The Ferae Naturae doctrine prevents a landowner from being liable for injuries to guests from wildlife.

In Texas, the landowner was not liable for the damages caused by a bite from a Brown Recluse Spider when it bit a tenant on the property.

Hillis v. McCall, 2020 Tex. LEXIS 187, 63 Tex. Sup. J. 577

State: Texas, Supreme Court of Texas

Plaintiff: Henry McCall

Defendant: Homer Hillis

Plaintiff Claims: premises liability

Defendant Defenses: ferae naturae

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2020

Summary

Ferae Naturae means naturally wild. Since the guest knew Brown Recluse Spiders were around and had seen them, he could not hold the landowner liable for the damages suffered when he was bitten by one. The Texas Supreme Court held that since the plaintiff knew spiders were around, and they were wild animals; the landowner/defendant was not liable.

Facts

Homer Hillis owns a bed and breakfast (the B&B) and a neighboring cabin in Fredericksburg, Texas. He used the B&B as a second home until 2012, when he began renting it out, mainly on weekends. Hillis hired a housekeeper to prepare and clean the B&B before guests arrived. That process included utilizing “bug bombs” in the event the housekeeper noticed any pest problems. Thus, as Hillis described it, pest control at the B&B was conducted on an “[a]s needed” basis.

In early 2014, Hillis leased the neighboring cabin on the property to Henry McCall. The cabin had no washer or dryer and had only a small refrigerator, so Hillis permitted McCall to use the laundry facilities and larger refrigerator in the B&B. McCall also offered to “open up” the B&B for guests and others needing access, such as electricians and other maintenance workers. According to McCall, Hillis typically called him several days before guests arrived and asked him to perform various tasks.

On December 12, 2014, McCall accessed the B&B at Hillis’s request to check the dishwasher and investigate whether the sink was leaking. While checking under the sink for a leak, McCall was bitten by a brown recluse spider, which is a venomous spider found in several states, including Texas.

Before he was bitten, McCall had observed spiders in both the cabin and the B&B on several occasions and had notified Hillis about the general presence of spiders in the B&B. According to Hillis, when McCall reported issues with insects or spiders, Hillis would pass along the information to the housekeeper who prepared the B&B for guests. Hillis also averred that customer reviews of the B&B had never complained of insects. Neither Hillis nor McCall had any personal knowledge about the presence of brown recluse spiders on Hillis’s property specifically or in the surrounding area. However, Hillis explained that he had read reports on the internet that brown recluse spiders “are habitats [sic] of Texas for a long time, and I assumed they were around my property.” Hillis had heard of people being bitten by brown recluses “elsewhere,” but not on his property.

McCall sued Hillis for negligence under a premises-liability theory, alleging that the presence of brown recluse spiders on Hillis’s property constituted an unreasonably dangerous condition, that Hillis knew or should have known of the condition, that Hillis owed McCall a duty to adequately warn him of the condition or make the property safe, that Hillis breached that duty, and that McCall suffered damages as a result. Hillis filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that, under the longstanding doctrine of ferae naturae, he owed no duty to McCall with respect to indigenous wild animals that Hillis had neither introduced to nor harbored on the property. The trial court granted the motion, and McCall appealed.

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

Premise’s liability is based on the theory that a landowner owes a duty to someone coming upon their land. The duty owed is dependent on the status of the person coming on the land. That status is usually based on the relationship between the landowner and the guest.

A landowner owes the most duty to an invitee.

When the injured person qualifies as an invitee, as McCall did, then as a general rule the landowner owes a “duty to make safe or warn against any concealed, unreasonably dangerous conditions of which the landowner is, or reasonably should be, aware but the invitee is not.”[A] (landowner’s duty to an invitee is to “use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition which the owner . . . knows about or in the exercise of ordinary care should know about” (citation omitted)). In line with that rule, the duty does not extend to warning the invitee of hazards that are open and obvious.

There are exceptions to this rule. One is the open and obvious rule. A landowner does not owe the invitee a duty to warn or protect an invitee from an open and obvious danger on the land. If the risk is concealed, then the landowner must warn the invitee or protect the invitee from the risk.

The doctrine of ferae naturae is another duty that the landowner need not warn about. The doctrine of ferae naturae applies to wild animals and in a broader definition in some states to wind or water.

The reasoning underlying the doctrine is that wild animals “exist throughout nature” and are “generally not predictable or controllable.” In turn, the mere fact that an indigenous wild animal has crossed a landowner’s property line does not make the landowner better able to protect an invitee than the invitee is to protect himself. (“Under ordinary circumstances, Texas landowners do not have a duty to warn their guests about the presence and behavior patterns of every species of indigenous wild animals and plants which pose a potential threat to a person’s safety . . . .”).

There is an exception to the ferae naturae rule, if the wild animals are found in artificial structures or places where they are not normally found, then the landowner does have a duty to warn. The ferae naturae does not apply to zoos or to a keeper of wild animals.

Thus, when a wild animal enters such a structure, and the owner knows or has reason to know about the animal’s presence and the unreasonable risk of harm presented thereby but the invitee does not, it is reasonable to expect the owner to take steps to alleviate the danger or at least warn the invitee of it. (holding that a grocery store owner was not liable to a patron who was bitten by a rattlesnake inside the store where nothing in the record suggested that the owner “knew, or had reason to know from past experience, that there was a likelihood that snakes presented a danger to patrons”).

Because the landowner did not know the Brown Recluse Spiders were inside the building, he did not owe a duty to the plaintiff to warn him of the spiders. Further because the plaintiff did have actual knowledge that spiders were on the property he knew of the possible risks. The court stated there was no duty to warn a guest about something they already know.

The court held the landowner was not liable for the acts of the wild animal.

So Now What?

Since in most states, wild animals are owned by the state and since no one, contrary to whatever you see on TV or believed from Disney in the past, can control a wild animal, landowners are not liable for their actions. Consequently, holding a landowner liable for something he or she does not own and cannot control is difficult and does not create a legal duty.

The facts in this case are convoluted, but what allowed the landowner to succeed was the fact the plaintiff, who was living on the property for free, knew that dangerous spiders were around on the property. Since the landowner did not know there were Brown Recluse Spiders on the property the landowner could not be liable.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Hillis v. McCall, 2020 Tex. LEXIS 187, 63 Tex. Sup. J. 577

Hillis v. McCall, 2020 Tex. LEXIS 187, 63 Tex. Sup. J. 577

Homer Hillis, Petitioner,

v.

Henry McCall, Respondent

No. 18-1065

Supreme Court of Texas

March 13, 2020

On Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the Fourth District of Texas

OPINION

Debra H. Lehrmann Justice

The ferae naturae doctrine limits a landowner’s liability for harm caused by indigenous wild animals on his property. In this premises-liability case arising out of a brown-recluse spider bite, we are asked how the doctrine affects the scope of the landowner’s duty to his bitten invitee. The landowner argues that he owed no duty to the invitee because he was unaware of the presence of brown recluse spiders on his property and he neither attracted the offending spider to his property nor reduced it to his possession. Further, the invitee had actual knowledge of the presence of spiders on the property. The court of appeals held that the property owner failed to conclusively establish the absence of a duty and thus reversed the trial court’s summary judgment in his favor. We agree with the landowner and reverse the court of appeals’ judgment.

I. Background

Homer Hillis owns a bed and breakfast (the B&B) and a neighboring cabin in Fredericksburg, Texas. He used the B&B as a second home until 2012, when he began renting it out, mainly on weekends. Hillis hired a housekeeper to prepare and clean the B&B before guests arrived. That process included utilizing “bug bombs” in the event the housekeeper noticed any pest problems. Thus, as Hillis described it, pest control at the B&B was conducted on an “[a]s needed” basis.

In early 2014, Hillis leased the neighboring cabin on the property to Henry McCall.[ 1] The cabin had no washer or dryer and had only a small refrigerator, so Hillis permitted McCall to use the laundry facilities and larger refrigerator in the B&B. McCall also offered to “open up” the B&B for guests and others needing access, such as electricians and other maintenance workers. According to McCall, Hillis typically called him several days before guests arrived and asked him to perform various tasks.[ 2]

On December 12, 2014, McCall accessed the B&B at Hillis’s request to check the dishwasher and investigate whether the sink was leaking. While checking under the sink for a leak, McCall was bitten by a brown recluse spider, which is a venomous spider found in several states, including Texas.

Before he was bitten, McCall had observed spiders in both the cabin and the B&B on several occasions and had notified Hillis about the general presence of spiders in the B&B.[ 3]According to Hillis, when McCall reported issues with insects or spiders, Hillis would pass along the information to the housekeeper who prepared the B&B for guests. Hillis also averred that customer reviews of the B&B had never complained of insects. Neither Hillis nor McCall had any personal knowledge about the presence of brown recluse spiders on Hillis’s property specifically or in the surrounding area.[ 4] However, Hillis explained that he had read reports on the internet that brown recluse spiders “are habitats [sic] of Texas for a long time, and I assumed they were around my property.” Hillis had heard of people being bitten by brown recluses “elsewhere,” but not on his property.

McCall sued Hillis for negligence under a premises-liability theory, alleging that the presence of brown recluse spiders on Hillis’s property constituted an unreasonably dangerous condition, that Hillis knew or should have known of the condition, that Hillis owed McCall a duty to adequately warn him of the condition or make the property safe, that Hillis breached that duty, and that McCall suffered damages as a result. Hillis filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that, under the longstanding doctrine of ferae naturae, he owed no duty to McCall with respect to indigenous wild animals that Hillis had neither introduced to nor harbored on the property. The trial court granted the motion, and McCall appealed.

The court of appeals reversed. 562 S.W.3d 98, 106 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2018). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to McCall, the court concluded that “McCall was bitten by a spider in an artificial structure and Hillis knew or should have known of an unreasonable risk of harm posed by the spiders inside the B&B.” Id. Accordingly, the court held that Hillis had failed to establish as a matter of law the absence of a duty to warn or make safe under the doctrine of ferae naturae. Id.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

A trial court’s order granting summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Tarr v. Timberwood Park Owners Ass’n, 556 S.W.3d 274, 278 (Tex. 2018). A party moving for traditional summary judgment has the burden to prove that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ConocoPhillips Co. v. Koopmann, 547 S.W.3d 858, 865 (Tex. 2018); see also Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c). “When reviewing a summary judgment, we take as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, and we indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant’s favor.” Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005) (citations omitted).

B. Premises Liability and Ferae Naturae

“A claim against a property owner for injury caused by a condition of real property generally sounds in premises liability.” Occidental Chem. Corp. v. Jenkins, 478 S.W.3d 640, 642 (Tex. 2016). When the claim is based on the property owner’s negligence, the threshold question is whether the owner owed a duty to the injured person. See Brookshire Grocery Co. v. Goss, 262 S.W.3d 793, 794 (Tex. 2008). “The existence of a duty is a question of law for the court to decide from the facts surrounding the occurrence” at issue. Walker v. Harris, 924 S.W.2d 375, 377 (Tex. 1996).[ 5] Further, the duties owed by a landowner in a premises-liability case “depend upon the role of the person injured on his premises.” Rosas v. Buddies Food Store, 518 S.W.2d 534, 535 (Tex. 1975). When the injured person qualifies as an invitee, [ 6] as McCall did, [ 7] then as a general rule the landowner owes a “duty to make safe or warn against any concealed, unreasonably dangerous conditions of which the landowner is, or reasonably should be, aware but the invitee is not.” Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 465 S.W.3d 193, 203 (Tex. 2015); see also United Scaffolding, Inc. v. Levine, 537 S.W.3d 463, 471 (Tex. 2017) (landowner’s duty to an invitee is to “use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition which the owner . . . knows about or in the exercise of ordinary care should know about” (citation omitted)). In line with that rule, the duty does not extend to warning the invitee of hazards that are open and obvious. Austin, 465 S.W.3d at 204.

Notwithstanding the general rule regarding the duty a premises owner owes to invitees, we have approached the scope of the duty differently in some circumstances. For example, we have held that a premises owner generally has no duty to protect invitees from the criminal acts of third parties on the owner’s property, but we recognize an exception “when the owner knows or has reason to know of a risk of harm to invitees that is unreasonable and foreseeable.” Del LagoPartners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 767 (Tex. 2010); see also Austin, 465 S.W.3d at 206 (characterizing the duty recognized in Del Lago as an exception to the general rule that a landowner owes no duty to warn an invitee with respect to unreasonably dangerous conditions that are obvious or known to the invitee). Pertinent to this case, we have also recognized that, with certain exceptions, a premises owner generally owes no duty to protect invitees from wild animals on the owner’s property. Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. Nami, 498 S.W.3d 890, 896-97 (Tex. 2016). Under this longstanding doctrine of ferae naturae, such a duty does not exist “unless the landowner actually reduced indigenous wild animals to [his] possession or control,” “introduced nonindigenous animals into the area,” or affirmatively “attract[ed] the animals to the property.” Id. at 897 (citations omitted); see also Nicholson v. Smith, 986 S.W.2d 54, 63 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1999, no pet.).

The reasoning underlying the doctrine is that wild animals “exist throughout nature” and are “generally not predictable or controllable.” Nami, 498 S.W.3d at 897 (quoting 4 Am Jur. 2d, Animals § 62 (2007)).[ 8] In turn, the mere fact that an indigenous wild animal has crossed a landowner’s property line does not make the landowner better able to protect an invitee than the invitee is to protect himself. Id.; see also Nicholson, 986 S.W.2d at 63 (“Under ordinary circumstances, Texas landowners do not have a duty to warn their guests about the presence and behavior patterns of every species of indigenous wild animals and plants which pose a potential threat to a person’s safety . . . .”). The risk and foreseeability of injury do not outweigh the severe burden and potential consequences of imposing a general duty on a landowner with respect to “indigenous wild animals in their natural habitat, in the normal course of their existence.” Nicholson, 986 S.W.2d at 62; see also Brantley v. Oak Grove Power Co., No. 10-12-00135-CV, 2012 WL 5974032, at *3 (Tex. App.-Waco Nov. 29, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.) (holding that a landowner owed no duty to a construction worker who was bitten by a spider at a construction site, in part because the spider was “in its natural habitat in the normal course of its existence” and the employer had engaged in no affirmative or negligent acts to draw spiders to the area).

However, courts applying the ferae naturae doctrine have long recognized an additional exception to the general no-duty rule, holding that a landowner: could be negligent with regard to wild animals found in artificial structures or places where they are not normally found; that is, stores, hotels, apartment houses, or billboards, if the landowner knows or should know of the unreasonable risk of harm posed by an animal on its premises, and cannot expect patrons to realize the danger or guard against it.

Nami, 498 S.W.3d at 897 (citing various treatises); see also Overstreet v. Gibson Prod. Co., 558 S.W.2d 58, 61 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1977, writ ref’d n.r.e.) (noting that a landowner owes no duty to exercise reasonable care to protect invitees from the acts of wild animals on the property “until he knows or has reason to know that the dangerous acts by wild animals are occurring or about to occur”). Under that exception, a duty akin to the general duty owed to invitees under Texas law-that is, a duty to warn of or make safe from an unreasonably dangerous condition about which the owner knows or reasonably should know but the invitee does not-arises with respect to “wild animals found in artificial structures or places where they are not normally found.” Nami, 498 S.W.3d at 897.

We generally agree with the policies underlying imposing such a duty on landowners with respect to wild animals that pose an unreasonable risk of harm inside artificial structures like homes, stores, hotels, and offices. While landowners cannot be held to account for every animal that finds its way inside, particularly small animals like insects and spiders that may easily enter and escape detection, we also do not expect invitees as a general matter to exercise any particular vigilance with respect to wild animals when inside.[ 9] Thus, when a wild animal enters such a structure, and the owner knows or has reason to know about the animal’s presence and the unreasonable risk of harm presented thereby but the invitee does not, it is reasonable to expect the owner to take steps to alleviate the danger or at least warn the invitee of it. See Overstreet, 558 S.W.2d at 61, 63 (holding that a grocery store owner was not liable to a patron who was bitten by a rattlesnake inside the store where nothing in the record suggested that the owner “knew, or had reason to know from past experience, that there was a likelihood that snakes presented a danger to patrons”).[ 10]

Hillis argues that this exception amounts to a “new duty” that places an untenable burden on landowners. We disagree. First, it comports with the general premises-liability duty imposed on landowners with respect to invitees as well as the consistently recognized caveat to the ferae naturae doctrine. Nami, 498 S.W.3d at 897; see also Nicholson, 986 S.W.2d at 62; Overstreet, 558 S.W.2d at 61. Second, the fact that the duty hinges on the owner’s knowledge or reason to know of an unreasonable risk of harm is significant. Unfortunately, many insects and spiders are commonly found indoors. The ever-present possibility that an insect or spider bite may occur indoors does not amount to an unreasonable risk of harm imposing a duty on property owners to guard against or warn of this fact of life. To that end, knowledge of the presence of a harmless indigenous insect or spider does not in and of itself amount to a reason to know of the presence of the kinds of insects or spiders that present a danger to invitees. On the other hand, a property owner who knows or should know of an unreasonable risk that dangerous indoor pests will bite invitees in his particular building has a duty to alleviate the danger or warn of it if the invitees neither know nor should know of the heightened risk. This strikes an appropriate balance between protecting invitees and ensuring that the burden placed on landowners is not unduly onerous.

Having outlined the parameters of the pertinent duty, we turn to its application to the facts of this case.

C. Analysis Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to McCall, the pertinent facts are as follows: • Hillis’s property is in Fredericksburg, in the Texas Hill Country. • Hillis rented a cabin on the property to McCall and used a residence on the property as a B&B, mainly for weekend rentals. • Hillis conducted pest control in the B&B on an as-needed basis by instructing the housekeeper to set off bug bombs if she saw pests while preparing the B&B for guests. • McCall, an invitee, was bitten by a brown recluse spider inside the B&B while checking under the kitchen sink for a leak. • Brown recluse spiders are indigenous to Texas. • Hillis had read about brown recluse spiders on the internet and knew that they were indigenous to Texas and thus that they could be on his property. • McCall did not know brown recluse spiders were indigenous to Texas. • McCall had seen spiders on several occasions in both the cabin and the B&B. When he saw spiders in the B&B, he would notify Hillis, who passed along the information to the housekeeper who prepared the B&B for guests. • Customer reviews of the B&B had never mentioned insects. • Hillis had no actual knowledge of the presence of brown recluse spiders on his property before McCall was bitten. • McCall had no actual knowledge of the presence of brown recluse spiders on Hillis’s property before McCall was bitten.

On these facts, we hold that Hillis owed McCall no duty as a matter of law, notwithstanding the fact that the injury occurred inside the B&B. McCall’s position is essentially that because Hillis knew spiders had been seen in the B&B, and because he knew brown recluses are found in Texas, he knew or should have known that a dangerous brown recluse spider was in the B&B and thus had a duty to warn McCall.[ 11] We disagree.

First, as noted, knowledge of the general intermittent presence of spiders does not necessarily amount to knowledge of an unreasonable risk of harm, and Hillis had no particular reason to know that brown recluses, or other venomous spiders, were inside the B&B. Although Hillis knew that brown recluses are indigenous to Texas, the record does not show that he had identified or should have identified that the spiders McCall previously reported seeing inside the house presented a danger. Indeed, McCall testified in his deposition that the spiders he had seen in the B&B and reported to Hillis before McCall was bitten were the “[s]ame type of spiders” he had seen in his previous home in Fredericksburg, and nothing in the record indicates that he was referring to brown recluses or to any other type of venomous spider. The record thus conclusively negates a determination that Hillis knew or had reason to know of an unreasonable risk of harm presented by brown recluse spiders inside the B&B.

Further, McCall and Hillis had identical actual knowledge of the presence of spiders on the property: both knew that they had been seen in the B&B periodically, and neither knew of the presence of brown recluses or of other types of venomous spiders.[ 12] According to McCall, Hillis should have warned him that the spiders McCall himself had seen could have been venomous. But it is simply common knowledge that some spiders are venomous and others harmless. We will not impose a duty on a landowner to warn an invitee about something he already knows. See Nami, 498 S.W.3d at 897 (recognizing that imposition of a duty with respect to wild animals inside an artificial structure depends in part on a determination that the invitee cannot reasonably be expected “to realize the danger or guard against it”).

As noted, the existence of a duty is a question of law that depends on the underlying facts. Walker, 924 S.W.2d at 377. Even with respect to wild animals found inside, an owner’s duty to invitees does not extend beyond warning about or making safe from unreasonably dangerous conditions about which the owner knows or has reason to know but the invitee does not. On the record before us, we hold that Hillis negated a duty to McCall as a matter of law.

III. Conclusion

The trial court correctly granted summary judgment for Hillis on McCall’s premises-liability claim. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals’ judgment and render judgment that McCall take nothing.

———

Notes:

[ 1] Karen Oringderff, McCall’s common-law wife, was also a tenant. She is not a party to this lawsuit.

[ 2] Hillis disputed this characterization, stating that he typically did not affirmatively request McCall’s assistance with respect to preparing the B&B for guests. Rather, Hillis merely accepted McCall’s offer to help, was “happy that he was willing to do it, and . . . appreciated it.” For summary judgment purposes, we will accept McCall’s version of events.

[ 3] McCall was responsible for pest control in the cabin while Hillis remained responsible for pest control in the B&B.

[ 4] According to the court of appeals, “Hillis admitted in his deposition that he knew there was a population of brown recluse spiders on the property.” 562 S.W.2d 98, 106 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2018). Neither party references deposition testimony to that effect, and our review of the record revealed no such testimony.

[ 5] We balance several factors in determining whether a duty exists, including the risk, foreseeability, and likelihood of injury weighed against the social utility of the landowner’s conduct, the burden of preventing the injury, and the consequences of placing that burden on the landowner. Greater Hous. Transp. Co. v. Phillips, 801 S.W.2d 523, 525 (Tex. 1990).

[ 6] An invitee is “one who enters on another’s land with the owner’s knowledge and for the mutual benefit of both.” Rosas, 518 S.W.2d at 536.

[ 7] McCall alleged in his petition that he qualified as an invitee when he was bitten, and Hillis conceded as much for purposes of his summary judgment motion. We therefore assume without deciding that McCall was an invitee.

[ 8] We recognized in Nami that insects are treated as wild animals. 498 S.W.3d at 896 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 506 cmt. a (Am. Law Inst. 1977)). We see no reason to treat arachnids differently.

[ 9] In light of these considerations, the fact that the injury occurs in or near any type of artificial structure does not necessarily give rise to the exception. For example, in Brantley, the plaintiff was bitten by a spider while “standing on a concrete slab [at a construction site] with a partial structure and no roof.” 2012 WL 5974032, at *3. The court of appeals, noting testimony that “there were spiders everywhere in the field” at the site, held that the spider that bit the plaintiff was in its natural habitat and no duty was owed. Id. While we cannot anticipate how the doctrine would apply with respect to every type of artificial structure imaginable, we can say that we do not view barns and billboards in the same way as structures like houses, hotels, offices, and retail stores in evaluating the duty owed with respect to wild animals.

[ 10] We need not address whether an additional exception exists when a landowner has actual knowledge of an unreasonable risk of harm presented by a wild animal on his property (even while outside) and the patron neither knows nor reasonably should know of the risk.

