COLORADO REVISED STATUTES
TITLE 33. PARKS AND WILDLIFE
ARTICLE 32. RIVER OUTFITTERS
C.R.S. 33-32-101 (2015)
The general assembly declares that it is the policy of this state to promote and encourage residents and nonresidents alike to participate in the enjoyment and use of the rivers of this state and, to that end, in the exercise of the police powers of this state for the purpose of safeguarding the health, safety, welfare, and freedom from injury or danger of such residents and nonresidents, to license and regulate those persons who provide river-running services in the nature of equipment or personal services to such residents and nonresidents for the purpose of floating on rivers in this state unless the provider of such river-running services is providing such river-running services exclusively for family or friends. It is not the intent of the general assembly to interfere in any way with private land owner rights along rivers or to prevent the owners of whitewater equipment from using said equipment to accommodate friends when no consideration is involved; nor is it the intent of the general assembly to interfere in any way with the general public’s ability to enjoy the recreational value of state rivers when the services of river outfitters are not utilized or to interfere with the right of the United States to manage public lands and waters under its control. The general assembly recognizes that river outfitters, as an established business on rivers flowing within and without this state, make a significant contribution to the economy of this state and that the number of residents and nonresidents who are participating in river-running is steadily increasing.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 928, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: Entire section amended, p. 1169, § 1, effective October 1.L. 94: Entire section amended, p. 1226, § 1, effective, July 1.
As used in this article, unless the context otherwise requires:
(1) “Advertise” or “advertisement” means any message in any printed materials or electronic media used in the marketing and messaging of river outfitter operations.
(1.4) and (2) Repealed.
(3) “Guide” means any individual, including but not limited to subcontractors, employed for compensation by any river outfitter for the purpose of operating vessels.
(4) “Guide instructor” means any qualified guide whose job responsibilities include the training of guides.
(5) “Person” means any individual, sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, nonprofit corporation or organization as defined in section 13-21-115.5 (3), C.R.S., limited liability company, firm, association, or other legal entity either located within or outside of this state.
(5.5) (a) “Regulated trip” means any river trip for which river-running services are provided which has been the subject of an advertisement or for which a fee has been charged regardless of whether such fee is:
(I) Charged exclusively for the river trip or as part of a packaged trip, recreational excursion, or camp; or
(II) Calculated to monetarily profit the river outfitter or is calculated merely to offset some or all of the actual costs of the river trip.
(b) “Regulated trip” does not include a trip in which a person is providing river-running services exclusively for family or friends as part of a social gathering of such family or friends.
(6) “River outfitter” means any person advertising to provide or providing river-running services in the nature of facilities, guide services, or transportation for the purpose of river-running; except that “river outfitter” does not include any person whose only service is providing motor vehicles, vessels, and other equipment for rent, any person whose only service is providing instruction in canoeing or kayaking skills, or any person who is providing river-running services exclusively for family or friends.
(7) “Trip leader” means any guide whose job responsibilities include being placed in charge of a river trip.
(8) “Vessel” means every description of watercraft used or capable of being used as a means of transportation of persons and property on the water, other than single-chambered air-inflated devices or seaplanes.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 929, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: (3) amended, (4) and (5) R&RE, and (6) to (8) added, pp. 1169, 1170, § § 2, 3, effective October 1.L. 94: (1), (5), and (6) amended and (1.4) and (5.5) added, p. 1227, § 2, effective July 1.L. 2010: (1) amended, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1641, § 4, effective August 11.L. 2012: (1.4) and (2) repealed, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1229, § 70, effective June 4.
The commission shall promulgate rules to govern the licensing of river outfitters, to regulate river outfitters, guides, trip leaders, and guide instructors, to ensure the safety of associated river-running activities, to establish guidelines to enable a river outfitter, guide, or trip leader to make a determination that the condition of the river constitutes a hazard to the life and safety of certain persons, and to carry out the purposes of this article. The commission may promulgate rules specifically outlining the procedures to be followed by the commission and by the enforcement section of the division in the event of a death or serious injury during a regulated trip. The commission shall e-mail a notice of every proposed rule to each licensee. The commission shall adopt rules regarding notification to outfitters of certain division personnel changes within ten days of the change and safety training standards and customer and outfitter interaction training standards for division rangers who monitor regulated trips.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 929, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: Entire section amended, p. 1170, § 4, effective October 1.L. 94: Entire section amended, p. 1228, § 3, effective July 1.L. 2010: Entire section amended, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1641, § 5, effective August 11.L. 2012: Entire section amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1229, § 71, effective June 4.
The director may grant variances from rules adopted by the commission pursuant to section 33-32-103 to any river outfitter on a case-by-case basis if the director determines that the health, safety, and welfare of the general public will not be endangered by the issuance of such variance.
HISTORY: Source: L. 94: Entire section added, p. 1228, § 4, effective July 1.L. 2012: Entire section amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1229, § 72, effective June 4.
(1) No person shall act in the capacity of a paid river outfitter or advertise or represent himself or herself as a river outfitter in this state without first obtaining a river outfitter’s license in accordance with rules prescribed by the commission.
(2) An applicant for a river outfitter’s license shall meet the minimum qualifications pursuant to section 33-32-105 and shall apply on a form prescribed by the commission. All applicants shall pay a nonrefundable license fee in an amount determined by the commission, which fee shall be adequate to cover the expenses incurred for inspections, licensing, and enforcement required by this article, and shall renew such license pursuant to a schedule adopted by the commission upon payment of the fee. License terms shall not exceed three years. The commission may offer licenses that differ in the length of their terms and may stagger the length of license terms so that approximately equal numbers of licensees renew their licenses each year.
(3) Every river outfitter’s license shall, at all times, be conspicuously placed on the premises set forth in the license.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 929, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: (3) added, p. 1170, § 5, effective October 1.L. 2010: (1) and (2) amended, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1641, § 6, effective August 11.L. 2012: (1) and (2) amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1230, § 73, effective June 4.
(1) A river outfitter’s license may be granted to any river outfitter, either within or without this state, meeting the following minimum qualifications and conditions:
(a) The river outfitter, if a corporation, shall be incorporated pursuant to the laws of this state or duly qualified to do business in this state.
