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

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

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

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

Plaintiff: Erika Grotheer 

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

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

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

Holding: For the Defendant 

Year: 2017 

Summary

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

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

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

Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The court started with the Common Carrier analysis.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What? 

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

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

 What do you think? Leave a comment. 

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

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

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

E063449

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

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

August 31, 2017, Opinion Filed

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

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

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

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

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

OPINION BY: Slough, J.

OPINION

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

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

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

I

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Preflight

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

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

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

B. The Crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. The Complaint

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

D. The Summary Judgment Motion

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

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

II

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*1305]

III

DISPOSITION

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

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


The Idaho Supreme Court holds there is no relationship between signs posted on the side of the indoor trampoline park, and a duty owed to the injured plaintiff

The Plaintiff in attempting to do a triple front flip broke his neck. Plaintiff argued that the manual of the indoor trampoline park, and the signs on the walls created a duty on the part of the employees of the defendant to stop him from doing the flips.

Griffith v. Jumptime Meridian, LLC, 2017 Ida. LEXIS 90

State: Idaho, Supreme Court of Idaho

Plaintiff: Seth Griffith

Defendant: Jumptime Meridian, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: No Causation

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2017

This is a sad case; the 17-year-old plaintiff was injured attempting front flips at the defendants’ indoor trampoline park. The plaintiff went  there with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s siblings. Eventually, the plaintiff ended up near a foam pit where you could land after attempting maneuvers on the trampoline. The pit was near where his girlfriend was located.

He had been performing several double flips successfully. At two different time’s employees of the defendant commented about his double flips. One said it was pretty cool and the other one said, “oh that was pretty sweet.” At no time, did anyone from the defendant admonished him to not to perform the flips he was doing. He was landing in the foam pit with his legs extended downward and on his butt, so he wouldn’t hit his face on his knees. Signs are on the wall said that the plaintiff could not land that way.

The plaintiff filed this complaint alleging that because he was under the age of 18, the defendant had a duty to supervise him. He could  show that the defendant’s written policy manual instructed employees to enforce the rules written on the walls of the defendants trampoline park in several places.

The defendant moved for summary judgment alleging that there was no relationship between the duty allegedly owned to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s accident. In proving negligence one must prove duty, a breach the duty, an injury, and the injury was proximately caused by the breach of the duty.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. The plaintiff appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. Idaho does not have an intermediate appellate court.

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

The court first looked at the requirements under Idaho law to prove negligence.

The elements of common law negligence have been summarized as (1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage.

The court then reviewed the actions of the plaintiff leading up to his injury. He did not tell anyone that is going to attempt to do the flip that caused his injury. Nor was any evidence introduced stating that the employee of the defendant could have or should have known that the plaintiff was going to do a triple flip. The plaintiff argued that he should be entitled to reasonable inference that if the defendant had enforced its rules when he was landing improperly, then he would have never attempted the triple flip.

…Plaintiff attempted the triple front flip. He did not tell anyone he was going to attempt it, nor is there any evidence indicating that the monitor knew or should have known that he would try a triple front flip. Plaintiff argues on appeal that he is “entitled to the reasonable inference that had JumpTime enforced its rules and interceded when [he] was landing improperly and dangerously on his back, [he] would not have felt emboldened and would never have attempted a triple flip.”

However, the court did not buy that argument. The court did find that there was no evidence that landing on your back was more dangerous than landing any other way. The plaintiff even testified that he felt safer to land the way he was because it avoided the risk of hitting his face of his knees.

Nor could the plaintiff prove or produce any evidence that he would’ve changed his actions if he had been admonished by an employee. Nothing in the record of the depositions of the plaintiff remotely suggested that idea.

The court simply held that there was no way the defendant could be responsible for the accident giving rise to his injury because it was solely the decision of the injured plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s testimony does not support an inference that JumpTime was in any way responsible for his decision to try the triple front flip. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to JumpTime based upon the lack of evidence regarding causation.

So Now What?

Honestly, it takes a tough court to look at an injured plaintiff, possibly one wheelchair, and not want to award him some damages for his injuries. However, in this case the action of the plaintiff was such a stretch in trying to tie in his injury to something that the defendant had done.

What was of interest in this case was one of the arguments the plaintiff made saying that the signs on the wall describing to the patrons of the defendant how to land in the foam pit established a standard of care that was the defendant’s employee’s duty to monitor and enforce.

In response, Plaintiff contended that the signs on the wall stating how to land in the foam pit established the standard of care and that because of the attendant’s failure to admonish him for landing incorrectly, he was not discouraged from attempting a more difficult maneuver like a triple front flip.

Thankfully, the court did not buy this argument. It is a fine line we walk when we’re trying to train young employees and having them work with even younger patrons to keep safe. You write the rules, tell the employees to enforce the rules, but in some cases there is no way that you can guess what a patron is going to do. Here the plaintiff expected the defendant to guess what his actions would be and the court would not accept that.

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No one saw the deceased drown; no one could prove what happened. Campground was not liable for death of a swimmer.

Legally if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see it fall it does not make any noise.

De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

State: Connecticut, Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport

Plaintiff: Adelson Luiz De Castro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz De Castro

Defendant: Odetah Camping Resort, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: failure to provide lifeguards and knew or should have known of the danger associated with encouraging its guests to swim to its recreational flotation devices, yet failed to take reasonable steps to secure their safety in doing so.

Defendant Defenses: No proximate causation

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2015

The defendant is a camping area that allows day users in order to access other recreational opportunities at the campground.

The defendant is an approximately 100-acre campground that offers multiple recreational activities. In addition to facilities to accommodate overnight camping, the defendant offers sporting facilities, which include a pool as well as volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts. The defendant abuts a large, thirty-two-acre freshwater lake, which includes a small beach, and offers swimming and boating activities. A portion of the lake that is adjacent to the beach has a designated swim area. The boundaries of the swim area are designated by a rope line and buoys. Just beyond the roped off swimming area are two inflatable platforms. One was described as a platform or trampoline, and the other was described as an “iceberg.” Both inflatable devices were attractions to be used by the resort guests. T

The plaintiff and friends entered the defendant’s campground and paid an entrance fee. The campground was adjacent to a large lake. There was a swimming area on the campground and roped off in the lake. Outside of the roped area were two large inflatable platforms, one described as a trampoline and the other described as an “iceberg.”

There were no lifeguards at either the defendant’s pool or the lake area. A single sign was posted that warned that there were no lifeguards at the lake.

The plaintiff and a friend entered the designated swimming area for the purpose of swimming out to the trampoline. The trampoline was just beyond the buoy line. The friend made it to the trampoline. However, the plaintiff, deceased never did.

When it was noticed he was missing 911 was called. A firefighter found the deceased floating just below the surface inside the swimming area. A postmortem autopsy determined the cause of death to be “asphyxia due to submersion.”

No one saw the deceased struggling or in distress, and no one saw him drown.

The case went to trial on two theories:

The first allegation was that the defendant was negligent in failing to provide lifeguards. The second allegation was that the defendant was negligent when it knew or should have known of the danger associated with encouraging its guests to swim to its recreational flotation devices, yet failed to take reasonable steps to secure their safety in doing so.

The jury returned a verdict based on the second issue. The defendant filed an appeal.

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

Under Connecticut law to establish a basic or prima facie case, the plaintiff must:

[T]o establish a prima facie case, the proponent must submit evidence which, if credited, is sufficient to establish the fact or facts which it is adduced to prove . . . [T]he evidence offered by the plaintiff is to be taken as true and interpreted in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff], and every reasonable inference is to be drawn in [the plaintiff’s] favor.

To win its case the plaintiff must prove negligence.

“In order to make out a prima facie case of negligence, the plaintiff must submit evidence that, if credited, is sufficient to establish duty, breach of duty, causation, and actual injury . . . A defendant’s duty and breach of duty is measured by a reasonable care standard, which is the care [that] a reasonably prudent person would use under the circumstances . . . After the plaintiff establishes that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. To do so, the plaintiff must first establish causation in fact, that is, that the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct . . . The plaintiff then must show proximate cause . . . Proximate cause requires that the defendant’s conduct [was] a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injuries and that there was an unbroken sequence of events that tied [the plaintiff’s] injuries to the [defendant’s conduct] . . . Proximate cause does not require the plaintiff to remove from the realm of possibility all other potential causes of the accident . . . Instead, the plaintiff must establish that it is more likely than not that the cause on which the plaintiff relies was in fact a proximate cause of the accident. The more likely than not standard ensures that the causal connection . . . [is] based [on] more than conjecture or surmise.”

The defendants’ defense was no one saw the deceased drown. There was thus no proof of causation.

Interrogatories were provided to the jury. Interrogatories are questions the jury must answer in reaching its decision or in deciding the case. The interrogatory answers seemed to focus on the fight the owner’s manual of the trampoline warned that users should wear life jackets. Life jackets were available to swimmers in a shed on the beach; however, they were not required to be worn.

The plaintiff hired an expert witness who opined that the defendant campground was liable for failing to have safety measures in place, failing to have life guards and failing to have an emergency safety plan. However, these breaches of duty, if true, still had no link to how the decedent died. There was no way to say having one of the missing items identified by the expert witness was not proof that the plaintiff might have lived. “To do so, the plaintiff must first establish causation in fact, that is, that the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct…

The court reversed the jury’s decision because there was no evidence of what happened to the plaintiff. Consequently, there was no relationship, no causal link between the failures to require life jackets to the deceased’s death.

The plaintiff failed to present any evidence to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant’s conduct that the jury found negligent to the decedent’s drowning. “The establishment of proximate cause is an essential element of a negligence claim and the parties recognize that if proximate cause is lacking, the plaintiff cannot prevail.”

The appellate court reversed the jury findings.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, based on the evidence presented by the plaintiff, no reasonable juror could find that the negligence of the defendant caused or was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death by drowning. The lack of any evidence as to what caused this drowning is fatal to the plaintiff’s case.

So Now What?

It is sad when someone dies. However, just because someone dies or a bandage is used, does not mean there is liability and the need to write a check. There must be a connection between something the defendant did wrong and the injury to the victim.

That connection in Connecticut must be an unbroken string of events linking the plaintiff’s injuries to the defendant’s conduct.

 

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#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Campground, Swimming, Lake, Lifeguard, Life Jacket, Causation, Proximate Cause, Proximate Causation, CN, Connecticut,

 


De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

Adelson Luiz De Castro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc.

FBTCV126026625

SUPERIOR COURT OF CONNECTICUT, JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF FAIRFIELD AT BRIDGEPORT

2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

September 2, 2015, Decided

September 2, 2015, Filed

NOTICE: THIS DECISION IS UNREPORTED AND MAY BE SUBJECT TO FURTHER APPELLATE REVIEW. COUNSEL IS CAUTIONED TO MAKE AN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION OF THE STATUS OF THIS CASE.

JUDGES: [*1] Michael P. Kamp, J.

OPINION BY: Michael P. Kamp

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SET ASIDE THE VERDICT AND MOTION FOR JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The defendant, Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., has filed a renewal of its motion for directed verdict and a motion to set aside the jury’s verdict.1 The trial commenced on April 28, 2015, and evidence concluded on May 6, 2015, when the defense rested its case. The jury received the charge on the law on May 6, 2015. On May 6, 2015, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, Adelson Luiz DeCastro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz DeCastro, and awarded total damages of $229,155.96. Regarding the question of comparative negligence, the jury found the plaintiff’s decedent, Jose DeCastro, was 49% responsible for his own injuries.

1 The defendant originally moved for a directed verdict at the close of the plaintiff’s case in chief. At that time, the court reserved decision, and the defendant commenced its defense. On close of the defendant’s case, the matter was submitted to the jury.