[ 11] McCall does not contend that Hillis engaged in any affirmative or negligent acts to draw venomous spiders to the property.

[ 12] The court of appeals did not consider the effect of McCall’s awareness of the presence of spiders inside the B&B on whether Hillis owed him a duty, holding that “Hillis did not assert McCall’s knowledge as a basis for summary judgment [and instead] relied exclusively on the doctrine of ferae naturae to negate the element of duty.” 562 S.W.3d at 100 n.1. We disagree with that narrow characterization of Hillis’s summary judgment motion. In challenging the existence of a duty in that motion, Hillis focused principally on the absence of evidence that he had attracted brown recluses to the property; however, he explicitly referenced McCall’s knowledge as supporting a finding that no duty was owed. Hillis then elaborated on the significance of that knowledge in his reply in support of the motion. We will not ignore the relevant evidence of McCall’s knowledge that Hillis expressly brought to the trial court’s attention in his summary judgment motion and reply.

———


Cyclists injured on a bike path after running into a downed tree, could not recover because the association that assisted in taking care of the bike path owed no duty to the cyclists.

If there is no duty, there is no liability. Always check to make sure there really is a duty owed to someone before you start to claim or defend negligence actions.

Citation: DeLamar v. Fort Worth Mt. Biker’s Ass’n, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 466, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 466, 2019 WL 311517

State: Texas; Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

Plaintiff: Norman Delamar

Defendant: Fort Worth Mountain Biker’s Association

Plaintiff Claims: general negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: No Duty

Holding: For the Defendants

Year: 2019

Summary

City parks had an agreement with the local cycling group to assist in keeping the bike pats in good shape. The ultimate responsibility for the bike paths was still held by the city. An injured cyclist who ran into a downed tree could not sue the cycling group because they owed no duty to the cyclists because the association did not have the authority from the city and did not accept a duty with the agreement with the city.

Facts

On July 12, 2014, Norman was riding his mountain bike on a trail in Gateway, a park owned by the City, when he came upon a downed tree resting across the trail at head level. Although known to be a “really good rider,” Norman asserts that because he did not have time to stop or avoid the tree, the tree “clotheslined” his head and neck and knocked him off of his bicycle, causing him injuries.

Norman sued the City, asserting claims of general negligence and gross negligence. In a single pleading, the City filed an answer and identified the Association as a responsible third party because of an “Adopt-A-Park Agreement” (Contract) that made the Association “responsible for constructing and maintaining the bike trail in question.” Norman then amended his petition and added the Association as a defendant in the suit.

The city’s contract with the association outlined things the association was to do to assist the city in keeping the trail available and generally covered trail maintenance. The city did not give up its right to control and manage the park where the trails were located.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims, and this appeal ensued.

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

The first issue the court reviewed was this, a negligence claim or a premises liability claim.

Although premises liability is a form of negligence, “[n]egligence and premises liability claims . . . are separate and distinct theories of recovery, requiring plaintiffs to prove different, albeit similar, elements to secure judgment in their favor.”

The differences are subtle, but:

To prevail on a premises-liability claim, a plaintiff must prove (1) actual or constructive knowledge of some condition on the premises by the owner; (2) that the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) that the owner did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and (4) that the owner’s failure to use such care proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries, whereas under the common law doctrine of negligence, a plaintiff must prove (1) a legal duty owed by one person to another; (2) a breach of that duty; and (3) damages proximately resulting from the breach.

The difference is, one is based on the actions of the defendant, and the other is based on a condition of the land.

While, theoretically, a litigant may maintain causes of action for both general negligence and premises liability, to be viable, the general negligence theory of recovery must be based not upon an injury resulting from the condition of the property, but upon the defendant’s contemporaneous activity. (analyzing claimant’s negligence and premises liability claims together). If the injury is one caused by a premises defect, rather than a defendant’s contemporaneous activity, a plaintiff cannot circumvent the true nature of the premises defect claim by pleading it as one for general negligence.

As similar as they may appear to be, you cannot recover on the same set of facts for both a negligence action and a premise’s liability action. Even the court stated understanding the differences could be “tricky.”

The trial court and appellate court found the plaintiff’s claims sounded in premise’s liability.

However, the court went on to discuss the plaintiff’s allegations that his claim was a negligence claim. The issue was whether the association had a legal duty to the plaintiff.

The question of legal duty is a “multifaceted issue” requiring courts to balance a number of factors such as the risk and foreseeability of injury, the social utility of the actor’s conduct, the consequences of imposing the burden on the actor, and any other relevant competing individual and social interests implicated by the facts of the case. “Although the formulation and emphasis varies with the facts of each case, three categories of factors have emerged: (1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured; and (3) public policy considerations.”

Of the three, foreseeability as the dominant consideration, but not the sole consideration the court must review. Foreseeability alone is not sufficient to create a duty. “Foreseeability means that a person who possesses ordinary intelligence should have anticipated the danger that his negligent act would create for others.”

Although the association had some contractual responsibility for the trails, there was nothing the association could do about the trees. Only the city had the use of the chainsaws, and only the city could determine if a tree could be removed and then remove it.

And although it was foreseeable, a tree could fall on the trail; the issue required more analysis than that. The bike path was surrounded by thousands of trees. The plaintiff had ridden that path just two days earlier and admitted that the tree could have fallen two hours before he hit it. Although a tree falling was foreseeable, it was outside of the scope of something that you can do anything about, and on top of that the association had no authority to do anything about trees.

Finally, the agreement between the city and the association said nothing about the association agreeing to assume a legal duty to maintain the safety of the trails.

Based on our de novo review of the record, we hold that Norman failed to establish that the Association owed him a legal duty to protect him from the downed tree across the trail that the Association did not cause to fall, that may have fallen only hours-but no later than a day or two-before Norman struck it, and that the Association was not even authorized to unilaterally remove.

Because there could be no gross negligence if there was no general negligence, the plaintiffs gross and ordinary negligence claims were dismissed.

So Now What?

Foreseeability is a good thing for non-lawyers running a business or program to understand. Are your actions or inactions going to create a danger to someone.

The case does not state whether the city had any liability to the plaintiff, only the issues discussed in this decision were between the plaintiff and the defendant association.

More importantly, the court looked at trees falling as something that no one could really control. It was not liked anyone, the association or the city could come close to identifying trees that may fall in parks.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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DeLamar v. Fort Worth Mt. Biker’s Ass’n, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 466

DeLamar v. Fort Worth Mt. Biker’s Ass’n, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 466

Norman Delamar, Appellant

v.

Fort Worth Mountain Biker’s Association, Appellee

No. 02-17-00404-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

January 24, 2019

On Appeal from the 348th District Court Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 348-283758-16

Before Sudderth, C.J.; Gabriel and Pittman, JJ.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Bonnie Sudderth, Chief Justice.

I. Introduction

Appellant Norman DeLamar filed the underlying lawsuit against Appellee Fort Worth Mountain Biker’s Association (the Association) to recover for injuries he sustained when he was knocked off of his mountain bike after he struck a downed tree across a mountain bike trail at Gateway Park (Gateway). Norman claimed that the Association was negligent in failing to properly maintain a safe mountain bike trail as purportedly required by its contractual agreement with the City of Fort Worth (City). The trial court granted summary judgment on Norman’s claims against the Association. We will affirm.

II. Background

On July 12, 2014, Norman was riding his mountain bike on a trail in Gateway, a park owned by the City, when he came upon a downed tree resting across the trail at head level. Although known to be a “really good rider,” Norman asserts that because he did not have time to stop or avoid the tree, the tree “clotheslined” his head and neck and knocked him off of his bicycle, causing him injuries.

Norman sued the City, asserting claims of general negligence and gross negligence. In a single pleading, the City filed an answer and identified the Association as a responsible third party because of an “Adopt-A-Park Agreement” (Contract) that made the Association “responsible for constructing and maintaining the bike trail in question.” Norman then amended his petition and added the Association as a defendant in the suit.[1] Norman asserted that through the Contract, the Association agreed to “assume responsibility for maintenance, construction and safety of the trails,” and as such owed “a duty to protect the general public from dangerous conditions such as falling trees.” Norman claimed that the Association had breached this alleged duty by

• failing to make any effort to ensure that the trees alongside of the bicycle trail were not a danger to cyclists;

• failing to implement any sort of safety procedure with respect to the danger of falling trees in high bicycle (and pedestrian) traffic areas;

• failing to maintain the trails to prevent dangerous conditions from occurring despite knowing the dangers associated with cycling;

• failing to provide cyclists with adequate safeguards, or any safeguards at all, to prevent dangerous conditions from occurring; and

• consciously disregarding the heath of the trees and the danger that they pose.

The Contract provides that the Association “shall perform all work and services hereunder as an independent contractor . . . . [and] shall have exclusive control of, and the exclusive right to control the details of the work performed hereunder[.]” The Contract specifically provides that the Association “shall, at its sole cost and expense, construct and maintain the Trails in accordance with [the] Agreement,” and it defines “trail maintenance” as including, but not limited to, “repairing, replacing, and rebuilding trails or sections of trails that are eroding or in disrepair; pruning of trees; [and] removal of brush[.]” However, the Contract prohibits the Association from “trimming and pruning, until written approval is obtained from the Director [of the Parks and Community Services Department],” and from “remov[ing] any tree without prior written permission from the City Forester.” [Emphasis added.] Finally, the Contract expressly reserves the City’s right to control and access all portions of Gateway: “The City does not relinquish the right to control the management of the Parks, or the right to enforce all necessary and proper rules for the management and operation of the same. The City . . . has the right at any time to enter any portion of the Parks[.]”

The Association answered and then filed a no-evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment. In its motion, the Association asserted that there was no evidence that

• the Association was negligent as it owed Norman no duty with respect to the condition of the premises; or

• the Association owed a duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition, inspect the premise to discover any defects, or to make safe any defect or give an adequate warning of any dangers.

Although the Association clearly challenged the existence of any legal duty it owed to Norman, the Association’s motion primarily argued that Norman’s claim sounded in premises liability rather than general negligence and that he could not artfully plead a general negligence claim when his injuries were caused by a premises defect. Norman filed a response and attached, inter alia, a short affidavit and an expert report from an arborist, Matthew Clemons. In his response, Norman appeared to adopt the Association’s characterization of his claim as one for premises liability and in doing so focused on his status, arguing that he was an invitee. Indeed, Norman’s “Conclusion” sought denial of the summary judgment motions because there was “more than enough credible evidence to find that the [Association] is liable under a premises liability theory for this incident[.]” [Emphasis added.] The Association filed a reply and objected to the expert report from Clemons as inadmissible hearsay.

Following the hearing on the Association’s no evidence and traditional motions for summary judgment, the trial court requested letter briefs and took the matter under advisement. In his letter brief, Norman altered his prior position and for the first time asserted that the Association’s summary judgment theory was flawed because his suit against the Association was based on a general negligence theory, not a premises liability theory. The trial court signed an order sustaining the Association’s objections to Clemons’s expert report and a separate order granting the Association’s no evidence and traditional motions for summary judgment.

On appeal, Norman contends the trial court erred by construing his claim as one for premises liability rather than general negligence and abused its discretion by sustaining the Association’s hearsay objection to Clemons’s report.

III. Norman’s Negligence Claim

A. Standard of Review

The movant for traditional summary judgment has the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c); Nixon v. Mr. Prop. Mgmt. Co., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548 (Tex. 1985). A defendant who conclusively negates at least one essential element of the nonmovant’s cause of action is entitled to summary judgment as to that cause of action. Randall’s Food Mkts., Inc. v. Johnson, 891 S.W.2d 640, 644 (Tex. 1995). Once the movant has established a right to summary judgment, the nonmovant has the burden to respond to the motion and present to the trial court any issues that would preclude summary judgment. City of Houston v. Clear Creek Basin Auth., 589 S.W.2d 671, 678-79 (Tex. 1979). The only question is whether an issue of material fact is presented. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c).

After an adequate time for discovery, a party without the burden of proof at trial may move for summary judgment on the ground that there is no evidence of one or more essential elements of a claim or defense. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(i). Once a no evidence motion has been filed in accordance with Rule 166a(i), the burden shifts to the nonmovant to bring forth evidence that raises a fact issue on the challenged evidence. See Macias v. Fiesta Mart, Inc., 988 S.W.2d 316, 317 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1999, no pet.). We review a no evidence motion for summary judgment under the same legal sufficiency standards as a directed verdict. King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 750-51 (Tex. 2003). A no evidence motion is properly granted if the nonmovant fails to bring forth more than a scintilla of probative evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to an essential element of the nonmovant’s claim on which the nonmovant would have the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 751. If the evidence supporting a finding rises to a level that would enable reasonable, fair-minded persons to differ in their conclusions, then more than a scintilla of evidence exists. Id. A mere scintilla of evidence exists when the evidence is so weak as to do no more than create a mere surmise or suspicion of a fact, and the legal effect is that there is no evidence. See id.

When reviewing traditional and no evidence summary judgments, we perform a de novo review of the entire record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, indulging every reasonable inference and resolving any doubts against the motion. See Sudan v. Sudan, 199 S.W.3d 291, 292 (Tex. 2006); KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison Cty. Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999). We are not required to ascertain the credibility of affiants or to determine the weight of evidence in the affidavits, depositions, exhibits and other summary judgment proof. See Gulbenkian v. Penn, 252 S.W.2d 929, 932 (Tex. 1952); Palestine Herald-Press Co. v. Zimmer, 257 S.W.3d 504, 508 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2008, pet. denied).

All grounds in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment must be presented in writing to the trial court. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c). “When a trial court’s order granting summary judgment does not specify the ground or grounds relied on for the ruling, summary judgment will be affirmed on appeal if any of the theories advanced are meritorious.” State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. S.S., 858 S.W.2d 374, 380 (Tex. 1993).

When a party moves for both a traditional and a no evidence summary judgment, we generally first review the trial court’s summary judgment under the no evidence standard of Rule 166a(i). See Ford Motor Co. v. Ridgway, 135 S.W.3d 598, 600 (Tex. 2004). If the no evidence summary judgment was properly granted, we need not reach arguments under the traditional motion for summary judgment. See id.

B. General Negligence vs. Premises Liability Theories of Recovery

Although premises liability is a form of negligence, “[n]egligence and premises liability claims . . . are separate and distinct theories of recovery, requiring plaintiffs to prove different, albeit similar, elements to secure judgment in their favor.” United Scaffolding, Inc. v. Levine, 537 S.W.3d 463, 471 (Tex. 2017); Clayton W. Williams, Jr., Inc. v. Olivo, 952 S.W.2d 523, 529 (Tex. 1997) (stating that “[b]ecause premises defect cases and negligent activity cases are based on independent theories of recovery, a simple negligence [jury] question . . . cannot support a recovery in a premises defect case”); E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. v. Roye, 447 S.W.3d 48, 57-58 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. dism’d) (“Because [claimant] was limited to a premises liability theory of recovery, . . . the trial court erred when it submitted an ordinary negligence cause of action against [appellant] to the jury. . . . Accordingly, the jury’s finding that [appellant] was negligent is immaterial and cannot support a judgment against [appellant].”). As our sister court has explained, premises liability is a “special form of negligence in which the duty owed to the plaintiff depends upon the plaintiff’s status on the premises at the time of the incident.” Wyckoff v. George C. Fuller Contracting Co., 357 S.W.3d 157, 163-64 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, no pet.) (citing Scott & White Mem’l Hosp. v. Fair, 310 S.W.3d 411, 412 (Tex. 2010)).[2]

While, theoretically, a litigant may maintain causes of action for both general negligence and premises liability, to be viable, the general negligence theory of recovery must be based not upon an injury resulting from the condition of the property, but upon the defendant’s contemporaneous activity. See Mangham v. YMCA of Austin, Texas-Hays Comtys., 408 S.W.3d 923, 929 (Tex. App.-Austin 2013, no pet.); see also W. Invs., Inc. v. Urena, 162 S.W.3d 547, 550 (Tex. 2005) (analyzing claimant’s negligence and premises liability claims together). If the injury is one caused by a premises defect, rather than a defendant’s contemporaneous activity, a plaintiff cannot circumvent the true nature of the premises defect claim by pleading it as one for general negligence. Sampson v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin, 500 S.W.3d 380, 389 (Tex. 2016).

Because the lines between negligent activity and premises liability are “sometimes unclear,” Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 776 (Tex. 2010), determining whether a claim is one for a premises defect or general negligence “can be tricky.” Austin v. Kroger Tex. L.P., 746 F.3d 191, 196 (5th Cir. 2014), certified question answered, 465 S.W.3d 193 (Tex. 2015). The policy undergirding this distinction is that negligence encompasses a malfeasance theory based on affirmative, contemporaneous conduct that caused the injury, whereas premises liability encompasses a nonfeasance theory based on the owner’s failure to take measures to make the property safe. See Del Lago Partners, 307 S.W.3d at 776; Timberwalk Apartments, Partners, Inc. v. Cain, 972 S.W.2d 749, 753 (Tex. 1998) (explaining negligent activity concerns “simply doing or failing to do what a person of ordinary prudence in the same or similar circumstances would have not done or done” while premises liability concerns the “failure to use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition which the owner or occupier [of land] knows about or in the exercise of ordinary care should know about” and quoting Keetch v. Kroger Co., 845 S.W.2d 262, 266-67 (Tex. 1992)).

C. Discussion

In his first issue, Norman argues that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on a premises liability theory when his claims sounded in general negligence: “The Association characterized [my] lawsuit against it as one for premises liability. This argument is flawed because the Association was not the possessor of the premises when [I] was injured[.]” Norman argues that his “petition is fairly constructed as advancing an ordinary negligence claim” because he pleaded that the Association is liable for “failing to employ any procedure to ensure safety from falling trees, and for failing to maintain a safe bike path and the trees along it.” The Association responds that regardless of how Norman pleaded his claim, he is limited to a premises liability theory of recovery because Norman was injured by an unsafe or dangerous condition on the premises-not by contemporaneous negligent activity.[3]

1. Summary Judgment was Not Granted on an Unaddressed Claim Because the Association’s Motion for Summary Judgment Challenged the Existence of a Legal Duty

As a preliminary matter, we consider Norman’s contention that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment on his negligence claim when the Association’s motion for summary judgment actually addressed only an unpleaded premises-liability claim. See Chessher v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 658 S.W.2d 563, 564 (Tex. 1983) (stating it is reversible error to grant summary judgment on a claim not addressed in the motion). Three of our sister courts have addressed similar instances in which defendants filed summary judgment motions on the theory that the plaintiff had impermissibly pleaded a premises defect claim as a general negligence claim. See Griffin v. Shell Oil Co., 401 S.W.3d 150 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2011, pet. denied); Somoza v. Rough Hollow Yacht Club, Ltd., No. 03-09-00308-CV, 2010 WL 2867372, at *4 (Tex. App.-Austin July 20, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.); Kalinchuk v. JP Sanchez Construction Co., No. 04-15-00537-CV, 2016 WL 4376628, at *3 (Tex. App.- San Antonio Aug. 17, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.).

In Griffin, the First District Court of Appeals considered whether “the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Shell and CH2M on his negligent-activity claims because neither Shell nor CH2M sought summary judgment on these claims.” 401 S.W.3d at 157. After stating that a trial court errs by granting more relief requested by disposing of issues not presented to it in the summary judgment motion, the First court analyzed each defendant’s summary-judgment motion and held that based “upon the plain language,” the defendants sought summary judgment “only on [appellant’s] premises-defect claim” and not his negligent activity claim. Id. at 158-59. Thus, the First court reversed summary judgment on appellant’s negligence claim and remanded the case. Id. The First court did note, however, that “[a] legal duty must be established in order for [appellant] to ultimately recover on his negligent-activity claim[, ]” id. at 163 n.4, thus signaling its concern over the viability of appellant’s negligence claim.

In Somoza, the plaintiff had been injured while operating a jet ski when he allegedly ran into a partially submerged steel cable tethered to a floating dock, near the marina owned and operated by a yacht club. Somoza, 2010 WL 2867372, at *1. He filed suit against the yacht club and alleged negligence and premises liability claims. Id. The yacht club filed a hybrid no evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment, asserting, in part, that the plaintiff “has no claim for general negligence . . . because his negligence claim sounds solely in premises liability,” and that the plaintiff has “produced no evidence of the essential elements of duty, breach, or proximate cause.” Id. The trial court granted the motion.

On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeals considered the plaintiff’s contention that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment on his general negligence claim. Id. at *4. The Third court “assum[ed] without deciding that [the plaintiff] could bring a claim for general negligence despite his failure to allege injury resulting from any contemporaneous activity by the Yacht Club” and nevertheless concluded that “he has still failed to establish the existence of a duty to support a claim in negligence.” Id. at *5.

In Kalinchuk, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his putative employer for negligence and gross negligence after he was injured at a baseball field renovation site by a section of bleachers that fell on him. 2016 WL 4376628, at *1. The employer moved for traditional and no evidence summary judgment, and alleged, inter alia, that the plaintiff did not have more than a scintilla of evidence to establish the existence of a legal duty. Id. In its motion, the employer relied on cases involving premises liability claims and asserted that the plaintiff purported to state a claim for negligence when his claim was “actually based on the theory of premises liability because he [sought] to recover for an injury allegedly created by a condition on the premises rather than for an injury created as a result of an activity.” Id. at *3. The plaintiff responded that the employer owed him a common law duty to exercise reasonable care and avoid a foreseeable risk of harm. Id. The trial court granted summary judgment. Id.

On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeals reasoned that “[w]hether [plaintiff’s] claim is a claim for negligence as he argues or a premises liability claim as [employer] contends, the question of whether a duty exists remains the same in that it requires a balancing of interrelated factors that make up the risk-utility balancing test.” Id. After applying the risk-utility balancing test to the facts of the case, the Fourth court concluded that the plaintiff had “failed to produce a scintilla of evidence creating a fact issue to support the existence of [a] legal duty owed to him by [the employer.]” Id. at *3-4.

We do not quarrel with the First court’s strict approach in refusing to read into the summary judgment motion a ground that was not clearly articulated. However, we view the approach by the Third and Fourth courts as allowing for a more expedient disposition while maintaining fidelity to Rule 166a(c)’s requirement that summary judgment motions “state the specific grounds therefor.” Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); Somoza, 2010 WL 2867372, at *5; Kalinchuk, 2016 WL 4376628, at *3-4.

The existence of a legal duty is a threshold issue generally decided as a matter of law. Fort Bend Cty. Drainage Dist. v. Sbrusch, 818 S.W.2d 392, 395 (Tex. 1991). And even assuming under these facts that Norman could bring a claim for general negligence, the Association in its motion for summary judgment challenged the existence of a legal duty owed to him regarding the downed tree and maintenance of trail safety regardless of whether the duty arose under a premises liability theory based on Norman’s status at the time of the injury or a general negligence theory balancing test.[4] See Kalinchuk, 2016 WL 4376628, at *3-4 (explaining whether the plaintiff’s claim is a claim for negligence as he argued or a premises liability claim as the defendant contended, “the question of whether a duty exists remains the same in that it requires a balancing of interrelated factors that make up the risk-utility balancing test”); cf. Del Lago Partners, 307 S.W.3d at 767 (applying risk-utility balancing factors to determine duty in premises liability case); Wyckoff, 357 S.W.3d at 164 (“General negligence principles apply to a contractor who has left [a] premises in an unsafe condition.”). Therefore, because the summary judgment motion fairly challenged the existence of a legal duty, we reject Norman’s contention that the trial court erred by granting the motion on an unchallenged ground, and we now analyze whether the Association owed Norman a legal duty under a general negligence theory.