(b) The river outfitter shall submit to the commission evidence of liability insurance in the minimum amount of three hundred thousand dollars’ combined single limit for property damage and bodily injury.
(c) The river outfitter shall meet the safety standards for river-running established by the commission by regulation.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 929, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: Entire section R&RE, p. 1170, § 6, effective October 1.L. 2012: (1)(b) and (1)(c) amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1230, § 74, effective June 4.
(1) Individuals providing the services of guides, trip leaders, or guide instructors shall have the following minimum qualifications and such additional qualifications as the commission may establish by rule:
(a) Guides shall be eighteen years of age or older, possess a valid standard first-aid card, be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and have fifty hours of training on the river as a guide from a qualified guide instructor.
(b) Trip leaders shall be eighteen years of age or older, possess a valid standard first-aid card, be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and have logged at least five hundred river miles, of which at least two hundred fifty river miles shall have been logged while acting as a qualified guide and no more than two hundred fifty river miles shall have been logged while acting as a guide on nonregulated trips. Miles from nonregulated trips shall be documented and signed by the trip leader under penalty of perjury, and the licensee shall retain the documents during the term of the trip leader’s employment.
(c) Guide instructors shall be eighteen years of age or older, possess a valid standard first-aid card, be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and have logged at least fifteen hundred river miles, of which at least seven hundred fifty river miles shall have been logged while acting as a qualified guide.
(2) (Deleted by amendment, L. 2010, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1642, § 7, effective August 11, 2010.)
HISTORY: Source: L. 88: Entire section added, p. 1171, § 7, effective October 1.L. 94: Entire section amended, p. 1228, § 5, effective July 1.L. 2010: Entire section amended, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1642, § 7, effective August 11.L. 2012: IP(1) amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1230, § 75, effective June 4.
(1) All licensed river outfitters shall provide the river-outfitting equipment required by rules promulgated by the commission, and said equipment shall be in a serviceable condition for its operation as required by the rules promulgated by the commission.
(2) All river outfitters who employ or contract with guides, trip leaders, or guide instructors shall employ or contract only with such individuals who meet the qualifications provided in section 33-32-105.5 (1) and provided by those rules promulgated by the commission.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 930, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: Entire section amended, p. 1171, § 8, effective October 1.L. 2012: Entire section amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1230, § 76, effective June 4.
(1) (a) No river outfitter shall operate a river-outfitting business without a valid license as prescribed by section 33-32-104 or without insurance as provided in section 33-32-105 (1) (b). Any river outfitter that violates this paragraph (a):
(I) Commits a class 2 misdemeanor and shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-501, C.R.S.;
(II) Is liable for an administrative penalty of five times the annual licensing fee established pursuant to section 33-32-104 (2).
(b) If the river outfitter is a corporation, violation of this subsection (1) shall result in the officers of said corporation jointly and severally committing a class 2 misdemeanor, and said officers shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-501, C.R.S.
(2) It is unlawful for any river outfitter, guide, trip leader, or guide instructor to:
(a) Violate the safety equipment provisions of section 33-13-106. Any person who violates the provisions of this paragraph (a) is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of one hundred dollars; except that any person who fails to have one personal flotation device for each person on board as required by section 33-13-106 (3) (a) commits a class 3 misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-501, C.R.S.
(b) Operate a vessel in a careless or imprudent manner without due regard for river conditions or other attending circumstances, or in such a manner as to endanger any person, property, or wildlife. Any person who violates the provisions of this paragraph (b) is guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-501, C.R.S.
(c) Operate a vessel with wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. Any person who violates the provisions of this paragraph (c) is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-501, C.R.S.
(3) (Deleted by amendment, L. 94, p. 1229, § 6, effective July 1, 1994.)
(4) (a) No river outfitter or guide shall operate or maintain physical control of or allow any other person to operate or maintain physical control of a vessel on a regulated trip if such river outfitter, guide, or person is under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance or any combination thereof, as specified in section 33-13-108.1.
(b) Any person who violates this subsection (4) commits a class 1 misdemeanor and shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-501, C.R.S.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 930, § 1, effective May 9; (2)(a) amended, p. 1125, § 46, effective June 7.L. 88: (1), IP(2), and (3) amended, p. 1171, § 9, effective October 1.L. 94: (3) amended and (4) added, p. 1229, § 6, effective July 1.L. 97: (2)(a) amended, p. 1607, § 7, effective June 4.L. 2002: (1), (2), and (4)(b) amended, p. 1545, § 299, effective October 1.L. 2010: (1) amended, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1642, § 8, effective August 11.
Cross references: For the legislative declaration contained in the 2002 act amending subsections (1), (2), and (4)(b), see section 1 of chapter 318, Session Laws of Colorado 2002.
Law reviews. For comment, “The Public Trust Doctrine — A Tool for Expanding Recreational Rafting Rights in Colorado”, see 57 U. Colo. L. Rev. 625 (1986).
(1) (a) Every peace officer, as defined in this section, has the authority to enforce the provisions of this article and in the exercise of such authority is authorized to stop and board any vessel.
(b) As used in this section, “peace officer” means any division of parks and wildlife officer or any sheriff or city and county law enforcement officer certified by the peace officers standards and training board pursuant to part 3 of article 31 of title 24, C.R.S.
(2) (a) Any actual expenses incurred by a governmental entity for search and rescue efforts stemming from any river running activity conducted for consideration by a river outfitter pursuant to the provisions of this article shall be reimbursed by said river outfitter. Such expenses shall include but not be limited to hours worked, fuel, a reasonable fee for use of equipment, and equipment repair or replacement costs, if any.
(b) Pursuant to paragraph (a) of this subsection (2), any expenses incurred by governmental entities stemming from search and rescue efforts that are reimbursed by a river outfitter shall be distributed as follows:
(I) If to local law enforcement agencies, on a pro rata basis in proportion to the amount of assistance rendered thereby;
(II) If to the division of parks and wildlife, one-half of the moneys shall be credited to the parks and outdoor recreation cash fund, created in section 33-10-111, and one-half shall be credited to the wildlife cash fund, created in section 33-1-112.
(III) (Deleted by amendment, L. 2011, (SB 11-208), ch. 293, p. 1393, § 24, effective July 1, 2011.)
