because of the Colorado Premises Liability Act.

Door swings both ways in the law. Ski areas used the Colorado Premises Liability Act to lower the standard of care and effectively eliminate claims for lift accidents in Colorado. Here the same act is used to rule a release is void for accidents occurring on premises. However, the release was badly written and should have been thrown out.

Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

State: Colorado, Colorado Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Wendy Jane Stone

Defendant: Life Time Fitness, Inc., a Minnesota corporation doing business in the State of Colorado, d/b/a Life Time Fitness; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and violation of the Colorado Premises Liability Act

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2016

This case is going to change a lot of releases in Colorado, and possibly nationwide. Similar decisions concerning health club releases have occurred in other states for the same or similar reasons. Basically, your have to write a release correctly, or it is void.

Remember the articles about Vail using the Colorado Premises Liability Act to defeat claims for lift accidents? (See Colorado Premises Liability act eliminated common law claims of negligence as well as CO Ski Area Safety Act claims against a landowner and Question answered; Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes Colorado Ski Area Safety act. Standard of care owed skiers on chairlift’s reasonable man standard?) The same act has been used to void a release in a health club case.

The Colorado Premises Liability Act is a law that tells a landowner (which is broadly defined to include renters as well as landowners indoors and out) how they must treat three types of people on their land or as in this case, a person who is in a health club.

Here the plaintiff had washed her hands in the locker room, and as she was leaving she tripped over the blow dryer cord fracturing her right ankle.

Stone was a member of a Life Time fitness club located in Centennial. According to the complaint, she sustained injuries in the women’s locker room after finishing a workout. Stone alleged that she had washed her hands at a locker room sink and then “turned to leave when she tripped on the blow dryer cord that was, unbeknownst to her, hanging to the floor beneath the sink and vanity counter top.” She caught her foot in the cord and fell to the ground, fracturing her right ankle.

The plaintiff’s injuries arose from her being the land, not for using the benefits of the health club.

The plaintiff sued for negligence and for violation of the Colorado Premises Liability Act. The Colorado Premises Liability Act sets for the duties owed by a landowner to someone on their land based on the relationship between the landowner and the person on the land. Pursuant to an earlier Colorado Supreme Court decision, the Colorado Premises Liability Act provides the sole remedies available to persons injured on the property of another.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims based upon the release used by the health club, and the plaintiff appealed.

This decision is new and there is a possibility that it could be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court and reversed.

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

The plaintiff filed here a complaint with two claims, negligence and breach of the Colorado Premises Liability Act. The court first looked at the negligence claim. The court found that negligence claim was properly dismissed, but for a different reason that the release stopped the claim. Here, the Colorado Premises Liability Act provides the only legal recourse against a landowner, so the negligence claim has no validity.

The PLA thus provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property established that the PLA abrogates common law negligence claims against landowners.

Accordingly, albeit for reasons different from those expressed by the trial court, we conclude that Stone could not bring a claim for common law negligence, and the trial court; therefore, correctly ruled against her on that claim.

When a statute as in this case the Colorado Premises Liability Act, states the only way to sue is under this act, the statute bars all other ways or theories to sue.

The plaintiff’s argument then was the release that was written and signed by the plaintiff only covered the activities in the health club and did not provide protection from a suit for simply being on the premises.

As we understand Stone’s contentions, she does not dispute that the exculpatory language in the Agreement would preclude her from asserting claims under the PLA for any injuries she might sustain when working out on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or other exercise equipment or playing racquetball. We therefore do not address such claims. Instead, Stone argues that the exculpatory clauses do not clearly and unambiguously apply to her injuries incurred after washing her hands in the women’s locker room.

The court then reviewed the general rules surrounding release in Colorado law.

Generally, exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored.” Determining the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court. This analysis requires close scrutiny of the agreement to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal language.

Under Colorado law, clear and unambiguously language is reviewed based on the lengthy, the amount of legal jargon and the possibility of confusion.

To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, we have previously examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.

Colorado has a four-part test to determine the validity of a release.

Under Jones, a court must consider four factors in determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language.

The court quickly ruled that the first three factors were not at issue in this case.

In Colorado, there is no public duty based on recreational services. Recreational services are neither essential nor a matter of practical necessity. The third factor was also met because the defendant did not have any advantage. The plaintiff was free to obtain the services of the defendant someplace else.

The fourth factor provided the issue the case would resolve around, “Whether the intention of the parties was clear and unambiguous.”

The issue is not whether a detailed textual analysis would lead a court to determine that the language, even if ambiguous, ultimately would bar the plaintiff’s claims. Instead, the language must be clear and unambiguous and also “unequivocal” to be enforceable.

The court found eight ways the release in this case failed.

First, the release was very small type, dense fine print.

First, as explained by the New York Court of Appeals, “a provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Here, the Agreement consists of extremely dense fine print, for which a great many people would require a magnifying glass or magnifying reading glasses.

Second, the release was full of confusing legal jargon, including the following terms:

…affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or assigns”; “assumption of risk”; “inherent risk of injury”; “includes, but is not limited to”; and “I agree to defend, indemnify and hold Life Time Fitness harmless.

This jargon was found to mitigate against the idea the release was clear and simple to understand.

Third, the release, referenced clauses, identified as chapters, which even the attorneys for the defendant found confusing. Nor could anyone explain what the references to chapters referred to.

Fourth the focus of the release was on the use of the exercise equipment. The court pointed out five instances in the release that related to the use of the equipment and none relating to occupation of the premises. Meaning the court found a release must release the claims the plaintiff is complaining of.

The fifth reason was the use of the term “inherent.” (As I’ve stated before and given presentations on, inherent is a limiting term you do not want to use in a release.) The court said the use of this term was only applied under Colorado law to apply to activities that are dangerous or potentially dangerous. A locker room is not inherently dangerous so the term is confusing in this case.

In light of this statutory and case law backdrop, the use of the inherent risk language in the assumption of risk clause, and the Agreement’s focus on the use of exercise equipment and facilities and physical injuries resulting from strenuous exercise, one could reasonably conclude that by signing the Agreement he or she was waiving claims based only on the inherent risks of injury related to fitness activities, as opposed to washing one’s hands.

The sixth issue the court had was the language between the different release terms was “squirrely.” (In 35 years of practicing law, I have used the term a lot, but never in a courtroom, and I’ve never seen it in a decision.) The way the language referred back to other clauses in the release and attempting to identify what injuries were actually covered created ambiguities and confusion. The defense counsel for the health club admitted the language was squirrely.

The seventh issue was the general language of the release used to broaden the release, (after using the narrowing term inherent). The release was full of “but for” or “but is not” type of phrases. It was an attempt to broaden the language in the release, which only made the release more confusing.

Seventh, the exculpatory clauses repeatedly use the phrases “includes, but is not limited to” and “including and without limitation,” as well as simply “including.” The repeated use of these phrases makes the clauses more confusing, and the reader is left to guess whether the phrases have different meanings. The problem is compounded by conflicting views expressed by divisions of this court on whether the similar phrase “including, but not limited to” is expansive or restrictive.

The use of these terms created more ambiguity in the release. Specifically, the language created an expansive versus restrictive flow in the release, none of which referenced the locker room.

Based on the above language the court found the release was not clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.

Based on the foregoing discussion, and after scrutinizing the exculpatory clauses, we conclude that the Agreement uses excessive legal jargon, is unnecessarily complex, and creates a likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. Accordingly, the Agreement does not clearly, unambiguously, and unequivocally bar Stone’s PLA claim based on the injuries she alleges she sustained after she washed her hands in the women’s locker room.

The negligence claim was dismissed, and the claim under the Colorado Premises Liability Act was allowed to proceed.

So Now What?

First remember, this case could still be appealed and changed by the Colorado Supreme Court. However, the logic and reasoning behind the Colorado Appellate Court decision is well laid out and clear. I don’t think these are issues the Colorado Supreme Court is going to take on.

Colorado has jumped onto the release bandwagon I’ve been telling people about for 25 years.  Your release has to be written in English, it needs to be understandable, and it needs to cover everything. Most importantly, it needs to be a separate document with no fine print, no legal jargon and easily read. You can no longer hide your release on the back of an agreement using fine print and expect it to protect you from claims.

Colorado has been a state where releases are rarely over-turned. However, this was a crappy piece of paper that had release language on it. The print was too small; the language was so confusing the attorney for the health club did not understand it and the court pointed this fact out.

Your release needs to be well written, needs to be written by an attorney, needs to be written by an attorney who understands what you do and the risks you are presenting to your guests/customers/participants.

If you are interested in having me prepare a release for you, download the information form and agreement here: information-and-agreement-to-write-a-release-for-you-1-1-17

For more articles on this type of releases found in health clubs see:

Sign-in sheet language at Michigan’s health club was not sufficient to create a release.            http://rec-law.us/28J1Cs8

For articles explaining why using the term inherent in a release is bad see:

Here is another reason to write releases carefully. Release used the term inherent to describe the risks which the court concluded made the risk inherently dangerous and voids the release.   http://rec-law.us/1SqHWJW

 

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Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

* Formatting in this case maybe different when finalized by the Court.

Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

Wendy Jane Stone, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., a Minnesota corporation doing business in the State of Colorado, d/b/a Life Time Fitness; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

Court of Appeals No. 15CA0598

COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION I

2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

December 29, 2016, Decided

OPINION

[*1] City and County of Denver District Court No. 14CV33637 Honorable R. Michael Mullins, Judge

Opinion by JUDGE MILLER

Taubman and Fox, JJ., concur

Announced December 29, 2016

Charles Welton P.C., Charles Welton, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant

Markusson Green & Jarvis, John T. Mauro, H. Keith Jarvis, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees

¶ 1 In this action seeking recovery for personal injuries sustained at a fitness club, plaintiff, Wendy Jane Stone, appeals the summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, Life Time Fitness, Inc.; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc. (collectively, Life Time), on Stone’s negligence and Premises Liability Act (PLA) claims based on injuries sustained when she tripped on a hair dryer cord after washing her hands. The principal issue presented on appeal is whether the district court correctly ruled that Stone’s claims are contractually barred based on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in a member usage agreement (Agreement) she signed when she became a member of Life Time.