2. No Legal Duty Under a General Negligence Theory

The question of legal duty is a “multifaceted issue” requiring courts to balance a number of factors such as the risk and foreseeability of injury, the social utility of the actor’s conduct, the consequences of imposing the burden on the actor, and any other relevant competing individual and social interests implicated by the facts of the case. Tex. Home Mgmt., Inc. v. Peavy, 89 S.W.3d 30, 33 (Tex. 2002). “Although the formulation and emphasis varies with the facts of each case, three categories of factors have emerged: (1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured; and (3) public policy considerations.” Id. at 34. Of these factors, the Supreme Court of Texas has identified “foreseeability as the ‘foremost and dominant consideration’ in the duty analysis.” Id. at 36 (quoting El Chico Corp. v. Poole, 732 S.W.2d 306, 311 (Tex. 1987)). “Foreseeability means that a person who possesses ordinary intelligence should have anticipated the danger that his negligent act would create for others.” Midwest Emp’rs Cas. Co. ex rel. English v. Harpole, 293 S.W.3d 770, 779 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2009, no pet.). However, foreseeability alone is not sufficient to impose a duty. Id.

Here, Norman pleaded that the Association contractually assumed “responsibility for maintenance, construction and safety of the trails,” and as such, owed a duty to “protect the general public from dangerous conditions[.]” The record, which contains the Contract and deposition excerpts, evidences the Association’s agreement to, and exercise of, some limited control over the construction and maintenance of Gateway’s bike trails by having monthly meetings to discuss maintenance issues and by building trails in the months between May and October. The summary judgment evidence also provided that the Association holds an annual work day in June to make sure the trails are in “tiptop shape” for their annual “fat tire festival.” This workday consists of going through the entire trail to look for places that needed to be trimmed or pruned.

Lawrence “Larry” Colvin, the Association’s president at the time of Norman’s crash, testified that during the monthly meetings, the Association’s members discussed safety of the trees in general as well as identified certain problem trees to City employees who “were the only ones that [could] operate the chainsaws.” Larry also testified that the Association had once asked the City to close the trail because of “so many trees down,” but that the City refused. Larry testified that the Association worked with Melinda Adams, an “urban forester” with the City, who “[took] a look at the trees.” Although Larry acknowledged that the Association had no “tree safety plan” and had never consulted an arborist, he concluded that even retaining a certified arborist to walk Gateway once a week would still not prevent falling trees in a park “hundreds of thousands of trees.”

Larry’s testimony concerning the existence of “hundreds of thousands of trees” along the mountain bike trail provided proof that the danger of a falling tree was plausible. And in his deposition, Larry acknowledged that the likelihood of falling trees would increase in “an unprecedented drought like we were in in 2014”-the year of Norman’s injury.

However, Norman testified in his deposition that he had ridden the same trail “no more [than] two days” earlier and that he had not seen the downed tree, so it was possible that the tree had fallen only a day or two before his crash. Indeed, Norman conceded that it was possible that the tree could have actually fallen only a few hours before his crash. Moreover, the Contract expressly prohibits the Association from pruning trees without the Director’s prior written approval and expressly prohibits the Association from removing any tree without prior written permission from the Forester. Norman does not direct us to any part of the Contract showing that the Association had agreed to assume a legal duty to maintain the safety of the trails for the general public.

Based on our de novo review of the record, we hold that Norman failed to establish that the Association owed him a legal duty to protect him from the downed tree across the trail that the Association did not cause to fall, that may have fallen only hours-but no later than a day or two-before Norman struck it, and that the Association was not even authorized to unilaterally remove.[5] See Felts v. Bluebonnet Elec. Coop., Inc., 972 S.W.2d 166, 169 (Tex. App.-Austin 1998, no pet.) (rejecting complainant’s argument that an electrical co-op’s tree-trimming agreement creating a limited right to trim or clear trees for the purpose of protecting its power lines “created a broader duty to maintain the area for the protection of the general public traveling on the nearby county road”); Jacobs-Cathey Co. v. Cockrum, 947 S.W.2d 288, 292 (Tex. App.-Waco 1997, writ denied) (holding that “a defendant’s policy to remedy dangerous conditions he may come across does not impose a legal duty on him to these third parties” and that a defendant bears “no common law duty to remove debris . . . that was left by some other party”); see also J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Tex. Contract Carpet, Inc., 302 S.W.3d 515, 530-32 (Tex. App.-Austin 2009, no pet.) (holding a contractual agreement did not create a legal duty to a third party when the contractual benefit to the third party was not clearly intended by the contract and was merely incidental to the agreement).

Therefore, the trial court did not err by granting summary judgment on Norman’s negligence and gross negligence claims. See Gonzalez v. VATR Constr., LLC, 418 S.W.3d 777, 789 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2013, no pet.) (holding that because summary judgment was proper on negligence claim, it was also proper on gross negligence claim). We overrule Norman’s first issue.

IV. Norman’s Excluded Summary Judgment Evidence

Norman’s second issue challenges the trial court’s decision to sustain the Association’s hearsay objection and strike Matthew Clemons’s report. Norman’s contention is that because he submitted an affidavit from Clemons in which Clemons swore that the attached report was a true and correct copy of the report that he had personally prepared, the report was authenticated, “which overcomes the hearsay problem.” The Association responds that Norman misunderstands its objection, which was that the report was inadmissible hearsay, not that it was not properly authenticated.

A. Standard of Review

A trial court’s rulings on the admissibility of evidence are reviewable under an abuse of discretion standard. Gharda USA, Inc. v. Control Sols., Inc., 464 S.W.3d 338, 347 (Tex. 2015). An appellate court must uphold the trial court’s evidentiary ruling if there is any legitimate basis in the record for the ruling. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. v. Malone, 972 S.W.2d 35, 43 (Tex. 1998). A trial court’s discretion in determining whether an expert is qualified to testify on a matter is broad but not unbounded. In re Commitment of Bohannan, 388 S.W.3d 296, 307 (Tex. 2012). A trial court abuses its discretion by excluding expert testimony if the testimony is relevant to the issues in the case and is based on a reliable foundation. Id.; State v. Cent. Expressway Sign Assocs., 302 S.W.3d 866, 870 (Tex. 2009) (op. on reh’g).

B. Analysis

Norman attached a short affidavit from Matthew Clemons which stated, in relevant part, as follows:

I certify that the ‘Initial Assessment of Tree Conditions; Gateway Park Mountain Bike Trail’ was prepared on March 21, 2017 for Jackson Davis regarding Norman DeLamar’s bicycle incident, which is attached as an Exhibit to Plaintiff’s Response to Fort Worth Biker’s Association Traditional and No Evidence Motions for Summary Judgment, is a true and correct copy of the report which I personally prepared and provided Mr. Davis.

The March 21, 2017 letter was attached to Norman’s summary judgment response as Exhibit D.

The Association asserts that Clemons’s affidavit (which was not objected to), may authenticate the attached report, but it does not remove the report from the ambit of hearsay. We agree. See Tex. R. Evid. 801, 802; cf. Petty v. Children’s WorldLearning Ctrs., Inc., No. 05-94-00998-CV, 1995 WL 379522, at *5 (Tex. App.-Dallas May 31, 1995, writ denied) (explaining that “[a]uthenticity is separate and apart from qualification as an exception under the hearsay rule”). Further, the report does not obviously fall within any of the exclusions from hearsay (Tex. R. Evid. 801(e)) or exceptions to the rule against hearsay (Tex. R. Evid. 803)-indeed, Norman does not assert any exclusion or exception.

Accordingly, we hold that the court did not abuse its discretion by sustaining the Association’s hearsay objection to Clemons’s report, and we overrule Norman’s second issue.

V. Conclusion

Having held that the trial court did not err by granting summary judgment on Norman’s negligence and gross negligence claims and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding Norman’s expert’s report as inadmissible hearsay, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

—–

Notes:

[1]Norman’s suit against the Association for negligence and gross negligence was eventually severed from his suit against the City.

[2]To prevail on a premises-liability claim, a plaintiff must prove (1) actual or constructive knowledge of some condition on the premises by the owner; (2) that the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) that the owner did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and (4) that the owner’s failure to use such care proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Gonzalez, 968 S.W.2d 934, 936 (Tex. 1998), whereas under the common law doctrine of negligence, a plaintiff must prove (1) a legal duty owed by one person to another; (2) a breach of that duty; and (3) damages proximately resulting from the breach. Helbing v. Hunt, 402 S.W.3d 699, 702 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, pet. denied).

[3]The Association asserts it is a “non-possessory interest holder” which is “the legal equivalent of the occupier” of the bike trail portion of Gateway. Put differently, the Association contends it has rights akin to that of an easement holder. See Brookshire Katy Drainage Dist. v. Lily Gardens, LLC, 333 S.W.3d 301, 309 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, pet. denied) (“[A]n easement is a nonpossessory interest in another’s property that authorizes its holder to use that property for a particular purpose.”).

[4]Although we do not reach the issue, we believe that Norman’s claim sounds in premises liability in any event. See United Scaffolding, 537 S.W.3d at 472 (“We have recognized that slip/trip-and-fall cases have consistently been treated as premises defect causes of action. In such cases, the plaintiff alleges injury as a result of a physical condition or defect left on the premises, not as a contemporaneous result of someone’s negligence.” (internal citation and quotation marks omitted)); Sampson, 500 S.W.3d at 389-90 (citing Univ. of Tex. at Austin v. Hayes, 327 S.W.3d 113 (Tex. 2010) (per curiam), a case with injuries caused by a bicycle crash after the cyclist ran over a metal chain stretched across a college campus driveway as illustrating a “quintessential premises defect claim”); Tex. Dept. of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 230 (Tex. 2004) (concluding that the “allegation of an injury caused by a tree limb falling on [plaintiff] constitutes an allegation of a condition or use of real property and is an allegation of a premises defect”).

[5]Norman also does not persuade us that we should create a legal duty regarding the downed tree and trail safety based on public policy considerations. See Kalinchuk, 2016 WL 4376628, at *4. Indeed, public policy considerations weigh heavily against imposing such a legal duty on what is essentially a group of volunteer mountain bike enthusiasts who have been granted such limited oversight over the safety of the bike trails, if any.

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Plaintiff cannot assume a risk which is not inherent in the activity or which he does not know.

The decision lacks any real information on how a carabiner detached from a harness on a mobile climbing wall. However, the decision makes the correct determination on whether the plaintiff assumed the risk under New York law.

Stillman v Mobile Mountain, Inc., 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4124; 2018 NY Slip Op 04149

State: New York, Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

Plaintiff: Jacob Stillman

Defendant: Mobile Mountain, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk and lack of constructive notice of an alleged defect

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2018

Summary

This case looks at assumption of risk as a defense, when the risk assumed is not “visible” or known to the injured plaintiff. The plaintiff fell from a mobile climbing wall when the carabiner used in the belay detached. The defense of assumption of risk failed because the risk was concealed or unreasonably enhanced according to the court.

Facts

The defendant set up its mobile climbing wall at the Eden Corn Festival. While climbing the carabiner detached from the harness and the plaintiff fell 18′ to the ground.

The climbing wall amusement attraction included a safety harness worn by the patron and a belay cable system that attached to the harness by use of a carabiner. There is no dispute that the carabiner detached from the safety harness worn by plaintiff, and that plaintiff fell approximately 18 feet to the ground below.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on assumption of the risk and the defendant did not have any notice that the “defective” part of the wall was defective. What part of the wall that was defined as defective was never identified. The trial court denied the defendants motion and the defendant appealed.

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

Assumption of the risk in New York is a defense in athletic or recreational activities. If you engage in the activity, you assume the risks that are inherent in the activity.

The doctrine of assumption of the risk operates “as a defense to tort recovery in cases involving certain types of athletic or recreational activities” A person who engages in such an activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation”

However, a plaintiff cannot assume risks that the plaintiff does not know about, that are concealed, or are created due to the reckless or intentional conduct of the defendant.

However, “participants are not deemed to have assumed risks resulting from the reckless or intentional conduct of others, or risks that are concealed or unreasonably enhanced”

However, the analysis the court used to deny the plaintiff’s motion was the defendant failed to prove that falling from a climbing wall was an inherent risk of climbing.

Here, we conclude that the court properly denied that part of defendant’s motion based on assumption of the risk inasmuch as it failed to meet its initial burden of establishing that the risk of falling from the climbing wall is a risk inherent in the use and enjoyment thereof

It seems to be confusing to say the risk of falling off a wall, suspended in the air is not obvious. However, this is a New York decision, which are always brief. Therefore, the statement of the court encompasses the real risk, that the carabiner or part of the system would fail allowing the plaintiff to fall.

More importantly, the plaintiff could not assume the risk of the carabiner failing because it is not an inherent risk of the sport and because there is no way the plaintiff could have known, seen, or discovered the risk.

So Now What?

The decision lacks more information than it provides. How did the carabiner become detached? Carabiners do not fail and there is nothing indicating the carabiner did fail. Consequently, either the carabiner was never attached properly or the plaintiff opened the carabiner.

The decision does follow other decisions like this in all other states. How it is explained is just a little confusing.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Stillman v Mobile Mountain, Inc., 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4124; 2018 NY Slip Op 04149

Stillman v Mobile Mountain, Inc., 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4124; 2018 NY Slip Op 04149

[**1] Jacob Stillman, Plaintiff-Respondent, v Mobile Mountain, Inc., Defendant-Appellant, et al., Defendants.

543 CA 17-01915

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, FOURTH DEPARTMENT

2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4124; 2018 NY Slip Op 04149

June 8, 2018, Decided

June 8, 2018, Entered

CORE TERMS: climbing, defective condition, carabiner, festival, harness, constructive notice, failed to meet, dangerous condition, premises liability, summary judgment, attraction, amusement, worn

COUNSEL: [*1] OSBORN, REED & BURKE, LLP, ROCHESTER (JEFFREY P. DIPALMA OF COUNSEL), FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

CONNORS LLP, BUFFALO (LAWLOR F. QUINLAN, III, OF COUNSEL), FOR PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT.

JUDGES: PRESENT: SMITH, J.P., CARNI, DEJOSEPH, AND TROUTMAN, JJ.

OPINION

Appeal from an order of the Supreme Court, Erie County (Mark J. Grisanti, A.J.), entered March 28, 2017. The order, insofar as appealed from, denied that part of the motion of defendant Mobile Mountain, Inc., seeking summary judgment dismissing the complaint against it.

It is hereby ORDERED that the order so appealed from is unanimously affirmed without costs.

Memorandum: Plaintiff commenced this action seeking damages for injuries he sustained when he fell from an artificial rock climbing wall amusement attraction owned and operated by Mobile Mountain, Inc. (defendant) at the Eden Corn Festival. Insofar as relevant to this appeal, defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against it on the grounds that the action is barred by the doctrine of assumption of the risk and, in the alternative, that it lacked constructive notice of any alleged defective condition causing the accident and injuries. Supreme Court denied that part of the motion, [*2] and we affirm.

The climbing wall amusement attraction included a safety harness worn by the patron and a belay cable system that attached to the harness by use of a carabiner. There is no dispute that the carabiner detached from the safety harness worn by plaintiff, and that plaintiff fell approximately 18 feet to the ground below.

The doctrine of assumption of the risk operates “as a defense to tort recovery in cases involving certain types of athletic or recreational activities” (Custodi v Town of Amherst, 20 NY3d 83, 87, 980 N.E.2d 933, 957 N.Y.S.2d 268 [2012]). A person who engages in such an activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation” (Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 [1997]). However, “participants are not deemed to have assumed risks resulting from the reckless or intentional conduct of others, or risks that are concealed or unreasonably enhanced” (Custodi, 20 NY3d at 88). Here, we conclude that the court properly denied that part of defendant’s motion based on assumption of the risk inasmuch as it failed to meet its initial burden of establishing that the risk of falling from the climbing wall is a risk inherent in the use and enjoyment thereof (see generally Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324, 501 N.E.2d 572, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 [1986]).

Defendant further contends that the court [*3] erred in denying that part of its motion based on lack of constructive notice of any alleged defective condition in the carabiner or the climbing wall. We reject that contention. Defendant casts the alleged defective condition as a dangerous condition on the property giving rise to premises liability (see generally Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837-838, 492 N.E.2d 774, 501 N.Y.S.2d 646 [1986]), and it thereafter attempts to establish its lack of liability based upon its lack of constructive notice of that condition (see generally Depczynski v Mermigas, 149 AD3d 1511, 1511-1512, 52 N.Y.S.3d 776 [4th Dept 2017]). Even [**2] assuming, arguendo, that the alleged defective condition constitutes a “dangerous condition on property” (Clifford v Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Co., Inc., 31 AD3d 1102, 1103, 818 N.Y.S.2d 715 [4th Dept 2006] [internal quotation marks omitted]), we conclude that defendant failed to establish either its own level of legal interest in the premises or its rights and obligations associated therewith. Indeed, the record is devoid of evidence regarding who owned the real property where the festival was held. Further, although defendant’s president testified at his deposition that defendant had a “contract” to operate the climbing wall at the festival, defendant failed to submit a copy of that contract or to otherwise establish the terms of or the identity of any other party to the alleged contract. We therefore conclude that defendant [*4] failed to meet its burden on that part of its motion based on premises liability (see generally Alvarez, 68 NY2d at 324).

Entered: June 8, 2018


Crashing while mountain biking is an inherent risk under Indiana’s law.

The plaintiff also admitted that he knew the risks of mountain biking and as such were contributorily negligent which barred his claims against the park owner.

Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., et. al., v. Kaler, 73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

State:  Indiana, Court of Appeals of Indiana

Plaintiff: (At Trial) Richard Kaler 

Defendant: (At Trial) Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., City of Indianapolis, and Indy Parks and Recreation

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability 

Defendant Defenses: No liability and Contributory Negligence 

Holding: For the Defendants (at Trial) 

Year: 2017 

Summary

Crashing while mountain biking is an inherent risk under Indiana’s law. The plaintiff, an experienced mountain biker could not recover from the park because he knew and had crashed mountain biking and his knowledge of mountain biking also made him contributorily negligent. Contributory negligence under Indiana Law is a complete bar to recovery when suing a municipality.

Facts 

This decision the parties in the heading is reversed. The plaintiff is listed second in this case at the appellate court heading and the defendants are listed first. The reason is the defendants are appealing the trial court’s ruling and they the defendants are prosecuting the case to the appellate court. Few states work this way in titling their decisions. 

The City of Indianapolis, through its Indy Parks and Recreation department owns Town Run Trail Park. It has numerous mountain bike trails through the park which are managed by the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association.

The plaintiff had been mountain biking for five or six years. An Eagle Scout had created a berm in the park as part of a “merit badge” in the park. While riding the berm the plaintiff crashed and sued.

He described himself as an “experienced” and “better than average” bicyclist. Although he was familiar with the trails at Town Run, he had not been on the mountain-bike trail since the berm had been constructed several months earlier. “Oftentimes,” Kaler would “try to get an idea of the technical requirements of the trail” and would step off his bike, especially if he saw something within his view “as a danger.”

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

All states have Premises Liability statutes. These statutes set out the duties of land owners relative to people on their land. If the land owner fails to meet those duties, the landowner is liability. An injury to a person on someone’s land is called a premises liability claim.

The plaintiff mountain biker brought a premises liability claim for his injuries. To win a premises liability claim in Indiana the plaintiff must prove the landowner. 

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

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

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

The plaintiff failed to prove this to the appellate court on two different arguments. First, the plaintiff’s experience as a mountain bike showed he knew that crashing was a possibility mountain biking, and he crashed often. 

He admitted that a fall “was just a general consequence of the sport.” Although he had ridden the trail the first time without any problems, when Kaler decided to make a second run, it was getting dark, but he was insistent that he “wanted to ride the higher grade because [he] knew it was more challenging.” At no point, did Kaler step off his bike and inspect the berm’s high grade prior to riding it in the approaching darkness. Accordingly, pursuant to Kaler’s own statements, the City could objectively and reasonably have expected an experienced bicyclist to realize the risks a beginner to intermediate trail would present and take appropriate precautions. 

Second he had ridden the wooden berm once before that day, electing to take a lower ride through the berm. The second time he went faster taking the higher edge of the berm when he crashed.

The plaintiff could not prove that actual or constructive knowledge that the City knew the trail created an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff. Not because of the lack of the cities’ knowledge, but because crashing was part of the sport. Therefore, there was no unreasonable risk. The plaintiff had testified that crashing was part of the sport.

As the expectation of a bicycle crash is a risk inherent to riding trails, it cannot serve to establish the sort of unreasonable risk of harm contemplated in the first Burrell element.

Having the plaintiff admit crashing was part of the sport, the court held that while mountain biking crashing was an inherent risk of the sport. If a risk is inherent to the sport, then you could not sue for injuries from an inherent risk.

The second defense brought by the City on appeal was the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Contributory negligence 

“[c]ontributory negligence is the failure of a person to exercise for his own safety that degree of care and caution which an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person in a similar situation would exercise.

If you can prove the plaintiff was responsible for his own injuries, then the defendant is not liable. In some states, this could act to reduce the plaintiff’s damages. In Indiana, it was a complete bar to the plaintiff’s claims. 

Reviewing the testimony of the plaintiff, the court found that the plaintiff was not completely free of all negligence. Meaning the plaintiff was also negligent and therefore, barred from suing for his claims.

So Now What? 

Two great ideas came out of this for land owners in Indiana. The first is crashing is an inherent risk of the mountain biking. Most mountain bikers already knew this; however, having a court make the statement is great. 

Second premises liability statute in Indiana has been interpreted to allow the defendant to introduce the knowledge and skill of the plaintiff as a defense to the plaintiff’s claims and as a denial of his claims. 

What do you think? Leave a comment. 

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Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., et. al., v. Kaler, 73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., et. al., v. Kaler, 73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., City of Indianapolis, and Indy Parks and Recreation,1 Appellants-Defendants, v. Richard Kaler, Appellee-Plaintiff.

1 On February 23, 2017, Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. filed a notice of settlement with Richard Kaler and, as part of the settlement, dismissed this appeal. Accordingly, Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. is no longer a party in this cause. We will still include facts with respect to the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. where necessary for our decision.

Court of Appeals Case No. 49A04-1604-CT-865

COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA

73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

March 23, 2017, Decided

March 23, 2017, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the Marion Superior Court. The Honorable Cynthia J. Ayers, Judge. Trial Court Cause No. 49D04-1209-CT-35642

COUNSEL: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: Donald E. Morgan, Lynne D. Hammer, Kathryn M. Box, Office of Corporation Counsel, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: John F. Townsend, III, Townsend & Townsend, LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

JUDGES: Riley, Judge. Crone, J. and Altice, J. concur.