The defendant filed its motion to set aside the verdict on May 15, 2015. The plaintiff filed its objection to the defendant’s motion [*2] on May 19, 2015. On June 22, 2015, the court heard the matter at short calendar and took the papers.

The defendant argues in its motion that the plaintiff failed to prove beyond the realm of surmise and speculation that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the death of the decedent. This argument is based upon a lack of evidence as to what actually caused the decedent to drown.

II

FACTS

After a trial, the jury could have found as follows. On July 7, 2011, the decedent and a group of friends went to the defendant resort located in Bozrah, Connecticut. In order to gain entrance, the decedent paid an entrance fee. The defendant is an approximately 100-acre campground that offers multiple recreational activities. In addition to facilities to accommodate overnight camping, the defendant offers sporting facilities, which include a pool as well as volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts. The defendant abuts a large, thirty-two-acre freshwater lake, which includes a small beach, and offers swimming and boating activities. A portion of the lake that is adjacent to the beach has a designated swim area. The boundaries of the swim area are designated by a rope line and buoys. Just [*3] beyond the roped off swimming area are two inflatable platforms. One was described as a platform or trampoline, and the other was described as an “iceberg.” Both inflatable devices were attractions to be used by the resort guests. The defendant did not provide lifeguards at the pool or lake swim area. A single sign was posted at one end of the beach area, indicating: “No Lifeguard on Duty. Swim at Your Own Risk.” No employees of the defendant directly supervised the lake swimming area.

On July 9, 2011, the decedent and his friend, Saulo Sousa, entered the designated swimming area for the purpose of swimming out to the trampoline just beyond the buoy line. When Sousa reached the rope line, he observed the decedent immediately behind him in the water. The depth of the water at this location was approximately six feet. As Sousa lifted the rope line to duck under it, he observed the decedent diving forward and under the rope. When Sousa reached the trampoline, he climbed on it but did not observe the decedent. After spending a few minutes on the trampoline, Sousa reentered the water and swam to the shore. After unsuccessfully attempting to locate the decedent, employees of the defendant [*4] were notified that he was missing. After a brief search, 911 emergency services were dispatched, and Bozrah firefighters and rescue personnel responded to the scene. When notified that the decedent was last seen in the designated swim area near the buoy line, firefighter Colin Laffey entered the water and located the decedent floating unresponsive just below the surface of the water just inside the buoy line. Laffey testified that he located the decedent in an area where the depth of the water was less than six feet. The decedent was brought to shore, and CPR was administered. The decedent was then transported by ambulance to Backus Hospital, but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead. A postmortem autopsy determined the cause of death to be asphyxia due to submersion. The postmortem examination was negative for any signs of illness, traumatic injury, or any preexisting medical condition or disease. A toxicology examination was negative for the presence of any drugs, alcohol, or medication.

The decedent’s drowning was unwitnessed despite the fact that there were numerous people in the water and on the beach. Although other members of the decedent’s group, including his [*5] girlfriend, were on the beach adjacent to the swimming area, no one saw him in distress or struggling in the water. He was identified by his friends as a good or strong swimmer.

III

DISCUSSION

Practice Book §16-37 provides, in relevant part: “Whenever a motion for a directed verdict made at any time after the close of the plaintiff’s case in chief is denied or for any reason is not granted, the judicial authority is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion.” “Directed verdicts are not favored . . . A trial court should direct a verdict only when a jury could not reasonably and legally have reached any other conclusion . . . In reviewing the trial court’s decision to direct a verdict in favor of a defendant we must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . Although it is the jury’s right to draw logical deductions and make reasonable inferences from the facts proven . . . it may not resort to mere conjecture and speculation . . . A directed verdict is justified if . . . the evidence is so weak that it would be proper for the court to set aside a verdict rendered for the other party.” (Internal [*6] quotation marks omitted.) Riccio v. Harbour Village Condominium Assn., Inc., 281 Conn. 160, 163, 914 A.2d 529 (2007). “A verdict may be directed . . . where the claim is that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a favorable verdict.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Beale v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, 89 Conn.App. 556, 565-66, 874 A.2d 259 (2005).

Likewise, “[a] trial court may set aside a verdict on a finding that the verdict is manifestly unjust because, given the evidence presented, the jury mistakenly applied a legal principle or because there is no evidence to which the legal principles of the case could be applied . . . A verdict should not be set aside, however, where it is apparent that there was some evidence on which the jury might reasonably have reached its conclusion . . . This limitation on a trial court’s discretion results from the constitutional right of litigants to have issues of fact determined by a jury.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Deas v. Diaz, 121 Conn.App. 826, 841, 998 A.2d 200, cert. denied, 298 Conn. 905, 3 A.3d 69 (2010), rev’d on other grounds, Saleh v. Ribeiro Trucking, LLC, 303 Conn. 276, 32 A.3d 318 (2011).

“[T]o establish a prima facie case, the proponent must submit evidence which, if credited, is sufficient to establish the fact or facts which it is adduced to prove . . . [T]he evidence offered by the plaintiff is to be taken as true and interpreted in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff], and every reasonable inference is to be drawn in [the plaintiff’s] [*7] favor.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Cadle Co. v. Errato, 71 Conn.App. 447, 455-56, 802 A.2d 887, cert. denied, 262 Conn. 918, 812 A.2d 861 (2002). “The credibility and weight to be attributed to any evidence offered [at trial] is solely within the province of the jury.” Murteza v. State, 7 Conn.App. 196, 208-09, 508 A.2d 449, cert. denied, 200 Conn. 803, 510 A.2d 191 (1986). “[I]t is not the function of [the trial] court to sit as the seventh juror when [it] review[s] the sufficiency of the evidence . . . rather, [it] must determine, in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict, whether the totality of the evidence, including reasonable inferences therefrom, supports the [trier’s] verdict . . . In making this determination, [t]he evidence must be given the most favorable construction in support of the verdict of which it is reasonably capable . . . In other words, [i]f the [trier] could reasonably have reached its conclusion, the verdict must stand, even if [the trial] court disagrees with it.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) O’Connor v. Larocque, 302 Conn. 562, 612, 31 A.3d 1 (2011).

“In order to make out a prima facie case of negligence, the plaintiff must submit evidence that, if credited, is sufficient to establish duty, breach of duty, causation, and actual injury . . . A defendant’s duty and breach of duty is measured by a reasonable care standard, which is the care [that] a reasonably prudent person would use under [*8] the circumstances . . . After the plaintiff establishes that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. To do so, the plaintiff must first establish causation in fact, that is, that the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct . . . The plaintiff then must show proximate cause . . . Proximate cause requires that the defendant’s conduct [was] a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injuries and that there was an unbroken sequence of events that tied [the plaintiff’s] injuries to the [defendant’s conduct] . . . Proximate cause does not require the plaintiff to remove from the realm of possibility all other potential causes of the accident . . . Instead, the plaintiff must establish that it is more likely than not that the cause on which the plaintiff relies was in fact a proximate cause of the accident. The more likely than not standard ensures that the causal connection . . . [is] based [on] more than conjecture or surmise.” (Citations omitted; emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Rawls v. Progressive Northern Insurance Company, 310 Conn. 768, 776-77, 83 A.3d 576 (2014).

The defendant’s primary argument is that no one [*9] witnessed the decedent’s drowning, and there was no evidence offered as to what caused him to drown. The defendant relies on Wu v. Fairfield, 204 Conn. 435, 528 A.2d 364 (1987). In Wu, the plaintiff’s decedent who was fifteen years old, went to Lake Mohegan, a freshwater lake, with her mother and two brothers for an afternoon of swimming. Id., 437. There was a designated swim area marked by a buoy line. At the time of the occurrence, there were four lifeguards on duty. Id. Those lifeguards had observed that the plaintiff’s decedent was a poor swimmer and had warned her twice to return to the shallow portion of the designated swim area. Id. When an approaching storm prompted the lifeguards to clear the water, the plaintiff’s decedent did not return to shore. Id. After a search, one of the lifeguards found the decedent’s body at the bottom of the lake in the designated swim area but beyond the shallow portion. Id., 437-38. The plaintiff alleged that the town and several of its employees, the lifeguards, were negligent in the performance of their duties. Id., 436. A jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Id. The plaintiff then filed a motion to set aside the verdict, which motion was denied. Id. In affirming the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s [*10] motion to set aside the verdict, the court held that “[w]hile it is undisputed that the decedent drowned, there was no evidence tying any negligence on the defendant lifeguards’ part to her death . . . Here, the plaintiff presented no evidence other than that the victim perished in an unwitnessed drowning. The plaintiff failed to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant lifeguards’ arguably negligent supervision to the decedent’s drowning.” Id., 440.

In this case, the plaintiff’s May 4, 2015 amended complaint contained two specifications of negligence as to the conduct of the defendant. The first allegation was that the defendant was negligent in failing to provide lifeguards. The second allegation was that the defendant was negligent when it knew or should have known of the danger associated with encouraging its guests to swim to its recreational flotation devices, yet failed to take reasonable steps to secure their safety in doing so. In response to jury interrogatories submitted by the court the jury found that the defendant was negligent with regard to the second specification but not the first. With regard to the claim of negligence concerning encouraging [*11] swimmers to use the flotation devices, the plaintiff relied on testimony that the owner’s manual for the two devices contained warnings that recommended users wear life vests. Although life vests were available in a shed adjacent to the lake swim area, the defendant did not require guests entering the lake or using any of the flotation devices to wear them. In addition, the plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to properly supervise and monitor the swimming area and had an inadequate emergency rescue plan.

The plaintiff offered the testimony of Gerald Dworkin, an aquatic safety expert. Dworkin offered opinion testimony regarding the defendant’s lack of safety measures including its failure to have lifeguards monitoring the swim area. Dworkin was also critical of the defendant’s lack of an emergency safety plan. Dworkin did not, however, offer any opinion testimony as to what actually caused the decedent to drown. He affirmed that it was an unwitnessed drowning. In addition, although the owner’s manuals for the flotation devices recommended the use of life vests, the decedent was not using either device when he drowned; the little evidence there is indicates he never left the designated [*12] swim area. The flotation devices were located outside that designated area.

Here, as in Wu, the plaintiff presented no evidence other than that the decedent died in an unwitnessed drowning. There was no evidence as to what caused the decedent to drown. In the absence of any such evidence, any number of factual possibilities could explain this accident. Without any evidence as to what caused this unfortunate incident, only speculation and conjecture could link the plaintiff’s drowning to the negligent conduct of the defendant. The plaintiff failed to present any evidence to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant’s conduct that the jury found negligent to the decedent’s drowning. “The establishment of proximate cause is an essential element of a negligence claim and the parties recognize that if proximate cause is lacking, the plaintiff cannot prevail.” Wu v. Town Of Fairfield, supra, 204 Conn. 441.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, based on the evidence presented by the plaintiff, no reasonable juror could find that the negligence of the defendant caused or was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death by drowning. The lack of any evidence as to what [*13] caused this drowning is fatal to the plaintiff’s case.

IV

CONCLUSION

Because the plaintiff failed to establish that the negligent conduct of the defendant was the proximate cause of the decedent’s drowning, the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict is granted. Judgment may enter for the defendant.

KAMP, J.