¶ 2 We disagree with the district court’s conclusion that the exculpatory provisions of the Agreement are valid as applied [*2] to Stone’s PLA claim. Consequently, we reverse the judgment as to that claim and remand the case for further proceedings. We affirm the district court’s judgment on the negligence claim.

I. Background

¶ 3 Stone was a member of a Life Time fitness club located in Centennial. According to the complaint, she sustained injuries in the women’s locker room after finishing a workout. Stone alleged that she had washed her hands at a locker room sink and then “turned to leave when she tripped on the blow dryer cord that was, unbeknownst to her, hanging to the floor beneath the sink and vanity counter top.” She caught her foot in the cord and fell to the ground, fracturing her right ankle.

¶ 4 Stone alleged that allowing the blow dryer cord to hang below the sink counter constituted a trip hazard and a dangerous condition and that, by allowing the condition to exist, Life Time failed to exercise reasonable care. She asserted a general negligence claim and also a claim under Colorado’s PLA, section 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2016.

¶ 5 Life Time moved for summary judgment, relying on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in the Agreement Stone signed when she joined Life Time. Life Time argued that the Agreement was [*3] valid and enforceable, that it expressly covered the type and circumstances of her injuries, and that it barred Stone’s claims as a matter of law. A copy of the Agreement appears in the Appendix to this opinion.

¶ 6 After full briefing, the district court granted Life Time’s motion, concluding that the Agreement was “valid and enforceable” and that Stone had released Life Time from all the claims asserted in the complaint.

II. Discussion

¶ 7 She contends that the district court, therefore, erred in entering summary judgment and dismissing her action.

A. Summary Judgment Standards

¶ 8 Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings and supporting documents establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Gagne v. Gagne, 2014 COA 127, ¶ 24; see C.R.C.P. 56(c). We review de novo an order granting a motion for summary judgment. Gagne, ¶ 24; see Ranch O, LLC v. Colo. Cattlemen’s Agric. Land Tr., 2015 COA 20, ¶ 12.

B. Negligence Claim

¶ 9 In her complaint, Stone alleged common law negligence and PLA claims, and she pursues both claims on appeal. The trial court’s summary judgment ruled in favor of Life Time without distinguishing between Stone’s negligence and PLA claims. It simply concluded that the [*4] exculpatory clauses in the Agreement were “valid and enforceable” and released Life Time from all claims asserted against it.

¶ 10 We turn to the negligence claim first because we may affirm a correct judgment for reasons different from those relied on by the trial court. English v. Griffith, 99 P.3d 90, 92 (Colo. App. 2004).

¶ 11 The parties agree that the PLA applies to this case. In section

13-21-115(2), the statute provides:

In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.

The PLA thus provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 328-29 (Colo. 2004); Wycoff v. Grace Cmty. Church of Assemblies of God, 251 P.3d 1260, 1265 (Colo. App. 2010). Similarly, it is well

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Section 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2016, defines “landowner” as including “a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.” In its answer, Life Time admitted that it owned and operated the club where Stone was injured and that the PLA governs her [*5] claims.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

established that the PLA abrogates common law negligence claims against landowners. Legro v. Robinson, 2012 COA 182, ¶ 20, aff’d, 2014 CO 40.

¶ 12 Accordingly, albeit for reasons different from those expressed by the trial court, we conclude that Stone could not bring a claim for common law negligence, and the trial court therefore correctly ruled against her on that claim. We now turn to the effect of the exculpatory clauses in the Agreement on Stone’s PLA claim.

C. Application of Exculpatory Clauses to PLA Claim

¶ 13 As we understand Stone’s contentions, she does not dispute that the exculpatory language in the Agreement would preclude her from asserting claims under the PLA for any injuries she might sustain when working out on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or other exercise equipment or playing racquetball. We therefore do not address such claims. Instead, Stone argues that the exculpatory clauses do not clearly and unambiguously apply to her injuries incurred after washing her hands in the women’s locker room. We agree.

1. Law

¶ 14 “Generally, exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored.” B & B Livery, Inc. v. Riehl, 960 P.2d 134, 136 (Colo. 1998). Determining the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court. Id.; Jones [*6] v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 375 (Colo. 1981). This analysis requires close scrutiny of the agreement to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal language. Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004). Our supreme court has explained:

To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, we have previously examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.

Id.

¶ 15 Under Jones, a court must consider four factors in determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. 623 P.2d at 375.

2. Analysis

a. The First Three Jones Factors

¶ 16 The first three Jones factors provide little help for Stone’s position. The supreme court has specified that no public duty is implicated if a business provides recreational services. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467 (addressing guided hunting services and noting that providers of recreational activities owe “no special duty [*7] to the public”); Jones, 623 P.2d at 376-78 (skydiving services); see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949 (addressing recreational camping services and noting supreme court authority).

¶ 17 With regard to the second factor, the nature of the services provided, courts have consistently deemed recreational services to be neither essential nor a matter of practical necessity. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 941 F. Supp. 959, 962 (D. Colo. 1996) (snowmobiling not a matter of practical necessity), aff’d, 127 F.3d 1273 (10th Cir. 1997); Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo. 1996) (whitewater rafting not an essential service), aff’d sub nom. Lahey v. Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., 113 F.3d 1246 (10th Cir. 1997). Stone attempts to distinguish those cases by asserting that people join fitness centers “to promote their health, not for the thrill of a dangerous recreational activity.” She cites no authority for such a distinction, and we are not persuaded that such activities as camping and horseback riding, at issue in the cases cited above, are engaged in for a dangerous thrill as opposed to the healthful benefits of outdoor exercise. Consequently, the recreational nature of the services Life Time provides does not weigh against upholding or enforcing the Agreement.

¶ 18 With respect to the third factor, a contract is fairly entered into if one party [*8] is not at such an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to place that party at the mercy of the other party’s negligence. See Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784 (Colo. 1989). Possible examples of unfair disparity in bargaining power include agreements between employers and employees and between common carriers or public utilities and members of the public. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784. However, this type of unfair disparity is generally not implicated when a person contracts with a business providing recreational services. See id.; see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949-50.

¶ 19 In evaluating fairness, courts also examine whether the services provided could have been obtained elsewhere. Hamill, 262 P.3d at 950. Nothing in the record indicates that Stone could not have taken her business elsewhere and joined a different fitness club or recreation center. Nor is there any other evidence that the parties’ relative bargaining strengths were unfairly disparate so as to weigh against enforcing the Agreement.

¶ 20 We therefore turn to the fourth prong of the Jones test – whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. [*9]

b. The Fourth Jones Factor

¶ 21 The validity of exculpatory clauses releasing or waiving future negligence claims usually turns on the fourth Jones factor – whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Wycoff, 251 P.3d at 1263 (applying the Jones factors to a PLA claim). This case also turns on that factor.

¶ 22 The issue is not whether a detailed textual analysis would lead a court to determine that the language, even if ambiguous, ultimately would bar the plaintiff’s claims. Instead, the language must be clear and unambiguous and also “unequivocal” to be enforceable. Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; see also Threadgill v. Peabody Coal Co., 34 Colo. App. 203, 209, 526 P.2d 676, 679 (1974), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378.

¶ 23 We conclude that the Agreement fails this test for numerous reasons.

¶ 24 First, as explained by the New York Court of Appeals, “a provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Gross v. Sweet, 400 N.E.2d 306, 309 (N.Y. 1979), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378. Here, the Agreement consists of extremely dense fine print, for which a great many people would require a magnifying glass or magnifying reading glasses.

¶ 25 Second, the two clauses are replete with legal jargon, using phrases and terms such as “affiliates, subsidiaries, [*10] successors, or assigns”; “assumption of risk”; “inherent risk of injury”; “includes, but is not limited to”; and “I agree to defend, indemnify and hold Life Time Fitness harmless.” The use of such technical legal language militates against the conclusion that the release of liability was clear and simple to a lay person.

¶ 26 Third, the first of the two clauses relied on by Life Time bears the following heading: “under Chapter 458, 459, 460, or Chapter 461 ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” At oral argument, counsel for Life Time conceded that the reference to multiple chapters was ambiguous and confusing, and he could not explain to what the chapters referred. Our research has not enlightened us on the subject. Conscientious lay persons could reasonably have skipped over the fine print appearing under that heading, believing it did not apply to them because they would have no reason to understand that chapters 458, 459, 460, or 461 had any relevance to their situation. Thus, the assumption of risk heading was not clear and unambiguous.

¶ 27 Fourth, the dominant focus of the Agreement is on the risks of strenuous exercise and use of exercise equipment at the fitness center:

  • The opening paragraph [*11] of the Agreement contains the following warning: “All members are strongly encouraged to have a complete physical examination by a medical doctor prior to beginning any work out program or strenuous new activity. If I have a history of heart disease, I agree to consult a physician before becoming a Life Time Fitness member.”
  • Under the confusing assumption of risk heading, the first sentence states, “I understand that there is an inherent risk of injury, whether caused by me or someone else, in the use of or presence at a Life Time Fitness Center, the use of equipment and services at a Life Time Fitness Center, and participation in Life Time Fitness’ programs.”
  • There then follows a listing of types of risks, including the use of “indoor and outdoor pool areas with waterslides, a climbing wall area, ball and racquet courts, cardiovascular and resistance training equipment,” and other specified programs, as well as
  • “[i]njuries arising from the use of Life Time Fitness’ centers or equipment” and from activities and programs sponsored by Life Time; “[i]njuries or medical disorders resulting from exercise at a
  • Life Time Fitness center, including, but not limited to heart attacks, strokes, [*12] heart stress, spr [sic] broken bones and torn muscles or ligaments”; and “[i]njuries resulting from the actions taken or decisions made regarding medical or survival procedures.”