OPINION BY: Riley

OPINION

[*714] Riley, Judge.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE2

2 We held oral argument in this cause on March 7, 2017, in the Indiana Court of Appeals Courtroom in Indianapolis, Indiana. We thank both counsel for their advocacy.

P1 Appellants-Defendants, the City of Indianapolis and Indy Parks and Recreation (the City),3 appeal the trial court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment with respect to Appellee-Plaintiff’s, Richard Kaler (Kaler), claims of negligence after Kaler sustained injuries in riding the City’s mountain bike trail at Town Run Trail Park.

3 For all practical purposes, Appellant is the City of Indianapolis as the City’s Indy Parks and Recreation department cannot be sued outside the Access to Public Records Act context. See City of Peru v. Lewis, 950 N.E.2d 1, 4 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011) (noting that units of local government, but not their individual departments, are suable under Indiana law), trans. denied.

P2 We reverse.

ISSUES

P3 The City presents us with four issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as follows:

(1) Whether a genuine issue of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment on Kaler’s claim of premises liability; and

(2) Whether a genuine issue of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment based on the City’s claim that Kaler was contributorily negligent.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY [**2]

P4 The City of Indianapolis owns and operates the Town Run Trail Park through its Indy Parks and Recreation department. The Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. (HMBA) is responsible for maintaining the trails, which have a difficulty rating from beginner through intermediate. In the spring of 2011, an Eagle Scout, as part of his merit badge project, built a new technical trail feature along Town Run’s mountain bike trail. The feature can best be described as a banked wooden turn, also known as a berm. A rider, approaching the berm, has three options for completing the turn. First, riders can avoid the berm by staying on the dirt path on its left side. Second, riders can elect to enter the berm and ride it on the low grade, or third, riders can negotiate the turn by riding the berm’s more challenging high grade. The entrance onto the wooden turn is fully tapered with the ground, while the exit is only partially tapered. A rider [*715] choosing the low grade would exit the berm with a “little jump” off the end of the feature. (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 100-01). A rider exiting on the high grade would have to make a two-foot jump back down to the trail.

P5 By July 9, 2011, Kaler had been mountain [**3] biking for approximately four to five years. He described himself as an “experienced” and “better than average” bicyclist. (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 90, 91). Although he was familiar with the trails at Town Run, he had not been on the mountain bike trail since the berm had been constructed several months earlier. “Oftentimes,” Kaler would “try to get an idea of the technical requirements of the trail” and would step off his bike, especially if he saw something within his view “as a danger.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). He understood that “on a mountain bike trail there’s multiple paths that you can take, one being more dangerous or less dangerous than another.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). In fact, Kaler had ridden a “fairly sophisticated” trail before which had a “four or five foot drop.” (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 95, 96). While riding a mountain bike, Kaler was “never [] a casual rider. [He] always enjoyed the obstacles[.]” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 100). He “expected to get in a wreck at least every other time [he] rode, and [he] would routinely fall off the bike over obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). “[I]t was just a general consequence of the sport.” (City’s App. Vol. II, [**4] p. 95).

P6 On July 9, 2011, Kaler and his girlfriend took their first trip on the trail. The mountain bike trail is shaped as a “figure 8,” with an approximate length of 6 miles. (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 92). When he first approached the berm, Kaler “took the low grade” on the feature. (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). As he approached the end of the turn, Kaler could see “there was a drop” so he “pull[ed] up on the fork and [did] a little bunny hop[.]” (City’s App. Vol II, pp. 102, 101). On their second trip around the course, Kaler’s girlfriend decided to take a shorter loop back to the trailhead. She was not as “adventurous” as Kaler and was concerned about getting back to the trailhead before dusk. (City’s App. Vol II, p. 92). Despite the approaching darkness, Kaler “wanted to ride the higher grade because [he] knew it was more challenging.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). He reached the berm again around 9:30 p.m. Feeling “capable of riding that high line,” Kaler sped up and rode the berm “as high as [he] could possibly ride it with [his] skill set.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). As he was near the end of the berm’s high grade, he “just saw [him]self lose control [] and just knew he was dropping.” [**5] (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). Kaler “didn’t see the drop, [nor] was he aware of the drop” at the end of the high grade turn, instead he “thought it tapered off.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 104). Due to the fall, Kaler sustained lacerations to his spleen and kidney. After calling his mother and girlfriend to inform them that he had crashed, he rode his bicycle back to the trail head. That evening, Kaler and his girlfriend went out for dinner.

P7 Around 1:30 a.m. on the following morning, Kaler went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with lacerations to his spleen and kidney. On discharge, Kaler was offered physical therapy but refused it because he “didn’t feel it was necessary.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 99). Kaler’s recovery did not last long and he participated in a 100-mile bicycle ride later that summer.

P8 On September 7, 2012, Kaler filed his Complaint against the City, sounding in premises liability. On August 21, 2015, the City filed its motion for summary judgment. (City’s App. Vol II, p. 46). In turn, Kaler submitted his response to the City’s motion, as well as his designation of evidence. On January 6, 2016, the trial court [*716] conducted a hearing on the City’s motion for summary [**6] judgment. On February 2, 2016, the trial court issued its Order, summarily denying the motion. The trial court certified its Order for interlocutory appeal and the City sought this court’s permission to appeal. We granted the request and accepted the interlocutory appeal on May 19, 2016.

P9 Additional facts will be provided as necessary.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION

I. Standard of Review

P10 Summary judgment is appropriate only when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C). “A fact is material if its resolution would affect the outcome of the case, and an issue is genuine if a trier of fact is required to resolve the parties’ differing accounts of the truth . . . , or if the undisputed facts support conflicting reasonable inferences.” Williams v. Tharp, 914 N.E.2d 756, 761 (Ind. 2009).

P11 In reviewing a trial court’s ruling on summary judgment, this court stands in the shoes of the trial court, applying the same standards in deciding whether to affirm or reverse summary judgment. First Farmers Bank & Trust Co. v. Whorley, 891 N.E.2d 604, 607 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), trans. denied. Thus, on appeal, we must determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether the trial court has correctly applied the law. Id. at 607-08. In doing so, we consider all of [**7] the designated evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 608. The party appealing the grant of summary judgment has the burden of persuading this court that the trial court’s ruling was improper. Id. When the defendant is the moving party, the defendant must show that the undisputed facts negate at least one element of the plaintiff’s cause of action or that the defendant has a factually unchallenged affirmative defense that bars the plaintiff’s claim. Id. Accordingly, the grant of summary judgment must be reversed if the record discloses an incorrect application of the law to the facts. Id.

P12 We observe that in the present case, the trial court did not enter findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its judgment. Special findings are not required in summary judgment proceedings and are not binding on appeal. AutoXchange.com. Inc. v. Dreyer and Reinbold, Inc., 816 N.E.2d 40, 48 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). However, such findings offer this court valuable insight unto the trial court’s rationale for its review and facilitate appellate review. Id.

II. Premises Liability

P13 In support of its argument that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment, the City relies on Burrell v. Meads, 569 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 1991), and Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011). In Burrell,4 [*717] Indiana’s seminal case for premises liability, [**8] our supreme court imposed a three-part test to determine a landowner’s liability for harm caused to an invitee5 by a condition of its land. Under the Burrell test, a landowner can be held responsible only if the landowner:

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

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

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

Burrell, 569 N.E.2d at 639-40.

4 We acknowledge that on October 26, 2016, our supreme court redrew the premises liability landscape with its decision in Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316, 321 (Ind. 2016), in which the court issued a new test with respect to the situation where an invitee’s injury occurs not due to a dangerous condition of the land but due to claims involving activities on the land. In Rogers, our supreme court distinguished Burrell as follows:

When a physical injury occurs as a condition of the land, the three elements described in the Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 343 accurately describe the landowner-invitee duty. And because Burrell involved an injury due to a condition on the land, it accordingly framed the landowner-invitee duty broadly. [] [W]hile Section 343 limits the scope of the landowner-invitee duty in cases involving injuries due to conditions of the land, injuries could also befall invitees due to activities on a landowner’s premises unrelated to the premises’ condition–and that landowners owe their invites the general duty of reasonable care under those circumstances too.

Rogers, 63 N.E.3d at 322-23. Because Kaler’s injury occurred when riding a mountain bike trail feature, we find the cause more properly analyzed pursuant to Burrell [**9] as it involved a condition of the land.

5 All parties agree that Kaler is an invitee of the City.

P14 On May 18, 2011, our supreme court issued Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011), which applied the Burrell test in the realm of premises liability while participating in sports activities. In Pfenning, Cassie Pfenning was injured by a golf ball at a golf outing when she was sixteen years old. Id. at 396. At the time of the incident, Pfenning drove a beverage cart and after making several trips around the golf course “was suddenly struck in the mouth by a golf ball while driving the beverage cart on the cart path approaching the eighteenth hole’s tee pad from its green.” Id. at 397. The ball was a low drive from the sixteenth tee approximately eighty yards away. Id. The golfer’s drive traveled straight for approximately sixty to seventy yards and then severely hooked to the left. Id. The golfer noticed the roof of another cart in the direction of the shot and shouted “fore.” Id. But neither the plaintiff nor her beverage-serving companion heard anyone shout “fore.” Id. After hearing a faint yelp, the golfer ran in the direction of the errant ball and discovered the plaintiff with injuries to her mouth, jaw, and teeth. Id.

P15 Pfenning brought, among others, a premises liability claim against the Elks, the fraternal lodge that owned and [**10] operated the golf course. Id. at 405. Finding that the injury arose from a condition on the premises, the supreme court turned to Burrell in its articulation of the contours of the Elks’ duty. Id. at 406. In applying the Burrell test, the court held that the two first aspects of premises liability were not established by the designated evidence. Id. at 407. First, turning to the second element–the discovery or realization of danger–the court concluded that “for the purpose of our premises liability jurisprudence, the issue here is [] whether the Elks objectively should have expected that [Pfenning] would be oblivious to the danger or fail to protect herself from it.” Id. at 406. In applying this principle the court found “no genuine issue of fact to contravene the objectively reasonable expectation by the Elks that persons present on its golf course would realize the risk of being struck with an errant golf ball and take appropriate precautions.” Id. Addressing Burrell‘s first element–unreasonable [*718] risk of harm–the Pfenning court reasoned that “the risk of a person on a golf course being struck by a golf ball does not qualify as the ‘unreasonable risk of harm’ referred to in the first two components of the Burrell three-factor [**11] test.” Id.

P16 Likewise, here, we conclude that the designated evidence does not satisfy the Burrell requirements with respect to the duty component of premises liability. Initially, we find that it was objectively reasonable for the City under the facts of this case to expect Kaler to appreciate the risks of riding the trail and take suitable protections. The trail’s difficulty was advertised as appropriate for beginner through intermediate. Kaler’s own deposition characterized himself as an “experienced” bicyclist, who had ridden “a fairly sophisticated” trail before and who “always enjoyed the obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 91, 95, 100). He conceded that to “try to get an idea of the technical requirements of the trail,” he would get off his bike, especially if he noticed something “as a danger.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). He admitted that a fall “was just a general consequence of the sport.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). Although he had ridden the trail the first time without any problems, when Kaler decided to make a second run, it was getting dark but he was insistent that he “wanted to ride the higher grade because [he] knew it was more challenging.” (City’s App. Vol. [**12] II, p. 101). At no point did Kaler step off his bike and inspect the berm’s high grade prior to riding it in the approaching darkness. Accordingly, pursuant to Kaler’s own statements, the City could objectively and reasonably have expected an experienced bicyclist to realize the risks a beginner to intermediate trail would present and take appropriate precautions.

P17 We also conclude that the designated evidence fails to establish that the City had actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the trail that involved an unreasonable risk of harm to Kaler. Kaler’s own deposition unequivocally affirms that being involved in a bicycle crash “was just a general consequence of the sport.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). In fact, Kaler “expected to get in a wreck at least every other time [he] rode, and [he] would routinely fall off the bike over obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). As the expectation of a bicycle crash is a risk inherent to riding trails, it cannot serve to establish the sort of unreasonable risk of harm contemplated in the first Burrell element. See Pfenning, 947 N.E.2d at 407.

P18 Finding that the designated evidence conclusively established that two of the elements of the premises liability [**13] test are not satisfied, we conclude that the trial court erred by denying summary judgment to the City. We reverse the trial court’s decision and now find summary judgment for the City.

II. Contributory Negligence

P19 Next, the City maintains that Kaler is foreclosed from any recovery because of his failure to exercise the care a reasonable, prudent mountain biker should have exercised. It should be noted that Kaler brought his claim against the City, a governmental entity, and therefore, his claim falls under the common law defense of contributory negligence, as the Indiana Comparative Fault Act expressly excludes application to governmental entities. See I.C. § 34-51-2-2. Consequently, even a slight degree of negligence on Kaler’s part, if proximately contributing to his claimed damages, will operate as a total bar to his action for damages against the City, even though, as against nongovernmental defendants, any fault of Kaler would only operate to reduce the damages he might obtain.

[*719] P20 A plaintiff is contributorily negligent when the plaintiff’s conduct “falls below the standard to which he should conform for his own protection and safety.” Funston v. School Town of Munster, 849 N.E.2d 595, 598 (Ind. 2006). Lack of reasonable care that an ordinary person would [**14] exercise in like or similar circumstances is the factor upon which the presence or absence of negligence depends. Id. Expressed another way, “[c]ontributory negligence is the failure of a person to exercise for his own safety that degree of care and caution which an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person in a similar situation would exercise.” Id. at 599. Contributory negligence is generally a question of fact and is not an appropriate matter for summary judgment “if there are conflicting factual inferences.” Id. “However, where the facts are undisputed and only a single inference can reasonably be drawn therefrom, the question of contributory negligence becomes one of law.” Id.

P21 In Funston, the plaintiff sued the school after incurring injuries caused by a fall when he leaned backwards while sitting on the top row of a set of bleachers. Id. at 599. Funston had been at the gym for about four hours, watching two basketball games while sitting on lower rows on other sets of identical bleachers. Id. For the third game, he moved to the top row of one of the bleachers. Id. It was clearly visible that there was no back railing for spectators sitting on the top row, but Funston leaned back anyway because he “thought there [**15] was something back there[.]” Id. Our supreme court concluded that Funston was contributorily negligent as a matter of law, finding that:

It certainly is understandable that [Funston] would be distracted as he engaged his attention on his son’s basketball game. But being understandable does not equate with being completely free of all negligence.

Id. at 600.

P22 In his deposition, Kaler affirmed that in trying to build a skill, it would not be unusual for him “to get off [his] bike and look at the [] obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). He also acknowledged that he knew the berm’s high grade would be challenging because he had just started riding high berms and had never ridden a berm as steep as the one at Town Run. As he approached the end of the turn during his first ride on the berm, Kaler could see “there was a drop[.]” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 103). After a successful first run on the berm’s low grade, Kaler decided to ride the feature again. Despite the approaching darkness, he planned to ride the berm’s high grade as high as he possibly could because it would be “really cool to ride it and get that speed[.]” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). Notwithstanding the coolness factor, Kaler conceded [**16] that riding obstacles posed a risk of bodily injury as crashes were a general consequence of the sport. Typically, to get an idea of the technical requirements of a trail, the biker “would get off his bike.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89).

P23 Based on the designated evidence, we cannot conclude that Kaler was “completely free of all negligence.” See id. Kaler knew and understood the precautions a reasonably prudent mountain biker should take–inspect the feature prior to riding it–but chose not to follow them. There is no evidence that the jump from the high grade was obscured from view and Kaler conceded that he could have anticipated the drop from the high grade had he taken the precaution a reasonable bicyclist riding an unfamiliar trail would take. Accordingly, we find Kaler contributorily negligent.

[*720] CONCLUSION

P24 Based on the foregoing, we hold that there is no genuine issue of material fact that precludes the entry of summary judgment in the City’s favor on Kaler’s claim of premises liability; and Kaler was contributorily negligent when riding the City’s mountain bike trail at Town Run.

P25 Reversed.

P26 Crone, J. and Altice, J. concur


Texas Campground not liable for wind, rain and rising rivers.

Campground on river sued when river rose, flooding the campground and washing plaintiff’s downstream.

Walker v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

State: Texas, Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

Plaintiff: Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson

Defendant: UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, premises liability, and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: No Duty and Texas Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the defendants

Year: 2016

Facts

Two couples took their RV’s to the defendant’s campground for the weekend. The first day the plaintiff’s took a canoe trip past the campground and took some cave tours. It was not raining when they went to bed. Around 6:00 AM, the surviving plaintiff woke up to a rainstorm and their RV’s floating.

The RV’s floated down the river. One plaintiff did not survive. The surviving plaintiffs sued the campground, campgrounds alleged owner and several employees. The plaintiff’s claims were based on alleging negligence, premise’s liability, and gross negligence. Overall, their claims were based on numerous claims that the campground had a duty to warn them of the flood.

Appellants asserted that appellees knew that the campground was prone to flooding and failed: to warn appellants of that fact; to warn of the approaching storm; to prepare a plan for flood awareness, communication, and evacuation; to have and use speakers or sirens to warn of flooding; to employ someone to monitor the weather and warn and evacuate guests; to have an employee on site during severe weather; and to make reasonable modifications, have emergency communications, or educate guests about severe-weather risks.

The defendants filed numerous motions for summary judgment arguing they were protected by the Texas Recreational Use Statute, and they owed no duty to the plaintiffs. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims without comment. The appeal followed.

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

The appellate court started its analysis by stating the trial court was right and there was no duty owed to the plaintiffs.

Even if we assume that the recreational use statute does not apply, we hold, as a matter of law, that appellees did not owe the Walkers and Johnsons a duty to warn of or ensure against rising river waters.

Texas Premises Liability Act requires landowners with liability for actual or constructive notice of a condition that poses an unreasonable risk of harm and did nothing to reduce or eliminate the risk.

When an injured invitee asserts a premises-liability claim, she must show that the owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge about a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm and did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk and that such failure proximately caused her injury.

Rain swollen rivers were described by the court as a condition that came to the land, rather than a condition on the land. Even so, in Texas, rain, mud and ice are natural conditions that do not create an unreasonable risk of harm.

Regardless of that fact, Texas courts have consistently held as a matter of law that naturally occurring or accumulating conditions such as rain, mud, and ice do not create conditions posing an unreasonable risk of harm.

The basis for those rulings is that rain, dirt, and mud are naturally occurring conditions beyond a landowner’s control. (“rain is beyond the control of landowners” and “accidents involving naturally accumulating mud and dirt are bound to happen, regardless of the precautions taken by landowners”). Requiring a landowner to protect an invitee from precipitation or other acts of nature would place an enormous burden on the landowner.

Additionally, the court held the plaintiffs were aware of the issues because they could see the river from their campground and had canoed past the campground earlier in the day.

Further, an invitee is or should be “at least as aware” as the landowner of visible conditions that have “accumulated naturally outdoors” and thus “will often be in a better position to take immediate pre-cautions against injury.

Landowners in Texas cannot be insurers of people on the land for those acts which the landowner has no control, those things we used to call “acts of God.”

Texas courts have repeatedly observed that a landowner “‘is not an insurer'” of an invitee’s safety and generally “has no duty to warn of hazards that are open and obvious or known to the invitee.” Texas courts have held in various contexts that flooding due to heavy rains is an open and obvious hazard. “[T]he owner may assume that the recreational user needs no warning to appreciate the dangers of natural conditions, such as a sheer cliff, a rushing river, or even a concealed rattlesnake.

A landowner can be guilty of gross negligence by creating a condition that a recreational user would not reasonably expect to encounter. However, there was no gross negligence nor negligence because the harm was not created by the landowner.

We see no useful distinction to be drawn between ice and mud, which are natural conditions caused by rain and freezing temperatures, and rising river waters, caused by a natural weather event over which appellees could exercise no control. The June 2010 flood was not a condition inherent in or on the land in question. Instead, the flooding was a condition that came to the campground as the adjacent river, the same river that made the land an attractive place to camp, rose due to heavy rains.

The court then summed up its ruling.

We hold that as a matter of law appellees had no duty to warn the Walkers and Johnsons of the possibility that the river, they were camping beside might rise in the event of heavy rain, posing a risk to the campground.

Because appellees did not owe a duty to warn of or attempt to make the campground safe against flooding of the adjacent river due to torrential rain, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in their favor. We affirm the trial court’s orders.

So Now What?

This is a good ruling. Acts of God have always been outside the control, by their definition and act, of man. Consequently, you should not be able to hold someone liable for such an act.

This may not be true for all situations, or in all states, but for Texas campground owners and landowners don’t need to worry about the rain.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Walker v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

Walker v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson, Appellants v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers, Appellees

  1. 03-15-00271-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

June 3, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY:  [*1] FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF COMAL COUNTY, 433RD JUDICIAL DISTRICT. NO. C2012-0796D, HONORABLE DIB WALDRIP, JUDGE PRESIDING.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

JUDGES: Before Justices Puryear, Goodwin, and Field.

OPINION BY: David Puryear

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Appellants Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson1 filed suit against appellees UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers for injuries sustained when the Guadalupe River overran its banks during a flash flood in June 2010.2 The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees. We affirm the trial court’s orders granting summary judgment.

1 Cynthia Walker was married to Norman Walker, and Stephen Walker, Stephanie Walker Hatton, and Jordan Walker are their children. Caren Johnson is married to Terry Johnson, Cynthia’s brother. Cynthia, Norman, Caren, and Terry were camping together at Camp Huaco Springs when they were caught in the flood. Norman died, while Cynthia, Terry, and Caren were injured. Caren and Cynthia sued for their own injuries. Cynthia also sued as a representative of [*2]  Norman’s estate and, along with her children, as a wrongful death beneficiary.
2 UME, Inc. operates Camp Huaco Springs, WWGAF operates Rockin ‘R’ River Rides, a river-tubing and recreation outfitter, and William and Richard Rivers own the two businesses.

Factual Summary

In June 2010, Cynthia and Norman Walker and Terry and Caren Johnson went to Camp Huaco Springs in their RV campers for a weekend of camping and river rafting. When they arrived at the campground, they were assigned two parking spaces. The Walkers and the Johnsons parked their campers as directed. On Saturday, the Walkers and the Johnsons took a canoe trip on the river and went to tour nearby caverns. When they returned to the campsite and went to bed, it was not raining. They had not heard any weather reports and did not know heavy rain was forecast for that night. Cynthia woke at about 6:00 a.m. to thunder and lightning. She looked out the window and saw Terry was screaming that they had to leave. Cynthia looked down and noticed that the river had risen to surround the two campers, causing them to begin floating. The Walkers and Johnsons were all swept downstream in the flood. Norman died in the flood. Cynthia, Terry, and [*3]  Caren were rescued miles downstream from the campsite and all required medical attention.

Appellants filed suit alleging negligence, premises liability, and gross negligence. They asserted that WWGAF was liable because it was a joint enterprise with UME and that the Rivers brothers were liable under a theory of alter ego. Appellants asserted that appellees knew that the campground was prone to flooding and failed: to warn appellants of that fact; to warn of the approaching storm; to prepare a plan for flood awareness, communication, and evacuation; to have and use speakers or sirens to warn of flooding; to employ someone to monitor the weather and warn and evacuate guests; to have an employee on site during severe weather; and to make reasonable modifications, have emergency communications, or educate guests about severe-weather risks.