Gemmink v. Jay Peak Inc., 807 F.3d 46; 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 20768

Gemmink v. Jay Peak Inc., 807 F.3d 46; 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 20768

Paul A. Gemmink, Plaintiff-Appellant, — v. — Jay Peak Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

Docket No. 14-2725-cv

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

807 F.3d 46; 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 20768

August 19, 2015, Argued

November 30, 2015, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Pro se plaintiff Paul Gemmink was injured while skiing at defendant Jay Peak’s ski resort. Although Gemmink could not recall the circumstances of his injury, he came to believe that he had been injured in a collision with another skier as a result of Jay Peak’s negligent maintenance of ski jumps on its property. As a result, Gemmink brought an action to recover against Jay Peak for his injuries. The District Court granted summary judgment to Jay Peak, finding that Gemmink had failed to establish that any negligence on the part of Jay Peak was the cause of Gemmink’s injuries. We affirm the judgment of the District Court.

Gemmink v. Jay Peak, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87912 (D. Vt., June 23, 2014)

CASE SUMMARY:

OVERVIEW: HOLDINGS: [1]-The district court properly granted a ski resort summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s negligence suit because the causal link between the resort’s assumed negligence in its maintenance of ski jumps and the injuries incurred by plaintiff was far too attenuated to sustain his claim, as there was no evidence as to how he sustained those injuries.

OUTCOME: The judgment was affirmed.

CORE TERMS: causation, ski, summary judgment, trail, skier, jump, sporting events, happened, intersection, ski jump, circumstantial evidence, coming, stairs, evidence to support, access to information, inter alia, expert testimony, assumption of risk, indifferent, nonmoving, proffered, opposing, stronger, proffer, harmful, causal, skiing, dark, infer

LexisNexis(R) Headnotes

Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Appellate Review > Standards of Review

[HN1] An appellate court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo.

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

Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Burdens of Production & Proof > Absence of Essential Element of Claim

Evidence > Procedural Considerations > Burdens of Proof > Allocation

[HN2] Where the party opposing summary judgment bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment should be granted if the moving party can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim.

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

Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Evidence

[HN3] In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court draws all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, but the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.

Evidence > Relevance > Circumstantial & Direct Evidence

Torts > Negligence > Causation > Cause in Fact

Evidence > Procedural Considerations > Burdens of Proof > Allocation

Evidence > Procedural Considerations > Burdens of Proof > Burden Shifting

[HN4] A showing of cause-in-fact almost always involves circumstantial evidence. Thus, in considering whether a plaintiff has proven causation, a trier of fact asks whether it is likely that the harm that occurred resulted from the negligence (or from another basis of liability) attributed to the defendant. Is the reason that the defendant’s behavior is deemed risky, and the defendant deemed potentially liable, the harm that in fact occurred? In such circumstances, a jury can assume that the injury occurred as the expected or ordinary result of the defendant’s conduct. If for some reason it was not the ordinary result of the defendant’s conduct, that the “extraordinary” had occurred must be shown by the party wishing to counter causation. For example, if a defendant proprietor has failed to install lights on its stairways after dark, and a person coming down the stairs in the dark of night falls and injures himself, one can fairly assume that the failure to illuminate the stairs caused the injury. And it will be up to the defendant to show that something extraordinary happened, say, that an animal scampered up the stairs and tripped the injured person instead. In essence, the greater the risk that the defendant’s conduct will result in the harm the plaintiff suffered, the more likely that a jury will be allowed to find that such conduct was the cause of that harm.

Torts > Negligence > Causation > Cause in Fact

Evidence > Procedural Considerations > Burdens of Proof > Allocation

Evidence > Relevance > Circumstantial & Direct Evidence

[HN5] In addition to considering the strength of the circumstantial evidence linking injury and harm, the cases dealing with questions of causation take into account two other factors. First, where one party has knowledge or access to information that renders that party better able than his adversary to explain what actually transpired, courts have tended to put the onus on that party to do so. This principle–that the party with superior knowledge bears the burden of coming forward with evidence–has always served as a basis of finding negligence under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. But it also serves as a basis for finding causation. Thus, the requirement that the plaintiff be able circumstantially to show a link between the expected risk of defendant’s conduct and what actually occurred tends to be greater when the plaintiff is better able to explain what happened, and is considerably less when, instead, it is the defendant who can better or more easily proffer evidence of what, in fact, occurred.

Torts > Negligence > Causation > Cause in Fact

Evidence > Relevance > Circumstantial & Direct Evidence

[HN6] In deciding whether sufficient proof of causation has been proffered to get to a jury, courts consider whether the law of the jurisdiction is indifferent as to error in one direction or the other. If an erroneous finding of causation is, in the law of the jurisdiction, more harmful than an erroneous finding of no causation, the requirements of circumstantial evidence and knowledge grow stronger. Conversely, where the law of the jurisdiction makes clear that an erroneous finding of no causation is more harmful, the requirements are diminished.

Torts > Negligence > Causation > Cause in Fact

Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Assumption of Risk > Athletic & Recreational Activities

Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Assumption of Risk > Procedure

[HN7] By statute, although assumption of risk has generally been subsumed in comparative negligence, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 1036, it has been expressly retained as to sporting events, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 1037. This would suggest that Vermont prefers to err on the side of finding no causation with respect to sport injuries. At the same time, however, the decision of whether the risk borne by the plaintiff in the sporting event was sufficiently “obvious and necessary” as to be assumed generally forms a jury question under Vermont law. Vermont wants courts to treat errors in this area pretty much symmetrically.

COUNSEL: PAUL A. GEMMINK, Pro se.

THOMAS P. AICHER, Cleary Shahi & Aicher, P.C., Rutland, VT, for Defendant-Appellee.

JUDGES: Before: CALABRESI, STRAUB, POOLER, Circuit Judges. Judge POOLER joins only Parts I and II(B) of the opinion.

OPINION BY: CALABRESI

OPINION

[*47] CALABRESI, Circuit Judge:

I. BACKGROUND

On February 21, 2011, Paul Gemmink and his daughter, Christine, visited the [*48] Jay Peak ski resort in Jay, Vermont. The two skied down the Northwest Passage trail, with Christine preceding her father as she turned onto the Kokomo trail, which intersected the Northwest Passage trail. When Christine reached the base [**2] of the ski lift at the end of the trail, she noticed that her father had failed to follow her descent. Instead, a Jay Peak ski patroller would find Gemmink “combative and in obvious pain,” lying on his back by a tree on the left side of the Kokomo trail, near the Kokomo-Northwest Passage intersection. App’x at 31. Gemmink had been rendered unconscious and, though argumentative, could not recall or provide an account of the incident. Christine, however, had observed a ski jump situated near the trees on the right side of the intersection, leading her and her father to surmise that another patron “fl[ew] of[f] the jump” and collided with Gemmink. Id. at 30, 32. Gemmink suffered fractures to his left ribs and left transverse processes in the incident, injuries that, according to Gemmink, are usually attributable to a significant impact coming from right to left, and are therefore at least consistent with the theory that a skier jumped from the right of the intersection into Gemmink.

Proceeding pro se, Gemmink brought this action against Jay Peak to recover for injuries that he claims were sustained as a result of Jay Peak’s negligence. Specifically, Gemmink asserts that Jay Peak negligently permitted dangerous jumps on [**3] its ski trails and that, in consequence of such a constructed jump at the Kokomo-Northwest Passage intersection, Gemmink suffered a collision with another skier resulting in harm to his left side. The District Court (Murtha, J.) granted Jay Peak’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Gemmink had failed to establish that Jay Peak’s alleged negligence was the cause of his injuries. Gemmink now appeals.

II. DISCUSSION

A.

[HN1] This Court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo. Amerex Group, Inc. v. Lexington Ins. Co., 678 F.3d 193, 199 (2d Cir. 2012). [HN2] Where, as here, the party opposing summary judgment bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment should be granted if the moving party can “point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim.” Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995). [HN3] The court draws all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, but the opposing party “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015).

Before the district court, it was assumed that the negligence of Jay Peak in the structure and maintenance of the jumps was sufficiently made out to survive summary judgment. Accordingly, for purposes of this opinion, we will assume arguendo that Gemmink has established such [**4] a potential basis for liability on the part of Jay Peak. The issue before us, then, is a not-infrequent one in torts cases: whether the plaintiff proffered sufficient evidence for a jury to find, more probably than not, that the ground for liability (here, the assumed negligence) was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury.

As Professor Abraham has demonstrated in his recent article, [HN4] a showing of cause-in-fact almost always involves circumstantial evidence. See Kenneth S. Abraham, Self-Proving Causation, 99 Va. L. Rev. 1811, 1815-16 (2013). Thus, in considering whether a plaintiff has proven causation, a trier of fact asks whether it is [*49] likely that the harm that occurred resulted from the negligence (or from another basis of liability) attributed to the defendant. In other words, is the reason that the defendant’s behavior is deemed risky, and the defendant deemed potentially liable, the harm that in fact occurred?

In such circumstances, as then-Chief Judge Cardozo set out in Martin v. Herzog, 228 N.Y. 164, 126 N.E. 814 (N.Y. 1920), a jury can assume that the injury occurred as the expected or ordinary result of the defendant’s conduct. Id. at 816. If for some reason it was not the ordinary result of the defendant’s conduct, that the “extraordinary” had occurred must be shown by the party [**5] wishing to counter causation. For example, if a defendant proprietor has failed to install lights on its stairways after dark, and a person coming down the stairs in the dark of night falls and injures himself, one can fairly assume that the failure to illuminate the stairs caused the injury. And it will be up to the defendant to show that something extraordinary happened, say, that an animal scampered up the stairs and tripped the injured person instead. In essence, the greater the risk that the defendant’s conduct will result in the harm the plaintiff suffered, the more likely that a jury will be allowed to find that such conduct was the cause of that harm.

[HN5] In addition to considering the strength of the circumstantial evidence linking injury and harm, however, the cases dealing with questions of causation take into account two other factors. First, where one party has knowledge or access to information that renders that party better able than his adversary to explain what actually transpired, courts have tended to put the onus on that party to do so. This principle–that the party with superior knowledge bears the burden of coming forward with evidence–has always served as a basis [**6] of finding negligence under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. See, e.g., Griffen v. Manice, 166 N.Y. 188, 194-96, 59 N.E. 925 (1901). But it also serves as a basis for finding causation. See Williams v. Utica Coll. Of Syracuse Univ., 453 F.3d 112, 120-21 (2d Cir. 2006); Williams v. KFC Nat. Mgmt. Co., 391 F.3d 411, 431-32 (2d Cir. 2004) (Calabresi, J., concurring). Thus, the requirement that the plaintiff be able circumstantially to show a link between the expected risk of defendant’s conduct and what actually occurred tends to be greater when the plaintiff is better able to explain what happened, and is considerably less when, instead, it is the defendant who can better or more easily proffer evidence of what, in fact, occurred.

But cases of this sort also involve a third factor. Thus, [HN6] in deciding whether sufficient proof of causation has been proffered to get to a jury, courts consider whether the law of the jurisdiction is indifferent as to error in one direction or the other. If an erroneous finding of causation is, in the law of the jurisdiction, more harmful than an erroneous finding of no causation, the requirements of circumstantial evidence and knowledge grow stronger. Conversely, where the law of the jurisdiction makes clear that an erroneous finding of no causation is more harmful, the requirements are diminished. Compare Williams v. Utica Coll. Of Syracuse Univ., 453 F.3d at 121 (finding summary judgment against plaintiff appropriate [**7] because, inter alia, New York courts placed only a minimal duty on the defendant to avert the type of harm incurred, which is “close to saying that if an error is to be made in this context, it is better made in favor of the defendant“) (emphasis added), with Williams v. KFC Nat. Mgmt. Co., 391 F.3d at 432 (finding summary judgment against plaintiff inappropriate because, inter alia, of “the absence of any reason to [*50] prefer erring in favor of [the defendant] rather than the plaintiff”).

B.