¶ 28 Fifth, the term “inherent risk of injury” that appears in the assumption of risk clause has been applied in various Colorado statutes and case law to address waivers of liability only for activities that are dangerous or potentially dangerous. Thus, the General Assembly has provided for releases from liability in circumstances such as activities involving horses and llamas, section 13-21-119, C.R.S. 2016; being a spectator at baseball games, section 13-21-120, C.R.S. 2016; agricultural recreation or agritourism activities (including hunting, shooting, diving, and operating a motorized recreational vehicle on or near agricultural land), section 13-21-121, C.R.S. 2016; skiing, section 33-44-109, C.R.S. 2016; and spaceflight activities, section 41-6-101, C.R.S. 2016. Significantly, not one of these statutory exemptions from liability extends to the use of locker rooms, rest rooms, or dressing rooms associated with these activities. Rather, the releases of liability extend only to the dangerous or potentially dangerous activities themselves.

¶ 29 Colorado’s published cases concerning the term “inherent risks” similarly concern dangerous or potentially [*13] dangerous activities. For example, the term “inherent risks” has been addressed in cases involving skiing, Graven v. Vail Assocs., Inc., 909 P.2d 514, 519 (Colo. 1995); horseback riding, Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 782; medical procedures or surgical techniques, Mudd v. Dorr, 40 Colo. App. 74, 78-79, 574 P.2d 97, 101 (1977); and attendance at roller hockey games, Teneyck v. Roller Hockey Colo., Ltd., 10 P.3d 707, 710 (Colo. App. 2000). Thus, in reported cases, the term “inherent risks” has been limited to dangerous or potentially dangerous activities, rather than accidents occurring in more common situations, such as using locker rooms.

¶ 30 In light of this statutory and case law backdrop, the use of the inherent risk language in the assumption of risk clause, and the Agreement’s focus on the use of exercise equipment and facilities and physical injuries resulting from strenuous exercise, one could reasonably conclude that by signing the Agreement he or she was waiving claims based only on the inherent risks of injury related to fitness activities, as opposed to washing one’s hands. Indeed, Stone so stated in her affidavit submitted in opposition to the motion for summary judgment.

¶ 31 Sixth, Life Time contends that the only relevant language we need consider is that set forth in the second exculpatory clause, labeled “RELEASE OF LIABILITY.” That provision begins [*14] by stating that “I waive any and all claims or actions that may arise against Life Time . . . as a result of any such injury.” (Emphasis added.) The quoted language, however, is the first use of the term “injury” in the release of liability clause. So the scope of the release can be determined only by referring back to the confusing assumption of risk clause. It is not surprising then that Life Time’s counsel characterized the release’s reference to “such injury” as “squirrely.” In any event, all of the ambiguities and confusion in the assumption of risk clause necessarily infect the release clause.

¶ 32 Seventh, the exculpatory clauses repeatedly use the phrases “includes, but is not limited to” and “including and without limitation,” as well as simply “including.” The repeated use of these phrases makes the clauses more confusing, and the reader is left to guess whether the phrases have different meanings. The problem is compounded by conflicting views expressed by divisions of this court on whether the similar phrase “including, but not limited to” is expansive or restrictive. Compare Maehal Enters., Inc. v. Thunder Mountain Custom Cycles, Inc., 313 P.3d 584, 590 (Colo. App. 2011) (declining to treat the phrase as restrictive and citing Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern [*15] Legal Usage 432 (2d ed. 1995)), with Ridgeview Classical Sch. v. Poudre Sch. Dist., 214 P.3d 476, 483 (Colo. App. 2008) (declining to conclude that the phrase took the statute out of the limiting rule of ejusdem generis). For purposes of deciding this case we need not resolve this conflict; the relevance of the conflict for present purposes is that it creates another ambiguity.

¶ 33 That ambiguity – expansive versus restrictive – is critical because nothing in the Agreement refers to risks of using sinks or locker rooms. The assumption of risk clause refers to the “risk of loss, theft or damage of personal property” for the member or her guests while “using any lockers” at a Life Time fitness center. That is quite a separate matter, however, from suffering a physical injury in a locker room.

¶ 34 Significantly, when Life Time intends to exclude accidental injuries occurring in locker rooms, it knows how to draft a clear waiver of liability doing so. In Geczi v. Lifetime Fitness, 973 N.E.2d 801, 803 (Ohio Ct. App. 2012), the plaintiff entered into a membership agreement with Life Time in 2000 (eleven years before Stone entered into the Agreement), which provided in relevant part:

[T]he undersigned agrees to specifically assume all risk of injury while using any of the [*16] Clubs[‘] facilities, equipment, services or programs and hereby waives any and all claims or actions which may arise against LIFE TIME FITNESS or its owners and employees as a result of such injury. The risks include, but are not limited to

. . . .

(4) Accidental injuries within the facilities, including, but not limited to the locker rooms, . . . showers and dressing rooms.

Id. at 806. Life Time chose not to include similar language in the Agreement signed by Stone.

c. The Agreement Is not Clear, Unambiguous, and Unequivocal

¶ 35 Based on the foregoing discussion, and after scrutinizing the exculpatory clauses, we conclude that the Agreement uses excessive legal jargon, is unnecessarily complex, and creates a likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467. Accordingly, the Agreement does not clearly, unambiguously, and unequivocally bar Stone’s PLA claim based on the injuries she alleges she sustained after she washed her hands in the women’s locker room.

III. Conclusion

¶ 36 The judgment on Stone’s negligence claim is affirmed, the judgment on her PLA claim is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings on that claim.

JUDGE [*17] TAUBMAN and JUDGE FOX concur.


Mississippi retailer not liable for injury to a child who rode a bicycle through aisles he found on the store floor.

Attempts by the plaintiff to re-characterize stands and racks did not get past the judge. However, in many cases, the way a plaintiff casts a product can later define how the jury sees the case.

Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

State: Mississippi, Court of Appeals of Mississippi

Plaintiff: Seth Wilson, by and Through His Mother and Next Friend, Suzette Wilson Purser

Defendant: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability

Defendant Defenses: No duty

Holding: For the Defendant Retailer

Year: 2015

This is a screwy little case, but worth the effort. A family, Step-Father, mother and two sons went into a Wal-Mart to buy a basketball. While there, the two sons walked over to the bicycle aisle and proceeded to ride two bicycles they found through the aisles.

One brother, in attempting to put a bicycle back in the rack, slowed down. The other brother was not used to hand breaks, maneuvered around the brother riding into a shelf where he suffered a cut on his leg.

They both got on bicycles that were on the bicycle rack, and started riding up and down the aisles nearby. The bicycle Seth rode was on the ground when he found it, with its front wheel pushed under the rack and its back wheel in the aisle. Seth was following Wyatt on his bicycle when Wyatt slowed down to put the bicycle he was riding away. Seth was forced to go around him because he was “going real fast” and “[could not] figure out how to stop.” He tried to brake using the pedals, but the bicycle only had handbrakes. Unable to stop, Seth ran into a wall and cut his leg on a shelf. The cut was deep and required stitches.

Of note was the statement that the employee assigned to the area was absent and there were no signs posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles.” (So bars now need to put up signs no drinking from the tap without paying for the product first?). The employee assigned to the department was outside at the time of the accident, and no signs were posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles or otherwise warning of any danger.”

The defendant was ten at the time of the injury so whether or not signs were posted probably would not have made a difference. And it seems that allowing children to ride bikes through the aisles at Wal-Mart in Mississippi is a common practice, which sort of blows my mind.

The injured child’s mother filed a lawsuit on his behalf, since he was a minor, and sued Wal-Mart based on a premise’s liability theory. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment stating there was no genuine issue of material fact showing that there was a dangerous condition that Wal-Mart should have warned about.

The motion was granted, and the plaintiff appealed the decision.

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

The court first looked at the premises’ liability law that the plaintiff claimed had been breached by Wal-Mart. To prove his case the plaintiff must show that he was an invitee, the duty owed to him based on his status and whether Wal-Mart breached that duty.

Seth’s premises-liability claim, this Court must (1) determine the status of the injured person as either an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, (2) assess, based on the injured party’s status, what duty the landowner or business operator owed to the injured party, and (3) determine whether the landowner or business operator breached the duty owed to the injured. 

Because the plaintiff was there with his parents to purchase a basketball, he was defined as an invitee. As such, the duty of a land owner (or retailer) was to keep the premises reasonably safe and when not reasonably safe, to warn of the hidden dangers. If the peril were in plain and open view, there is no duty to warn of them.

To succeed in a premises-liability action, Seth must prove one of the following: “(1) a negligent act by [Wal-Mart] caused [his] injury; or, (2) that [Wal-Mart] had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, but failed to warn [him] of the danger; or, (3) the dangerous condition remained long enough to impute constructive knowledge to [Wal-Mart].”

Is a bicycle on display at a retailer a dangerous condition? The plaintiff argued the bicycle should have been locked up so the plaintiff could not ride it. The bicycle was not in a rack at the time the plaintiff found the bike.

He argues that (1) Wal-Mart’s possession of a rack on which to clamp the bicycles, (2) the assignment of an employee to the toy department, and (3) evidence of other children on bicycles in the same aisle at the same Wal-Mart show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles created a dangerous condition, and that Wal-Mart knew about it and failed to warn its patrons. He cites to no authority to support his position, and nothing in the record supports these allegations.

The plaintiff then characterized the rack that the bike should have been in as a “safety rack.” However, the court caught on to that maneuver and reviewed the operation of the rack and the manufacturer’s description and found the rack was designed only to hold bikes, not to prevent them from being moved.