UME and the Rivers brothers filed a traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment, asserting that the Texas Recreational Use Statute3 limited appellants to asserting a gross-negligence claim and that appellants could not show various elements of gross negligence; that there was no evidence that they had a duty to warn that the campground was in [*4]  a flood zone, to warn that severe weather was approaching, or to plan and prepare for flooding; that there was no evidence they had a duty to have and use speakers or sirens to warn guests; and that there was no evidence that appellants’ injuries were caused by any negligence on the part of UME or the Rivers brothers. UME and the Rivers brothers filed a separate motion for traditional and no-evidence summary judgment addressing appellants’ theories of alter ego and joint enterprise. WWGAF filed its own motion for summary judgment, asserting that it did not own or operate Camp Huaco, that it did not owe a duty to the Walkers and the Johnsons, and that it was a separate entity from Camp Huaco and could not be held liable under theories of joint enterprise or vicarious liability. The trial court signed several orders granting appellees’ motions for summary judgment without specifying the grounds.

3 See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 75.002 (owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land who invites another onto premises for recreation owes invitee same duty that would be owed to trespasser and only owes duty not to injure invitee wilfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence); see generally id. §§ 75.001-.007 (chapter 75, titled [*5]  “Limitation of Landowners’ Liability”).

Discussion

The first question to be addressed, the answer to which is dispositive of this appeal, is whether appellees owed any duty to the Walkers and the Johnsons. Even if we assume that the recreational use statute does not apply, we hold, as a matter of law, that appellees did not owe the Walkers and Johnsons a duty to warn of or ensure against rising river waters. Without such a duty, appellants’ premises-liability claims must fail.4

4 Although appellants alleged both negligence and premises-defect claims, “negligent activity encompasses a malfeasance theory based on affirmative, contemporaneous conduct bythe owner that caused the injury, while premises liability encompasses a nonfeasance theory based on the owner’s failure to take measures to make the property safe.” Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 776 (Tex. 2010); see Scurlock v. Pennell, 177 S.W.3d 222, 224-25 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, no pet.) (citing Timberwalk Apartments, Partners, Inc. v. Cain, 972 S.W.2d 749, 753 (Tex. 1998)) (“Recovery for a negligent activity requires that a person have been injured by the activity itself, rather than by a condition created by the activity; in contrast, recovery for premises liability depends upon a failure to use ordinary care to reduce or to eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition about which the owner or occupier [of [*6]  land] knows or, in the exercise of ordinary care, should know.”). The claims raised by appellants clearly alleged that appellees had failed to take various measures that would have made the campsite safe; they did not allege “contemporaneous conduct . . . that caused the injur[ies].” See Smith, 307 S.W.3d at 776. We therefore consider appellants’ claims under a theory of premises liability. Regardless of the theory under which they are analyzed, appellants’ claims would fail because, as we explain below, appellees did not owe the duty that appellants claim was breached. See General Elec. Co. v. Moritz, 257 S.W.3d 211, 217 (Tex. 2008) (“Like any other negligence action, a defendant in a premises case is liable only to the extent it owes the plaintiff a legal duty.”).

When an injured invitee asserts a premises-liability claim, she must show that the owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge of a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm and did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk and that such failure proximately caused her injury. CMH Homes, Inc. v. Daenen, 15 S.W.3d 97, 99 (Tex. 2000). We initially note that appellants do not assert that a condition on the premises caused the tragedy and thus was the basis for liability. Instead, the injuries suffered by appellants were caused by a rain-swollen [*7]  river that inundated the campground, a condition that came to the premises.

Regardless of that fact, Texas courts have consistently held as a matter of law that naturally occurring or accumulating conditions such as rain, mud, and ice do not create conditions posing an unreasonable risk of harm. M.O. Dental Lab v. Rape, 139 S.W.3d 671, 675-76 (Tex. 2004); see Scott & White Mem. Hosp. v. Fair, 310 S.W.3d 411, 412-14 (Tex. 2010) (“Because we find no reason to distinguish between the mud in M.O. Dental and the ice in this case, we hold that naturally occurring ice that accumulates without the assistance or involvement of unnatural contact is not an unreasonably dangerous condition sufficient to support a premises liability claim.”); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Surratt, 102 S.W.3d 437, 445 (Tex. App.–Eastland 2003, pet. denied) (landowner “does not have a duty to protect its invitees from conditions caused by a natural accumulation of frozen precipitation on its parking lot because such an accumulation does not constitute an unreasonably dangerous condition”).5 The basis for those rulings is that rain, dirt, and mud are naturally occurring conditions beyond a landowner’s control. See, e.g., M.O. Dental Lab, 139 S.W.3d at 676 (“rain is beyond the control of landowners” and “accidents involving naturally accumulating mud and dirt are bound to happen, regardless of the precautions taken by landowners”). Requiring a landowner to protect an invitee [*8]  from precipitation or other acts of nature would place an enormous burden on the landowner. See id.; see also Fair, 310 S.W.3d at 414 (requiring landowners “to guard against wintery conditions would inflict a heavy burden because of the limited resources landowners likely have on hand to combat occasional ice accumulations”).

5 See also State Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp. v. Kitchen, 867 S.W.2d 784, 786 (Tex. 1993) (per curiam) (in premises defect case under Texas Tort Claims Act, supreme court held that “[w]hen there is precipitation accompanied by near-freezing temperatures, . . . an icy bridge is neither unexpected nor unusual, but rather, entirely predictable [and] is something motorists can and should anticipate when the weather is conducive to such a condition”); Brownsville Navigation Dist. v. Izaguirre, 829 S.W.2d 159, 160 (Tex. 1992) (“Plain dirt which ordinarily becomes soft and muddy when wet is not a dangerous condition of property for which a landlord may be liable.”); Lee v. K&N Mgmt., Inc., No. 03-15-00243-CV, 2015 WL 8594163, at *3-4 (Tex. App.–Austin Dec. 11, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.) (plant that extended over edge of flowerbed was not unreasonably dangerous condition; “The Texas Supreme Court has held that certain naturally occurring substances generally do not pose an unreasonable risk of harm. . . . Under the facts of this case, the plant, like mud and dirt, may have formed a condition that posed a risk of harm, [*9]  but on this record, we cannot conclude that it was an unreasonable risk of harm.”); City of Houston v. Cogburn, No. 01-11-00318-CV, 2014 WL 1778279, at *4 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] May 1, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.) (“as a matter of law, naturally occurring conditions that are open and obvious do not create an unreasonable risk of harm for purposes of premises liability”; tree roots over which plaintiff tripped were “open and obvious and were a naturally occurring condition”).

Further, an invitee is or should be “at least as aware” as the landowner of visible conditions that have “accumulated naturally outdoors” and thus “will often be in a better position to take immediate precautions against injury.” M.O. Dental Lab, 139 S.W.3d at 676. In other words, as the supreme court has explained:

When the condition is open and obvious or known to the invitee, however, the landowner is not in a better position to discover it. When invitees are aware of dangerous premises conditions–whether because the danger is obvious or because the landowner provided an adequate warning–the condition will, in most cases, no longer pose an unreasonable risk because the law presumes that invitees will take reasonable measures to protect themselves against known risks, which may include a decision not to accept the invitation to enter onto the landowner’s premises. [*10]  This is why the Court has typically characterized the landowner’s duty as a duty to make safe or warn of unreasonably dangerous conditions that are not open and obvious or otherwise known to the invitee

Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 465 S.W.3d 193, 203 (Tex. 2015) (citations omitted). Texas courts have repeatedly observed that a landowner “‘is not an insurer'” of an invitee’s safety and generally “has no duty to warn of hazards that are open and obvious or known to the invitee.” Id. at 203-04 (quoting Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 769 (Tex. 2010)). Texas courts have held in various contexts that flooding due to heavy rains is an open and obvious hazard. See, e.g., State v. Shumake, 199 S.W.3d 279, 288 (Tex. 2006) (“[T]he owner may assume that the recreational user needs no warning to appreciate the dangers of natural conditions, such as a sheer cliff, a rushing river, or even a concealed rattlesnake. But a landowner can be liable for gross negligence in creating a condition that a recreational user would not reasonably expect to encounter on the property in the course of the permitted use.”); City of Austin v. Leggett, 257 S.W.3d 456, 475 (Tex. App.–Austin 2008, pet. denied) (flooded intersection was readily apparent and presented obstacle that would be open and obvious to ordinary motorists).

We see no useful distinction to be drawn between ice and mud, which are natural conditions caused by rain and freezing temperatures, and rising [*11]  river waters, caused by a natural weather event over which appellees could exercise no control. See Fair, 310 S.W.3d at 414. The June 2010 flood was not a condition inherent in or on the land in question. Instead, the flooding was a condition that came to the campground as the adjacent river, the same river that made the land an attractive place to camp, rose due to heavy rains. The Walkers and the Johnsons had gone canoeing on the river the day before the flooding occurred, and thus they were obviously aware of the river’s proximity to their campsite. This situation is indeed a tragic one, but it is not one for which appellees can be held to bear legal responsibility. We hold that as a matter of law appellees had no duty to warn the Walkers and Johnsons of the possibility that the river they were camping beside might rise in the event of heavy rain, posing a risk to the campground.6

6 We further note that, even if the campground had posted warnings or issued flood cautions when the Walkers and Johnsons checked into the campsite, there is nothing in this record to indicate that events would have turned out any differently. The Walkers and Johnsons went to bed not having heard that heavy rains would approach [*12]  and slept heavily enough that none of them woke up during the storm or to warnings by the local sheriff’s officers, who drove through the campsite at about 4:00 a.m., blowing an airhorn and flashing their car’s lights as they announced over their PA system that the river was rising.

Conclusion

Because appellees did not owe a duty to warn of or attempt to make the campground safe against flooding of the adjacent river due to torrential rain, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in their favor. We affirm the trial court’s orders.

David Puryear, Justice

Before Justices Puryear, Goodwin, and Field

Affirmed

Filed: June 3, 2016

 


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.


Colorado Premises Liability act eliminated common law claims of negligence as well as CO Ski Area Safety Act claims against a landowner.

Case is a major change in the liability of a ski area to the skiers and boarders who ride any lift in Colorado.

Raup, v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499

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

Plaintiff: Carolyn S. Raup

Defendant: Vail Summit Resorts, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability Act, and for negligence, including negligence per se

Defendant Defenses: The negligence claims are Colorado Premises Liability Act

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2016

This case may be ongoing the decision may not be final. However, the ruling is game changing and changes a large section of the law in Colorado.

The plaintiff was riding a chairlift at one of the defendants Vail resorts during the summer. The Colorado Tramway Act requires lifts operated during the summer to have a comfort bar available to riders. As the plaintiff and two other riders were approaching the top terminal, they had intended to ride the lift back down.

The liftie (top terminal lift employee), ran out and started yelling at the rides to raise the safety bar and exit the lift.

The plaintiff and friends did not understand or know that riding around the terminal would trigger the emergency stop. The riders also did not know that the download capacity of a lift is very different from the upload capacity of the lift. Many times that download capacity is 25 to 33% of the upload capacity. That means instead of loading every chair downhill you may only be allowed to load every third or fourth chair.

The other two riders were able to exit the lift running down the exit ramp. The plaintiff fell suffering severe injuries. The plaintiff brought this suit in the Federal District Court of Colorado. Vail moved to dismiss the claims of negligence and negligence per se brought by the plaintiff.

The court granted Vail’s motion with the following analysis.

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

The court first looked at the requirements for the plaintiff to survive a motion to dismiss under Colorado law.

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the party asserting the claim “must allege that ‘enough factual matter, taken as true, [makes] his claim for relief … plausible on its face.'” (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [pleaded] factual content [ ] allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’

Thus, a party asserting a claim “must include enough facts to ‘nudge[] h[er] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.

A motion to dismiss is filed normally before the defendant has filed an answer to the complaint. The motion is filed when their allegations in the complaint are not supported by the law or misstate the law. The court rarely grants these motions because as started above, there must be just a plausible claim to survive.

In this case, the issue was the claims of the plaintiff were not available under the law. Meaning the law did not allow the plaintiff to make those types of claims against a defendant.

In this case, the Colorado Premises Liability Act, the act which controls the liability of a landowner to people on his land, was the only way the plaintiff could sue. More importantly, did the Colorado Premises Liability Act preclude not only common law claims (negligence) against a landowner but also claims brought under the Colorado Skier Safety Act based on a ski area being the landowner.

An earlier interpretation by the Colorado Supreme Court in two different cases preempted the common law claims. “

I agree with Vail that the Vigil and Lombard cases make clear that all common law claims involving landowner duties, including negligence and negligence per se claims, are abrogated by the Premises Liability Act which provides the exclusive remedy.

The plaintiff argued the Colorado Tramway Act still allowed negligence claims. The act was  interpreted by a Supreme Court Decision in Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70, 80 (Colo. 1998), which held the ski area owed the highest degree of care to a rider on a chair lift, that of a common carrier.

However, the court found that Bayer had preempted by the Vigil act quoted above.

Six years after Bayer, the Colorado Supreme Court in Vigil made clear that the Premises Liability Act preempted all common law claims and provided the sole method of recovering against a landowner. Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. The fact that Vigil did not reference Bayer does not change this result.

The plaintiff then argued the acts of the leftie were negligent and created a separate claim for negligence. However, again, the court found the actions were covered by the Premises Liability Act.

Vail’s duty of care to invitees such as Plaintiff is defined under the Premises Liability Act, which makes clear that it applies in actions by a person who alleges injury while on the property of another and by reasons of either the condition of the property or activities conducted on the property. This encompasses the allegations at issue in this case, including the injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff by activities of Vail’s employee in ordering Plaintiff and her fellow passengers to disembark from the chairlift. As such, the Premises Liability Act provides the only standard for recovery.

The court granted Vail’s motion to dismiss and dismissed the plaintiff’s negligence claims leaving only the premises liability claims.

So Now What?

Does this mean there is now a lower duty owed to riders of chairlifts in Colorado because they are classified as invitees under the Colorado Premises Liability Act? I don’t know.

However, it is clear; the Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes all other recreational specific statutes that then limits the recovery against most recreation providers due to injuries on the land (or waters?).

REMEMBER, THIS CASE IS NOT OVER AND HAS NOT BEEN APPEALED. THE DECISION REVIEWED HERE COULD CHANGE.

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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.

 


Raup, v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499

Raup, v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499

Carolyn S. Raup, Plaintiff, v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant.

Civil Action No. 15-cv-00641-WYD-NYW

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499

February 1, 2016, Decided

February 1, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Raup v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 164999 (D. Colo., Dec. 9, 2015)

CORE TERMS: Liability Act, landowner, passenger, law claims, disembark, negligence per se, common law, chairlift, lift, chair lift, premises liability, quotation, tramway, Tramway Act, common law, reasonable care, obvious danger, malfeasance, preempted, amusement, partial, survive, ride, top, fracture, affirmative acts, ski lift, sole grounds, party asserting, en banc

COUNSEL: [*1] For Carolyn S. Raup, Plaintiff: Joseph J. Mellon, Mellon Law Firm, Denver, CO; Francis Vincent Cristiano, Cristiano Law, LLC, Denver, CO.

For Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant: Catherine Rittenhous Ruhland, Craig Ruvel May, Michael Norris Mulvania, Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, LLP, Denver, CO; Samuel Nathan Shapiro, Vail Resorts Management Company, Legal Department, Broomfield, CO.

JUDGES: Wiley Y. Daniel, Senior United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Wiley Y. Daniel

OPINION

ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Vail Summit Resort Inc.’s [“Vail”] Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint filed on June 1, 2015. A response in opposition to the motion was filed on June 12, 2015, and a reply was filed on June 26, 2015. Thus, the motion is fully briefed.

This case arises out of injuries Plaintiff sustained when she attempted to disembark from the top of the Colorado SuperChair chair lift at Breckenridge Ski Resort during the summer of 2013. (Compl. ¶¶ 11, 21-22.) Plaintiff alleges that this occurred at a Summer Fun Park at Breckenridge, which included scenic chair lift rides on the Colorado SuperChair. (Id., ¶ 11.) Vail is alleged to be the landowner of the Summer Fun [*2] Park, including the chair lift. (Id., ¶ 9.)

Plaintiff asserts that as she and two other passengers (Plaintiff’s daughter and a friend) were near the top and intending to go back down on the chair lift without unloading, suddenly a lift operator employed by Vail, on his own initiative, affirmatively and negligently rushed out of the building at the top waiving his hands and directed them to immediately “lift the bar” and get off the chairlift. (Id., ¶ 19.) Plaintiff alleges that pursuant to the Tramway Act, the passengers, including Plaintiff, were obligated to “follow verbal instructions that are given to [them] regarding the use of the passenger tramway.” (Id.) (citing Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-105(1)). It is alleged that not only was there no apparent need for them to disembark at that point, since the ski lift was also used to transport individuals back down the mountain, the lift operator had or should have been in a position to have had other safe options for them to disembark, such as stopping the chairlift. (Id.)

According to the Complaint, the chairlift operator in fact knew or should have known as well that his affirmative command, if obeyed by Plaintiff, would put her in a precarious and dangerous situation, [*3] where Plaintiff, a middle aged woman, would have to suddenly raise the bar and disembark from the chairlift while the lift was moving toward a declining slope designed for skiers and not summer passengers. (Compl., ¶ 18.) The lift operator, as well, negligently made no effort to physically assist Plaintiff at the disembarking area. (Id, ¶ 19.) Also, it is alleged that the disembarking area was not properly designed for passenger traffic during the summer, particularly given the sudden command of the operator, but was instead only designed for skiers because of the steep slope that followed the area where passengers were to disembark. (Id., ¶ 20.) Thus, among many other things, Plaintiff alleges that Vail was operating a passenger tramway “while a condition exist[ed] 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 [Vail],” in violation of the provisions of the Tramway Act, at § 25-5-706(3)(c), C.R.S., and the violation of such provision is designated to constitute negligence on the part of the operator. (Id.) (citing C.R.S. § 33-44-104(2)).

Each of the three passengers allegedly obeyed [*4] the operator’s command to disembark. (Compl., ¶ 21.) Plaintiff’s daughter and her friend were able to jump off the chair lift, although the quickness of the maneuver and the steepness of the incline caused them to have to run forward for several steps before they could stop. (Id.) Plaintiff was allegedly not as fortunate. As she attempted to exit the lift, the chair struck her in the back and she fell to the left off the edge of the ramp onto the concrete and stone surface below, suffering serious injury, including, among other things, a left femur fracture, left tibial plateau fracture, and left ankle fracture dislocation. (Id., ¶ 22.) )

Plaintiff brings claims against Vail pursuant to the Premises Liability Act, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115 (Count I) and for negligence, including negligence per se (Count II). Vail argues that Plaintiff’s negligence/negligence per se claims in Count II should be dismissed because the Premises Liability Act provides the sole grounds for relief.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable” to the party asserting the claim. Jordan-Arapahoe, LLP v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs, 633 F.3d 1022, 1025 (10th Cir. 2011). To survive a motion to dismiss under [*5] Rule 12(b)(6), the party asserting the claim “must allege that ‘enough factual matter, taken as true, [makes] his claim for relief … plausible on its face.'” Id. (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [pleaded] factual content [ ] allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Id. (quotation omitted).

Thus, a party asserting a claim “must include enough facts to ‘nudge[] h[er] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Dennis v. Watco Cos., Inc., 631 F.3d 1303, 1305 (10th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Gallagher v. Shelton, 587 F.3d 1063, 1068 (10th Cir. 2009).

B. The Merits of Vail’s Arguments

The issue that must be resolved in connection with Vail’s partial motion to dismiss is whether the Premises Liability Act provides the sole grounds for relief in this matter, preempting Plaintiff’s negligence and negligence per se claims. Vail relies on the Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion in Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004) (en banc), which held that common law landowner duties did not survive the enactment of the Premises Liability Act. The Colorado Supreme Court based this holding on the fact that the “the express, unambiguous language of the statute evidences [*6] the General Assembly’s intent to establish a comprehensive and exclusive specification of the duties landowners owe to those injured on their property.” Id. at 323.

Thus, Vigil noted the “broad scope of the statute”, which states in relevant part:

(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.

103 P.3d at 326 (quoting Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2)) (emphasis added). It held that this “is specific in its terms and is without ambiguity or qualification”, and showed that “the General Assembly indicated its intent to comply occupy the field and supersede the existing law in the area.” Id. at 328. The Assembly was found to have reiterated its intent to be comprehensive and exhaustive by using the language “only as provided in subjection (3).” Id. The Vigil court stated that “[t]his language, coupled with the precisely drawn landowner duties in subsection (3), leaves no room for application of common law tort duties. Id. Indeed, it found that “the premises liability classification of the duty owed licensees and [*7] invitees” was “complete and exclusive.” Id.

The Vigil court also found that the “operational mechanism of the statute . . . demonstrates the General Assembly’s intent to preempt common law tort duty analyses.” 103 P.3d at 328. Thus, it stated:

At common law the existence of a duty was a question of law to be determined by the court. . . .Under the premises liability statute, the only issue of law to be determined by the court is the classification of the injured plaintiff; liability and damages are questions of fact to be determined by the trier of fact. § 13-21-115(4). In keeping with our responsibility to give effect to every word and term contained within the statute, if possible, . . . a judge’s common law obligation to determine the existence of landowner duties is inconsistent with the limited role the statute assigns the judge, and would impermissibly enlarge the role of the court beyond that indicated in the statute’s plain language.

Id.

Since the statute was found to be clear and unambiguous on its face, the Colorado Supreme Court stated it “need not look beyond its plain terms” and “must apply the statute as written.” Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. Even so, it found this “construction of the statute as preemptive and exhaustive is consistent [*8] with case law from the court of appeals and the observations of authoritative Colorado tort commentators.” Id. at 329. In so finding, the court cited several cases which held that the Premises Liability Act abrogates common law claims for negligence. Id. Finally, the court found that the passage of the Premises Liability Act also abrogated the common law regarding defenses to the existence of such duties, including the common law open and obvious danger doctrine that was at issue in that case. Id. at 330.

A few years later, the Colorado Supreme Court found that claims of negligence per se against a landowner to recover damages for injuries sustained on the premises are also preempted by the language of the Premises Liability Act. Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Education Center, Inc., 187 P.3d 565, 574 (Colo. 2008) (en banc). Lombard court noted that “[t]he underlying principle of the common law doctrine of negligence per se is that legislative enactments such as statutes and ordinances can prescribe the standard of conduct of a reasonable person such that a violation of the legislative enactment constitutes negligence.” Id. at 573. “Thus, the doctrine serves to conclusively establish the defendant’s breach of a legally cognizable duty owed to the plaintiff.” Id. The court found that “it would be entirely [*9] inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and the holdings of this court to bypass the statute and allow for the imposition of liability on the basis of a negligence per se claim.” Id. at 575.