With these three factors in mind, we turn to the case before us. The first factor favors the defendant. The causal link between Jay Peak’s assumed negligence in its maintenance of ski jumps and the injury incurred by the plaintiff is far too attenuated to sustain Gemmink’s claim. Our common experience does not tell us that this kind of lack of maintenance results in accidents of this sort with any frequency. And plaintiff has failed to proffer expert testimony suggesting a stronger link. See Human Rights Comm’n v. LaBrie, Inc., 164 Vt. 237, 668 A.2d 659, 667 (Vt. 1995) (“Generally, expert . . . testimony is required to support a finding of causation where the link is obscure and abstruse such that a layperson can have no well founded knowledge and can do no more than indulge in mere speculation.”) (internal quotation marks [**8] omitted).

The second is, at most, neutral. Neither Gemmink nor Jay Peak has greater knowledge or access to information concerning what actually happened on the Kokomo trail.

We turn, then, to the third factor: Is this an area where, in Vermont, liability of ski operators to skiers is close to strict, so that whether negligence was the cause of the alleged injury is a matter that, in uncertainty, should be decided in favor of the skier? Or is this an area where the risk of injury, even in the presence of negligence on the part of the ski operator, is assumed primarily by the skier, so that the requirement of causation is fairly placed on the skier (unless either (a) the evidentiary link between the evidence of negligence and causation of the kind of harm that occurred is particularly strong, or (b) the defendant is in a distinctly better position to tell us what happened)? Or, finally, is Vermont relatively indifferent to error in one direction or the other, offering no reason to favor either the plaintiff or defendant?

A review of Vermont law suggests that it follows the approach of symmetrical indifference. [HN7] By statute, although assumption of risk has generally been subsumed in comparative [**9] negligence, 12 V.S.A. § 1036, it has been expressly retained as to sporting events, 12 V.S.A. § 1037. This would suggest that Vermont prefers to err on the side of finding no causation with respect to sport injuries like the one that here occurred. At the same time, however, the decision of whether the risk borne by the plaintiff in the sporting event was sufficiently “obvious and necessary” as to be assumed generally forms a jury question under Vermont law. See Estate of Frant v. Haystack Grp., Inc., 162 Vt. 11, 641 A.2d 765, 770-71 (Vt. 1994) (rejecting the conclusion that “by enacting § 1037, the legislature intended to provide more protection from liability for ski areas” and stating that “§ 1037 is broad enough . . . [that s]kiers should be deemed to assume only those skiing risks that the skiing industry is not reasonably required to prevent,” as determined by “a jury [applying] a contemporary sense of what constitutes an obvious or necessary risk”). Vermont’s approach stands in notable contrast both to Connecticut, where participants in sporting events rarely assume the risk of that participation, see, e.g., Jagger v. Mohawk Mt. Ski Area, Inc., 269 Conn. 672, 849 A.2d 813, 827 (2004), and to New York, where assumption of risk is powerfully applied by courts to bar recovery by participants in sporting events, see, e.g., Martin v. New York, 64 A.D.3d 62, 878 N.Y.S.2d 823, 825-26 (App. Div. 3rd Dept. 2009); N.Y. Gen. Obl. Law § 18-106. This contrast reinforces [*51] our conclusion that Vermont [**10] wants us to treat errors in this area pretty much symmetrically.

Consequently, we are left to infer causation, then, from only the placement of the ski jumps and the nature of Gemmink’s injuries. We cannot infer a causal link between Jay Peak’s assumed negligence in its maintenance of ski jumps and the injury incurred on the facts presented, and the plaintiff does not provide sufficient evidence to support a link between his injuries and alleged theory of causation. Under these circumstances, the district court was clearly correct in its holding that the evidence adduced by Gemmink was not sufficient to raise a question for the jury.

III. CONCLUSION

The judgment of the District Court is, therefore, AFFIRMED.


If you are injured by someone because they were avoiding someone who was negligent, can you sue the person who was negligent?

This is a little off subject for me but something I’ve always wondered about. Here a car moves into the bike lane and the first rider stops; the second rider hits the first, injured and sues the driver.

Stone v Neustradter, 129 A.D.3d 1615; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5188; 2015 NY Slip Op 05327; 12 N.Y.S.3d 450

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

Plaintiff: Carol M. Stone and Roger E. Stone

Defendant: Jesse D. Neustradter and Craig E. Brittin

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: No Negligence

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2015

The facts are argued two different ways in this appeal; however, the court accepted the plaintiff’s version. The plaintiff was riding behind her husband. A car driven by the plaintiff moved into the bike lane. The husband took evasive actions to avoid being hit by the car and collided with his wife the plaintiff.

Here are the facts from the decision.

Defendants’ submissions included the deposition testimony of the husband, who testified that he was bicycling just ahead of plaintiff, with both of them traveling to the right of the white fog line in a “bike lane.” The husband further testified that plaintiffs were descending a hill when he saw the vehicle moving in the driveway approximately 15 feet ahead of them, and that the vehicle moved past the end of the driveway approximately two feet into the “bike lane.” He also testified that when he first saw the vehicle, he yelled to the driver as loud as he could to alert the driver to their presence. He then veered to the left for fear of being struck by the vehicle, and plaintiff’s bicycle struck his bicycle

The vehicle did not make contact with either rider. This fact was sufficient for the trial court to dismiss the case finding no negligence because there was no contact. The trial court found the sole cause of the accident was the “uncontrolled operation of a bicycle ridden by the husband.” (?)

The appellate court found otherwise and reversed.

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

The appellate court held that the defendant did not prove they were not negligent or not the proximate cause of the accident.

Specifically, defendants’ submissions failed to eliminate all questions of fact whether the driver was negligent in encroaching onto the shoulder of the road, thereby blocking the pathway of the oncoming bicycles, or in operating the vehicle as it approached the road from the driveway that was partially obscured by landscaping.

The trial court also found that the husband riding the bicycle was the sole proximate cause of the accident. “Defendants therefore also failed to establish as a matter of law that the husband’s operation of his bicycle was the sole proximate cause of the accident.” Meaning that the only reason for the accident was the way the husband rode his bicycle which is how the lower court seemed to have looked at this case.

The appellate court saw the issues differently.

We conclude that there are questions of fact whether the driver was driving in a reasonable manner and whether the driver’s actions set off a chain of events that caused the husband to take action in evading the vehicle, which led to the collision between the plaintiffs’ bicycles.

The court also dismissed the defense of assumption of the risk, which is a great benefit if you are a cyclist. “Finally, we conclude that “assumption of the risk does not apply to the fact pattern in this appeal, which does not fit comfortably within the parameters of the doctrine“”

If not, in every bicycle accident, the driver would have the opportunity to say he was not at fault because the cyclists assumed the risk of riding a bicycle.

So Now What?

This is a case where I support the plaintiff. I’m also a cyclist which should be disclosed. However, how often have you been in a situation where you thought you have the choice of two evils? I can hit the other car which is causing the accident or hit the innocent car, cyclists, or pedestrian.

If you are the real cause of the accident, even though your car was hit, you may still be sued for the accident for any injuries.

Here if a car swerves or bakes suddenly taking out the entire pace line, every injured cyclist can sue the driver for causing the accident.

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Stone v Neustradter, 129 A.D.3d 1615; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5188; 2015 NY Slip Op 05327; 12 N.Y.S.3d 450

Stone v Neustradter, 129 A.D.3d 1615; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5188; 2015 NY Slip Op 05327; 12 N.Y.S.3d 450

[***1] Carol M. Stone and Roger E. Stone, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v Jesse D. Neustradter and Craig E. Brittin, Defendants-Respondents.

626 CA 14-02028

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, FOURTH DEPARTMENT

129 A.D.3d 1615; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5188; 2015 NY Slip Op 05327; 12 N.Y.S.3d 450

June 19, 2015, Decided

June 19, 2015, Entered

NOTICE:

THE LEXIS PAGINATION OF THIS DOCUMENT IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE PENDING RELEASE OF THE FINAL PUBLISHED VERSION. THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND SUBJECT TO REVISION BEFORE PUBLICATION IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS.

CORE TERMS: bicycle, driver, driveway, proximate cause, bicycling, matter of law, questions of fact, approached, collided, yelled, struck, bike, lane, feet, looked

COUNSEL: [**1] SMITH, MINER, O’SHEA & SMITH, LLP, BUFFALO (PHILIP J. O’SHEA, JR., OF COUNSEL), FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS.

TIFFANY L. D’ANGELO, ROCHESTER, FOR DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.

JUDGES: PRESENT: SMITH, J.P., CARNI, LINDLEY, VALENTINO, AND WHALEN, JJ.

OPINION

[*1616] Appeal from an order of the Supreme Court, Erie County (Diane Y. Devlin, J.), entered January 14, 2014. The order granted the motion of defendants for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This document reflects the format of the Official New York Appellate Division Reports.] It is hereby ORDERED that the order so appealed from is unanimously reversed on the law without costs, the motion is denied, and the complaint is reinstated.

Memorandum: Plaintiffs commenced this action seeking damages for injuries sustained by Carol M. Stone (plaintiff) when her bicycle collided with the bicycle of her husband, Roger E. Stone (husband), after he took evasive action to avoid a vehicle driven by defendant Jesse D. Neustradter (driver) and owned by defendant Craig E. Brittin (owner). From the driveway of the owner’s residence, the driver approached the road on which plaintiffs were bicycling and stopped. He looked right, then looked left, and to his left he observed the bicycles colliding. It is undisputed that the vehicle did not make contact with either [**2] of the plaintiffs or their bicycles. Following discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the grounds that the driver was not negligent, the sole proximate cause of the accident was the “uncontrolled” operation of the bicycle ridden by the husband, and plaintiff assumed the risk of bicycling.

We agree with plaintiffs that Supreme Court erred in granting the motion. We conclude that defendants failed to meet their burden of establishing as a matter of law that the driver was not negligent or that his actions were not a proximate cause of the accident (see generally Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595). Specifically, defendants’ submissions failed to eliminate all questions of fact whether the driver was negligent in encroaching onto the shoulder of the road, thereby blocking the pathway of the oncoming bicycles, or in operating the vehicle as it approached the road from the driveway that was partially obscured by landscaping. Defendants therefore also failed to establish as a matter of law that the husband’s operation of his bicycle was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Defendants’ submissions included the deposition testimony of the husband, who testified that he was bicycling [**3] just ahead of plaintiff, with both of them traveling to the right of the white fog line in a “bike lane.” The husband further testified that plaintiffs were descending a hill [*1617] when he saw the vehicle moving in the driveway approximately 15 feet ahead of them, and that the vehicle moved past the end of the driveway approximately two feet into the “bike lane.” He also testified that when he first saw the vehicle, he yelled to the driver as loud as he could to alert the driver to their presence. He then veered to the left for fear of being struck by the vehicle, and plaintiff’s bicycle struck his bicycle. After the bicycles collided, he yelled at the driver and occupants of the vehicle for “barreling out of [the] driveway” without looking. We conclude that there are questions of fact whether the driver was driving in a reasonable manner and whether the driver’s actions set off a chain of [***2] events that caused the husband to take action in evading the vehicle, which led to the collision between the plaintiffs’ bicycles (see Sheffer v Critoph, 13 AD3d 1185, 1186, 787 N.Y.S.2d 584; see generally Tutrani v County of Suffolk, 10 NY3d 906, 907, 891 N.E.2d 726, 861 N.Y.S.2d 610). We agree with plaintiffs that the lack of contact between a bicycle and the vehicle would not preclude a factual finding that the driver was negligent [**4] in his operation of the vehicle and that any such negligence proximately caused the accident (see Tutrani, 10 NY3d at 907).