Seth refers to the rack where the bicycles could be clamped as a safety rack, but there is nothing in the record to indicate that the purpose for the rack was to protect its patrons from the alleged danger posed by unlocked or readily accessible bicycles. The record contains installation instructions for the rack, which were prepared by VIDIR Machine Inc., a vertical storage company, and refers to the rack as a carrier or bike-merchandising system only. The rack does not contain a locking mechanism, and holds bicycles in place utilizing a tire clamp

The plaintiff argued that since the bikes would be difficult to remove from the rack, an employee would need to be there to make sure the bikes were removed properly and only when allowed.

However, the entire argument failed. No employee was stationed at the rack to guard against removing bikes. Other children rode bikes in the aisle without incidence, which indicated there was no real danger and no evidence of a standard was presented indicating a requirement to lock up bikes on the show floor.

Additionally, there is nothing in the record to indicate the assignment of an employee to the toy department was for the purpose of guarding against any known danger; and evidence that other children rode bicycles in the same aisle in the same Wal-Mart without incident does not, in and of itself, tend to show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles pose a danger. Seth provided no evidence of the industry’s standards, no expert reports, and no evidence of Wal-Mart’s policy regarding who may remove the bicycles from the rack and whether its employees were required to.

The plaintiff then argued a higher duty was owed to the plaintiff because he was a minor. However, the duty owed under a premise’s liability act does not change due to the age of the invitee. The plaintiff also knew how to ride a bicycle and learned at the age of five. The plaintiff had also been involved in numerous bicycle accidents prior to the one that injured him at the retailers’ premises.

An unlocked bicycle was found not to present a dangerous condition such that a warning had to be posted by the retailer about the risk to the consumers.

So Now What?

The first issue which was handled quickly by the court was the attempt by the plaintiff to characterize something as different than it actually was. By calling the bike rack a safety rack the plaintiff could place in the juries mind a requirement that did not exist. It is important that these issues not be allowed to explode and create liability just because thclip_image002_thumb.jpge plaintiff miss-labels part of the case.

Another issue is the fact that parents allow their kids to ride bicycles through the aisles of stores, and the retailer does not put a stop to it. What if the plaintiff had hit another patron rather than a shelf?

As always, the issue of putting warning signs up so people who can’t read, can be protected always makes me wonder. Warning if you are unable to read this sign, please find someone to read it to you. Seriously the entire world is going to be nothing but signs if this continues.

Thankfully, the retailer was not liable for the actions of an inattentive parent for the injuries of their child riding a bike down a store aisle.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

Seth Wilson, by and Through His Mother and Next Friend, Suzette Wilson Purser, appellant v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Appellee

NO. 2014-CA-00589-COA

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

April 21, 2015, Decided

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: D. BRIGGS SMITH JR.

FOR APPELLEE: THOMAS M. LOUIS, LEO JOSEPH CARMODY JR.

JUDGES: BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND MAXWELL, JJ. IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION BY: LEE

OPINION

[*1129] NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL – PERSONAL INJURY

LEE, C.J., FOR THE COURT:

P1. In this premises-liability case, we must determine whether summary judgment was appropriately granted in favor of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. We find summary judgment was proper; thus, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

P2. On April 29, 2012, ten-year-old Seth Wilson, his brother, Wyatt Purser, and his stepfather, Jim Purser, went to a Wal-Mart [*1130] store in Batesville, Mississippi, to purchase a basketball. While Jim was paying for the basketball at a nearby register, Seth and his brother started looking at the bicycles. They both got on bicycles that were on the bicycle rack, and started riding up and down the aisles nearby. The bicycle Seth rode was on the ground when he found [**2] it, with its front wheel pushed under the rack and its back wheel in the aisle. Seth was following Wyatt on his bicycle when Wyatt slowed down to put the bicycle he was riding away. Seth was forced to go around him because he was “going real fast” and “[could not] figure out how to stop.” He tried to brake using the pedals, but the bicycle only had handbrakes. Unable to stop, Seth ran into a wall and cut his leg on a shelf. The cut was deep and required stitches. The employee assigned to the department was outside at the time of the accident, and no signs were posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles or otherwise warning of any danger.

P3. Suzette Purser, Seth’s mother, filed suit on his behalf on September 14, 2012, alleging negligence on the part of Wal-Mart in failing to keep the premises reasonably safe and warn of danger. After discovery was completed, Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment. Seth filed a response, and Wal-Mart replied. After a hearing, the trial court granted Wal-Mart’s motion, finding that no genuine issue of material fact existed because Seth failed to show the existence of a dangerous condition. Seth filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied. Seth [**3] now appeals asserting the trial court erred in granting Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

P4. [HN1] In considering a trial court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment, this Court conducts a de novo review and “examines all the evidentiary matters before it — admissions in pleadings, answers to interrogatories, depositions, affidavits, etc.” City of Jackson v. Sutton, 797 So. 2d 977, 979 (¶7) (Miss. 2001) (citation omitted). [HN2] The Mississippi Supreme Court recently clarified the summary-judgment standard, explaining that “[t]he movant bears the burden of persuading the trial judge that: (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, and (2) on the basis of the facts established, he is entitled to [a] judgment as a matter of law.” Karpinsky v. Am. Nat’l Ins. Co., 109 So. 3d 84, 88 (¶11) (Miss. 2013) (citation omitted). The supreme court further stated that “[t]he movant bears the burden of production if, at trial, he would bear the burden of proof on the issue raised. In other words, the movant only bears the burden of production where [he] would bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 88-89 (¶11) (citations omitted). The supreme court again clarified that “while [d]efendants carry the initial burden of persuading the trial judge that no issue of material fact exists and that they are entitled to summary judgment based upon the established [**4] facts, [the plaintiff] carries the burden of producing sufficient evidence of the essential elements of [his] claim at the summary-judgment stage, as [he] would carry the burden of production at trial.” Id. at 89 (¶13).

DISCUSSION

P5. [HN3] To determine whether Wal-Mart is entitled to summary judgment on Seth’s premises-liability claim, this Court must (1) determine the status of the injured person as either an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, (2) assess, based on the injured party’s status, what duty the landowner or business operator owed to the injured party, and (3) determine whether the landowner or business operator breached the duty owed to the injured [*1131] party. Titus v. Williams, 844 So. 2d 459, 467 (¶28) (Miss. 2003).

P6. It is undisputed that Seth was a business invitee. [HN4] “A business owner/operator owes to invitees the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe, and when not reasonably safe, to warn only where there is hidden danger or peril that is not in plain and open view.” Rod v. Home Depot USA Inc., 931 So. 2d 692, 694 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). To succeed in a premises-liability action, Seth must prove one of the following: “(1) a negligent act by [Wal-Mart] caused [his] injury; or, (2) that [Wal-Mart] had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, but failed to warn [him] [**5] of the danger; or, (3) the dangerous condition remained long enough to impute constructive knowledge to [Wal-Mart].” Byrne v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 877 So. 2d 462, 465 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (citation omitted). A business owner, however, is not an insurer of an invitee’s injuries. Id. at (¶6).

P7. Whether Wal-Mart breached its duty to keep the premises reasonably safe or otherwise warn of a hidden danger necessarily depends on whether a dangerous condition existed. Seth argues that whether an unlocked or readily available bicycle on the sales floor constituted a dangerous condition was a genuine issue of material fact that should have been submitted to a jury. To avoid summary judgment, however, Seth must produce sufficient evidence of the essential elements of a claim of negligence – duty, breach, causation, and damages.

P8. Seth contends that leaving unlocked or readily accessible bicycles on the sales floor created a dangerous condition. He argues that (1) Wal-Mart’s possession of a rack on which to clamp the bicycles, (2) the assignment of an employee to the toy department, and (3) evidence of other children on bicycles in the same aisle at the same Wal-Mart show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles created a dangerous condition, and that Wal-Mart [**6] knew about it and failed to warn its patrons. He cites to no authority to support his position, and nothing in the record supports these allegations.

P9. Seth refers to the rack where the bicycles could be clamped as a safety rack, but there is nothing in the record to indicate that the purpose for the rack was to protect its patrons from the alleged danger posed by unlocked or readily accessible bicycles. The record contains installation instructions for the rack, which were prepared by VIDIR Machine Inc., a vertical storage company, and refers to the rack as a carrier or bike-merchandising system only. The rack does not contain a locking mechanism, and holds bicycles in place utilizing a tire clamp. While the bicycles are still accessible to patrons, Seth argues that the rack was designed to make it difficult for patrons to remove the bicycle from the rack, prompting a need for employee assistance, but fails to offer sufficient evidence of this assertion.

P10. Additionally, there is nothing in the record to indicate the assignment of an employee to the toy department was for the purpose of guarding against any known danger; and evidence that other children rode bicycles in the same [**7] aisle in the same Wal-Mart without incident does not, in and of itself, tend to show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles pose a danger. Seth provided no evidence of the industry’s standards, no expert reports, and no evidence of Wal-Mart’s policy regarding who may remove the bicycles from the rack and whether its employees were required to return the bicycles to the rack immediately after each use. Because Wilson failed to produce sufficient evidence that unlocked or readily accessible [*1132] bicycles on the sales floor created a dangerous condition, this issue is without merit.

P11. Seth also argues that the trial court erred in finding that Seth’s age was immaterial. This appears to be an attack on the applicability of Orr v. Academy Louisiana Co., 157 So. 3d 44, 2013 WL 1809878 (La. Ct. App. 2013), an unpublished opinion the trial court cited in support of its conclusion that an unlocked or readily accessible bicycle does not constitute a dangerous condition. In Orr, a woman was injured when she was struck by an adult male riding a bicycle in Academy Sports and Outdoors. 157 So. 3d 44, Id. at *1.