(3) (a) (I) If an authorized representative of the division conducts an inspection or investigation and determines that any provision of this article or any regulation promulgated pursuant to this article has been violated and that such violation creates or may create an emergency condition which may have a significant adverse effect on the health, safety, or welfare of any person, then such authorized representative shall immediately issue an order to the violating party to cease and desist the violating activity.
(II) Any order issued pursuant to this paragraph (a) shall set forth:
(A) The section of this article or the regulation promulgated pursuant to this article allegedly violated;
(B) The factual basis for the allegation of a violation; and
(C) A mandate that all violating activities cease immediately.
(III) (A) The recipient of any cease and desist order issued pursuant to this paragraph (a) may request a hearing to determine whether a violation of this article or of any regulation promulgated pursuant to this article has actually occurred if such request is made in writing within thirty days after the date of the service of the cease and desist order.
(B) Any hearing conducted pursuant to this subparagraph (III) shall be in accordance with article 4 of title 24, C.R.S.
(b) If a person fails to comply with a cease and desist order issued pursuant to paragraph (a) of this subsection (3), the director may request the attorney general or the district attorney for the judicial district in which the alleged violation occurred to bring an action for a temporary restraining order and for injunctive relief to enforce such cease and desist order.
(c) No stay of a cease and desist order may be issued until a hearing at which all parties are present has been held.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 930, § 1, effective May 9.L. 94: Entire section amended, p. 1229, § 7, effective July 1.L. 2011: (1)(b), IP(2)(b), (2)(b)(II), and (2)(b)(III) amended, (SB 11-208), ch. 293, p. 1393, § 24, effective July 1.L. 2012: (1)(b) amended, (HB 12-1283), ch. 240, p. 1136, § 54, effective July 1.
Cross references: For the legislative declaration in the 2012 act amending subsection (1)(b), see section 1 of chapter 240, Session Laws of Colorado 2012.
(1) The commission may deny, suspend, or revoke a river outfitter license, place a licensed river outfitter on probation, or issue a letter of admonition to a licensed river outfitter if the applicant or holder:
(a) Violates section 33-32-105 or 33-32-106 or uses fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit in applying for or attempting to apply for licensure;
(b) Unlawfully acts as a river outfitter if such violation results in a conviction;
(c) Advertises as a river outfitter in this state without first obtaining a river outfitter license;
(d) Violates any provision of law regulating the practice of river outfitting in another jurisdiction if such violation resulted in disciplinary action against the applicant or holder. Evidence of such disciplinary action shall be prima facie evidence for the possible denial of a license or other disciplinary action in this state if the violation resulting in the disciplinary action in such other jurisdiction would be grounds for disciplinary action in this state.
(e) Violates section 18-4-503 or 18-4-504, C.R.S., resulting in two or more second or third degree criminal trespass convictions within any three- to five-year period while acting as a river outfitter or guide; except that the commission shall be governed by section 24-5-101, C.R.S., when considering any such conviction;
(f) Violates section 33-32-105.5 (1) by employing any person as a guide who fails to meet the requirements of such section; or
(g) Violates any order of the division or commission or any other provision of this article or any rules promulgated under this article.
(2) A plea of nolo contendere or a deferred prosecution shall be considered a violation for the purposes of this section.
(3) (a) Any proceeding to deny, suspend, or revoke a license granted under this article or to place a licensee on probation shall be pursuant to sections 24-4-104 and 24-4-105, C.R.S. Such proceeding may be conducted by an administrative law judge designated pursuant to part 10 of article 30 of title 24, C.R.S.
(b) Any proceeding conducted pursuant to this subsection (3) shall be deemed final for purposes of judicial review. Any appeal of any such proceeding shall be made to the court of appeals pursuant to section 24-4-106 (11), C.R.S.
(4) The commission may deny an application for a river outfitter license or a renewal of a river outfitter’s license if the applicant does not meet the requirements specified in section 33-32-105 or 33-32-106.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 931, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: Entire section amended, p. 1172, § 10, effective October 1.L. 94: Entire section amended, p. 1230, § 8, effective July 1.L. 2012: IP(1), (1)(e), (1)(g), and (4) amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1231, § 77, effective June 4.
(1) The commission shall appoint a river outfitter advisory committee, consisting of two river outfitters and one representative of the division. The committee shall review and make recommendations concerning rules promulgated and proposed pursuant to this article.
(2) (a) This section is repealed, effective July 1, 2019.
(b) Prior to its repeal, the advisory committee shall be reviewed as provided for in section 2-3-1203, C.R.S.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 931, § 1, effective May 9.L. 86: Entire section amended, p. 423, § 54, effective March 26.L. 88: (2)(a) amended, p. 1172, § 11, effective October 1.L. 89: Entire section repealed, p. 1147, § 3, effective April 6.L. 94: Entire section RC&RE, p. 1232, § 9, effective July 1.L. 2000: Entire section repealed, p. 185, § 2, effective July 1.L. 2010: Entire section RC&RE, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1643, § 9, effective August 11.L. 2012: (1) amended, (HB 12-1317), ch. 248, p. 1231, § 78, effective June 4.
All fees collected under this article shall be transmitted to the state treasurer who shall credit the same to the river outfitters cash fund, which fund is hereby created. The general assembly shall make annual appropriations from such fund for the direct and indirect costs of administration of this article.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 931, § 1, effective May 9.L. 94: Entire section amended, p. 1232, § 10, effective July 1.
This article and the licensing function of the division are repealed, effective September 1, 2019. Prior to such termination, the licensing function shall be reviewed as provided for in section 24-34-104, C.R.S.
HISTORY: Source: L. 84: Entire article added, p. 931, § 1, effective May 9.L. 88: Entire section amended, p. 931, § 20, effective April 28; entire section amended p. 1172, § 12, effective October 1.L. 94: Entire section amended, p. 1232, § 11, effective July 1.L. 2004: Entire section amended, p. 297, § 3, effective August 4.L. 2010: Entire section amended, (HB 10-1221), ch. 353, p. 1640, § 3, effective August 11.
Editor’s note: Amendments to this section by House Bill 88-1036 and House Bill 88-1138 were harmonized.