Finally, we conclude that “assumption of the risk does not apply to the fact pattern in this appeal, which does not fit comfortably within the parameters of the doctrine” (Custodi v Town of Amherst, 20 NY3d 83, 89, 980 N.E.2d 933, 957 N.Y.S.2d 268).

Entered: June 19, 2015


Georgia court finds no requirement for an employee to intervene when higher trained first aid providers are present.

Sixteen-year-old collapsed at the defendant YMCA. A sheriff deputy and EMT provided CPR. Court held that the congenital heart disease had no causal connection to the Y’s negligence if there was any. Court also held the Y was not negligent because the employees did nothing, because higher trained medical personnel were already attending to the victim.

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: James and Jennifer Goins

Defendant: The Family YMCA

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and fraud

Defendant Defenses: No duty and proximate causation

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiffs are the parents of a sixteen-year-old who died walking on a treadmill at the defendant Family Y (YMCA). It was determined the deceased died from congenital heart disease.

The plaintiff’s brought their son to the YMCA to get ready for baseball season and to lose some weight. They chose the Y because it was a safe and positive environment with adequate well trained employees “on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.”

(This is an example of looking at the website and brochure post-accident and looking for information or is this why they picked the Y?)

An employee of the Y saw the deceased fall and immediately called 911. She did not go to the deceased because she said there was a sheriff’s deputy who was a first responder and had another first aid training attending to the deceased. Soon thereafter, an EMT also assisted the deceased.

The parents, plaintiff’s, sued the defendant because their son:

…was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court dismissed their claims, and the plaintiff’s appealed.

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

The first issue was whether there was a duty to render first aid and whether the representations that the Y misled the parents. The court first outlined the requirements to prove negligence in Georgia.

The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence action is whether and to what extent the defendant owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

The plaintiffs argued there was a special relationship between themselves and the Y because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The appellate court shot down that argument with one sentence. “Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.”

The second issue on appeal was the negligence claim. As stated above to prove negligence, there must be a connection between the injury and the breach of the duty. Here the duty was alleged to be a lack of training, as advertised by the Y., However, the court could not find a connection. CPR would not have saved the deceased’s life and the people attempting to do so were better trained then the employees. “…the [plaintiff’s] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death.” A casual connection is less than the proximate causation required to prove negligence.

It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician, and a deputy sheriff trained as a first-responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

The final issue was the fraud claim. The fraud claim was based on the allegations that the Y promised the plaintiff’s that the YMCA was a safe and positive environment and that there would be adequate and well-trained employees, and the employees would have access to life-saving equipment.

There was not argument that this did not occur. The plaintiff’s then tried to tie together the fact these things did not occur and that because their son had died, proving negligence.  (The absence of facts does not prove a point in most cases and those facts that exist must link to each other in a legal way.) However, the court did not find this to be proved either.

Even assuming that the Goins could establish the other elements of their fraud claim, they can show no damage as the result of this claimed fraud. The EMT and the deputy were clearly the most highly trained people present in administering CPR. Neither called for a defibrillator and both testified that a defibrillator, would not be used on someone with a pulse who was still breathing.

Not brought up in the decision on this argument was proximate causation. There was no connection between the facts that if the Y had not done any of the issues pled in the fraud that the misrepresentation had anything to do with the death of their son.

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

So Now What?

First, it is great to have a court require a special relationship or acceptance of a duty that can be proved, not just argued and based on trying to tie loose facts together. The Y’s acceptance of the deceased minor to provide a trainer came with no other requirements, and the Y did nothing to create additional duties which it could be held too.

This is critical that in bringing in business, you don’t make promises that either you can’t complete or that may come back to haunt you.

Second, although specifically identified, the issue of higher medical care prevailed. I’ve never seen this issue argued in a case, that the person with the higher medical care, once they step in, are in charge and owes any duty. We are all taught this issue in first aid classes, but courts have never identified it. Here the court uses the argument and supports it.

Too often we start any defense of a lawsuit by lining up the defenses. All too often in the outdoor recreation community, we need to see if (1) we did anything wrong and (2) is there a connection with what was done incorrectly or not done and the injury. That is, was a duty breached and was there a proximate connection between the breach and the injury.

Amazing how a well-argued decision can be so short.

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Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al.

A13A1778.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

March 25, 2014, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: Negligence, etc. Richmond Superior Court. Before Judge Annis.

DISPOSITION: [***1] Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: Richard H. Goolsby, Sr., for appellants.

Dodson & Associates, Charles R. Beans, for appellees.

JUDGES: ANDREWS, Presiding Judge. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: ANDREWS

OPINION

[*522] [**147] Andrews, Presiding Judge.

James and Jennifer Goins sued The Family YMCA (the Y) after their 16-year-old son Brant collapsed while walking on a treadmill at its facility. Brant died before EMTs arrived, and it was later determined that he suffered from a congenital heart disease. The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment on the Goins’ claims of negligence and fraud. For reasons that follow, we affirm.

The following facts are undisputed. The Goins brought their son Brant to the Y to get him into shape for baseball season and to lose some weight. Brant began training with Greg Mason, a certified personal trainer, and there was no indication at the time that Brant was not in good physical condition. The Goins do not contend that there was anything inappropriate in the level or intensity of the workouts suggested by Mason.

On the day in question, Brant had been walking on the treadmill for a short time when he collapsed. An employee who saw him fall immediately called 911. This employee was trained in CPR, but stated that she did not go over to Brant because there were two “paramedics” [***2] with him. One of the two men was a deputy sheriff who had been a first responder for eight years, was trained in advanced CPR, first aid, and also had life saving training in the Marine Corps. The deputy said that he checked for a pulse and saw that Brant was still breathing. The other man who went over to Brant after he collapsed was an EMT who testified that the deputy was with Goins when he went over to see if he could help. He stated that Brant’s airway was open and he saw him take a breath, but then Brant [*523] appeared to stop breathing. The deputy also testified that he saw Brant take a large breath and then stop breathing. At that point, the deputy and the EMT began CPR. Simultaneously, the ambulance and EMTs arrived on the scene.

The Goins filed this suit, claiming that the Y was negligent in the death of their son because he was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was [***3] also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment in a two-sentence order. This appeal followed.

[HN1] To prevail at summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). A [***4] defendant may do this by showing the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of plaintiff’s case. The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out by reference to the affidavits, depositions and other documents in the record that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. If the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings, but rather must point to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue.

Boller v. Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center, 311 Ga. App. 693, 693-694 (716 SE2d 713) (2011).

1. The Goins first argue that the trial court erred in finding there was no duty to render first aid to a minor child in the Y’s care when false representations had been made to the child’s parents.

[HN2] The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence [*524] action is whether and to what extent the defendant [***5] owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

Boller, supra at 695-696. In Boller, plaintiff

claimed that the Arts Center breached its duty of care to her husband, an [**148] invitee, by its failure to have on site either an ambulance or an officer operating an automatic external defibrillator device (“AED”) and by its failure to maintain a safety and security plan to govern the actions of employees and security personnel during a medical emergency.

Id. at 695. This Court held that

the long-established general rule is that [HN3] “[a] person is under no duty to rescue another from a situation of peril which the former has not caused,” even when the peril is foreseeable. We conclude that this case is controlled by our decision in Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, where we held that the defendant innkeeper had no legal duty to comply with a wife’s requests that it attempt a rescue of its guest, her husband, from his medical peril. In that case, the defendant did not create the decedent’s underlying medical condition. Similarly, in the case at bar, Boller does not allege that the Arts Center or the concert it sponsored caused her husband’s sudden attack of cardiac arrest.

(Footnotes omitted.) Id. at 696.

Nevertheless, [***6] the Goins argue that a “special relationship” existed in this case, because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The Goins cite to several cases not on point. See, e.g., Bull Street Church of Christ v. Jensen, 233 Ga. App. 96 (504 SE2d 1) (1998) (four-year-old victim molested at church); Wallace v. Boys Club of Albany, 211 Ga. App. 534 (439 SE2d 746) (1993) (five-year-old boy abducted from summer camp after employees assured parents that they would watch child and keep track of his whereabouts). (1) Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.1 There is no merit to this enumeration.

1 The Goins claim that when they signed their son up for a personal trainer at the YMCA, Greg Mason was misrepresented to them as a “certified” personal fitness trainer. This argument is puzzling. The undisputed evidence was that Mason was a certified personal trainer.

[*525] 2. Likewise, for the same reasons discussed in Division 1, the (2) trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellants’ negligence claim. Further, and equally important, the Goins [***7] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death. The Goins’ statement of facts does not refer to the deposition testimony of the deputy sheriff or the EMT. It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician and a deputy sheriff trained as a first responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

3. Next, the Goins claim that the trial court erred in finding no issues of fact on their fraud claim. The Goins alleged in their complaint that they were told that “THE FAMILY Y was a safe and positive environment.” (3) They contend that it was represented to them that there would be adequate well-trained employees on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.

[HN4] To survive a motion for summary judgment on a fraud count, some evidence must support each of the five elements, which are: a false representation by a defendant; scienter; intention to induce the plaintiff to act or refrain from acting; justifiable reliance [***8] by plaintiff; and damage to the plaintiff.

Wertz v. Allen, 313 Ga. App. 202, 207-208 (721 SE2d 122) (2011).

Even assuming that the Goins could establish the other elements of their fraud claim, they can show no damage as the result of this claimed fraud. The EMT and the deputy were clearly the most highly trained people present in administering CPR. Neither called for a defibrillator and both testified that a defibrillator, would not be used on someone with a pulse who was still breathing. The Y was entitled to summary judgment on this claim, and there was no error.

Judgment affirmed. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.


Rasmussen, et al., v. Bendotti, 107 Wn. App. 947; 29 P.3d 56; 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 1962

Rasmussen, et al., v. Bendotti, 107 Wn. App. 947; 29 P.3d 56; 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 1962

Cully C. Rasmussen, as Personal Representative, ET AL., Appellants, v. Eugene L. Bendotti, Respondent.

No. 19464-7-III

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION THREE, PANEL ONE

107 Wn. App. 947; 29 P.3d 56; 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 1962

August 21, 2001, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Order Denying Motion and Reconsideration September 26, 2001, Reported at: 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 2165.

SUMMARY: Nature of Action: The children and the estate of a diver who drowned during a scuba diving excursion sought damages from the diver’s diving partner based on the diving partner’s failure to perform a self-equipment check prior to commencing the dive. The failure to perform the equipment check caused the diving partner to make an emergency ascent during the dive. While the diving partner was ascending to the water’s surface, the diver’s equipment became entangled in a rope which led to the diver’s drowning.

Superior Court: After denying the defendant’s motion for a summary judgment, the Superior Court for Chelan County, No. 98-2-00754-5, Lesley A. Allan, J., on June 30, 2000, entered a judgment in favor of the defendant.

Court of Appeals: Holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that the defendant’s failure to perform an equipment check prior to the dive was not a proximate cause of the decedent’s death, the court affirms the judgment.

HEADNOTES WASHINGTON OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

[1] Appeal — Findings of Fact — Failure To Assign Error — Effect Unchallenged findings of fact are verities before a reviewing court.

[2] Appeal — Conclusions of Law — Review — Standard of Review An appellate court reviews a trial court’s conclusions of law in a civil action by first determining whether the trial court applied the correct legal standard to the facts under consideration. The trial court’s legal conclusions flowing from its findings, or the ultimate facts of the case, are reviewed de novo.

[3] Negligence — Duty — Question of Law or Fact — Review The existence of a duty of care is a question of law that an appellate court reviews de novo.