P12. It is not disputed that Seth was an invitee at the time of his injury, and he acknowledges that the duty owed him was not in any way heightened due to his status as a minor. What Seth [**8] appears to be arguing is that the trial court incorrectly considered evidence of contributory negligence in determining whether a dangerous condition existed. Seth had learned how to ride a bicycle by the age of five and had been involved in other bicycle accidents prior to the one at Wal-Mart. Again, Seth’s argument necessarily depends on whether an unlocked or readily available bicycle constitutes a dangerous condition. If an unlocked or readily accessible bicycle does not constitute a dangerous condition, it does not matter whether a person of Seth’s age, experience, and intelligence could have perceived the danger because the danger did not exist. Because Seth failed to show how an unlocked or readily available bicycle constituted a dangerous condition, this issue is without merit.

P13. THE JUDGMENT OF THE PANOLA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT IS AFFIRMED. ALL COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE ASSESSED TO THE APPELLANT.

IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.


Question answered; Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes Colorado Ski Area Safety act. Standard of care owed skiers on chairlift’s reasonable man standard?

Two decisions, if allowed to stand, will change the ski industry immensely. The standard of care owed to a passenger on a chairlift will drop considerably and allow ski areas a defense for the first time. At the same time, it should eliminate lawsuits by people who haven’t or should not be on a chairlift to begin with.

Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31662

State: Colorado; United States District Court for the District of Colorado

Plaintiff: Teresa Brigance

Defendant: Vail Summit Resorts, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: for (1) negligence, (2) negligence per se, (3) negligent supervision/training, (4) negligence (respondeat superior), (5) negligent hiring, and (6) premises liability pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-21-115

Defendant Defenses: Colorado Premises Liability Act

Holding: for Defendant in dismissing some of the plaintiff’s claims

Year: 2016

This is another decision in a case that is probably still on going. The decision is a response to motions, there could still be a trial and appeal of all of the issues examined here.

Vail, owner of Keystone Ski Area where this accident occurred was sued for an injury a skier received getting off the lift. The plaintiff was taking a lesson from an instructor, an employee of the ski area. She was instructed on how to load and unload the lift. (I’m guessing she was a beginner based on this statement.) While unloading from the lift the back of her ski boots became wedged under the lip of the chair resulting in an injury to the plaintiff.

(That happens all the time loading a chair lift to me. My boots are high in the back, and a lot of chairs catch them. I can get money for that? I should ski every day and quit this job. Wait, this job doesn’t pay at all!)

The plaintiff sued. Vail filed a motion to dismiss the parts of the complaint and amended complaint of the plaintiff.

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

The court first looked at Vail’s argument the negligence and negligence per se claims should be dismissed. The court defined a negligence per se claim differentiating it from a negligence claim.

In contrast to negligence, negligence per se occurs when a defendant violates a statute adopted for the public’s safety and the violation proximately causes the plaintiff’s injury.” Plaintiff must also show that the statute was intended to protect against the type of injury the plaintiff suffered and that the plaintiff is a member of the group of persons the statute was intended to protect. If those requirements are met, “then the statute conclusively establishes the defendant’s standard of care and violation of the statute is a breach of [defendant’s] duty.”

Negligence per se occurs when the defendant violates a statute that the defendant was required to follow and the statute was intended to protect the person or the public from injury.

Vail’s argument was the complaint did not identify a specific statute that was violated. The complaint referred to the Colorado Skier Safety Act and the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Act, but not a particular part of either act that was violated.

The Colorado Skier Safety Act and the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Act both allow for negligence per se claims.

Under the Skier Safety Act, “a violation by a ski area operator of any requirement of this article or any rule or regulation promulgated by the passenger tramway safety board pursuant to section 25-5-704(1)(a), C.R.S., shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of such operator.

However, the plaintiff failed to identify the specific part of the statute that was violated by the defendant. Even if an act was identified, the violation of the act must be clearly established by the plaintiff.

Nevertheless, this language does not provide a statutory standard of care which is adequate to support Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se. This Court has previously held that a claim for negligence per se requires a statute, “the violation of which can be clearly established. In other words, the relevant statute needs to prescribe or proscribe some relatively discrete action.

The negligence per se claims were dismissed because the plaintiff failed to identify the specific act and the specific injury the act was created to prevent.

The next issue was the application of the Colorado Premises Liability Act to the facts. The defendant Vail had argued in an earlier decision (See Colorado Premises Liability Act eliminated common law claims of negligence as well as CO Ski Area Safety Act claims against a landowner.) that the Premises Liability Act preempted the Colorado Skier Safety Act. The same argument was being made here.

The Colorado Premises Liability Act contains the following provision.

In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.

This provision was further supported in an earlier Colorado Supreme Court decision, Vigil v. Franklin, which held the Premises Liability Act preempted all other types and forms of liability of a landowner. “Ultimately, the Court held that the Premises Liability Act “abrogate[s] the common law with respect to landowner duties.

The common law negligence claim no longer exists against a landowner, is it now a Premises Liability Act claim. This was supported earlier in the Raup decision, (See Colorado Premises Liability Act eliminated common law claims of negligence as well as CO Ski Area Safety Act claims against a landowner.) “…holding that when a common law negligence claim is founded on negligent maintenance of a ski area, such a claim is within the scope of the Premises Liability Act and must be dismissed.”

In this case, the incident occurred on land of the defendant.

Claim One is a common law negligence claim. Plaintiff also alleges that her injury occurred while on the property of Defendant, the admitted landowner. Therefore, the claim would be preempted by the Premises Liability Act if the alleged injury occurred “by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property.”

The plaintiff argued that a negligence claim survives because of the Defendant’s failure to “maintain a proper distance between the chair and the ground at the unloading point, and/or [failure] to property operate and/or maintain the chair lift.”

However, the court found the plaintiff’s argument actually proved the issue. The incident occurred on the ground.

The alleged failures to maintain the conditions of the property clearly fall under the Premises Liability Act. Furthermore, failing to properly operate the chair lift is an “activity conducted” on the property that also falls under the Premises Liability Act.

The court went further to state the operation of the chair lift occurs on the land, is conducted on the ground that is the Defendants thus it is controlled by the Premises Liability Act.

Consequently, the plaintiff’s negligence claims were against a landowner and were preempted by the Colorado Premises Liability Act.

The final issue before the court was the defendant’s arguments that the claims against the individuals, the liftie and the ski instructor were duplicative in that as employees of the defendant, if proven the defendant was liable anyway. So those claims were the same as the other claims against the defendant Vail and should be dismissed. The court agreed.

So Now What?

The result is that instead of owing a skier on a chair lift the highest degree of care, that of a common carrier, the ski area owes a degree of care set forth to an invitee of a landowner.

13-21-115. Actions against landowners

(3)(c) (I) Except as otherwise provided in subparagraph (II) of this paragraph (c), an invitee may recover for damages caused by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known.

That degree of care is the unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers which the landowner knew about or should have known about. This standard of care is significantly lower than that of a common carrier.

Again, this case is not over so the results could change!

clip_image002What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Colorado Premises Liability Act

COLORADO REVISED STATUTES

TITLE 13. COURTS AND COURT PROCEDURE

DAMAGES AND LIMITATIONS ON ACTIONS

ARTICLE 21.DAMAGES

PART 1. GENERAL PROVISIONS

C.R.S. 13-21-115 (2015)

13-21-115. Actions against landowners

(1) For the purposes of this section, “landowner” includes, without limitation, an authorized agent or a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.

(1.5) The general assembly hereby finds and declares:

(a) That the provisions of this section were enacted in 1986 to promote a state policy of responsibility by both landowners and those upon the land as well as to assure that the ability of an injured party to recover is correlated with his status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee;

(b) That these objectives were characterized by the Colorado supreme court as “legitimate governmental interests” in Gallegos v. Phipps, No. 88 SA 141 (September 18, 1989);

(c) That the purpose of amending this section in the 1990 legislative session is to assure that the language of this section effectuates these legitimate governmental interests by imposing on landowners a higher standard of care with respect to an invitee than a licensee, and a higher standard of care with respect to a licensee than a trespasser;

(d) That the purpose of this section is also to create a legal climate which will promote private property rights and commercial enterprise and will foster the availability and affordability of insurance;

(e) That the general assembly recognizes that by amending this section it is not reinstating the common law status categories as they existed immediately prior to Mile Hi Fence v. Radovich, 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308 (1971) but that its purpose is to protect landowners from liability in some circumstances when they were not protected at common law and to define the instances when liability will be imposed in the manner most consistent with the policies set forth in paragraphs (a), (c), and (d) of this subsection (1.5).

(2) In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section. Sections 13-21-111, 13-21-111.5, and 13-21-111.7 shall apply to an action to which this section applies. This subsection (2) shall not be construed to abrogate the doctrine of attractive nuisance as applied to persons under fourteen years of age. A person who is at least fourteen years of age but is less than eighteen years of age shall be presumed competent for purposes of the application of this section.

(3) (a) A trespasser may recover only for damages willfully or deliberately caused by the landowner.

(b) A licensee may recover only for damages caused:

(I) By the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care with respect to dangers created by the landowner of which the landowner actually knew; or

(II) By the landowner’s unreasonable failure to warn of dangers not created by the landowner which are not ordinarily present on property of the type involved and of which the landowner actually knew.

(c) (I) Except as otherwise provided in subparagraph (II) of this paragraph (c), an invitee may recover for damages caused by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known.

(II) If the landowner’s real property is classified for property tax purposes as agricultural land or vacant land, an invitee may recover for damages caused by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew.

(3.5) It is the intent of the general assembly in enacting the provisions of subsection (3) of this section that the circumstances under which a licensee may recover include all of the circumstances under which a trespasser could recover and that the circumstances under which an invitee may recover include all of the circumstances under which a trespasser or a licensee could recover.

(4) In any action to which this section applies, the judge shall determine whether the plaintiff is a trespasser, a licensee, or an invitee, in accordance with the definitions set forth in subsection (5) of this section. If two or more landowners are parties defendant to the action, the judge shall determine the application of this section to each such landowner. The issues of liability and damages in any such action shall be determined by the jury or, if there is no jury, by the judge.