I agree with Vail that the Vigil and Lombard cases make clear that all common law claims involving landowner duties, including negligence and negligence per se claims, are abrogated by the Premises Liability Act which provides the exclusive remedy. While Plaintiff argues that Vigil’s holding addressed on the merits only as to the defense of the common law open and obvious danger and that its statements regarding common law claims involving landowner duties are dicta, I disagree. The Colorado Supreme Court’s interpretation of the scope of the Premises Liability Act was necessary to its ultimate holding in the case regarding whether the affirmative defense of open and obvious danger survived the codification of premises liability law despite the preemptive scope of the law. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328-332. Further, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its interpretation in Lombard.

Plaintiff also argues, however, that there is still a common law claim she can assert based on the Tramway Act, relying on Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70, 80 (Colo. 1998). In Bayer, the Colorado Supreme [*10] Court held that the Ski Safety Act and the Passenger Tramway Safety Act did not preempt a common law claim for injury on a ski lift or the highest degree of care standard that the common law had previously applied. Bayer, 960 P.2d at 72. I agree with Vail, however, that Bayer is not controlling here because the question of the applicability of the Premises Liability Act was not presented. Six years after Bayer, the Colorado Supreme Court in Vigil made clear that the Premises Liability Act preempted all common law claims and provided the sole method of recovering against a landowner. Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. The fact that Vigil did not reference Bayer does not change this result.

I note that the Colorado Court of Appeals applied Vigil in Anderson v. Hyland Hills Park & Recreation Dist., 119 P.3d 533 (Colo. App. 2004), in a claim for negligence in connection with an amusement park. It addressed whether the trial court erred in applying the higher standard of care applicable to amusement ride cases rather than that in the premises liability statute. The Anderson court held that the Premises Liability Act preempted any common law claim and trumped the highest degree of care standard in the amusement ride context. 119 P.3d at 536. In reaching its conclusion, the Anderson court distinguished prior case law that applied the same “highest [*11] duty of care” common law claim as in Bayer. See id. The issue here is the same as presented in Anderson.

Plaintiff also argues, however, that Vail’s employee created for himself and his employer a duty of reasonable care at the point where he affirmatively acted and chose to order Plaintiff and her fellow passengers to immediately disembark from the chairlift — allegedly creating the peril which caused Plaintiff’s injuries. She asserts that this issue was not addressed in Vigil or Anderson, and that landowners cannot seek refuge with the Premises Liability Act for duties that they independently create for themselves by their own affirmative acts, particularly when such actions have nothing to do with the condition of the property or its maintenance.

In that situation, Plaintiff argues that the landowner’s potential liability is not confined to nor controlled by the Premises Liability Act since they don’t involve “failures to act” or acts of “nonfeasance” as addressed therein, but instead involve affirmative acts of malfeasance which the statute does not address. Plaintiff asserts that liability for acts of such malfeasance are instead controlled by the general analysis for tort liability [*12] as set forth in a non-exhaustive manner in the case of Univ. of Denver v. Whitlock, 744 P.2d 54, 56 (Colo. 1987). Plaintiff further relies on Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh, 347 P.3d 606, 2015 CO 25 (Colo. 2015) where the court found an independent duty to exercise reasonable care based upon the affirmative action and malfeasance of the landowner in evicting an intoxicated guest without exercising reasonable care in doing such.

I agree with Vail that Groh and Whitlock are not applicable here, as they did not address or involve the Premises Liability Act. Indeed, Groh dismissed a claim under that Act because “by its terms, it applies only when a plaintiff is injured on the defendant’s property, and Groh was injured off-premises. 347 P.3d at 610 n.3. The “assumed duty” found in Groh applies only in situations where no duty already exists. Here, Vail’s duty of care to invitees such as Plaintiff is defined under the Premises Liability Act, which makes clear that it applies in actions by a person who alleges injury while on the property of another and by reasons of either the condition of the property or activities conducted on the property. This encompasses the allegations at issue in this case, including the injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff by activities of Vail’s employee in ordering Plaintiff and her fellow passengers [*13] to immediately disembark from the chairlift. As such, the Premises Liability Act provides the only standard for recovery. Vail’s motion is granted, and Count II is dismissed.

III. CONCLUSION

Based on the foregoing, it is

ORDERED that Defendant Vail Summit Resort Inc.’s [“Vail”] Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11) is GRANTED. Count II of the Complaint, asserting negligence and negligence per se, is DISMISSED.

Dated: February 1, 2016

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Wiley Y. Daniel

Wiley Y. Daniel

Senior United States District Judge


Federal Court in Texas upholds clause in release requiring plaintiff to pay defendants costs of defending against plaintiff’s claims.

Fitness contract included a release which included a clause stating the signor would pay the fitness companies defense costs. Court awarded those costs for defending against claims, which were dismissed by the court; Even though the plaintiff was successful in retaining two claims against the defendant.

McClure, et al., v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167483

State: Texas

Plaintiff: Chase McClure, Misha McClure

Defendant: Life Time Fitness, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, common law and statutory premises liability, and negligent misrepresentation claims

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Plaintiff and the Defendant

Year: 2014

This is an interesting case, obviously because it is outside the normal outdoor recreation arena and involves a fitness center with a day care. The plaintiff signed up for the defendant fitness center. She arrived one time with her two-year-old son and informed the defendant fitness center employee that it was his first there. She informed the plaintiff that she would place her son in with the younger children.

Later, the plaintiff was told that her son had been injured and that 911 had been called. The facts surrounding the injury are vague, other than the plaintiff arrived to see a defendant day care worker holding ice on the child’s ear. The child later received five stitches in his ear.

There were several issues concerning the service of process on the defendant and eventually a removal to the Federal Court who resolved the issues finding ineffective service against the defendant in the state court claims.

The defendant then moved for summary judgment based on release and its counterclaims against the plaintiff for breach of the Member Usage Agreement.

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

The court first tackled the release and how whether it was effective against the claims of the plaintiff. Under Texas law, a release must satisfy the Fair Notice requirement.

Fair notice requires (1) that a party seeking to enforce a release provision comply with the express negligence doctrine and (2) that the provision be conspicuous. The express negligence doctrine requires a party releasing potential claims against another party for its negligence to express that intent in conspicuous and unambiguous terms in the four corners of the agreement. Conspicuousness requires the releasing language to be written and formatted so that a reasonable person in the position of the person against whom the release is to operate would notice it.

The plaintiff admitted the release met the fair notice requirements but under Texas law, the release could not stop her gross negligence claims. The court agreed.

Texas cases holding that waivers of negligence claims do not give fair notice of an intent to waive gross negligence claims, and the cases holding that preinjury releases of gross negligence claims are contrary to public policy, this court holds that the Member Usage Agreement Ms. McClure signed did not release Life Time Fitness from liability for her gross negligence claims, including the premise’s liability claim based on the Recreational Use Statute, which requires proof of gross negligence.

The court also found that the release failed to release the defendant from the plaintiff’s premises liability claims based on the Texas Recreational Use statute. Premise’s liability claims are based on ownership of the land; although the release in question seemed to cover the issue? No reasoning was given by the court for this decision.

The release did bar the plaintiff’s claims for “for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premise’s liability.”

The court next went over the issues surrounding whether a release under Texas law would stop claims of minors. The court found Texas law does not allow a release signed by a parent to stop those claims. “A preinjury release executed by a minor child’s parent is not enforceable to release claims against a commercial enterprise for the minor child’s injuries.”

The next issue was whether there was enough evidence to support any claims of the plaintiff. Here was a case where the plaintiff was never able to determine how the child was injured. Consequently, the plaintiff could not prove or provide any evidence of any negligence claims.

The McClures have not identified any evidence of a misrepresentation Life Time Fitness made to the child on which he did or could have reasonably relied. Summary judgment is granted on the child’s negligent misrepresentation claim.

The defendant then asked for the remaining claims of the child to be dismissed because there was no evidence to support any allegations made by the child to support his claims.

Life Time Fitness also seeks summary judgment on the child’s remaining claims, contending that it breached no duty owed to him and that no condition at the childcare facility posed an un-reasonable risk of harm.

The only evidence to support this claim was the plaintiff stated that any employee of the defendant had told the plaintiff here son had been injured in the play area designated for older children. This was sufficient to support this claim at this time. “Although the record is scant, it is sufficient to withstand summary judgment as to the child’s claims other than for negligent misrepresentation.”

The court then ruled on the counterclaim of the defendant. It seems like the motion was not answered by the plaintiff. The defendant then argued was a failure to deny, and they should be granted a default judgment. However, the court did not come to that same conclusion. The court then looked at the clause in the contract.

The clause in the release was entitled “Life Time’s Fees and Costs.”

This clause stated that if Ms. McClure asserted a negligence claim against Life Time Fitness, she would pay “all reasonable fees (including attorney’s fees), costs, and expenses incurred by Life Time (“Life Time’s Fees and Costs”) to defend (1) the Negligence Claim(s) and (2) all other Claims based on the same facts as the Negligence Claim(s).” Ms. McClure argues that she did not breach the Member Usage Agreement because she asserted claims for gross negligence.

Although the plaintiff was successful in two of her five claims, the court felt that she had breached the release and sued, therefore, the claims that were dismissed were enough to trigger fees and costs clause.

Life Time Fitness is entitled to the damages provided for in the Member Usage Agreement: the fees it reasonably incurred in defending solely against Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common-law premises liability.

The court was specific in its ruling that the fees and costs to be paid by the plaintiff and awarded to the defendant were only the costs the defendant incurred in defending the three claims that were dismissed by the court.

Summary judgment is granted to Life Time Fitness on Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premises liability to invitees. Summary judgment is denied on Ms. McClure’s claims for gross negligence and for premises liability under the Recreational Use Statute. Summary judgment is granted on the minor child’s negligent misrepresentation claim and otherwise denied. Life Time Fitness’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim is granted only for reasonable fees incurred in defending against Ms. McClure’s negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premises liability claims, and is otherwise denied.

So the plaintiff was left with a gross negligence claim and a premises liability claim. Her son’s claim for negligent misrepresentation also survived, but barely.

So Now What?

Do Not Rely on this decision to believe that you can recover attorney fees when defending yourself in court when a release has been signed by the plaintiff. This is only the third time I have seen a case like this and there are 25 times more decisions denying these claims.

Most of these claims are struck down because the language is poor, and the case is similar to this forcing a parent to decide whether they should risk suing on behalf of their injured child. Other than this case, courts have uniformly denied those claims.

The two other cases I have found dealt with a skydiving where the plaintiff’s allegations were at a minimum quite wild and the other the plaintiff was an attorney. In both cases, it seemed the court found enough to hit the plaintiff with fees because the court did not like them.

You do not see any of the rancor or scorn in this case. It is a factual review of the facts, the release and a simple decision. You signed the agreement promising to pay if this happened, therefore, you must pay.

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When you are mountain biking on land you are unfamiliar with, probably private land, any condition of the land causing any injury is your responsibility to find.

Michigan mountain biker that struck a cable gate liable for his own injuries because of the Michigan Recreational Use Statute. Actions of the land owner in creating the gate were not gross negligence when they had posted the property with no trespass signs.

Schoonbeck v. Kelly, 2015 Mich. App. LEXIS 223

State: Michigan, Court of Appeals of Michigan

Plaintiff: Thomas H. Schoonbeck

Defendant: v Casey J. Kelly, a/k/a Casey James Kelly, Nicholas Thomas Donajkowski, and Roger W. Nielsen

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: Michigan Recreational Use Statute

Holding: for the defendant land owner and land lessee

Year: 2015

The plaintiff was mountain biking on private land that was adjacent to state land. While traveling down a trail he was injured when he struck a cable being used as a gate strung between two trees. The cable had a “No Trespassing” sign facing away from the plaintiff’s direction of travel so people coming onto the land could see the sign.

The land was owned by one defendant, Nielsen, who leased the land to Donajkowski and Kelly to use for hunting. Donajkowski and Kelly created the cable gate because it was the cheapest and easiest gate to erect. They also placed “no trespassing” signs around the property and at the corners of the property.

The plaintiff sued for negligence and gross negligence. The defendants filed a motion for summary disposition on the negligence claim and argued that installing a gate was not gross negligence. The trial court agreed, and this appeal followed.

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

The Michigan Recreational Use statute is very comprehensive. The statute covers any cause of action, which is a “concurrence of facts giving rise to the obligation sought to be enforced against the defendant.” on the land. That definition also is based on premise’s liability law, which is the law that is based on ownership of land.

The plaintiff’s argued the statute was based on laws occurring on the land, not of the land. Mainly the law dealt with nuisance claims, which is “unreasonable interference with a common right enjoyed by the general public.”

However, the argument failed in total because the nuisance argument was not raised in the lower court so it could not be argued in the appellate court.

The next argument was whether erecting (stringing) a cable gate on the land was gross negligence. The plaintiff argued the gate case created with “deliberate indifference to the likelihood that an injury would result.”

The court then looked at the definition of gross negligence in Michigan.

A person’s conduct is grossly negligent if the person engages in “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results.” “Evidence of ordinary negligence does not create a material question of fact concerning gross negligence.” Willful and wanton misconduct occurs when the defendant acted “with a set purpose to accomplish the results which followed the act,” which “implies malice.” “Willful and wanton misconduct is not a high degree of negligence; rather, it is in the same class as intentional wrongdoing.”

The plaintiff argued the defendants should have done more. They should have built a gate at the other end of the property, notified neighbors the land was now closed or turned the No Trespassing sign around. However, allegations that someone could have done more are not proof that what was done was gross negligence. “To be grossly negligent, a person must disregard precautions or safety in a way that suggests that he or she does not care about the welfare of others.”

The allegations of the plaintiff were the defendants could have done more, not that what they did was grossly negligent.

At best, Schoonbeck has only alleged that Donajkowski and Kelly could have done more. He has not provided any evidence that their actions showed a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury might result.

The actions of the defendant were not grossly negligent and the Michigan Recreational Use Statute provides protection for the negligence claims. The trial court dismissal of the complaint was upheld.

So Now What?

I don’t have mostly indifference to the plaintiff in this case. Mountain biking is defined by its falls, just like skiing. Not falling, not trying hard enough, etc.

Here the landowner/lease did what every other landowner did. The real sole issue was, whether the landowner should have done more when the status to the land allegedly changed. However, the plaintiff did not even prove that. The prior landowner did not allow mountain biking or other activities; he just did not go out and try to stop them.

If you own the land, and you don’t want people on it, do what the law requires to protect your land.

If you are a mountain biker, make sure you know where you are before you go barreling down a trail. Much like a terrain park skiing, check out the jumps before cruising through them.

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Schoonbeck v. Kelly, 2015 Mich. App. LEXIS 223

Schoonbeck v. Kelly, 2015 Mich. App. LEXIS 223

Thomas H. Schoonbeck, Plaintiff-Appellant, v Casey J. Kelly, a/k/a Casey James Kelly, Nicholas Thomas Donajkowski, and Roger W. Nielsen, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 318771

COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN

2015 Mich. App. LEXIS 223

February 10, 2015, Decided

NOTICE: THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION. IN ACCORDANCE WITH MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS RULES, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS ARE NOT PRECEDENTIALLY BINDING UNDER THE RULES OF STARE DECISIS.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] Muskegon Circuit Court. LC No. 12-048517-NO.

CORE TERMS: gate, trespassing, cable, gross negligence, wanton misconduct, willful, causes of action, installed, trail, nuisance claims, grossly negligent, recreational, material fact, premises liability, motorcycles, installing, favorable, struck, tenant, lessee, bike, snowmobiles, land use, claims of negligence, facts giving rise, questions of fact, de novo, genuine issue, nonmoving party, reasonable minds

COUNSEL: For THOMAS H. SCHOONBECK: ALANA LYNN WIADUCK, MUSKEGON, MI.

For CASEY J. KELLY: JAMES M SEARER, MUSKEGON, MI.

For ROGER W. NIELSEN: JOSEPH P VANDERVEEN, GRAND RAPIDS, MI.

JUDGES: Before: O’CONNELL, P.J., and SAWYER and MARKEY, JJ.

OPINION

Per Curiam.

Plaintiff, Thomas H. Schoonbeck, appeals as of right the trial court’s order granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) in favor of defendants, Casey James Kelly, Nicholas Thomas Donajkowski, and Roger W. Nielsen. Schoonbeck was injured when he struck a cable gate while riding a dirt bike on property that Nielsen had leased to Donajkowski and Kelly. The trial court ruled that the recreational land use act (the Act), 324.73301, barred Schoonbeck’s claims. We affirm.

I. FACTS

In September 2010, Schoonbeck was riding a dirt bike on Nielsen’s property when he struck a cable gate that was suspended across a trail between two trees. According to Trooper Brian Cribbs’s report of the incident, the cable was installed along a fairly straight section of the trail that had a “very slight curve” about 87 feet before where Schoonbeck struck it. A 10 x 14-inch sign that read “Private Property — No Trespassing” was attached to the middle of the cable. The sign faced the opposite direction from which Schoonbeck was traveling.

At his deposition, Nielsen testified that he had rented the property for hunting [*2] and recreational purposes to Donajkowski and Kelly at the time of the accident. A two-track trail traversed the property from the southwest to the northeast. In affidavits, various neighbors stated that the property did not have “no trespassing” signs and that they walked, rode bikes, and used motorcycles or snowmobiles on the property’s trails. Nielsen testified that he had previously seen some evidence that people rode motorcycles or snowmobiles across the property. However, according to Nielsen and Donajkowski, there were “no trespassing” ribbons at the corners of the property and “no trespassing” signs along its borders.

Kelly testified that he was not aware that motorcycles or snowmobiles crossed the property, but he wanted to inform people that the property was private because it abutted state land. Donajkowski testified that he wanted to put a gate on the trail to stop traffic. Nielsen testified that Donajkowski asked to install a gate on the property and complained that people were trespassing on it with motorcycles and off-road vehicles.

According to Kelly, about a week after leasing the property, he and Donajkowski installed “no trespassing” signs and a cable gate with a “no [*3] trespassing” sign on it. They installed a cable gate because it was the easiest kind of gate to install. It was Kelly’s first time on the property and Donajkowski’s second time on the property. Donajkowski testified that the “no trespassing” sign faced outward from the property.

In August 2012, Schoonbeck filed this suit. He alleged claims of negligence and gross negligence against Nielsen, Donajkowski, and Kelly. In May 2013, Nielsen moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (10). In pertinent part, Nielsen contended that the Act barred Schoonbeck’s claims because Donajkowski and Kelly’s act of installing the cable gate was not grossly negligent or malicious. Donajkowski and Kelly also moved for summary disposition, adopting Nielsen’s arguments and further contending that they were not grossly negligent and did not commit willful or wanton misconduct. Schoonbeck responded that the Act did not apply and, even if it did apply, there were material questions of fact regarding whether Donajkowski and Kelly were grossly negligent or committed willful and wanton misconduct.

In a brief written opinion, the trial court granted the defendants’ motions under MCR 2.116(C)(10). It determined that the Act barred Schoonbeck’s [*4] claims. Schoonbeck now appeals.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

This Court reviews de novo the trial court’s decision on a motion for summary disposition. Maiden v Rozwood, 461 Mich 109, 118; 597 NW2d 817 (1999). A party is entitled to summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment . . . as a matter of law.” The trial court must consider all the documentary evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. MCR 2.116(G)(5); Maiden, 461 Mich at 120. A genuine issue of material fact exists if, when viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reasonable minds could differ on the issue. Allison v AEW Capital Mgt, LLP, 481 Mich 419, 425; 751 NW2d 8 (2008).

This Court reviews de novo issues of statutory interpretation. Neal v Wilkes, 470 Mich 661, 664; 685 NW2d 648 (2004). When interpreting a statute, our goal is to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Id. at 665. The statute’s language is the best indicator of the Legislature’s intent. Id. If the language of a statute is unambiguous, we must enforce the statute as written. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co v Mich Catastrophic Claims Ass’n (On Rehearing), 484 Mich 1, 13; 795 NW2d 101 (2009). This Court should not read language into an unambiguous statute. McCormick v Carrier, 487 Mich 180, 209; 795 NW2d 517 (2010).

III. APPLICATION OF THE RECREATIONAL LAND USE ACT

First, Schoonbeck contends the Act does not apply because it is limited to premises liability causes of action. We disagree.

The Act provides that “a [*5] cause of action” generally does not arise from a nonpaying outdoor recreational user’s use of an owner’s land unless the user’s injuries were caused by the owner’s gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, a cause of action shall not arise for injuries to a person who is on the land of another without paying to the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land a valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use or trail use, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee. [MCL 324.73301(1).]

A cause of action is a “concurrence of facts giving rise to the obligation sought to be enforced against the defendant.” Davis v Kramer Bros Freight Lines, Inc, 361 Mich 371, 376-377; 105 NW2d 29 (1960); also see Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed) (“A group of operative facts giving rise to one or more bases for suing; a factual situation that entitles one person to obtain a remedy in court from another person.”).

The plain language of the statute bars any cause of action, not only those [*6] causes of action that sound in premises liability. Had the Legislature wished to limit the statute to a narrower set of circumstances, it could have used the words “cause in action sounding in premises liability” rather than the more general term “cause of action.” See Neal, 470 Mich at 665-666. It did not do so. We decline to read additional language into the statute and, therefore, we reject Schoonbeck’s argument that the Act only applies to claims sounded in premises liability.

Second, Schoonbeck contends that the trial court erred by granting summary disposition because the Act does not apply to nuisance claims. “A public nuisance is an unreasonable interference with a common right enjoyed by the general public.” Cloverleaf Car Co v Phillips Petroleum Co, 213 Mich App 186, 190; 540 NW2d 297 (1995). In this case, regardless of whether revoking an implied license to trespass constitutes a nuisance or whether the Act bars nuisance claims, Schoonbeck did not assert a nuisance claim in his complaint. He asserted only claims of negligence and gross negligence. Since Schoonbeck did not plead a nuisance claim, nor does he provide argument to support that the trial court erred by granting summary disposition on potentially meritorious claims that the plaintiff did not raise, we fail to see how he [*7] can be deemed to have addressed a nuisance claim. Moreover, we decline to make Schoonbeck’s arguments for him. See VanderWerp v Plainfield Charter Twp, 278 Mich App 624, 633; 752 NW2d 479 (2008). Accordingly, we reject this assertion because Schoonbeck did not allege a nuisance claim.

IV. GROSS NEGLIGENCE AND WILLFUL OR WANTON MISCONDUCT

Schoonbeck contends that the trial court erroneously granted summary disposition because there was a question of material fact regarding whether Donajkowski and Kelly’s installation of the cable gate showed a deliberate indifference to the likelihood that an injury would result. We conclude that Schoonbeck did not show a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Donajkowski and Kelly acted with gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct.

A person’s conduct is grossly negligent if the person engages in “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results.” Maiden, 461 Mich at 123; Xu v Gay, 257 Mich App 263, 269; 668 NW2d 166 (2003). “Evidence of ordinary negligence does not create a material question of fact concerning gross negligence.” Maiden, 461 Mich at 122-123. Willful and wanton misconduct occurs when the defendant acted “with a set purpose to accomplish the results which followed the act,” which “implies malice.” Boumelhem v Bic Corp, 211 Mich App 175, 185; 535 NW2d 574 (1995). “Willful and wanton misconduct is not a high degree [*8] of negligence; rather, it is in the same class as intentional wrongdoing.” Id.