Poorly written release and allegation of duress push whitewater rafting ligation to Pennsylvania Appellate court.Posted: September 28, 2015
Release probably not written by an attorney, signed in one state for rafting in another state and probably one where the economics suggest an insurance company is playing plaintiff.
Plaintiff: Erin Mcdonald
Defendant: Whitewater Challengers, Inc., and Whitewater Challengers Outdoor Adventure Center, T/D/B/A Whitewater Challengers, Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: a. Failing to provide a river guide / instructor in plaintiff’s boat;
b. Failing to provide a properly inflated raft;
c. Failing to advise Plaintiff on the grade and / or class of the whitewater rapids;
d. Failing to properly instruct Plaintiff on how to safely and effectively maneuver fast and difficult rapids; and
e. Allowing an unsafe number of inexperienced rafters to operate a raft.
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: For Defendants
The plaintiff was a teacher at a school that brought 72 kids whitewater rafting with the defendant on the Lehigh River. The school was located, and the plaintiff lived in New York. The defendant was located and the Lehigh River, where the rafting occurred, was in Pennsylvania.
While still at work two days before the trip her supervisor handed a release which she signed. The release had a venue clause which means any lawsuit must be in Pennsylvania but not a jurisdiction clause.
While rafting the plaintiff’s boat struck a rock ejecting the plaintiff from the raft which injured her.
The plaintiff and defendant filed various motions prior to trial. The plaintiff wanted New York law to apply because she had signed the release in New York and was from New York. (The plaintiff wanted the suit brought under New York law because New York does not recognize releases. See States that do not Support the Use of a ReleaseThe defendant wanted Pennsylvania law to apply, which generally upholds releases.
The court ruled against both parties and denied the release because the plaintiff made an allegation that she was forced to sign the release (duress) therefore, the release should be void. The trial court approved a motion to appeal these issues prior to trial and the appellate court accepted the appeal.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The plaintiff started her argument with three theories on the location where the release was signed was the proper jurisdiction for interpreting the law, New York.
The plaintiff also argued that because the defendant did not have a jurisdiction clause in its release, then obviously the defendant wanted New York law to apply.
Finally, she argued that because her medical bills and treatment would be generated and done in New York that law should apply.
She maintains that because she signed the release in New York, the contract was formed in New York. As a New York resident, McDonald asserts she is entitled to the benefit of New York law. McDonald claims that if Whitewater intended for Pennsylvania law to apply, then it should have included such a clause in its release. She points out that most of her medical treatment occurred in New York and that the New York State Insurance Fund has an interest in recouping her lost wages and medical expenses.
The court started its examination of the law to be applied by first looking at whether tort law or contract law applied. Tort law is the law of injuries and has different requirements to prove jurisdictional issues than contract law, which is what a release is. The court found that contract law applied without much analysis on how it came to that decision.
The court then looked at how a conflict of law’s decision was to be made by the courts when deciding in a contract basis where the contract is silent on the issue of jurisdiction.
…the first step in a choice of law analysis under Pennsylvania law is to determine whether [an actual] conflict exists between the laws of the competing states. If no [actual] conflict exists, further analysis is unnecessary. An actual conflict exists if “there are relevant differences between the laws.
The analysis of what law applies; New York or Pennsylvania is extensive. If only one state would be harmed (the interests of the party from that state), then the issue is a false conflict. If the interests of both states would be harmed (the residents of both states would be harmed) by the decision, then the issue is a true conflict issue. “In such a situation, the court must apply the law of the state whose interests would be harmed if its law were not applied.”
A third situation would exist if the parties of neither state would be harmed. This is called a “neither jurisdiction” issue. This occurs when the law of both states is identical.
In sum, in Pennsylvania, a conflict-of-law analysis not involving a statutory or contractual choice of law clause, first requires determining whether the laws in question actually conflict. If relevant differences between the laws exist, then we next classify the actual conflict as a “true conflict,” “false conflict,” or “unprovided-for conflict.”
Instantly, a New York statute voids clauses immunizing recreational facilities from liability for negligence because they violate New York’s public policy. Pennsylvania, however, recognizes the validity of such exculpatory clauses when they govern voluntary and hazardous recreational activities.
The court determined that this is a true conflict case where both parties would be harmed, based on their desire for the jurisdiction to be applied in their state.
The next issue once a true conflict has been determined is for the court to determine who (what state) would be harmed the most by a decision. “We thus ascertain whether New York “or Pennsylvania has the greater interest in the application of its law to the question now before us.”
The actual analysis came down to how the court looked at the issues.
But, comparable to the insurance policy in Walter, the instant release was executed for the purpose of protecting Whitewater, a Pennsylvania business that “had the right to expect that [the release] conformed to [Pennsylvania] law and that the laws of [Pennsylvania] would apply in interpreting the [release].” “[I]t seems only fair to permit” Whitewater to rely on Pennsylvania law when it acted within Pennsylvania. Whitewater should not be placed in jeopardy of liability exceeding that created by Pennsylvania law just because McDonald is a visitor from New York, a state offering higher protection.
The court decided that the law of Pennsylvania would apply. Because the activity where the accident occurred giving rise to the litigation occurred in Pennsylvania the court determined Pennsylvania law would control.
After carefully weighing the sovereign interests at stake, which include contacts establishing the significant relationships with each sovereign, we hold that Pennsylvania has the greater interest in the application of its law to this case.
The court then went into the analysis of the plaintiff’s claim the release should be thrown out because it was signed under duress.
[McDonald] had testified in her deposition that on May 17, 2006, the Headmaster of the School of the Holy Child handed the Release form to [McDonald], while she was between classes and walking through the school hallway and told her to sign it, since she would be one of the chaperones for the students on the rafting trip.
[McDonald] alleges she signed the Release form without reading it.
The plaintiff stated she did not read the release; however, because she had been on a previous whitewater trip.
The plaintiff next argued that she had no choice but to sign the release because it was required by her job. The court then looked at the issues the plaintiff faced in her annual performance evaluations and found that she would not suffer financially if she had not gone on the trip, therefore, she could not claim she was forced to sign the release.
The defendant argued that it did not compel or force the plaintiff to sign the release. If anyone did, her employer did. Since her employer was not a party to the contract, the release, then there could not be any duress.