(5) As used in this section:

(a) “Invitee” means a person who enters or remains on the land of another to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested or who enters or remains on such land in response to the landowner’s express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.

(b) “Licensee” means a person who enters or remains on the land of another for the licensee’s own convenience or to advance his own interests, pursuant to the landowner’s permission or consent. “Licensee” includes a social guest.

(c) “Trespasser” means a person who enters or remains on the land of another without the landowner’s consent.

(6) If any provision of this section is found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be unconstitutional, the remaining provisions of the section shall be deemed valid.

HISTORY: Source: L. 86: Entire section added, p. 683, § 1, effective May 16.L. 90: (1.5), (3.5), (5), and (6) added and (3) and (4) amended, p. 867, § 1, effective April 20.L. 2006: (2) amended, p. 344, § 1, effective April 5.

Editor’s note: Subsections (5)(a) and (5)(c), as they were enacted in House Bill 90-1107, were relettered on revision in 2002 as (5)(c) and (5)(a), respectively.

RECENT ANNOTATIONS

A seller of property pursuant to an installment land contract is not a “landowner” and not responsible for injury to a third party on the property despite being the record title holder of the property if the seller is not in possession of the property at the time of the injury and is not otherwise legally responsible for the conditions, activities, or circumstances on the property pursuant to the contract. Lucero v. Ulvestad, 2015 COA 98, — P.3d — [published July 16, 2015].

ANNOTATION

Law reviews. For article, “Legal Aspects of Health and Fitness Clubs: A Healthy and Dangerous Industry”, see 15 Colo. Law. 1787 (1986). For article, “The Landowners’ Liability Statute”, see 18 Colo. Law. 208 (1989). For article, “The Changing Boundaries of Premises Liability after Gallegos”, see 18 Colo. Law. 2121 (1989). For article, “Recreational Use Of Agricultural Lands”, see 23 Colo. Law. 529 (1994). For article, “The Colorado Premises Liability Statute”, see 25 Colo. Law. 71 (May 1996). For article, “Stealth Statute: The Unexpected Reach of the Colorado Premises Liability Act”, see 40 Colo. Law. 27 (March 2011).

Constitutionality. The phrase “deliberate failure to exercise reasonable care” found in subsection (3)(c) is not unconstitutionally vague. Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012 (D. Colo. 1989).

This section does not violate article II, § 6, of the state constitution since that provision is a mandate to the judiciary and not the legislature. Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012 (D. Colo. 1989).

This section does not violate article V, section 25 of the state constitution since this provision applies uniformly to all landowners. Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012 (D. Colo. 1989).

This section does not violate equal protection since the provision of limited protection to landowners is reasonably related to the protection of the state economy. Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012 (D. Colo. 1989).

Unconstitutionality. This section violates both the federal and state constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the laws. Gallegos v. Phipps, 779 P.2d 856 (Colo. 1989); Klausz v. Dillion Co., Inc., 779 P.2d 863 (Colo. 1989) (disagreeing with Giebink v. Fischer cited above) (decided prior to 1990 amendments).

The Colorado Premises Liability Act provides the exclusive remedy against a landowner for physical injuries sustained on the landowner’s property. Henderson v. Master Klean Janitorial, Inc., 70 P.3d 612 (Colo. App. 2003); Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004); Anderson v. Hyland Hills Park & Recreation Dist., 119 P.3d 533 (Colo. App. 2004); Sweeney v. United Artists Theater Circuit, 119 P.3d 538 (Colo. App. 2005).

Section applies to conditions, activities, and circumstances on a property that the landowner is liable for in its capacity as a landowner. Defendant, in its capacity as a landowner, was responsible for the activities conducted and conditions on its premises, including the process of assisting a customer with loading a freezer he had purchased from defendant. Larrieu v. Best Buy Stores, L.P., 2013 CO 38, 303 P.3d 558.

This section preempts the common law creation of both landowner duties and defenses to those duties. Consequently, the open and obvious danger doctrine cannot be asserted by a landowner as a defense to a premises liability law suit. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004).

Section does not require that damages resulting from landowner’s negligence be assessed without regard to negligence of the injured party or fault of a nonparty. Union Pac. R.R. v. Martin, 209 P.3d 185 (Colo. 2009).

Section does not abrogate statutorily created defenses, which were available to landowners before the 2006 amendment and afterward. The trial court correctly allowed defendants’ affirmative defenses of comparative negligence and assumption of the risk. Tucker v. Volunteers of Am. Colo. Branch, 211 P.3d 708 (Colo. App. 2008), aff’d on other grounds sub nom. Volunteers of Am. v. Gardenswartz, 242 P.3d 1080 (Colo. 2010).

Premises Liability Act never expressly excluded the statutory defense of comparative negligence from its coverage, and limiting the statutory protection provided to landowners would tend to increase liability rather than protect landowners from liability. DeWitt v. Tara Woods Ltd. P’ship, 214 P.3d 466 (Colo. App. 2008) (decided under law in effect prior to 2006 amendment).

Statute does not have to expressly bar waiver by contract for the contract provision to be invalid because it is contrary to public policy. Stanley v. Creighton Co., 911 P.2d 705 (Colo. App. 1996).

Holding title to property is not dispositive in determining who is a landowner under subsection (1). Wark v. U.S., 269 F.3d 1185 (10th Cir. 2001).

The term “landowner” is no more expansive than the common law definition. Wark v. U.S., 269 F.3d 1185 (10th Cir. 2001).

A landowner is any person in possession of real property and such possession need not necessarily be to the exclusion of all others. Therefore, for purposes of this section, a landowner can be an independent contractor. Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215 (Colo. 2002).

This section offers its protection to a person who is legally conducting an activity on the property or legally creating a condition on the property. Such person or entity is responsible for the activity or condition and, therefore, prospectively liable to an entrant onto the property. Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215 (Colo. 2002); Wycoff v. Grace Cmty. Church, 251 P.3d 1260 (Colo. App. 2010).

Defendant is not a “landowner” where there is no evidence that it was in possession of the sidewalk or that it was responsible for creating a condition on the sidewalk or conducting an activity on the sidewalk that caused plaintiff’s injuries. Jordan v. Panorama Orthopedics & Spine Ctr., PC, 2013 COA 87, — P.3d –.

The test for determining if a victim is an invitee is whether she or he was on the premises to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested. Grizzell v. Hartman Enters., Inc., 68 P.3d 551 (Colo. App. 2003).

Trial court erred in ruling that plaintiff was defendant’s licensee rather than invitee. Therefore, jury instructions minimized the duties defendant owed to plaintiff under the Premises Liability Act. Wycoff v. Seventh Day Adventist Ass’n, 251 P.3d 1258 (Colo. App. 2010).

If the victim was on the premises at an employee’s invitation for either the employee’s benefit, victim’s benefit, or their mutual benefit, then she or he was a licensee or trespasser not an invitee. Grizzell v. Hartman Enters., Inc., 68 P.3d 551 (Colo. App. 2003).

Volunteers are generally classified as licensees. Grizzell v. Hartman Enters., Inc., 68 P.3d 551 (Colo. App. 2003); Rieger v. Wat Buddhawararam of Denver, Inc., 2013 COA 156, 338 P.3d 404.

So long as a landowner retains possession of its property, it cannot delegate the duties imposed on it by subsection (1). Jules v. Embassy Props., Inc., 905 P.2d 13 (Colo. App. 1995).

When a landowner is vicariously liable under the nondelegability doctrine for acts or omissions of other defendants, the trial court should instruct the jury to determine the respective shares of fault of the landowner and the other defendants. But, in entering a judgment, the court shall aggregate the fault of the landowner with any other defendants for whom the landowner is vicariously liable. Reid v. Berkowitz, 2013 COA 110M, 315 P.3d 185.

But possession of property is not dependent upon title and need not be exclusive. Under this section, a party not an owner or lessee may nevertheless be a “landowner” if the party either maintains control over the property or is legally responsible for either the condition of the property or for activities conducted on the property. Henderson v. Master Klean Janitorial, Inc., 70 P.3d 612 (Colo. App. 2003).

However, a contractor who would otherwise be categorized as a “landowner” during time of work on property is not liable if, at the time of the accident in question, the contractor was neither in possession of the property nor conducting any activity related to the property. In such a case, the plaintiff is not required to prove that defendant contractor had actual knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition. Land-Wells v. Rain Way Sprinkler & Lands., 187 P.3d 1152 (Colo. App. 2008); Collard v. Vista Paving Corp., 2012 COA 208, 292 P.3d 1232.

Contractor who had a legal responsibility for the condition of the premises and who was potentially liable for injuries resulting from that condition held to be a “landowner” for purposes of this section. Henderson v. Master Klean Janitorial, Inc., 70 P.3d 612 (Colo. App. 2003).

When a public entity provides a public building for public use, it owes a nondelegable duty to protect invitees from an unreasonable risk to their health and safety due to a negligent act or omission in constructing or maintaining the facility. Springer v. City & County of Denver, 13 P.3d 794 (Colo. 2000).

Owner of property adjacent to public sidewalk does not have a duty to pedestrians to clear sidewalk of snow merely because it complied with snow removal ordinance from time to time and on a voluntary basis in order to avoid the imposition of penalties. Burbach v. Canwest Invs., LLC, 224 P.3d 437 (Colo. App. 2009).

Snow removal ordinance does not make public sidewalks the “property of” adjacent property owners. The court therefore properly granted summary judgement since owner of property adjacent to public sidewalk was not legally responsible for the condition of the sidewalk. Burbach v. Canwest Invs., LLC, 224 P.3d 437 (Colo. App. 2009).

A landlord retaining sufficient control over an area or instrumentality has a duty to exercise due care in maintaining that area or instrumentality. Nordin v. Madden, 148 P.3d 218 (Colo. App. 2006).