Even accepting Schoonbeck’s assertions that Donajkowski and Kelly should have installed a gate at the other end of the property, faced a second sign inward on the gate, or informed the neighbors they were installing the gate, these allegations do not show a genuine question of material fact on the issue of gross negligence. An allegation that an actor could have done more or acted differently is not evidence of ordinary negligence, much less gross negligence. Tarlea v Crabtree, 263 Mich App 80, 90; 687 NW2d 333 (2004). To be grossly negligent, a person must disregard precautions or safety in a way that suggests that he or she does not care about the welfare of others. Id. At best, Schoonbeck has only alleged that Donajkowski and Kelly could have done more. He has not provided any evidence that their actions showed a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury might result.

In contrast, Donajkowski and Kelly provided evidence that they did not act with a deliberate indifference of whether an injury could result from installing the cable gate. Donajkowski and Kelly installed a “no trespassing” sign near the entrance to the property and hung a “no trespassing” [*9] sign from the cable gate. They installed the cable gate and sign on a fairly straight area of the trail. They also installed additional “no trespassing” signs. These signs faced toward the road, the logical direction from which to expect traffic would approach the gate. We conclude that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Schoonbeck, reasonable minds could not differ concerning whether Donajkowski and Kelly’s action was so reckless that it showed a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury resulted. We conclude that the trial court did not err by granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10).

V. CONCLUSION

We conclude that the Act is not limited to premises liability actions. Further, we conclude that the trial court did not err by granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) when Schoonbeck provided no evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that Donajkowski and Kelly acted recklessly.

We affirm. As the prevailing parties, defendants may tax costs. MCR 7.219.

/s/ Peter D. O’Connell

/s/ David H. Sawyer

/s/ Jane E. Markey


You cannot be liable for what you do not control or what volunteers do

Moore v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

It is also hard to be liable for not watching where you are walking

This case stems from injuries received when a volunteer was setting up a tent and fell over one of the guy lines for the tent.

The plaintiff was a volunteer and with other volunteers was setting up a large tent at a Scout Camp. The camp was owned by the Los Angeles Area Council, Inc. which was granted a charter by the Boy Scouts of America to offer the Scouting program to local youth. The tent was a large military wall tent, similar to what you would see on reruns of M*A*S*H.

While setting up the tent, another volunteer asked the plaintiff to get more tent stakes. She walked around the tent, picked up more stakes and while walking back tripped over one of the guy lines holding up the tent. None of the guy lines had been marked with flags or markers to indicate there was a line there and the accident occurred around 7:00 Pm in July. (None are marked in the M*A*S*H reruns either.) The factual issue became whether or not markers or flags should have been used to identify the guy-lines on the tents.

The court went through and clearly identified factual issues the court felt were important.

Moore had not set up the specific pole, rope or stake upon which she tripped.

The ropes coming off the tent were at varying angles and pitches. The ropes varied in length, de-pending upon location. There were no flags or markers on the ropes.

Before this date, Moore had never been involved in setting up or taking down this tent or this type of tent. However, in years past, Moore had used rope or flags to mark the guy ropes on this tent to make the ropes more visible.

Before Moore fell, neither Moore nor any of the other adult volunteers saw anything they considered unsafe or dangerous.

In the past, some of the adult volunteers had used markers (e.g., cloth or fluorescent plastic tape) to make ropes more visible in scout camps and in non-scout camping situations. In prior years, this tent had been used in the Boy Scout camp, and flags had been used to mark the ropes. It is unclear if markers were used each time the tent was used.

The plaintiff argued the BSA did not have a policy of marking guy lines with markers or flags.

The plaintiff sued for premises liability and negligence. The premises liability claim was based on negligently setting up a tent without guy lines and the negligence claim for not using reasonable care when setting up tents by not using markers on guy-lines.

The Boy Scouts filed a motion for summary judgment based on the fact there was no triable issues, no real legal claims, which was granted and the plaintiff appealed.

So?

The plaintiff’s main arguments were supported by its expert an ergonomist who was a human factors and safety consultant. (This has me confused too, as to why an ergonomist (whatever) has any knowledge of setting up a tent.) The ergonomist said that that groups in Virginia, Australia and Louisiana has policies on markers on tent lines.

The court first looked at the premises liability claim. A premises liability claim is based on a dangerous condition on land. The owner of land is liable for “only for hazardous conditions of which the possessor had actual or constructive knowledge.” The tent was not part of the land so there was no legal basis for a premises liability claim.

The negligence claim was also dismissed by the court. Since the tent was being set up by volunteers, there was no proof that the BSA created the dangerous condition or was aware that a dangerous condition existed. The BSA could not breach a duty of care when the actions which created a dangerous condition were not those of the BSA. Nor does the lack of a policy create a dangerous condition on land. The plaintiff’s argument the court reasoned, where closer to tent issues not land issues.

So Now What?

The legal issues are as stretched in this case as you can get in my opinion. You are setting up a tent by setting up guy lines; you can’t sue when you trip over a guy line.

The claims were incorrect for the facts. The court looked at the issues and could not find any legal connection between the facts, the claims and the law.

However, that does not mean that not watching where you walk might not lead to litigation at some future date that does hold some water.

You can write policies till there are no more trees. In doing so, you’ll probably sink some other group who is trying to save trees. Better to educate than kill a tree. Train your volunteers, prove you trained them, and then explain how the organization they are volunteering for cannot afford lawsuits, stupid ones or regular ones. By that I mean include litigation training; you can’t sue us, in the training you provide.

Explain how it is their job to protect each other as well as to protect the organization. Tell them and prove you told them that you cannot identify all of the risks they may encounter.

You might even have them sign a release.

Plaintiff: Josephine Moore

 

Defendant: Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability and Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: not triable issues of fact, no negligence

 

Holding: Trial court dismissal was affirmed

 

 

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Moore v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

Moore v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

Josephine Moore, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., Defendant and Respondent.

B170389

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

2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

December 10, 2004, Filed

NOTICE: [*1] NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 977(a), PROHIBIT COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 977(B). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 977.

PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. NC040331. Elizabeth Allen White, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS: scout, tent, rope, volunteer, flag, summary judgment, scout camp, causes of action, hazard, marker, adult, guy ropes, feet, dangerous condition, declaration, triable, conspicuity, warning, premises liability, issues of fact, negligently, military, donated, wall tent, lighting, tripped, visible, manual, pole, trip

COUNSEL: Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, Thomas A. Delaney and Steven S. Streger, for Defendant and Respondent.

Desjardins Kelly and Warren D. Kelly, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

JUDGES: ALDRICH, J.; CROSKEY, Acting P. J., KITCHING, J. concurred.

OPINION BY: ALDRICH

OPINION

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff and appellant Josephine Moore (Moore) was setting up a tent for a scout camp site when she tripped over a rope that was securing the tent. Moore appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of defendant and respondent Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council. Inc. (the Boy Scouts). We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. Facts.

Following the usual rules on appeal, we construe the facts in the light most favorable [*2] to Moore, the party who opposed the motion for summary judgment. (Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc. (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 1830, 1836.)

On July 8, 2001, Moore was setting up a scout camp site. She and other adult volunteers were erecting a wall tent that was secured by poles and ropes. No employee of the Boy Scouts was involved in setting up the tent. The Boy Scouts did not own the tent. The rectangular tent was oblong, about 24 feet long by 16 feet wide. The poles used to hold up the tent were 6 feet long. Beige ropes were used to secure the tent to the ground and to keep the tent upright.

At about 7:00 p.m., the volunteers had been setting up the tent for 30 to 60 minutes. The tent was about four or five feet from a picnic table. One of the other adults asked Moore to retrieve additional stakes from the opposite side of the tent. Moore walked around the tent and picked-up six or seven stakes. Moore walked near the tent, toward the adult who had requested the stakes. In doing so, Moore tripped over one of the ropes that had already been staked into the ground. The stake holding the rope was two to five feet from the tent and two to five feet from the picnic table.

[*3] Moore had not set up the specific pole, rope or stake upon which she tripped.

The ropes coming off the tent were at varying angles and pitches. The ropes varied in length, depending upon location. There were no flags or markers on the ropes.

Before this date, Moore had never been involved in setting up or taking down this tent or this type of tent. However, in years past, Moore had used rope or flags to mark the guy ropes on this tent to make the ropes more visible.

During the time the tent was being set up, Moore was aware that some guy ropes were already in place, extending out from corners of the tent.

Before Moore fell, neither Moore nor any of the other adult volunteers saw anything they considered unsafe or dangerous.

In the past, some of the adult volunteers had used markers (e.g., cloth or fluorescent plastic tape) to make ropes more visible in scout camps and in non-scout camping situations. In prior years, this tent had been used in the Boy Scout camp, and flags had been used to mark the ropes. It is unclear if markers were used each time the tent was used.

The Boy Scout’s manual did not address rope safety and did not instruct that markers were to be used, although [*4] some believed marking the ropes made good sense. The photograph of a wall tent in the manual appeared to have markers on the ropes.

At one Boy Scout volunteer training session held a few years prior to this accident, volunteers were told to flag tent ropes so no one would trip. The Boy Scouts had no documents relating to the use of warnings on ropes.

The scout camp is planned by volunteers. The Boy Scout district executive, Jim McCarthy, attends the planning meetings.

2. Procedure.

Moore sued the Boy Scouts. The complaint stated two causes of action.

In the first cause of action for premises liability, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts “negligently maintained, managed, controlled, and operated the Scout Camp, in that the guy ropes attached to a certain tent in the Scout Camp were unmarked with flags, or with anything, and were obscured from view without some kind of flag, marker, or other warning, owing to their color, size and geometry, location, time of day, and other factors, which [the Boy Scouts] knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, constituted a dangerous condition and unreasonable risk of harm of which [Moore] was at all times . . . [*5] unaware. [The Boy Scouts] negligently failed to take steps to either make the condition safe or warn [Moore] of the dangerous condition, all of which caused [Moore] to trip and fall on one of the guy ropes, and to suffer the injuries and damages hereinafter described.”

In the second cause of action for negligence, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts failed to “use reasonable care in the construction, maintenance, management, and control of the Scout Camp, including but not limited to placing flags or some other kind of marker or warning to identify and call attention to the presence and location of the guy ropes surrounding the tent tarp. [P] . . . [The Boy Scouts] knew or should have known that the construction of the Scout Camp was likely to create during the construction a risk of harm to those who were working on and around the Scout Camp unless special precautions were taken, in that, among other things, guy ropes, which were obscured from view . . . would be emanating from the tent, unmarked and unguarded, in a fashion that constituted a hazard to persons, including [Moore].”

The Boys Scouts brought a motion for summary judgment.

In opposing the motion, Moore submitted [*6] the declaration of psychologist Ilene B. Zackowitz, Ph.D. Dr. Zackowitz declared the following. She was a human factors and safety consultant and a certified professional ergonomist. 1 She had reviewed the discovery in this case. “When wall tents that are secured with ropes and stakes are used, it is foreseeable that the low conspicuity of the ropes may present a tripping hazard. Despite this foreseeable hazard, [the Boy Scouts have] no stated policy or procedure that addresses the hazard, namely using flags to increase the conspicuity of guy ropes, in the [Scout] Camping merit badge book or the Scouts ‘Guide to Safe Scouting.’ ” “Other Scout Councils recognize the hazard and have policies in place to address the hazard[, such as a troop in Georgetown, Virginia, the Scout Association of Australia, and the Southeast Louisiana Council].” “A stated policy of securing conspicuous flags to the ropes as they are secured to the ground (as opposed to waiting until the entire tent is erected) would greatly increase the conspicuity of the anchoring ropes.” “The incident occurred at dusk such that lighting conditions and contrast were reduced. Under ideal lighting conditions, a rope and [*7] stake would have low contrast with the dirt covered ground surface. . . . There were no visual cues that the hazard was present. . . . A flag on the rope would have provided contrast and would have called attention to the hazard.”

1 Dr. Zackowitz’s curriculum vitae includes information that she serves as a forensic consultant for personal injury accidents, including slips, trips, missteps, and falls, the effectiveness of warnings, visibility, conspicuity, and lighting.

The trial court granted the summary judgment motion. In the order granting summary judgment, the trial court found there were no triable issues of fact because: (1) there was no evidence of a dangerous condition and Dr. Zackowitz’s declaration was not admissible on the issue; (2) the Boy Scouts had no notice of the condition as the only ones present were volunteers, who were not agents of the Boy Scouts; and (3) the condition was open and notorious.

Judgment was entered against Moore, from which she appealed.

DISCUSSION

1. Standard [*8] of review upon a motion for summary judgment.

Following the granting of a summary judgment, we review the moving papers independently to determine whether there is a triable issue as to any material fact and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., supra, 16 Cal.App.4th at p. 1837.)

A defendant who brings a motion for summary judgment asserting that the plaintiff cannot state a cause of action need only address the theories advanced in the complaint, as the complaint frames the issues. (United States Golf Assn. v. Arroyo Software Corp. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 607, 623; Varni Bros. Corp. v. Wine World, Inc. (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 880, 886-887; FPI Development, Inc. v. Nakashima (1991) 231 Cal. App. 3d 367, 381, 282 Cal. Rptr. 508.) “A party cannot successfully resist summary judgment on a theory not pleaded. [Citation.]” (Roth v. Rhodes (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 530, 541.)

2. Moore has not demonstrated a triable issue of fact with regard to the two theories presented.

Moore stated two causes of action – premises [*9] liability and negligence. She contends there are triable issues of fact with regard to these causes of action. This contention is unpersuasive.

A cause of action for premises liability generally is based upon a dangerous condition on land. (Delgado v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1403, 1406, fn. 1.) The possessor of land is liable only for hazardous conditions of which the possessor had actual or constructive knowledge. (Ortega v. Kmart Corp. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1200, 1203.) Here, the tent was set up by volunteers, who were not the agents of the Boy Scouts. (Young v. Boy Scouts of America (1935) 9 Cal. App. 2d 760, 765 [adult volunteers are not agents of local councils].) There is no evidence the Boy Scouts knew the tent was being set up. Thus, the Boy Scouts neither created the “dangerous” condition nor were aware that it existed.

With regard to the negligence cause of action, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts negligently constructed, maintained, managed, and controlled the camp. However, the undisputed facts were that the volunteers undertook all of these activities. Thus, Moore failed to establish that the [*10] Boy Scouts breached its duty to her. (Cf. Ortega v. Kmart Corp., supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 1205 [negligence requires duty, breach, causation, damages].)

Moore argues that notice of the condition is irrelevant as liability “is not based on acts of the volunteers who erected the tent, but on the policy (or lack thereof) of the [Boy Scouts] relating to tent safety, as well as the fact that [the Boy Scouts] provided a tent with inconspicuous ropes and no flags.” These arguments are based primarily upon (1) statements made by some of the volunteers who said that the past they had marked the ropes to make them more visible, (2) comments by Moore’s expert (Dr. Zackowitz), and (3) Dr. Zackowitz’s reference to other scout manuals.

However, Moore’s complaint, which framed the issues, did not alleged that the Boy Scouts lacked a policy with regard to rope safety, nor did it allege that the Boy Scouts were negligent in supplying a defective tent. (Cf. FNS Mortgage Service Corp. v. Pacific General Group, Inc. (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1564, 1572 [discussing negligent undertaking].)

Further, there is an evidentiary problem with Moore’s argument [*11] relating to the Boy Scouts supplying the tent. In Moore’s appellate brief, she does not provide a citation to the record to support the statement that the tent had been supplied by the Boy Scouts or that it had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. (Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc. (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 1361, 1378-1379 [parties have obligation to provide proper citations to record].) 2 In Moore’s separate statement of disputed and undisputed material facts, Moore also fails to establish that the tent had been supplied by the Boy Scouts, or that it had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. Additionally, Moore testified in her deposition that she did not believe that the Boy Scouts owned the tent. Dr. Zackowitz did state in her declaration that the tent had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. However, Dr. Zackowitz does not identify the source of this information and therefore this testimony lacks foundation.

2 In the introduction to her brief, Moore points to the Clerk’s Transcript, pages 226 to 264 for this factual assertion. This is an insufficient citation. (Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc., supra, 99 Cal.App.4th at p. 1379 [appropriate reference to records must include exact page citations].)

[*12] Summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the Boy Scouts. 3

3 In light of our conclusion, we need not address whether the trial court made evidentiary errors with regard to Dr. Zackowitz’s declaration.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is affirmed. Moore is to pay all costs on appeal.

ALDRICH, J.

We concur:

CROSKEY, Acting P. J.

KITCHING, J.

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Lombard v. Colorado Outdoor Education Center, Inc., 2011 Colo. App. LEXIS 1401

Turene Lombard and Pueblo School District #60, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Colorado Outdoor Education Center, Inc., a Colorado non-profit corporation, d/b/a The Nature Place; and Sanborn Western Camps, Inc., a Colorado nonprofit corporation, d/b/a The Nature Place, Defendants-Appellees.
Court of Appeals No. 09CA2704
COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION THREE
2011 Colo. App. LEXIS 1401
August 18, 2011, Decided
NOTICE:
THIS OPINION IS NOT THE FINAL VERSION AND SUBJECT TO REVISION UPON FINAL PUBLICATION
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Teller County District Court No. 02CV49. Honorable Edward S. Colt, Judge.