[4] Negligence — Duty — Breach — Resulting Emergency — Termination of Duty — Question of Law or Fact — Review Whether an emergency created by the breach of a duty of care terminates the duty is a question of law that an appellate court reviews de novo.

[5] Negligence — Duty — Determination — Scope A cause of action for negligence is grounded on the existence of a duty owed specifically to the plaintiff or to a class or group of people to which the plaintiff belongs.

[6] Negligence — Elements — In General A negligence action is comprised of four elements: (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) proximate cause, and (4) injury.

[7] Negligence — Duty — Scope — Foreseeability — In General The scope of a duty of care turns on the foreseeability of injury; i.e., it turns on whether the risk embraced by the conduct exposes the claimant to injury.

[8] Negligence — Duty — Scope — Foreseeability — Test An injury is foreseeable if it is among the dangers to be perceived reasonably and with respect to which the defendant’s conduct is negligent.

[9] Sports — Scuba Diving — Duty to Diving Partner — Reasonable Prudence A scuba diver owes a duty to a diving partner to act in the manner of a reasonably prudent diver.

[10] Negligence — Duty — Breach — Question of Law or Fact — In General Whether a legal duty of care has been breached is a question of fact.

[11] Sports — Scuba Diving — Duty to Diving Partner — Breach — Failure To Perform Equipment Check A scuba diver breaches the duty of reasonable prudence in relation to a diving partner by failing to perform a self or buddy equipment check prior to commencing a dive.

[12] Negligence — Emergency Doctrine — In General The emergency doctrine is a common law rule by which a person faced with an emergency is not held to the same standards as a person who has time for reflection and deliberation.

[13] Negligence — Emergency Doctrine — One’s Own Making — Effect The emergency doctrine does not apply to excuse a party’s negligence if that negligence contributed to the emergency.

[14] Negligence — Emergency Doctrine — One’s Own Making — Evaluation of Conduct For purposes determining whether an actor’s own negligence prevents application of the emergency doctrine, the actor’s conduct is evaluated as of the time of the negligent act or omission, not when the actor later discovers the negligent act or omission and reacts to it.

[15] Negligence — Proximate Cause — Elements Proximate cause is divided into two elements: cause-in-fact and legal causation. A cause-in-fact is based on the physical connection between an act and an injury. Legal causation is grounded in a policy determination made by the court. The focus in the legal causation analysis is whether, as a matter of policy, the connection between the defendant’s act and the ultimate result is too remote to impose liability. A determination of legal causation depends on mixed considerations of logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent.

[16] Negligence — Proximate Cause — Question of Law or Fact — Deference to Trial Court The issue of proximate cause in a negligence action presents a mixed question of law and fact. Insofar as a trial court’s determination of proximate cause necessarily entails factual considerations of “but-for” causation, it is accorded deference by a reviewing court.

[17] Negligence — Proximate Cause — Proof — Speculation Speculation is insufficient to establish proximate cause in a negligence action.

COUNSEL: Douglas J. Takasugi (of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Aylward, P.S.), for appellants.

Thomas F. O’Connell (of Davis, Arneil, Dorsey, Kight), for respondent.

JUDGES: Author: DENNIS J. SWEENEY. Concurring: STEPHEN M. BROWN & KENNETH H. KATO.

OPINION BY: DENNIS J. SWEENEY

OPINION

[**58] [*950] Sweeney, J. [HN1] — To hold a defendant liable for negligence, the plaintiff must show that the defendant proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury. Crowe v. Gaston, 134 Wn.2d 509, 514, 951 P.2d 1118 (1998). [HN2] Proximate cause is generally a question of fact. Hertog v. City of Seattle, 138 Wn.2d 265, 275, 979 P.2d 400 (1999). Here, the trial court, sitting as the fact finder, found that any negligence on the part of Eugene Bendotti (Gene) was “too attenuated” from Bonny Jo Bendotti’s death to hold Gene legally liable. Gene was Bonny’s scuba diving buddy. He failed to properly attach a power inflator to his buoyancy compensator. This required an emergency ascent. Bonny then drowned after her equipment became [***2] entangled in a rope. We conclude that the trial court’s finding is adequately supported by the evidence, and affirm the judgment dismissing Cully, Adam, and Brandy Jo Rasmussen’s wrongful death suit.

FACTS

Our factual summary here follows the trial court’s unchallenged findings of fact, including those denominated as conclusions of law. Hagemann v. Worth, 56 Wn. App. 85, 89, 782 P.2d 1072 (1989). We refer to Mr. and Mrs. Bendotti as Gene and Bonny. We intend no disrespect by doing so. We use their first names simply for clarity and ease of reference.

Bonny and Gene were married in 1990. They got interested in scuba diving and completed [**59] the necessary scuba certification in April 1996. Their training included an open water dive course and an advanced open water dive course.

In the fall of 1996, the Bendottis were asked to help recover a snowmobile from Lake Wenatchee. They agreed to [*951] help. On October 4, they made one or two dives, located the snowmobile in approximately 100 feet of water, and marked it with a 50-foot line.

The Bendottis returned to Lake Wenatchee on November 2. At first they were unable to locate the snowmobile or marker line. They located [***3] the snowmobile during the second dive and marked it with a longer line and buoy. They then broke for lunch and refilled their air tanks. After the third dive, the Bendottis and others with them decided to try to attach a line to the snowmobile to drag it from the lake. Both descended for their fourth dive.

Gene had, however, inadvertently failed to reconnect his power inflator to his buoyancy compensator. A power inflator inflates a buoyancy compensator which then allows the diver to rise to the surface. And “[b]ecause he and Bonny did not adequately perform buddy and self-equipment checks, it was not discovered.” Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 561. Once in the water, Gene discovered the equipment problem and immediately surfaced. Bonny, however, became entangled in a rope at the 40-foot level “perhaps while ascending herself.” CP at 561. She was unable to disentangle herself and drowned.

Cully, Adam, and Brandy Jo Rasmussen are Bonny’s children. They sued Gene on behalf of themselves and Bonny’s estate. The court denied Gene’s motion for summary judgment and heard the matter without a jury.

The court concluded that Gene owed a duty to Bonny as her scuba [***4] diving “buddy.” Left unstated, but easily inferable given the court’s other conclusions, is the finding that Gene breached that duty by failing to reconnect his power inflator. The court then goes on to conclude that because Gene’s failure to reconnect his power inflator was an emergency, he acted as a reasonably prudent diver when he ditched his weight belt and ascended. It also concluded that Gene’s duty to Bonny terminated because of this emergency. The court then held that the Rasmussens “failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence any breach of duty by Gene to Bonny occurring prior to Gene facing his own personal [*952] emergency.” CP at 562. The court dismissed the Rasmussens’ claims with prejudice.

The Rasmussens moved for reconsideration. The court denied the motion, but supplemented its original conclusions of law. It concluded that both Gene and Bonny should have checked Gene’s scuba equipment prior to their fourth dive. But their failure to do so placed only Gene at risk. In its supplemental conclusions, the court further reiterated that a diver’s primary duty is to himself, or herself, and that Bonny became entangled only after Gene faced his own emergency. And Gene’s [***5] duty to Bonny terminated once he faced his own emergency.

Finally, the court concluded that Gene’s failure to attach his power inflator was “too attenuated” from Bonny’s subsequent entanglement in the rope to hold him legally responsible for her death. CP at 435.

The Rasmussens appeal the judgment dismissing their claims. Gene appeals the denial of his pretrial motion for summary judgment.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

The Rasmussens assign error to a number of the court’s conclusions of law. And those assignments of error delineate the issues before us.

The Rasmussens assign error to the following original conclusions of law, which we paraphrase:

. That Gene’s legal duty to Bonny terminated when he was faced with his own emergency during the fourth dive. Conclusion of Law 4.

. The Rasmussens did not prove any breach of duty by Gene to Bonny prior to Gene’s facing his own personal emergency. Conclusion of Law 5.

[**60] The Rasmussens assign error to the following supplemental conclusions of law, which we also paraphrase:

[*953] Failure to perform equipment checks, their own and their buddy’s, put Gene solely at risk. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 3.

. If Gene had improperly loaded a spear gun [***6] which discharged and struck Bonny, his conduct at the surface would have increased the risk to Bonny. But that did not occur. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 4.

. Gene’s failure to check his equipment did not put Bonny at an increased risk of harm. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 5.

. When Gene surfaced, he acted reasonably and his duty to his dive buddy terminated. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 7.

. The connection between Gene’s failure to attach his power inflator on the surface and Bonny’s subsequent entanglement (and death) is too attenuated to hold Gene legally responsible. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 9.

. To hold Gene responsible would make him a guarantor of Bonny’s safety. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 10.

From these assignments of error, the Rasmussens make four basic arguments:

(1) After concluding that Gene owed a duty of care to Bonny (a duty owed by all dive buddies), the court then inconsistently goes on to conclude that Gene did not breach that duty–despite the fact that Gene negligently failed to reconnect his power inflator and perform adequate equipment checks before the fourth dive, contrary to standard diving practices.

(2) After concluding that Gene owed a duty [***7] to Bonny, the court then goes on to conclude that that duty terminated when Gene was faced with his own emergency. The Rasmussens argue that the duty should not have terminated because the emergency Gene was responding to was one of his own making. Brown v. Spokane County Fire Prot. Dist. No. 1100 Wn.2d 188, 197, 668 P.2d 571 (1983); Pryor [*954] v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 196 Wash. 382, 387-88, 83 P.2d 241 (1938), overruled on other grounds by Blaak v. Davidson, 84 Wn.2d 882, 529 P.2d 1048 (1975).

(3) The court concluded that Gene’s failure to perform a self-equipment check did not put Bonny at any increased risk of harm. The Rasmussens urge that if Gene had a duty, as the court found, then Bonny was certainly within the class of people that the duty was intended to protect.

(4) Finally, the court concluded that the connection between Gene’s negligence and Bonny’s death was too attenuated for the death to proximately flow from the breach of duty. Again, the Rasmussens argue that the very purpose of diving with a buddy, a standard obligatory diving practice, is so one diver is available to assist another who encounters difficulty underwater.

[***8] STANDARD OF REVIEW

[1] The Rasmussens challenge only the court’s conclusions of law. The findings of fact are therefore verities on appeal. Nordstrom Credit, Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, 120 Wn.2d 935, 941, 845 P.2d 1331 (1993).

[2] [HN3] We review the court’s conclusions of law by first determining whether the court applied the correct legal standard to the facts under consideration. Our review is de novo. See State v. Williams, 96 Wn.2d 215, 220, 634 P.2d 868 (1981) (appellate court determines questions of law). Every conclusion of law, however, necessarily incorporates the factual determinations made by the court in arriving at the legal conclusion (or ultimate fact). See Universal Minerals, Inc. v. C.A. Hughes & Co., 669 F.2d 98, 101-02 (3d Cir. 1981) (the logical flow is evidence to basic facts to ultimate facts). For example, the fact that a driver ran a red light is clearly a finding of fact and, therefore, a decision which would demand our deference. But the court’s conclusion of law from that finding that the defendant ran the light and was therefore negligent would be a conclusion (running a red light is negligent), which we [***9] would review de novo.

[**61] [*955] [3] [4] To be more specific, and address the questions raised here, the question of whether Gene had a duty to Bonny as her diving buddy is a question of law which we review de novo. Hertog v. City of Seattle, 138 Wn.2d 265, 275, 979 P.2d 400 (1999). Likewise, [HN4] the question of whether an emergency created by a breach of that duty (failure to check his equipment) terminated that duty to his buddy (Bonny) is also a question of law, which we review de novo. Mains Farm Homeowners Ass’n v. Worthington, 121 Wn.2d 810, 813, 854 P.2d 1072 (1993).