In effect, this section establishes two separate elements for landowner liability: (1) Breach of a duty to use reasonable care to protect against a danger on the property, and (2) actual or constructive knowledge of the danger. Sofford v. Schindler Elevator Corp., 954 F. Supp. 1459 (D. Colo. 1997).

Statute’s requirement that the landowner “knew or should have known” of the danger can be satisfied by actual or constructive knowledge. Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 187 P.3d 565 (Colo. 2008).

Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to overcome defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of knowledge because, as the builder, defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the violation of a building code provision that was intended to ensure the safety of those on the premises, such as plaintiff. Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 187 P.3d 565 (Colo. 2008).

Plaintiff may overcome summary judgment on the issue of a landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care by presenting evidence that the landowner violated a statute or ordinance that was intended to protect the plaintiff from the type of injury plaintiff suffered. Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 187 P.3d 565 (Colo. 2008).

A plaintiff may recover against the landowner pursuant to the statute only and not under any other theory of negligence. The language of the premises liability statute makes clear that a party may no longer bring a negligence per se claim against a landowner to recover for damages caused on the premises. Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 187 P.3d 565 (Colo. 2008).

Building code violation may be evidence that owners failed to use reasonable care. Trial court did not err in tendering to a jury an instruction that included this statement, while rejecting other jury instructions that misstated the relationship between the common law and the premises liability act. Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Educ. Ctr., Inc., 266 P.3d 412 (Colo. App. 2011).

No lessor liability for injuries. Under this section, as under common law, a lessor who has transferred possession and control over the leased premises to a lessee has no liability for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition of the premises absent proof as to one of the exceptions. Perez v. Grovert, 962 P.2d 996 (Colo. App. 1998).

Under this section, a landlord who has transferred control of the premises to a tenant is no longer a “person in possession” of the real property and is not liable for injuries resulting from a danger on the premises unless the landlord had actual knowledge of the danger before the transfer. Wilson v. Marchiondo, 124 P.3d 837 (Colo. App. 2005).

And no landowner liability for injuries occurring on that portion of an easement exclusively owned, maintained, and controlled by easement holder. deBoer v. Jones, 996 P.2d 754 (Colo. App. 2000); deBoer v. Ute Water Conservancy Dist., 17 P.3d 187 (Colo. App. 2000).

The reservation of the right of inspection and the right of maintenance and repairs is generally not a sufficient attribute of control to support imposition of tort liability on the lessor for injuries to the tenant or third parties. Wilson v. Marchiondo, 124 P.3d 837 (Colo. App. 2005).

This section does not reflect an intention to extend the application of the premises liability doctrine to the negligent supply of a chattel by a landowner. Geringer v. Wildhorn Ranch, Inc., 706 F. Supp. 1442 (D. Colo. 1988).

This section does not apply to ski accident cases which are governed by the Ski Safety Act, article 44 of title 33, C.R.S. Calvert v. Aspen Skiing Co., 700 F. Supp. 520 (D. Colo. 1988).

This section would apply to ski accident cases which involve dangerous conditions that are not ordinarily present at ski areas since the Ski Safety Act, article 44 of title 33, C.R.S., protects skiers against only those dangerous conditions that are commonly present at ski areas. Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012 (D. Colo. 1989).

Claim of spectator injured by flying puck at hockey rink governed by this section. The common law “no duty” rule for injuries suffered by spectators at sporting events was superceded by this section. Teneyck v. Roller Hockey Colo., Ltd., 10 P.3d 707 (Colo. App. 2000).

Subsection (2) does not apply when plaintiff is a co-owner of the area where the injuries were sustained, because the injury could not have occurred on the real property of another. Acierno v. Trailside Townhome Ass’n, Inc., 862 P.2d 975 (Colo. App. 1993).

Jury instructions presenting a general negligence theory with regard to an invitee was not prejudicial error, even if there is a meaningful difference between a failure to exercise reasonable care, in the instruction, and an unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care, from the statute. Lawson v. Safeway, Inc., 878 P.2d 127 (Colo. App. 1994); Thornbury v. Allen, 991 P.2d 335 (Colo. App. 1999).

Because plaintiff is a landowner, trial court should have applied the standard of care in this section rather than the standard of care for operators of amusement devices contained in the jury instructions. Anderson v. Hyland Hills Park & Recreation Dist., 119 P.3d 533 (Colo. App. 2004).

The provisions of this act do not apply to the common areas of a townhome complex that are owned by a townhome owners association, because the townhome owners have a continuing right of access to the common areas in the townhome complex by virtue of their status as owners, regardless of whether the association has given consent. Trailside Townhome Ass’n, Inc. v. Acierno, 880 P.2d 1197 (Colo. 1994).

Rather, the relationship between the townhome owners association and the townhome owners is controlled by the duties specified in the operative documents creating the townhome complex and the association, to the extent those duties are consistent with public policy. Trailside Townhome Ass’n, Inc. v. Acierno, 880 P.2d 1197 (Colo. 1994).

Under this section, a tenant is classified as an invitee, as a customer of the landlord in a continuing business relationship that is mutually beneficial, regardless of the particular activity in which the tenant was engaged when injured. Maes v. Lakeview Assocs., Ltd., 892 P.2d 375 (Colo. App. 1994), aff’d, 907 P.2d 580 (Colo. 1995); Pedge v. RM Holdings, Inc., 75 P.3d 1126 (Colo. App. 2002).

Plaintiff who paid admission was invitee and not a social guest. Social hosts do not typically require their guests to sign permission slips and pay for their hospitality. Wycoff v. Grace Cmty. Church, 251 P.3d 1260 (Colo. App. 2010).

Cyclist was an invitee at the time of the accident. While there was no evidence that cyclist was on a bike path in response to landowner’s express representation that the public was requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain on the property, there was evidence of an implied representation of this through “Bicycle Path, No Motorized Vehicles” signs. Nelson v. United States, 20 F. Supp. 3d 1108 (D. Colo. 2014).

Cyclist was a licensee where there was evidence of a course of conduct and usage in connection with a bike path before cyclist’s accident that showed that the landowner knew that people were using the path for recreational purposes and did not affirmatively preclude them from its use. Nelson v. United States, 20 F. Supp. 3d 1108 (D. Colo. 2014).

A social guest of a tenant is a licensee absent a showing that the guest entered the premises to transact business with the landlord or that the landlord represented that the guest was expected to enter or remain. Wilson v. Marchiondo, 124 P.3d 837 (Colo. App. 2005).

Contractor with legal responsibility for the condition of the premises owes an employee of a lessor of the premises a duty of care which this section imposes upon a landowner with respect to an invitee. Henderson v. Master Klean Janitorial, Inc., 70 P.3d 612 (Colo. App. 2003).

The liability of a landowner to a licensee under this section is to be limited to situations in which the landowner possesses an active awareness of the dangerous condition. Wright v. Vail Run Resort Cmty. Ass’n, 917 P.2d 364 (Colo. App. 1996); Grizzell v. Hartman Enters., Inc., 68 P.3d 551 (Colo. App. 2003).

Attractive nuisance doctrine applies to all children, regardless of their classification within the trespasser-licensee-invitee trichotomy. S.W. v. Towers Boat Club, Inc., 2013 CO 72, 315 P.3d 1257.

Summary judgment in favor of landlord proper in absence of any evidence concerning landlord’s knowledge of alleged defect. Casey v. Christie Lodge Owners Ass’n, 923 P.2d 365 (Colo. App. 1996).

Section covers claims for negligent supervision and retention when a claim relates to the condition of property. Casey v. Christie Lodge Owners Ass’n, 923 P.2d 365 (Colo. App. 1996).

Section does not abrogate claims that also arise under dog bite statute. Plaintiff bitten by defendant’s dogs on property where defendant qualified as a “landowner” could bring a claim under this section. Legro v. Robinson, 2012 COA 182, 328 P.3d 238, aff’d on other grounds, 2014 CO 40, 325 P.3d 1053.

The term “consent” includes both express and implied consent. The fact that the term “express or implied” is used with respect to an “invitee” but not with respect to a “licensee” or a “trespasser” does not preclude implied consent from being sufficient to make one entering property a “licensee” and not a “trespasser”. Corder v. Folds, 2012 COA 174, 292 P.3d 1177.

 


Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31662

Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31662

Teresa Brigance, Plaintiff, v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant.

Civil Action No. 15-cv-1394-WJM-NYW

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31662

March 11, 2016, Decided

March 11, 2016, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Teresa Brigance, Plaintiff: Trenton Jeffrey Ongert, Bloch & Chapleau, LLC, Denver, CO.

For Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant: Edward Timothy Walker, Samuel Nathan Shapiro, Vail Resorts Management Company, Legal Department, Broomfield, CO.

JUDGES: William J. Martínez, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: William J. Martínez

OPINION

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT’S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT

Plaintiff Teresa Brigance (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against Defendant Vail Summit Resorts, Inc. (“Defendant”). This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (“Motion”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 17.) Defendant filed the Motion on August 28, 2015. (Id.) On September 25, 2015, Plaintiff filed her Response to the Motion. (ECF No. 27.) Defendant filed its Reply on October 13, 2015. (ECF No. 31.) For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim in a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The 12(b)(6) standard requires the Court to “assume the truth of the plaintiff’s well-pleaded factual allegations and view them [*2] in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). In ruling on such a motion, the dispositive inquiry is “whether the complaint contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)). “Thus, ‘a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

II. BACKGROUND

The following allegations are taken from Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (“Complaint”). (ECF No. 6.) The Court assumes these allegations to be true for purposes of this motion.