To constitute duress or business compulsion there must be more than a mere threat which might possibly result in injury at some future time, such as a threat of injury to credit in the indefinite future. It must be such a threat that, in conjunction with other circumstances and business necessity, the party so coerced fears a loss of business unless he does so enter into the contract as demanded.
Because the defendant was not the party “forcing” the plaintiff to sign she could walk away from the release.
Instantly, we frame Whitewater’s question as whether one party to a contract can invoke duress when that duress was allegedly imposed by a non-party and not by the other party to the contract. More precisely, we examine whether McDonald can void the release by claiming the School of the Holy Child economically compelled her to sign the release with Whitewater. McDonald’s presumption is that economic compulsion, i.e., duress, by a non-party to a contract can be “transferred.”
Because the plaintiff was free to walk away from the rafting trip and consequently, the release, the court agreed with the defendant and found there was no duress. “It follows that the School of the Holy Child could not elicit the assent of McDonald by duress.”
Nor did the plaintiff ever claim that the defendant compelled her to sign the release, the only party that a claim of duress against whom the claim could be found. The defendant provided recreational services, which are not something that a claim of duress can be used.
Because a release is not a contract of adhesion, the plaintiff was not forced to sign it.
Thus, an exculpatory clause is not typically analyzed within the framework of whether it is a contract of adhesion. (“The signer is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.”).
The court found that the plaintiff could not be compelled by anyone and was not compelled by the defendant to sign the release.
The court then looked at whether the release was viable under Pennsylvania law.
It is generally accepted that an exculpatory clause is valid where three conditions are met. First, the clause must not contravene public policy. Secondly, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs and thirdly, each party must be a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.
If the release is found to be valid, it must still be examined under Pennsylvania to see if it meets four more tests.
…unless the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence. In interpreting such clauses we listed as guiding standards that: 1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing the immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.
The court looked at Pennsylvania law and found releases were valid for inherently dangerous sporting activities.
Regarding the first element needed for a valid exculpatory clause, Pennsylvania courts have affirmed exculpatory releases for “skiing and other inherently dangerous sporting activities,” such as snowtubing and motorcycle racing. Other activities include automobile racing, paintballing, and whitewater rafting. Thus, Pennsylvania courts have held exculpatory clauses pertaining to inherently dangerous sporting activities do not “contravene any policy of the law.”
The court also found the release would be valid if it was between two parties for their own private affairs.
With respect to the second element, our Supreme Court held “[t]he validity of a contractual provision which exculpates a person from liability for his own acts of negligence is well settled if the contract is between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs.”
The court then examined the release and found it spells out the intention of the parties with particularity and shoes the intent of the parties to release the defendant from liability.
The court held the release was enforceable.
So Now What?
This case is long but brings up some interesting arguments to void releases and does a good job of explaining Pennsylvania law on releases.
First the argument that by leaving a specific clause out of a release is proof the person offering the release agrees to the lack of the clause is very scary. Most releases out there leave out a lot. I signed one the other day for an activity that left out both a jurisdiction and venue clause. I signed the release in Nevada where activity occurred. If injured, I would be allowed to sue the California Corporation in Nevada because by not putting the clause in the release it agreed to jurisdiction different from the venue clause.
Thankfully, this argument did not fly. However, it will be picked up in the future and used more often. You cannot tell when a judge or appellate panel will adopt it.
The duress argument is also valid. Duress cannot occur for recreational activities because like the public policy argument, the guest is free to walk away and loses nothing necessary for life. The duress argument is another one that might be brought when the person on the trip is therefore, more than their own enjoyment.
If they are an employee or volunteer of a church or other youth group, if they are required to do public service if they have an employer who wants them to participate, the argument is valid for duress; however, the wrong defendant is being sued. The duress must be brought by the person you are suing to void the release, not the person who made you sign it.
At the same time, it brings up the argument that this might be a subrogation claim brought by the plaintiff’s health insurance carrier or possibly worker’s compensation carrier. If the plaintiff was successful in arguing that the whitewater rafting, trip was part of her employment her injuries, lost wages, and other expenses would be covered by worker’s compensation. Her worker’s compensation insurance carrier then using the subrogation clause in the policy would have the right to sue any party that was the cause for the injuries.
A defense available to the plaintiff also bars any claims made by the insurer when applying the subrogation clause to sue. So a release signed by the plaintiff stops her lawsuit and also here insurer’s lawsuit.
Not having an enforceable jurisdiction clause in a release sent this litigation from the trial court to the appellate court and back again. In this case, it took nine years from the date of the accident, May 2006, and seven years from the start of the lawsuit, July 2008, for the case to be settled. The addition of “and jurisdiction” to the release would have probably ended the case before it got started.
Think about the stress of dealing with a lawsuit against you for seven years.
If you think, the analysis is painful to read, it is. The decision is 27 pages long. There is an entire semester of class on this one subject in law school called “Choice of Laws.” The analysis each time one party claims the lawsuit should be somewhere else or the law applied to the case should be other states not the state where the lawsuit is, is extensive. These cases also take forever.
A case where a person died on a river trip in Arizona was brought in Texas. Six years after the death the Texas Supreme Court sent the case to Arizona where it started all over again. Moki Mac River Expeditions, v. Drugg, 221 S.W.3d 569; 2007 Tex. LEXIS 188; 50 Tex. Sup. J. 498
Of note in the decision but not brought out in the decision was the fact the defendant does not put a guide in every boat on this section of the Lehigh River. One of the claims made by the plaintiff was “a. Failing to provide a river guide / instructor in [McDonald’s] boat;…”
For more articles on Jurisdiction and Venue see:
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Erin Mcdonald, Appellee v. Whitewater Challengers, Inc., and Whitewater Challengers Outdoor Adventure Center, T/D/B/A Whitewater Challengers, Inc., Appellants; Erin Mcdonald, Appellant v. Whitewater Challengers, Inc., and Whitewater Challengers Outdoor Adventure Center, T/D/B/A Whitewater Challengers, Inc., Appellees
No. 1221 MDA 2013, No. 1400 MDA 2013
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
2015 PA Super 104; 116 A.3d 99; 2015 Pa. Super. LEXIS 232
April 29, 2015, Decided
April 29, 2015, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the Order Entered March 28, 2013. In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. Civil Division No(s).: 6750-CV-2008. Appeal from the Order Entered March 28, 2013. In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. Civil Division No(s).: 6750-CV-2008.