But [HN5] the question of the proximal relationship between any breach of Gene’s duty and Bonny’s subsequent death is a mixed question of law and fact, and so requires our deference. See Bell v. McMurray, 5 Wn. App. 207, 213, 486 P.2d 1105 (1971) [HN6] (proximate cause is a mixed question of law and fact, and “is usually for the trier of facts”).

NEGLIGENCE

[5] [6] We begin with the hornbook statement of elements for a cause of action in negligence. [HN7] Negligence requires a duty specifically to the plaintiff or to the class or group of people which includes the plaintiff. See Rodriguez v. Perez, 99 Wn. App. 439, 444, 994 P.2d 874, [***10] [HN8] (“When a duty is owed to a specific individual or class of individuals, that person or persons may bring an action in negligence for breach of that duty.”), review denied, 141 Wn.2d 1020 (2000); Torres v. City of Anacortes, 97 Wn. App. 64, 73, 981 P.2d 891 (1999), review denied, 140 Wn.2d 1007, 999 P.2d 1261 (2000). The plaintiff must then prove that a breach of the duty proximately caused the injury complained of. Hertog, 138 Wn.2d at 275; Crowe v. Gaston, 134 Wn.2d 509, 514, 951 P.2d 1118 (1998); Schooley v. Pinch’s Deli Mkt., Inc., 134 Wn.2d 468, 474, 951 P.2d 749 (1998). Finally, of course, there must be some injury. Hertog, 138 Wn.2d at 275. But injury is not at issue here.

DUTY

[7] [8] [HN9] The existence of a duty is a question of law. Hertog, [*956] 138 Wn.2d at 275. Whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, however, turns on the foreseeability of injury; that is, whether the risk embraced by the conduct exposes the plaintiff to injury. Rikstad v. Holmberg, 76 Wn.2d 265, 268, 456 P.2d 355 (1969). “The hazard [***11] that brought about or assisted in bringing about the result must be among the hazards to be perceived reasonably and with respect to which defendant’s conduct was negligent.” Id.

[9] And on this question, the trial judge’s conclusions of law, while a bit inconsistent, are nonetheless reconcilable.

First, and foremost, the court concluded unequivocally that:

. “[A] scuba diver owes a duty to his buddy . . . .” Conclusion of Law 2, CP at 562.

. “Because Gene and Bonny were dive buddies on November 2, 1996, Gene owed a duty to Bonny to act in the manner of a reasonably prudent diver.” Conclusion of Law 3, CP at 562.

The court’s conclusions are based on its unchallenged factual finding that: “Bonny and Gene received instruction to always dive with a buddy. One reason for this was safety, as a buddy can assist a diver who encounters difficulties underwater.” Finding of Fact 8, CP at 546.

BREACH OF A DUTY OF CARE

[10] [11] [HN10] Whether a duty of care has been breached is a question of fact. Hertog, 138 Wn.2d at 275. And the court’s findings of fact on this question are instructive. The court found that “[s]tandard diving practices [***12] include performing a buddy check and self equipment check prior to each dive. If these checks had been performed, any problem with Gene’s power inflator would likely have been discovered.” Finding of Fact 25, CP at 555. The court also found that Gene and Bonny did not perform a buddy check before the fourth and fatal dive. Findings of Fact 26 and 47.

Given the duty owed by one diver to his or her buddy and the court’s unchallenged finding of fact that those duties were not performed, the legal conclusion that Gene [*957] breached his duty to Bonny is inescapable. [**62] See Williams, 96 Wn.2d at 221 [HN11] (“Where findings necessarily imply one conclusion of law the question still remains whether the evidence justified that conclusion.” (emphasis omitted)). [HN12] Duties are not owed in the abstract. Nor are duties owed to oneself. Here, the duty owed was to that population intended to be protected by the buddy checks. And that population obviously includes a diver’s buddy–here, Bonny.

Emergency Doctrine

Having concluded that Gene owed a duty to Bonny as her dive buddy, the court then went on to conclude that that duty terminated with Gene’s [***13] own personal emergency. Conclusion of Law 4. The issue raised by the Rasmussens’ assignment of error to this conclusion is whether a duty of care ends with an emergency when the emergency is the result of the defendant’s breach of a duty?

[12] [HN13] The emergency doctrine was developed at common law and states the commonsense proposition that a person faced with an emergency should not be held to the same standards as someone given time for reflection and deliberation. Sandberg v. Spoelstra, 46 Wn.2d 776, 782, 285 P.2d 564 (1955).

The trial judge here concluded that “when Gene was required to so act [because of his personal emergency], his legal duty to Bonny was terminated.” Conclusion of Law 4, CP at 562.

[13] [14] The emergency here was Gene’s discovery of the results of his earlier omission. That is, he discovered that he had failed to properly connect his power inflator to his buoyancy compensator. But that emergency was of his own making. And because of that, he is not entitled to the benefit of the emergency doctrine. McCluskey v. Handorff-Sherman, 68 Wn. App. 96, 111, 841 P.2d 1300 (1992) [HN14] (“It is a well-established principle that the emergency doctrine [***14] does not apply where a person’s own negligence put him in the emergency situation.”), aff’d, 125 Wn.2d 1, 882 P.2d 157 (1994).

[HN15] [*958] A defendant is entitled to the benefit of the emergency doctrine when he or she undertakes the best course of action given an emergency not of his or her own making. Brown, 100 Wn.2d at 197. So, for example, if Gene, or for that matter Bonny, had inadvertently disconnected Gene’s power inflator while diving and Gene reacted to the emergency by immediately ascending, his conduct could be judged based on the emergency. But here, the court had already found that he had inadvertently, i.e., negligently, failed to perform his self and buddy checks. His conduct must then be evaluated at that time (when he was obligated to check his equipment) and not when he later discovered his negligent omission and reacted to it.

The court then erred by concluding that Gene’s emergency cut off any duty he owed to Bonny. Brown v. Yamaha Motor Corp., 38 Wn. App. 914, 920, 691 P.2d 577 (1984) (emergency doctrine is applicable only if the defendant’s negligence did not contribute to the emergency).

PROXIMATE CAUSE [***15]

The court concluded that “the connection between Gene Bendotti’s failure to attach his power inflator on the surface and Bonny Bendotti’s subsequent entanglement is too attenuated a connection to hold Gene Bendotti legally responsible for Bonny Bendotti’s death[.]” Suppl. Conclusion of Law 9, CP at 435.

[15] [16] [HN16] Proximate cause has two discreet elements. The first, cause in fact, requires some physical connection between the act (the failure to connect the power inflator) and the injury (Bonny’s death). Meneely v. S.R. Smith, Inc., 101 Wn. App. 845, 862-63, 5 P.3d 49 (2000). The second element of proximate cause involves legal causation. Id. And that is a policy consideration for the court. Id. at 863. The consideration is whether the ultimate result and the defendant’s acts are substantially connected, and not too remote to impose liability. Id. It is a legal question involving logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent. Id.

[HN17] The question of proximate cause then is a mixed question [*959] of law and fact. Bell, 5 Wn. App. at 213. We must then defer to the trial judge’s determination [***16] of proximate cause because it necessarily [**63] entails factual considerations of “but-for” causation. Here, the question simply put is, if Gene had properly connected his power inflator, would Bonny be alive today? The court held that the connection between Gene’s breach and Bonny’s death was too attenuated to say that had he connected his power inflator she would still be alive. The evidence amply supports this fact.

Jon Hardy, a scuba diving expert, testified that there was no connection between Gene’s failure to attach his power inflator and Bonny’s subsequent entanglement. Nor did he believe there was a connection between the loss of buddy contact and Bonny’s death. He further stated that he believed the proximate cause of Bonny’s death was her failure to carry a dive knife.

[17] How Bonny became entangled and why she was not able to free herself is not known. Also unknown is whether Gene could have saved her in any event. So, whether Gene could have saved her is speculation. And [HN18] speculation is not sufficient to establish proximate cause. Jankelson v. Sisters of Charity, 17 Wn.2d 631, 643, 136 P.2d 720 (1943) [HN19] (“‘The cause of an accident may be said to be speculative when, [***17] from a consideration of all the facts, it is as likely that it happened from one cause as another.'”) (quoting Frescoln v. Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power Co., 90 Wash. 59, 63, 155 P. 395 (1916)).

CONCLUSION

We affirm the trial court’s judgment in favor of Gene because its conclusion that the result (Bonny’s death) was too attenuated from Gene’s breach of his duty (failure to properly attach his power inflator) is amply supported by the evidence.

Brown, A.C.J., and Kato, J., concur.

Recinsideration denied September 26, 2001.

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Camp held liable when a camper misunderstands instructions, and plaintiff was not paying attention.

Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227 (Mich App 2012)

Would you have ever guessed that capture the flag would lead to a lawsuit?

This case was dismissed by the trial court on a summary disposition which is called a motion for summary judgment in most jurisdictions. The case had been dismissed before trial because the trial court found that:

I can’t see where the camp and Mr. Schulman did anything wrong. I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event by the camp and those in charge of this particular camp and the camp’s owner.

The case arose at a summer camp when the campers were play capture the flag. At either end of the field, there was a circle with a pole and a flag on top of the pole. The pole was to locate the flag. The flag was a piece of cloth lying at the base on the ground within the circle.

One of the girls either was not told what the flag was or misunderstood what the flag was and instead of grabbing the flag lying on the ground grabbed the pole and started running. The plaintiff ran into the bottom of the pole which had a metal stake which hit her in the mount. The plaintiff lost one tooth, and three other teeth were broken.

The plaintiff sued claiming negligence and claims for premise’s liability. Premise’s liability is the legal theory that based on the type of person you are the duty owed by the land owner changes. Since the plaintiff was on the land, she claimed the landowner/defendant had not kept her safe to the legal standard required.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the Definition of Negligence under Michigan Law. The elements to prove negligence in Michigan are identical to the majority of other states. “The elements of a negligence claim are “(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.”

The court then determined that the issue the trial court had decided was that there was no duty owed to the plaintiff. The court then defined how a duty was to be determined.

“When determining whether a duty should be imposed, the ultimate inquiry is “whether the social benefits of imposing a duty outweigh the social costs of imposing a duty.””

“This inquiry involves considering, among any other relevant considerations, the relationship of the parties, the foreseeability of the harm, the burden on the defendant, and the nature of the risk presented.” But the most important factor is the relationship of the parties.

The court found that the defendant owed a duty to provide proper instructions on how the game of capture the flag was to be played.

In 2007, Gamze was a summer camper at the Camp. She and her family entrusted defendants with her safety during her stay. It was foreseeable that if the campers were not properly instructed, then a camper could pick up the actual flagpole instead of picking up the flag/towel lying on the ground next to the flagpole. It is also foreseeable that, if a camper did remove the flagpole from the ground, the camper could injure another camper while running with the pole. Finally, the burden to properly instruct the campers to pick up the towel from the ground is negligible.

Once it is determined that the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care, then the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct is a question of fact for the jury.

The court also looked at whether the injury was proximately caused by the actions of the defendant. “Proximate cause normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences and whether a defendant should be held liable for those consequences.” However, the court held that proximate cause was a question for the jury.

The final issue was the premise’s liability claim. The court agreed with the trial court and upheld the dismissal of the claim. The plaintiff was an invitee to the land, and as such she was owed a “duty to “‘exercise reasonable care to protect [her] from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.‘””

The court found that the plaintiff was not harmed by a dangerous condition on the land. The danger was solely caused by the actions of the other campers not an inherent condition of the premises.

The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court on the issue of whether the camp was negligent in the way it instructed and ran the capture the flag game.