On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff visited the Keystone ski area, which is owned and operated by Defendant. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff participated in a ski lesson which was taught by Megan McKinney, an employee of Defendant. (Id. ¶ 6.) Ms. McKinney instructed Plaintiff on the procedures for getting on and off the chair lift. (Id. ¶ 7.) The chair lift was operated by an unknown chair lift operator who was also an employee of Defendant and whom the Court will refer to as John Doe. (Id. ¶ 26.) While unloading from the chair lift, Plaintiff’s ski boot became wedged between the chair and the ground at the [*3] unloading area, causing injury to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 8.)

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on June 30, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint on July 27, 2015. (ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff asserted numerous claims arising out of events related to the chair lift incident. (See id.) Plaintiff asserts claims for (1) negligence, (2) negligence per se, (3) negligent supervision/training, (4) negligence (respondeat superior), (5) negligent hiring, and (6) premises liability pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-21-115. (See id.)

III. ANALYSIS

Defendant, through its Motion, moves to dismiss all of Plaintiff’s claims except for the premises liability claim. (ECF No. 17.) Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se (Claim Two) should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. (Id. at 4.) Defendant further contends that Plaintiff’s claims for negligence (Claim One) and negligence per se should be dismissed as they are preempted by the Premises Liability Act. (Id. at 2.) Lastly, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claims for negligent supervision/training, negligence (respondeat superior), and negligent hiring should be dismissed as duplicative. (Id. at 6.) The Court will discuss these arguments in turn.

A. Negligence Per Se

[*4] Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for negligence per se. (ECF No. 17 at 4.) “In contrast to negligence, negligence per se occurs when a defendant violates a statute adopted for the public’s safety and the violation proximately causes the plaintiff’s injury.” Scott v. Matlack, Inc., 39 P.3d 1160, 1166 (Colo. 2002). Plaintiff must also show that the statute was intended to protect against the type of injury the plaintiff suffered and that the plaintiff is a member of the group of persons the statute was intended to protect. Id. If those requirements are met, “then the statute conclusively establishes the defendant’s standard of care and violation of the statute is a breach of [defendant’s] duty.” Id.

In its Motion, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint fails to identify any statutory standard of care that has been violated. (ECF No. 17 at 4.) Plaintiff identifies two statutes as the basis of her negligence per se claim: the Skier Safety Act and the Passenger Tramway Safety Act. (ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 18-19.)

As to the Skier Safety Act, certain violations of that Act do constitute negligence per se. See Stamp v. Vail Corp., 172 P.3d 437, 443 (Colo. 2007). Under the Skier Safety Act, “a violation by a ski area operator of any requirement of this article or any rule or regulation promulgated by the passenger tramway safety board pursuant to section 25-5-704(1)(a), C.R.S., shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of such operator.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-104(2). However, Plaintiff fails to identify any requirement of that article–the Skier Safety Act–which has been violated. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) of the Passenger Tramway Safety Act.1 Colo. Rev. Stat. § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e). (See also ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 18, 20-21.) Section 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) identifies certain situations in which the passenger tramway safety board may take disciplinary action. However, § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) is not a [*5] rule or regulation promulgated by the passenger tramway safety board and therefore Plaintiff does not properly state a claim for negligence per se under the Skier Safety Act.

1 Plaintiff identifies this language as coming from § 25-5-706(2)(d)–(e). However, it is clear that Plaintiff is actually referring to § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e), since the language Plaintiff quotes is from that subsection of the statute.

In its response to the Motion, Plaintiff argues that the Passenger Tramway Safety Act provides a statutory standard of care independent of the Skier Safety Act. Specifically, Plaintiff stresses that § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) allows for disciplinary action to be taken if there is either “[w]illful or wanton misconduct in the operation or maintenance of a passenger tramway” or “[o]peration of a passenger tramway while a condition exists in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the passenger tramway which endangers the public health, safety, or welfare, which condition was known, or reasonably should have been known, by the area operator.”

Nevertheless, this language does not provide a statutory standard of care which is adequate to support Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se. This Court has previously held that a claim for negligence per se requires a [*6] statute, “the violation of which can be clearly established.” Hendrickson v. Doyle, F. Supp. 3d , , 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166362, 2015 WL 8533769, at *5 (D. Colo. Dec. 11, 2015). “In other words, the relevant statute needs to prescribe or proscribe some relatively discrete action.” Id. The language of § 25-5-706(3)(d) proscribes willful or wanton misconduct and § 25-5-706(3)(e) proscribes something akin to negligent conduct. This is not statutory language prescribing or proscribing some discrete action (e.g., all chairs must be two feet removed from the ground at the unloading area). Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for negligence per se. The Court grants the Motion as to Claim Two and dismisses Claim Two without prejudice.

B. Premises Liability Act Preemption

The Colorado Premises Liability Act contains the following provision:

In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2). Defendant does not dispute that it meets the statutory definition of a “landowner”. (ECF No. 17 at n.1.) Based on its status as a landowner and the language of [*7] § 13-21-115(2), Defendant asserts that it can only be found liable, if at all, under the Premises Liability Act. (Id. at 4.) Therefore, Defendant argues that Claims One and Two are preempted and must be dismissed. (Id. at 3-4.)

To support its argument, Defendant cites the Colorado Supreme Court in Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004). In that case, the court held that the language of § 13-21-115(2) was “specific in its terms and without ambiguity,” and demonstrated that the General Assembly intended “to completely occupy the field and supercede existing law in the area” of premises liability. Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. Furthermore, “[t]his language, coupled with the precisely drawn landowner duties in subsection (3), leaves no room for application of common law tort duties.” Id. Ultimately, the Court held that the Premises Liability Act “abrogate[s] the common law with respect to landowner duties.” Id. at 330.

This Court has interpreted the Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion in Vigil and has held that “all common law claims involving landowner duties, including negligence . . . are abrogated by the Premises Liability Act which provides the exclusive remedy.” Raup v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., F. Supp. 3d , , 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499, 2016 WL 374463, at *3 (D. Colo. Feb. 1, 2016); see also Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012, 1017 (D. Colo. 1989) (holding that when a common law negligence claim is founded on negligent maintenance of a ski area, such a claim is within the scope of the Premises Liability Act [*8] and must be dismissed).

Claim One is a common law negligence claim. (See ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff also alleges that her injury occurred while on the property of Defendant, the admitted landowner. (Id.) Therefore, the claim would be preempted by the Premises Liability Act if the alleged injury occurred “by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2).

Plaintiff alleges in Claim One that her injury occurred due to Defendant’s failure “to maintain a proper distance between the chair and the ground at the unloading point, and/or [failure] to property operate and/or maintain the chair lift.” (ECF No. 6 ¶ 15.) The alleged failures to maintain the conditions of the property clearly fall under the Premises Liability Act. Furthermore, failing to properly operate the chair lift is an “activity conducted” on the property that also falls under the Premises Liability Act. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2); see also Raup, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499, 2016 WL 374463, at *4 (holding that the affirmative actions of a chair lift operator, in directing passengers to exit the lift, qualified as activity conducted on the property for the purposes of the Premises Liability Act).

The Court thus has little difficulty in concluding [*9] that Plaintiff’s common law negligence claim is preempted by the Premises Liability Act. Accordingly, the Court grants the Motion as to Claim One and dismisses Claim One with prejudice. Since the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se in the previous section, the Court need not discuss, let alone decide, whether that claim should also be dismissed based on Defendant’s preemption argument.2

2 Defendant does not argue that Claims Three, Four, and Five are preempted by the Premises Liability Act. Therefore, the Court will also not address that issue.

C. Imputed Liability Claims

Defendant admits that both Megan McKinney and chair lift operator John Doe were employees of Defendant. (ECF No. 17 at 7.) Defendant further admits that both were acting within the scope of their employment at the time of Plaintiff’s incident. (Id.) As such, Defendant admits that it is liable under the theory of respondeat superior for whatever negligent acts or omissions of those two employees, if any, caused Plaintiff’s injuries. (See id.)

Defendant argues that, because it is vicariously liable for the employees’ negligent acts, claims based on other theories of imputed liability–Claims Three and Five–are [*10] duplicative and should be dismissed.3 (Id. at 7-8.) Defendant cites two trial court decisions from Colorado state court in which those courts dismissed claims based on theories of imputed liability that they found to be duplicative. (See id.) However, Defendant provides no state appellate precedential support for its position. (See id.)

3 In the heading for its third argument in the Motion, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff’s fourth claim for negligence (respondeat superior) should also be dismissed. (ECF No. 17 at 6, 8.) However, Defendant, in its discussion, does not argue that Claim Four should be dismissed. (Id. at 6-8.) Defendant’s argument in that section is limited to arguing that Claims Three and Five should be dismissed because they are duplicative of Claim Four. (See id.)

Moreover, Defendant fails to acknowledge that “[p]laintiffs may seek duplicative relief under federal and state statutes and common [law].” Big Cats of Serenity Springs, Inc. v. Vilsack, 84 F. Supp. 3d 1179, 1198 (D. Colo. 2015). The pursuit of alternative claims for similar relief is expressly permitted by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(2) (“A party may set out 2 or more statements of a claim or defense alternatively or hypothetically, either in a single count or defense or in separate ones.”). Plaintiff may not recover [*11] for the same injury under multiple theories of imputed liability, and at some point Plaintiff may have to choose between her theories. However, that is not a reason to dismiss any of Plaintiff’s claims at this stage. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion as to Claims Three, Four, and Five.4

4 In its reply, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim for negligent hiring should also be dismissed on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to plead “what knowledge [Defendant] had or should have had at the time its employees were hired.” (ECF No. 31 at 6.) This argument was not made in the Motion itself and therefore the Court need not and will not consider it.

IV. CONCLUSION

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

1. Defendant’s Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (ECF No. 17) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART;

2. Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED as to Claim One (Negligence) and Claim Two (Negligence Per Se) and DENIED as to all other claims;

3. Claim One of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (ECF No. 6) is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; and

4. Claim Two of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (ECF No. 6) is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

Dated this 11th day of March, 2016. [*12]

BY THE COURT:

/s/ William J. Martínez

William J. Martínez

United States District Judge