JUDGES: BEFORE: PANELLA, SHOGAN, and FITZGERALD,1 JJ. OPINION BY FITZGERALD, J.
1 Former Justice specially assigned to the Superior Court.
OPINION BY: FITZGERALD
[*101] OPINION BY FITZGERALD, J.:
Appellant/Cross-Appellee, Erin McDonald, appeals from the order entered in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas denying her motion for partial summary [*102] judgment adverse to Appellees/Cross-Appellants, Whitewater Challengers, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation, and Whitewater Challengers Outdoor Adventure Center, trading or doing business as Whitewater Challengers, Inc. (collectively, “Whitewater”). McDonald, a New York resident, suggests the trial court erred by holding Pennsylvania law–and not New York law–applies to this case. Whitewater also appeals from the order denying their motion for summary judgment. Whitewater contends the trial court erred by concluding material issues of fact existed regarding whether McDonald was economically compelled to sign the contract [**2] at issue. We hold that when a New York resident signs an exculpatory release with a Pennsylvania corporation engaged in the business of whitewater rafting in Pennsylvania and is injured while whitewater rafting, Pennsylvania law applies. We further hold that McDonald cannot invoke economic compulsion against Whitewater and that judgment should be entered in Whitewater’s favor on liability. Thus, we affirm in part and reverse in part.
We state the facts as set forth by the trial court:
[McDonald] filed a complaint on [July] 24, 2008[,] alleging that on May 19, 2006, she was a school teacher employed by [t]he School of [the] Holy Child in Rye, New York.
She alleges that on [May 19, 2006], she and other School faculty members chaperoned seventy-two (72) seventh and eighth grade school children on a whitewater rafting “field trip” down a portion of the Lehigh River conducted by [Whitewater].
[McDonald’s] raft struck a large rock situated in the river bed, ejecting [her] from the raft onto the rock, allegedly causing her the injuries alleged in her complaint.
[McDonald’s] allegations of negligence, in paragraph 40 of her complaint, are as follows:
40. [Whitewater’s] negligence consisted of but was [**3] not limited to the following:
a. Failing to provide a river guide / instructor in [McDonald’s] boat;
b. Failing to provide a properly inflated raft;
c. Failing to advise [McDonald] on the grade and / or class of the whitewater rapids;
d. Failing to properly instruct [McDonald] on how to safely and effectively maneuver fast and difficult rapids; and
e. Allowing an unsafe number of inexperienced rafters to operate a raft.
[McDonald’s Compl., 7/24/08, at 9-10.]
At her place of employment, two (2) days before the excursion, [McDonald] signed [Whitewater’s] form “RELEASE OF LIABILITY” . . . .
Trial Ct. Op., 9/15/10, at 1-2.
We reproduce the release in pertinent part:
RELEASE OF LIABILITY — READ BEFORE SIGNING
In consideration of being allowed to participate in any way in the Whitewater Challengers program, its related events and activities, I (print name) Erin L. McDonald the undersigned, acknowledge, appreciate, and agree, that:
1. The risk of injury from the activities involved in this program is significant, including the potential for permanent paralysis and death, and while particular skills, equipment, and personal discipline may reduce [*103] this risk, the risk of serious injury does exist; and,
2. [**4] I KNOWINGLY AND FREELY ASSUME ALL SUCH RISKS, both known and unknown, EVEN IF ARISING FROM THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEES or others, and I assume full responsibility for my participation; and
* * *
5. I, for myself and on behalf of my heirs, assigns, personal representatives and next of kin, HEREBY RELEASE, INDEMNIFY, AND HOLD HARMLESS, WHITEWATER CHALLENGERS, their officers, officials, agents and/or employees, other participants, sponsoring agencies, sponsors, advertisers, and, if applicable, owners and lessors of premises used for the activities (“Releasees”), WITH RESPECT TO ANY AND ALL INJURY, DISABILITY, DEATH, or loss or damage to person or property associated with my presence or participation, WHETHER ARISING FROM THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE, to the fullest extent permitted by law; and,
6. Any claims or disputes arising from my participation in this program shall be venued in the Luzerne County Court in the town of Wilkes-Barre, PA, or in the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania.
I HAVE READ THIS RELEASE OF LIABILITY AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT. I FULLY UNDERSTAND ITS TERMS AND UNDERSTAND THAT I HAVE GIVEN UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS BY SIGNING IT, AND SIGN [**5] IT FREELY AND VOLUNTARILY WITHOUT ANY INDUCEMENT.
Ex. D to Whitewater’s Mot. for Summ. J., 12/14/12.
On June 6, 2010, Whitewater filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court denied on September 15, 2010. Further discovery ensued, and a few years later, McDonald filed her motion for partial summary judgment and Whitewater filed a second motion for summary judgment. McDonald requested that the court void the release based on New York law. Whitewater asked the court to hold the release was valid under Pennsylvania law and to enforce the release, thus absolving it of liability.
On April 3, 2013,1 the trial court denied McDonald’s motion for partial summary judgment and Whitewater’s motion for summary judgment. Order, 4/3/13. With respect to its holding that Pennsylvania law applied, the court reasoned that our Supreme Court affirmed the validity of such exculpatory releases in inherently dangerous recreational activities, such as downhill skiing. Trial Ct. Op., 4/3/14, at 2-3.2 The trial court also refused to permit out-of-state customers of Pennsylvania recreational facilities “to bring their law with them,” because of the increased “financial/liability uncertainty.” Id. at 3. The court, however, [**6] refused to enforce the release against McDonald, finding material issues of fact existed regarding whether she was economically compelled to sign the release by the School of the Holy Child. Trial Ct. Op., 9/15/10, at 5.
1 The order was served on this date pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 236; the order was time-stamped on March 28, 2013.
2 On March 13, 2014, this Court ordered the trial court to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) decision explaining the basis for its ruling. Order, 3/13/14. The trial court complied, and this matter is now ripe for disposition.