So Now What?

Kids get hurt. There is not much you can do about that, and if you can, you have probably stopped the earth from rotating. There was not much you can do here from a legal perspective to stop this litigation except tell parent’s things they should already know.

Kids get hurt. When your bring child to this camp, we will do everything we can to keep your child safe. However, we cannot protect your child from everything, much of anything. Between the outdoors, you not being here and other campers all sorts of injuries occur.

Do you understand that when you bring your child to this camp, your child can be hurt?

You could keep campers from playing games, or you could keep young girls who are being chased from running without looking where they are going. However, I think that earth rotation thing will be easier.

Plaintiff: Jonathan C. Gamze, as Next Friend for Julie Gamze,

 

Defendant: Camp Sea-Gull, Inc. and William P. Schulman, Defendants-Appellees, and Emily Lisner, Defendant

 

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and premises liability

 

Defendant Defenses: No duty and injury not caused by the premises

 

Holding: Premises liability claim was dismissed and the case was returned for trial on the negligence claim.

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Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227 (Mich App 2012)

Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227 (Mich App 2012)

JONATHAN C. GAMZE, as Next Friend for JULIE GAMZE, a Minor, Plaintiff-Appellant, v CAMP SEA-GULL, INC. and WILLIAM P. SCHULMAN, Defendants-Appellees, and EMILY LISNER, Defendant.

No. 299433

COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN

2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227

June 21, 2012, 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]

Charlevoix Circuit Court. LC No. 09-054822-NO.

CORE TERMS: camper, flag, flagpole, towel, capture, foreseeable, premises liability, team’s, material fact, circle, lying, pole, matter of law, genuine issues, proximate cause, proximately, counselor, favorable, causation, grabbing, owed, top, pick, order granting, negligence claim, final order, proper instructions, dangerous condition, foreseeability, depositions

JUDGES: Before: WILDER, P.J., and HOEKSTRA and BORRELLO, JJ.

OPINION

Per Curiam.

In this case, plaintiff appeals from an order granting summary disposition in favor of defendants1 Camp Sea-Gull, Inc. (the Camp) and William Schulman, a part-owner and associate director of the Camp, on plaintiff’s claims of negligence and premises liability. Because genuine issues of material fact remain regarding plaintiff’s negligence claim, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.2

1 Emily Lisner was dismissed by stipulation and is not involved in this appeal. Thus, our reference to “defendants” will refer to appellees.

2 Defendants have raised a question as to this Court’s jurisdiction over the appeal. Plaintiff filed the initial appeal of the order granting summary disposition before Lisner had been dismissed from the case. Accordingly, this Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered July 13, 2010 (Docket No. 298202). We informed plaintiff, however, that he could seek to appeal the grant of summary disposition by filing a delayed application for leave under MCR 7.205(F). Defendants [*2] subsequently requested that the trial court tax their costs against plaintiff. On July 29, 2010, the trial court denied this motion except for a $20 motion fee. Plaintiff then filed the current appeal. The arguments on appeal do not concern the motion for costs but, instead, are exclusively aimed at the trial court’s decision to grant the motion for summary disposition.

When an appeal of right is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or is not timely filed, an appellant may file an application for leave to appeal up to 12 months after entry of the final order to be appealed. MCR 7.205(F)(1) and (F)(3). Plaintiff filed this appeal on August 2, 2010, less than 12 months after May 21, 2010. Given the trial court’s notation in the orders below concerning which order was–or was not–intended as the final order in this case, we treat plaintiff’s claim of appeal as an application for leave and hereby grant it. MCR 7.205(D)(2); see also In re Morton, 258 Mich App 507, 508 n 2; 671 NW2d 570 (2003).

I. BASIC FACTS

Julie Gamze and defendant Emily Lisner were both campers at the Camp in the summer of 2007. As part of a “Pirate Day” on July 15, 2007, the Camp organized a game of capture the flag on a [*3] large field divided into two halves. In the middle of each half was a circle, and in the middle of the circle was a five-foot tall flagpole3 with a colored flag on top. While the object of the game was to “capture” the opposing team’s “flag,” the “flag” to be seized was actually a piece of cloth or towel lying on the ground at the base of the flagpole. Participants were not supposed to attempt to capture the flag on top of the pole or the pole itself. Lisner testified that no one told her that the flagpole flag was not the correct flag to capture, and the counselor who explained the rules does not remember if she clarified that point. In the course of the game, Lisner grabbed the flagpole and began running with it. Gamze was running nearby, being chased by another camper, and the metal stake at the bottom end of the flagpole hit her in the mouth. She lost one tooth, and three others were broken.

3 The flagpole also had a metal tapered end or “stake” so it could be inserted and anchored into the ground.

Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging negligence and premises liability. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary disposition and stated the following at the hearing:

I [*4] can’t see where the camp and Mr. Schulman did anything wrong. I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event by the camp and those in charge of this particular camp and the camp’s owner.

Anything that they did or failed to do was not the proximate cause of this Plaintiff’s injury. And, I don’t believe there is any material facts that are in dispute that would prevent the granting for the Motion for Summary Disposition under [MCR 2.116(C)(10)]. So that’s my ruling.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court reviews de novo a trial court’s decision on a motion for summary disposition. Auto Club Group Ins Co v Burchell, 249 Mich App 468, 479; 642 NW2d 406 (2001). When reviewing a motion brought under MCR 2.116(C)(10), we consider the pleadings, admissions, and other evidence submitted by the parties in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Brown v Brown, 478 Mich 545, 551-552; 739 NW2d 313 (2007). A grant of summary disposition “is appropriate if there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 552.

III. ANALYSIS

A. NEGLIGENCE

The elements of a negligence claim are “(1) a duty [*5] owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.” Case v Consumers Power Co, 463 Mich 1, 6; 615 NW2d 17 (2000). It is not entirely clear which element(s) the trial court found to be deficient in plaintiff’s claim. While only explicitly referencing causation, the trial court’s statement seemed to encompass three of the elements: duty (“I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event . . . .”; breach (“I can’t see where the [defendants] did anything wrong.”; and causation (“[a]nything that they did or failed to do was not the proximate cause of this Plaintiff’s injury.”). With the damages element not being disputed, we will address the remaining three elements.

The question of whether a defendant owes a plaintiff a duty of care is a question of law. Cummins v Robinson Twp, 283 Mich App 677, 692; 770 NW2d 421 (2009). When determining whether a duty should be imposed, the ultimate inquiry is “whether the social benefits of imposing a duty outweigh the social costs of imposing a duty.” In re Certified Question from Fourteenth Dist Court of Appeals of Texas, 479 Mich 498, 505; 740 NW2d 206 (2007). “This inquiry [*6] involves considering, among any other relevant considerations, the relationship of the parties, the foreseeability of the harm, the burden on the defendant, and the nature of the risk presented.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). But the most important factor is the relationship of the parties. Id.

Here, we conclude that defendants owed Gamze a duty to provide proper instructions for the game of “capture the flag.” In 2007, Gamze was a summer camper at the Camp. She and her family entrusted defendants with her safety during her stay. It was foreseeable that if the campers were not properly instructed, then a camper could pick up the actual flagpole instead of picking up the flag/towel lying on the ground next to the flagpole. It is also foreseeable that, if a camper did remove the flagpole from the ground, the camper could injure another camper while running with the pole.4 Finally, the burden to properly instruct the campers to pick up the towel from the ground is negligible.

4 This is especially foreseeable when the opposing team’s goal is to pursue and tag the flag carrier.

Once the existence of a duty toward Gamze is established, the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct is a question [*7] of fact for the jury. Arias v Talon Development Group, Inc, 239 Mich App 265, 268; 608 NW2d 484 (2000). Thus, the next question is whether there is a genuine issue regarding whether defendants breached this duty by failing to provide the proper instructions.

In support of their motion for summary disposition, defendants provided, inter alia, the unsworn “statements” from two people who were camp counselors at the time of the accident. However, these statements do not comply with the requirements of MCR 2.116(G)(2) since they are not “affidavits, depositions, admissions, or other documentary evidence,” and consequently cannot be considered. Marlo Beauty Supply, Inc v Farmers Ins Group of Cos, 227 Mich App 309, 321; 575 NW2d 324 (2009). Moreover, even if the statements were considered, they would not support granting defendants’ motion for summary disposition. The first statement was by Leah Glowacki, who was the programming counselor at the time of the incident. With regard to the instructions, she stated, “I instructed the campers to attempt to obtain the flag that was inside the circle on the opposite side of the field from where their team was stationed.” This statement does not establish [*8] that the correct instructions were given. In fact, when viewing the statement in a light most favorable to plaintiff, one could conclude that Glowacki’s instructions might possibly have been construed by at least some campers as a directive to remove the flag itself instead of the towel on the ground. The other statement was provided by Stephanie Plaine, who stated that she instructed the campers “to capture the team’s flag on the other side of the field which was located inside the circles drawn onto the grass.” Again, this statement does not specify that the instruction was to get the towel lying next to the flag.

Defendants did properly submit the depositions of six people, however. But none of the submitted testimony indicated that the campers were instructed to ignore the flagpole and only pick up the towel on the ground: Gamze could not recall what specific instructions were given; Lisner testified that she did not hear any specific instructions to take the towel on the ground instead of the pole itself; Jack Schulman and William Schulman both admitted that they did not hear the instructions that Glowacki and Plaine provided; Marsha Schulman admitted that she was not present when [*9] the instructions were given; and Plaine, herself, testified that she could not recall the specifics of the instructions that she gave. Therefore, when viewing all of this evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff, there is a question of material fact on whether the Camp instructed the campers to only take the towel lying at the base of the flagpole instead of the flag or flagpole itself.

Finally, the trial court indicated that it found as a matter of law that defendants could not have proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries. But proximate cause is a factual question for the jury unless reasonable minds could not differ. Lockridge v Oakwood Hosp, 285 Mich App 678, 684; 777 NW2d 511 (2009). Proximate cause normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences and whether a defendant should be held liable for those consequences. Campbell v Kovich, 273 Mich App 227, 232; 731 NW2d 112 (2006). Here, a reasonable juror could have concluded that a failure to instruct the campers properly could foreseeably result in an enthusiastic camper grabbing and removing the flagpole in order to “capture the flag” affixed to the top of it. And because the object of the game was for the camper [*10] to run the flag back to her team’s territory while other campers tried to tag her, a reasonable person could conclude that it was foreseeable that other campers might be hit and injured by the five-foot tall flagpole as it was being moved. Therefore, the trial court erred by holding as a matter of law that defendants could not have proximately caused Gamze’s injuries.

B. PREMISES LIABILITY

We now turn to plaintiff’s premises liability claim. Because Gamze was an invitee on the Camp’s premises, defendants owed a duty to “‘exercise reasonable care to protect [her] from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.'” Benton v Dart Properties, Inc, 270 Mich App 437, 440; 715 NW2d 335 (2006), quoting Lugo v Ameritech Corp, Inc, 464 Mich 512, 516; 629 NW2d 384 (2001) (emphasis added). Plaintiff must show that the duty was breached and that the breach proximately caused her injuries. Benton, 270 Mich App at 440.

However, Gamze was not harmed by a dangerous condition “on the land.” Instead, she was harmed when Lisner pulled the flagpole out of the ground and began running with it. The danger arose solely because of the actions of the participants and not because of [*11] an inherent condition of the premises. Thus, plaintiff’s claim properly sounds in negligence, not premises liability.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction. No costs are taxable pursuant to MCR 7.219, neither party having prevailed in full.

/s/ Kurtis T. Wilder

/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra

/s/ Stephen L. Borrello

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