COUNSEL: James M. Croshal, Pueblo, Colorado; Mickey W. Smith, Pueblo, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant Turene Lombard.
Ritsema & Lyon, P.C., Paul D. Feld, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant Pueblo School District #60.
Taylor Anderson LLP, John M. Roche, Kevin S. Taylor, Jared E. Berg, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees.
JUDGES: Opinion by JUDGE ROY. J. Jones and Criswell*, JJ., concur.
* Sitting by assignment of the Chief Justice under provisions of Colo. Const. art. VI, § 5(3), and § 24-51-1105, C.R.S. 2010.
OPINION BY: ROY
OPINION
Plaintiffs, Turene Lombard (invitee) and Pueblo School District #60 (school district), appeal from the judgment entered on a jury verdict and the order awarding costs in favor of defendants, Colorado Outdoor Education Center, Inc. and Sanborn Western Camps, Inc. (owners), in this action under section 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2010 (premises liability act). We affirm the judgment, and affirm the order awarding costs in part and vacate it in part.
In February 2000 at the request of school district, invitee, a teacher employed by the district, attended an overnight [*2] training session which was held at a conference facility and resort owned and operated by owners. The resort had, among others buildings, eleven fourplex buildings, each unit of which had a main floor sleeping area, kitchenette, bathroom, and loft. Access to the loft was gained by a wooden ladder, with no handrails, that was fixed to the wall at the top and to the floor a distance from the wall at the bottom. In her unit, invitee climbed the ladder to the loft, which was equipped with a mattress, to read. She was injured when she fell descending the ladder.
Because invitee was within her scope of employment, she applied for and received substantial workers’ compensation benefits. Invitee and school district brought a joint action against owners under the premises liability act.
Owners filed, and the trial court granted, a motion for summary judgment on the ground that there was no evidence that they knew or should have known of a dangerous condition on their property. Invitee appealed, and a division of this court affirmed. Lombard v. Colorado Outdoor Educ. Ctr., Inc., 179 P.3d 16 (Colo. App. 2007). On certiorari review, our supreme court reversed and remanded for trial. Lombard v. Colorado Outdoor Educ. Ctr., Inc., 187 P.3d 565 (Colo. 2008) [*3] (Lombard).
At trial, invitee presented evidence of the fall and the injuries she sustained. Through expert testimony, she presented evidence that the applicable building code required a code-compliant staircase for access to an upper floor habitable space, and that the acceptance of a ladder as an alternative design was not permitted by the building code because a ladder is not as safe as a staircase. She argued that owners knew or should have known the ladder was dangerous because it allegedly violated the building code.
Owners presented evidence that (1) they had no actual notice that the ladder constituted a dangerous condition; (2) the plans for the unit depicting the ladder access to the loft were approved by the county building department, which administered the building code; (3) the county building department issued a certificate of occupancy following the completion of construction; and (4) they had never received reports of any incidents involving, or injuries resulting from, the use of the ladders in the twenty-four years since the construction of the first units. In addition, there was conflicting evidence from which owners argued that invitee was negligent in her use of [*4] the ladder, and that her negligence was the cause of her injuries.
Following a seven-day trial, a jury returned a verdict for owners and responded to interrogatories on the verdict form as follows:
Question No. 1: Did the [plaintiffs] have injuries, damages and losses?
Answer No. 1: Yes
Question No. 2: Did [owners] . . . actually know about a danger on their property or using reasonable care should have known about it?
Answer No. 2: No
Question No. 3: Did the [owners] fail to use reasonable care to protect against the danger on their property?
Answer No. 3: No
Question No. 4: Was the [owners’] failure a cause of the [invitee’s] injuries, damages or losses.
Answer No. 4: No
(Emphasis added.)
Owners sought costs jointly and severally against invitee and school district, which the trial court awarded. This appeal followed.
At the outset, we note that there was no dispute that invitee was a business invitee within the meaning of the premises liability statute and that she suffered injuries. Invitee’s arguments focus on the jury’s negative response to the second interrogatory. These arguments assert error with respect to (1) the instructions given or refused; (2) the trial court’s refusal to admit [*5] into evidence plans for units constructed after the unit in question, which characterized the loft as “storage”; (3) the trial court’s refusal to allow invitee to call a third expert witness on the building code; and (4) the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury that an owner’s duties under the premises liability act are not delegable.
I. Premises Liability Act and Negligence Per Se
Because this case involves the relationship, if any, between the premises liability act and the common law doctrine of negligence per se, we deem it appropriate to begin with a discussion of that relationship after our supreme court’s decision in Lombard.
Negligence is the failure to do an act a reasonably careful person would do, or the doing of an act which a reasonably careful person would not do, under the same or similar circumstances to protect oneself or others from bodily injury. Lawson v. Safeway, Inc., 878 P.2d 127, 130 (Colo. App. 1994); Woolsey v. Holiday Health Clubs & Fitness Centers, Inc., 820 P.2d 1201, 1204 (Colo. App. 1991). A person bringing a negligence claim must establish a duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. Redden v. SCI Colorado Funeral Services, Inc., 38 P.3d 75, 80 (Colo. 2001); [*6] Miller v. Byrne, 916 P.2d 566, 577 (Colo. App. 1995).
Negligence per se is a common law doctrine which provides that legislative enactments, such as statutes and ordinances, can prescribe the standard of conduct of a reasonable person, or duty, such that a violation of the statute or ordinance constitutes a breach of duty of care. Lombard, 187 P.3d at 573. A plaintiff may recover under a negligence per se theory if he or she can establish that the defendant violated the statutory standard of care, that the statutory standard of care was intended to protect against the injuries sustained, and that the violation was the proximate cause of the injuries sustained. Id. Negligence per se, therefore, serves to conclusively establish the defendant’s breach of a legally cognizable duty owed to the plaintiff. Id.
Section 13-21-115(3)(c)(I), C.R.S. 2010, establishes a standard of care owed by a property owner to an invitee: “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.” (Emphasis added.)
Lombard was decided in a summary judgment context. In that context, owners [*7] were required to show that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. C.R.C.P. 56(c). Invitee, therefore was tasked to show through affidavits and other materials that there was a genuine issue as to a material fact and did so by producing evidence sufficient to raise negligence per se.
In discussing negligence per se in the premises liability act context, our supreme court stated in pertinent part:
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. The premises liability statute is broad reaching in its scope . . . .
[In Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 327 (Colo. 2004), we concluded that the premises liability statute’s] “express, unambiguous language . . . evidences the General Assembly’s intent to establish a comprehensive and exclusive specification of the duties landowners owe to those injured on their property.” 103 P.3d at 328. We noted that “the General Assembly indicated its intent to completely occupy the field and supersede the existing law in the area.” Id. As such, we concluded [*8] that “the plain language preempts prior common law theories of liability, and establishes the statute as the sole codification of landowner duties in tort.” Id. Thus, it would be entirely inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and the holdings of this court to bypass the [premises liability] statute and allow for the imposition of liability on the basis of a negligence per se claim. Consequently, we conclude that a plaintiff may recover against the landowner pursuant to the statute only and not under any other theory of negligence.
However, in addressing the premises liability statute, it is an entirely separate question whether proof of the landowner’s violation of a statute intended for the plaintiff’s protection is evidence of the landowner’s “unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care.”. . . . Consequently, although the premises liability statute has abrogated certain common law claims and defenses in the premises liability context, we do not find that the General Assembly has clearly expressed its intent to abrogate the common law principle that the violation of a statute is evidence of a failure to exercise due care. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 327 . . . .
In the [*9] absence of guiding legislative intent to the contrary, we conclude that the General Assembly did not intend to preclude a party from arguing that certain statutes and ordinances are relevant to establishing the standard of reasonable care, and thus that the violation of that statute or ordinance is evidence of a failure to exercise reasonable care.
. . . .
In sum, we hold that with respect to the statutory requirement regarding the landowner’s failure to exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff may overcome the landowner’s summary judgment motion by presenting evidence that the landowner violated a statute or ordinance. By necessity, this holding incorporates the common law’s requirement that the plaintiff show he is a member of the class the statute was intended to protect, and that the injuries he suffered were of the kind the statute was enacted to prevent.
Lombard, 187 P.3d at 574-75 (emphasis added)(additional citations omitted). Guided by this exposition, we address invitee’s arguments.
II. Jury Instructions
Invitee argues initially that the trial court erred in failing to deliver four instructions to the jury. We disagree.
A. Standard of Review
We review jury instructions de novo to [*10] determine whether the instructions as a whole accurately informed the jury of the governing law. Fishman v. Kotts, 179 P.3d 232, 235 (Colo. App. 2007). We consider the court’s instructions as a whole. Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Kerns, 172 Colo. 59, 63-64, 470 P.2d 34, 36-37 (1970). It follows that it is not error for the trial court to refuse a tendered instruction which correctly states an applicable legal proposition when the instructions given, taken as a whole, properly instruct the jury on that proposition. Id.; see also Underwood v. Dillon Cos., 936 P.2d 612, 615 (Colo. App. 1997).
Finally, Lombard is binding precedent and the law of the case. People v. Roybal, 672 P.2d 1003, 1005 (Colo. 1983) (citing Dando Co. v. Mangini, 107 Colo. 170, 172, 109 P.2d 1055, 1055-56 (1941); Morton v. Laesch, 52 Colo. 541, 125 P. 498 (1912); and Cache La Poudre Reservoir Co. v. Water Supply & Storage Co., 27 Colo. 532, 62 P. 420 (1900))(law of the case)); People v. Pahl, 169 P.3d 169, 176 (Colo. App. 2006)(binding precedent);.
B. Legal Presumption Instruction
Invitee tendered the following legal presumption instruction, which the trial court rejected:
Presumptions are legal rules based upon experience [*11] and public policy and established in the law to help the jury decide a case. If you find by a preponderance of the evidence that the ladder in [the unit in question] violated the Teller County Building Code, then you must find that the [owners] . . . knew or should have known that the ladder was a dangerous condition and that the [owners] failed to take steps to guard against that dangerous condition.
(Emphasis added.)
This proposed instruction by its terms would have created a conclusive presumption that, if the jury found there was a violation of a building code, owners were presumed to know not only of the violation but also that the violation constituted a dangerous condition within the meaning of the premises liability act, and that owners failed to take steps to guard against that dangerous condition. This proposed presumption instruction is contrary to the express holding and rationale of Lombard, which is that the violation of a statute or ordinance may be considered merely as “evidence of a failure to exercise reasonable care.” Lombard, 187 P.3d at 575 (emphasis added).
The trial court instructed the jury: “If you find that [owners] violated the applicable building code, you [*12] may consider that violation as evidence that [owners] failed to exercise reasonable care. You must consider all evidence regarding this issue in determining whether [owners] exercised reasonable care.”
The trial court further instructed the jury:
For the Plaintiffs . . . to recover . . . on their claims of premises liability, you must find all of the following have been proved by a preponderance of the evidence:
(1) The Plaintiffs had injuries, damages and losses;
(2) The Defendants actually knew about a danger on their property, or as persons or corporations using reasonable care, should have known about it;
(3) The Defendants failed to use reasonable care to protect against the danger of their property; and
(4) The Defendants’ failure was a cause of the Plaintiffs’ injuries, damages, or losses . . . .
These instructions correctly state the law under the common law and the premises liability act, and they are consistent with Lombard. That is, the jury could consider a building code violation as evidence that owners had failed to use reasonable care.
Therefore, the trial court did not err in rejecting the proposed legal presumption instruction.
C. Other Instructions
Invitee further argues that [*13] the trial court erred in rejecting the following proposed instructions:
(1) If the [owners] had to familiarize themselves with the Teller County Building Code in constructing [the unit in question], you may infer from that fact that the [owners] had or should have had notice that the ladder was a dangerous condition.
(2) The law requires the [owners] . . . to have known the requirement of the Teller County Building Code in effect at the time they built on their property any structures governed by the Code.
(3) If you find that [owners] or the Teller County Building Department knew or should have known that the ladder in question was a dangerous condition and failed to take reasonable steps to protect against it and that this dangerous condition resulted in [invitee’s] injuries, then you must find for the Plaintiffs on their claim for premises liability.
(Emphasis added.)
The first and third proposed instructions suffer from the same infirmity discussed above, that is, they equate knowledge of a violation of the building code with knowledge that the violation creates a dangerous condition within the meaning of the premises liability act. As invitee conceded in oral argument, however, not [*14] every violation of a building code results in a dangerous condition, or notice of a dangerous condition, within the meaning of the premises liability act.
The third rejected proposed instruction also suffers from a still more profound inconsistency with the law. It stated that if the county building department knew or should have known that the ladder constituted a dangerous condition, that knowledge would be imputed to owners, in presumably the same manner as notice to the officers, directors, employees, or contractors of owners is so imputed. Invitee has not provided, and we have not been able to find, any legal authority supporting this proposition.
The second proposed instruction is, standing alone, a correct statement of the law. However, the trial court sufficiently and correctly instructed the jury that (1) corporations can act only through their officers, employees, or agents; (2) any act or omission of an officer, employee, or agent of a corporation while acting within the scope of his or her employment is the act or omission the corporation; (3) a corporation knows a fact if it or its agents or employees have information that would lead a reasonable person to inquire further [*15] and that inquiry would have revealed that fact; and (4) parties are presumed to know the law applicable to their conduct, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.
In summary, the trial court did not err in rejecting the proposed instructions because the first and third were incorrect statements of the law and the jury was otherwise adequately and correctly instructed as to the second.
III. Evidentiary Rulings
Invitee next contends that the trial court erred in denying admission of a set of plans for the construction of units in 1990, and in prohibiting an expert witness endorsed by invitee from testifying. She further argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence a video demonstrating the use of the ladder because it had not been timely disclosed. We disagree with all three contentions.
A. 1990 Plans
A trial court has substantial discretion in deciding questions concerning the relevance and admissibility of evidence. Palizzi v. City of Brighton, 228 P.3d 957, 962 (Colo. 2010). Therefore, we will not disturb a trial court’s evidentiary ruling unless it constitutes an abuse of discretion. Id. A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is manifestly arbitrary, [*16] unreasonable, or unfair. Id.
At trial, invitee offered the 1990 building plans for lofts built in that year. Though the plans from which the loft in question was constructed showed a mattress in the loft implying that it was for occupancy, the 1990 plans designated the loft, as “storage space.” The trial court excluded the plans as irrelevant because they were drawn eight years after the unit at issue was constructed, and, relying on CRE 403, concluded that there was a significant chance that the plans could mislead the jury and confuse the issues.
Invitee argues that the 1990 plans put owners on notice that the unit in question here violated the building code, by showing a change in the designated use of the loft space. There was, however, ample evidence introduced through invitee’s expert witnesses that the ladder in the unit violated the building code at the time of its construction. Further the trial court instructed the jury that owners are required to follow the law, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and a violation of the building code is evidence that owners failed to exercise reasonable care.
Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying [*17] admission of the 1990 plans into evidence.
B. Expert Testimony
Next, invitee contends that the trial court erred in prohibiting her third endorsed expert witness on the building code from testifying. Before a trial scheduled in 2005, invitee endorsed three liability experts. Before the 2009 trial, owners filed a motion requesting that the trial court limit invitee to only one expert witness on each issue. The trial court denied the motion.
At trial, owners objected to the second building code expert testifying because the testimony would be cumulative. In overruling the objection, the trial court stated:
We spent the bulk of the day on the first [building code] witness. And I will tell you right now that if I do allow this testimony, it will be much more streamlined. Quite frankly, it — I’m going to rule on this as it comes, and if I find it to be cumulative, I will rule on it at the time. I’m not going to do it in advance. But I will put the parties on notice that we won’t be spending much time on these extra experts. So you prepare your direct accordingly, sir, because we simply don’t have time.
Invitee argued that the third expert’s testimony would not be cumulative because he was an [*18] architect with experience examining building plans, whereas her first two experts were not plan examiners. Ultimately, the trial court concluded that the nearly seven hours of expert testimony on the alleged building code violations were sufficient.
We see no abuse of discretion here. Invitee did not demonstrate in the trial court, and does not do so here, that the third building code expert’s testimony added anything substantive to the evidence. Invitee’s counsel conceded at trial that the testimony was cumulative, stating that the third expert merely had a different background than those of the first two experts. Therefore, so would go the argument, the third expert would bolster and corroborate the testimony of the first two or, in the alternative, the third expert’s testimony would be more credible than that of the first two because of his different experience.
On appeal, invitee also contends that the trial court’s refusal to let the third expert testify violates the law of the case doctrine because the trial court had previously denied owners’ motion limiting expert witnesses. However, rulings made in the course of ongoing proceedings are interlocutory and may be rescinded or modified [*19] during those proceedings on proper grounds. In re Bass, 142 P.3d 1259, 1263 (Colo. 2006).
Therefore, we see no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s refusal to permit the testimony of the third building code expert and conclude that invitee has failed to demonstrate any prejudice from that refusal.
C. Video
Invitee next argues that the trial court erred in permitting owners to show to the jury a video recording of a person climbing up and down the ladder to one of the lofts. We disagree.
Whether to allow the use of models or other materials for the purpose of demonstration is a matter within the discretion of the trial court. Hampton v. People, 171 Colo. 101, 106, 465 P.2d 112, 114 (1970).
At the outset, we reject invitee’s law of the case argument for the reasons already stated.
Invitee filed a pretrial motion in limine requesting that the video (actually a collection of short videos) be excluded because it had not been timely disclosed. The trial court granted the motion, but later said it would reconsider the matter.
After the testimony of the first building code expert who had inspected the property, the trial court requested a copy of the video for review before ruling on whether [*20] to permit its use. At the time the video was offered, ten days after the trial court had indicated it would reconsider its admission, invitee argued for a mistrial, claiming that the admission of the video was prejudicial based on its untimely disclosure, not its content. Indeed, counsel stated, “I wouldn’t say that [the video is] prejudicial after review.”
In rejecting this argument, the trial court noted that invitee had been on notice for more than ten days that the court was going to review the video and make a decision on its admissibility. When the video was played for the jury, invitee cross-examined the witness and published to the jury several still images from the video.
Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the video.
IV. Insurance
Invitee next argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a mistrial after owners’ counsel implied during his examination of witnesses and in closing argument that any money judgment would be paid by owners, when, in fact, owners were well insured. We are not persuaded.
Evidence that a party did, or did not, carry liability insurance, is not admissible. CRE 411.
During the examination of [*21] witnesses and in closing argument, invitee’s counsel made contemporaneous objections and eventually a motion for mistrial after the three following statements by owners’ counsel: (1) “Well as the attorney for the camp that is going to have to pay that money,” (2) “My client [has] to pay millions of dollars in the case,” and (3) “Rely on what you know to be true about personal responsibility and personal choices, and award no damages to [invitee] or [school district] payable by my client.”
The trial court overruled all of the objections, commenting as to the first objection that the courtroom was in such bedlam that the court doubted the jury heard the statement. The trial court overruled the second and third objections and denied the motion for a mistrial without comment.
An attorney’s attempt to refer to insurance coverage or a lack thereof at trial is improper. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Dist. Court, 617 P.2d 556, 559-60 (Colo. 1980). We review evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. Palizzi, 228 P.3d at 962. A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair. Id.
In addition, “mere inadvertent or incidental mention [*22] of insurance [or the lack of insurance] before the jury does not automatically call for a mistrial; unless prejudice is shown, there is no reversible error in denying a mistrial.” Jacobs v. Commonwealth Highland Theatres, Inc., 738 P.2d 6, 12 (Colo. App. 1986). Indeed, “only when the mention of insurance occurs in a flagrant manner that clearly prejudices the rights of a [party] is the trial court’s denial of the motion for a mistrial reversible error.” Cook Investment Co. v. Seven-Eleven Coffee Shop, Inc., 841 P.2d 333, 335 (Colo. App. 1992).
We cannot say that any of these statements, taken individually or cumulatively, was flagrant. Nor do we perceive any prejudice to invitee. The trial court is ultimately in the best position to determine the effect on the jury of these types of comments.
Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
V. Costs
Invitee next argues that the award of costs for expert witness fees for witnesses who were not called at trial and photocopying of owners’ client file upon substitution of counsel was error. We disagree as to the expert witness, but agree as to the photocopy expense.
Generally, a trial court enjoys broad discretion in [*23] awarding costs, and we will not overturn such an award absent an abuse of discretion. Morris v. Belfor USA Group, Inc, 201 P.3d 1253, 1261 (Colo. App. 2008).
Here, after a hearing, the trial court entered a written order in which it concluded that, “the costs requested by the prevailing party . . . were reasonable and necessary and properly awardable against plaintiffs.”
A. Non-testifying Expert Witness
First, invitee argues that the cost of the expert witnesses who were retained for purposes of testimony, but who did not testify, should not have been awarded. However, costs are permitted for non-testifying experts hired to provide advisory or consulting services, Mgmt. Specialists, Inc. v. Northfield Ins. Co., 117 P.3d 32, 38-39 (Colo. App. 2004), and costs are permitted for experts who do not testify “because some extrinsic circumstance rendered their testimony unnecessary.” Clayton v. Snow, 131 P.3d 1202, 1203 (Colo. App. 2006).
In this case, the experts’ testimony was not proffered because owners’ counsel concluded that the cross-examination of invitee’s experts was sufficient. The trial court found that the advice and assistance of owners’ experts contributed to the cross-examination [*24] of invitee’s experts.
We perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to award the costs of experts who were not called to testify.
B. Copying Owners’ Client File
Invitee also argues that the trial court erred in awarding owners’ costs for copying owners’ client file upon the discharge of owners’ first counsel. We agree.
Invitee relies, in part, on Colorado Bar Association Formal Ethics Opinion 104, Surrender of Papers to the Client upon Termination of the Representation (1999). That opinion deals with the obligation of an attorney upon termination of the representation to take reasonable steps to protect the client’s interests, including surrender of the client’s papers and property. While the analysis there is somewhat more extended, the fundamental premise of the opinion is that the client file is the property of the client and must be surrendered upon request. With respect to copying the client file prior to surrender, the opinion states, in part:
Numerous questions may arise concerning the costs of duplication of the papers and property at the time of delivery. Generally, consistent with recognition that the file must be surrendered to the client, absent agreement [*25] to the contrary, it is the lawyer’s responsibility to bear duplication costs if the lawyer believes that the lawyer should retain a copy. The fact that copies of documents may have been provided to the client previously does not eliminate the responsibility of the lawyer to provide the client with the file. If the lawyer wishes to keep copies of the documents to which the client is entitled, the lawyer can do so at his own expense.
While the Ethics Committee does not express opinions on the law, its guidance in this regard is, nevertheless, useful.
Here, owners, for whatever reason, voluntarily agreed to pay the discharged counsel the cost of photocopying the client file for the benefit or protection of counsel. Because owners agreed to pay that which they had no other obligation to pay, we conclude that we must vacate the order of the trial court awarding the cost of photocopying owners’ client file.
VI. School District’s Liability for Costs
School district contends that the trial court erred in awarding costs against it because it is a political subdivision of the state of Colorado and is exempt from an award of costs by C.R.C.P. 54(d). We agree.
C.R.C.P. 54(d) states that “costs shall [*26] be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs; but costs against the state of Colorado, its officers or agencies, shall be imposed only to the extent permitted by law.” (Emphasis added.)
School district, as a public school district, is a political subdivision of the state. Hazlet v. Gaunt, 126 Colo. 385, 397, 250 P.2d 188, 194 (1952).
In Waters v. District Court, 935 P.2d 981, 990 (Colo. 1997), an indigent parent’s appointed counsel brought a successful mandamus against the district court to compel payment of attorney fees incurred in the underlying action and requested an award of costs incurred in the mandamus action. In denying costs, our supreme court stated:
With regard to the State, we have interpreted these rules to mean that costs may be awarded against the State where there is an express legislative provision for costs against the State or where the State is in the position of a party litigant against whom costs are otherwise legislatively authorized to be awarded. See Bennett Bear Creek Farm Water & Sanitation Dist. v. City & County of Denver, 928 P.2d 1254, 1273-74 (Colo. 1996); Central Colo. Water v. Simpson, 877 P.2d 335, 349 (Colo. 1994); [*27] Passarelli v. Schoettler, 742 P.2d 867, 872 (Colo. 1987); Division of Employment & Training v. Turynski, 735 P.2d 469, 472-73 n.5 (Colo. 1987); Board of County Comm’rs v. Slovek, 723 P.2d 1309, 1313 (Colo. 1986); Lee v. Colorado Dep’t of Health, 718 P.2d 221, 228-29 (Colo. 1986). In this case, however, there exists no substantive legislative authorization for the award of costs separate from C.R.C.P. 59(d) and C.A.R. 39(b). The provision in CJD 89-3 for attorney fees and costs does not apply to Waters because she is representing herself, rather than her client, in this action. Thus, we find that the rationale of Central Colorado Water is applicable to this case, and we deny Waters’s request for costs in bringing this original proceeding.
935 P.2d at 990; see also Farmers Reservoir & Irrigation Co. v. City of Golden, 113 P.3d 119, 130 (Colo. 2005). Merely showing that the state is in the position of a party-litigant is insufficient to award costs against the state under a general costs provision. Farmers Reservoir, 113 P.3d at 130.
Here, owners have sought costs under C.R.C.P. 54(d), section 13-16-105, C.R.S. 2010, and section 13-16-122, C.R.S. 2010.1 These provisions are general costs [*28] provisions.
1 Section 13-16-105 reads, “If any person sues in any court of record in this state in any action wherein . . . a verdict is passed against him, then the defendant shall have judgment to recover his costs against the plaintiff . . . and the same shall be recovered of the plaintiff or demandant, by like process as the plaintiff or demandant might have had against the defendant, in case judgment has been given for the plaintiff or demandant.” Section 13-16-122 lists some items recoverable as costs.
Owners argue that because the school district initiated the proceeding, it waived any immunity from costs. They cite Division of Employment & Training v. Turynski, 735 P.2d 469, 472 n.5 (Colo. 1987), in support of this argument. In the footnote, our supreme court stated, in pertinent part, that, “by appealing the industrial commission’s award of benefits to the court of appeals and by petitioning for certiorari from the court of appeals’ affirmance of the commission ruling, [the state agency] had waived immunity and caused the claimant to incur high costs.” Id. The court cited Lee v. Colorado Department of Health, 718 P.2d 221 (Colo. 1986), in which a successful litigant under the [*29] Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA), §§ 24-10-101 to -120, C.R.S. 2010, recovered the each-person statutory limit on damages, which is inclusive of costs and interest of $150,000, and sought an award of costs against the department. The department’s insurance had a policy limit of $150,000 for each person and, in addition, a provision for the payment of costs and interest. The CGIA provided that if a public entity was insured with policy limits in excess of the statutory limit, the policy limits controlled. Our supreme court reversed the trial court’s award of costs but remanded for consideration of the applicability and scope of the insurance policy’s costs provision.
Lee is extremely limited in its scope, that is, the award of costs is limited by the insurance policy liability limits if higher than the statutory limit which includes costs and interest. Turynski, in our view, is not persuasive here because it arose in an administrative proceeding to which C.R.C.P. 54(d), section 13-16-105, and section 13-16-122, do not apply.
In addition, in interpreting Fed. R. Civ. P. 54, which is, for all practical purposes, identical to C.R.C.P. 54, federal courts have been clear that “in [*30] the absence of a statute directly authorizing it, courts will not give judgment against the United States for costs or expenses.” Walling v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., 162 F.2d 95, 96 (4th Cir. 1947) (quoting United States v. Worley, 281 U.S. 339, 344 (1930)). This is true even if the costs are incurred in an unsuccessful action brought by the United States. Id., (citing DeGroot v. United States, 72 U.S. 419 (1866)).2
2 The school district is bringing a subrogation claim as it is self-insured for workers’ compensation coverages. § 8-41-203, C.R.S. 2010. It has long been recognized that public entities acting in a proprietary capacity are treated the same as private corporations. See, e.g., City of Northglenn v. City of Thornton, 193 Colo. 536, 542, 569 P.2d 319, 323 (1977)(water utility); Bd. of County Comm’rs v. City of Fort Collins, 68 Colo. 364, 189 P. 929 (1920) (same); Valdez v. Moffat County, 161 Colo. 361, 423 P.2d 7 (1967)(hospital). The school district appears to be litigating in a proprietary capacity. We have not found any authority in which the governmental-proprietary distinction has been applied to the award of costs under C.R.C.P. 54(b) or [*31] similar rules in other jurisdictions.
We conclude the award of costs against school district must be vacated. Having so concluded, we need not address school district’s related argument that it was error to award costs against it on a joint and several basis with invitee.
The judgment is affirmed. The orders awarding costs for copying owners’ client file upon a change of counsel and awarding costs against school district are vacated, and the cost order is otherwise affirmed.
JUDGE J. JONES and JUDGE CRISWELL concur.