On April 18, 2013, Whitewater filed a brief in support of their motion for reconsideration [*104] or appellate certification.3 On April 25, 2013, McDonald filed a motion for reconsideration or appellate certification. The court granted Whitewater’s motion on May 2, 2013,4 and granted McDonald’s motion on May 28, 2013.5
3 The docket and certified record do not reflect the actual motion, although Whitewater’s certificate of service avers they filed it. The certificate of service, which did not include a date of service, was time-stamped on April 18, 2013.
4 The order was time-stamped on April 30, 2013, but the trial court did not serve notice until May 2, 2013.
5 The order was time-stamped on May 23, 2013, [**7] and the trial court served notice on May 28, 2013.
On May 28, 2013, Whitewater filed a petition for permission to file an interlocutory appeal per Pa.R.A.P. 1311. McDonald, on June 21, 2013, filed a petition to file an interlocutory appeal from the trial court’s May 28, 2013 order. This Court granted Whitewater’s petition on July 11, 2013, and McDonald’s petition on August 5, 2013.6
6 This Court consolidated both appeals sua sponte on March 12, 2014. Further, because the parties filed numerous briefs in both appeals, for ease of comprehension, we denote the parties’ briefs by docket number.
We address McDonald’s appeal first, which raises one issue:
Whether New York law should be applied to the facts of this case thereby rendering Whitewater’s Release as void and unenforceable under New York’s statutory and decisional law, where this case poses a legitimate conflict-of-law question, and New York has a more significant relationship to this controversy and the outcome of this case?
McDonald’s Brief, 1400 MDA 2013, at 6.
In support of her sole issue, McDonald argues the trial court erred by incorrectly applying the standard set forth in Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc., 416 Pa. 1, 203 A.2d 796 (1964). She maintains that because she signed the release in New York, the contract was formed in New York. As a New [**8] York resident, McDonald asserts she is entitled to the benefit of New York law. McDonald claims that if Whitewater intended for Pennsylvania law to apply, then it should have included such a clause in its release. She points out that most of her medical treatment occurred in New York and that the New York State Insurance Fund has an interest in recouping her lost wages and medical expenses. We hold McDonald has not established entitlement to relief.
Initially, an order denying summary judgment is ordinarily a non-appealable interlocutory order. See Stewart v. Precision Airmotive, LLC, 2010 PA Super 168, 7 A.3d 266, 272 (Pa. Super. 2010). As noted above, however, the parties requested, and this Court granted, permission to file interlocutory appeals.7 Order, 3/12/14.
7 We acknowledge that [HN1] generally, when the issue is a question of law, an appellant may be entitled to review of an order denying summary judgment. Pridgen v. Parker Hannifin Corp., 588 Pa. 405, 421-22, 905 A.2d 422, 432-33 (2006) (holding collateral order doctrine applied to order denying summary judgment because party raised defense of statutory immunity). When the issue is a question of fact, appellate jurisdiction is lacking. See Stewart, 7 A.3d at 272. Thus, if an appellate court grants permission to appeal an order denying summary judgment, see 42 Pa.C.S. § 702, but later determines that the underlying issue is a question of [**9] fact, appellate jurisdiction is arguably lacking. See generally id.
The standard and scope of review is well-settled:
[HN2] Pennsylvania law provides that summary judgment may be granted only in [*105] those cases in which the record clearly shows that no genuine issues of material fact exist and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The moving party has the burden of proving that no genuine issues of material fact exist. In determining whether to grant summary judgment, the trial court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact against the moving party. Thus, summary judgment is proper only when the uncontroverted allegations in the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions of record, and submitted affidavits demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In sum, only when the facts are so clear that reasonable minds cannot differ, may a trial court properly enter summary judgment. With regard to questions of law, an appellate court’s scope of review is plenary. [**10] The Superior Court will reverse a grant of summary judgment only if the trial court has committed an error of law or abused its discretion.
Charlie v. Erie Ins. Exchange, 2014 PA Super 188, 100 A.3d 244, 250 (Pa. Super. 2014) (punctuation and citation omitted).
As a prefatory matter, we must ascertain whether to apply a tort or contract choice of law framework.8 Two cases are instructive: McCabe v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 356 Pa. Super. 223, 514 A.2d 582 (1986), and Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Walter, 290 Pa. Super. 129, 434 A.2d 164 (1981). In Walter, this Court addressed an exclusionary provision in an insurance policy issued to a New Jersey resident for a car involved in a Pennsylvania accident. Walter, 290 Pa. Super. at 133-34, 434 A.2d at 166. The car’s driver and passenger were both Pennsylvania residents. Id. at 137, 434 A.2d at 168. The exclusionary provision was invalid under New Jersey law and valid under Pennsylvania law. Id. at 135-36, 434 A.2d at 167. The Walter Court rejected the appellant’s argument that Pennsylvania law should apply because the accident occurred in Pennsylvania and the injured occupants of the car were Pennsylvania residents:
[The a]ppellant argues that Pennsylvania had the most significant contacts as the car was located in Pennsylvania when the accident occurred having been previously delivered to Bucks County Imports by [the insured], the accident occurred in Pennsylvania, and both occupants of the car at the time of the accident were Pennsylvania residents. [The a]ppellant overlooks [**11] the fact that these points of contact with Pennsylvania pertained to the alleged tort involved. We are concerned with the contract of insurance and as to the insurance policy New Jersey had the most significant contacts.
Id. at 137-38, 434 A.2d at 168.
8 A statutory choice of law analysis does not apply to this case.
In McCabe, this Court similarly addressed which state’s law applied in construing a Connecticut automobile insurance policy issued to a Connecticut resident. McCabe, 356 Pa. Super. at 225, 514 A.2d at 582. While in Pennsylvania, the Connecticut resident was involved in a car accident that injured a Pennsylvania resident. Id. The McCabe appellees argued that Pennsylvania law applied because, inter alia, the “victim is a resident of Pennsylvania, and the accident occurred there. Both [insurers] are licensed to do business in Pennsylvania.” Id. at 232, 514 A.2d at 586. The McCabe Court rejected that argument [*106] based upon the Walter Court’s reasoning. Id. Both Walter and McCabe stand for the proposition that [HN3] in a contract action involving an underlying tort and in which an insurance policy is at issue, the court will apply a contract law–and not a tort law–choice of law framework. Id.; Walter, 290 Pa. Super. at 137-38, 434 A.2d at 168; see also Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corp., 616 Pa. 385, 394, 47 A.3d 1190, 1196 (2012) (applying contract law to interpret clause exculpating defendant ski resort from liability [**12] in negligence action); Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 26, 2 A.3d 1174, 1189 (2010) (same). Neither Chepkevich nor Tayar engaged in a choice of law analysis, but neither case looked beyond contract law in construing the clause. Thus, in the instant tort action involving a contractual exculpatory clause, but not involving an automobile insurance policy, we apply a contract choice of law framework. See Tayar, 616 Pa. at 394, 47 A.3d at 1196; Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 26, 2 A.3d at 1189; McCabe, 356 Pa. Super. at 232, 514 A.2d at 586; Walter, 290 Pa. Super. at 137-38, 434 A.2d at 168; cf. Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo. 1996) (construing exculpatory agreement as barring plaintiff’s negligence claims for injuries that occurred while whitewater rafting); Bauer v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 788 F. Supp. 472, 474 (D. Colo. 1992) (invoking contractual standard of review in ascertaining whether exculpatory clause barred negligence claims).9
9 In Budtel Assocs., LP v. Cont’l Cas. Co., 2006 PA Super 370, 915 A.2d 640 (Pa. Super. 2006), our Court held that the Griffith rule applies to contract cases. Id. at 643-44. Budtel, however, did not involve a negligence claim.
Having ascertained a contract choice of law framework applies, we set forth the following as background10 with respect to choice of law principles applicable to cases not involving an explicit statutory11 or a contractual choice of law provision:12 [HN4] “the first step in a choice of law analysis under Pennsylvania law is to determine whether [an actual] conflict exists between the laws of the competing states. If no [actual] conflict exists, further analysis is unnecessary.” Budtel, 915 A.2d at 643 (citation [**13] omitted). An actual conflict exists if “there are relevant differences between the laws.” Hammersmith v. TIG Ins. Co., 480 F.3d 220, 230 (3d Cir. 2007).13
10 See Gregory E. Smith, Choice of Law in the United States, 38 Hastings L.J. 1041, 1131 (1987) (“No state has a more convoluted, eclectic approach to choice of law than Pennsylvania. On various occasions, its courts have applied the First and Second Restatements, the center of gravity approach, interest analysis and Professor Cavers’ ‘principles of preference.'”); accord Melville v. Am. Home Assurance Co., 443 F. Supp. 1064, 1076 (E.D. Pa. 1977) (“The opinions of the Pennsylvania courts both state and federal have left Pennsylvania’s choice of law rules and methodology with respect to contract cases in utter disarray; indeed, the courts have used facially inconsistent legal standards without acknowledging apparently conflicting precedent.”), rev’d, 584 F.2d 1306, 1313 (3d Cir. 1978) (predicting Pennsylvania would apply the Griffith choice of law framework to contract actions).
11 See, e.g., 42 Pa.C.S. § 5521(b) (“The period of limitation applicable to a claim accruing outside this Commonwealth shall be either that provided or prescribed by the law of the place where the claim accrued or by the law of this Commonwealth, whichever first bars the claim.”).
12 Synthes USA Sales, LLC v. Harrison, 2013 PA Super 324, 83 A.3d 242, 252 (Pa. Super. 2013) (“Choice of law provisions in contracts will generally be given effect.” (citation omitted)); Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. West, 2002 PA Super 282, 807 A.2d 916, 920 (Pa. Super. 2002) (same).
13 With [**14] respect to federal decisions, we acknowledge the following:
[F]ederal court decisions do not control the determinations of the Superior Court. Our law clearly states that, absent a United States Supreme Court pronouncement, the decisions of federal courts are not binding on Pennsylvania state courts, even when a federal question is involved. . . . Whenever possible, Pennsylvania state courts follow the Third Circuit so that litigants do not improperly “walk across the street” to achieve a different result in federal court than would be obtained in state court.
NASDAQ OMX PHLX, Inc. v. PennMont Secs., 2012 PA Super 145, 52 A.3d 296, 303 (Pa. Super. 2012) (citations omitted); accord Parr v. Ford Motor Co., 2014 PA Super 281, 109 A.3d 682, 693 n.8 (Pa. Super. 2014) (en banc) (citations and punctuation omitted).
[*107] If an actual conflict exists, then we classify it as “true,” “false,” or “unprovided-for.” Cipolla v. Shaposka, 439 Pa. 563, 565, 267 A.2d 854, 855-56 (1970); Miller v. Gay, 323 Pa. Super. 466, 470, 470 A.2d 1353, 1355 (1983). A “true conflict” occurs “when the governmental interests of both jurisdictions would be impaired if their law were not applied.” Garcia v. Plaza Oldsmobile, Ltd., 421 F.3d 216, 220 (3d Cir. 2005). “A ‘false conflict’ exists if only one jurisdiction’s governmental interests would be impaired by the application of the other jurisdiction’s law. In such a situation, the court must apply the law of the state whose interests would be harmed if its law were not applied.”14 Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 187 (3d Cir. 1991) (footnote omitted); Kuchinic v. McCrory, 422 Pa. 620, 624, 222 A.2d 897, 899 (1966). In “unprovided-for” cases, “neither jurisdiction’s [**15] interests would be impaired if its laws are not applied.”15 Garcia, 421 F.3d at 220 (footnote omitted). If a true conflict is found, then we must determine “which state has the greater interest in the application of its law.”16 Cipolla, 439 Pa. at 566, 267 A.2d at 856.
14 We are aware that Pennsylvania federal and state courts have defined “false conflict” inconsistently. Upon reflection, we agree with the rationale advanced by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Hammersmith:
We think it is incorrect to use the term “false conflict” to describe the situation where the laws of two states do not differ. If two jurisdictions’ laws are the same, then there is no conflict at all, and a choice of law analysis is unnecessary. Thus, the first part of the choice of law inquiry is best understood as determining if there is an actual or real conflict between the potentially applicable laws. See, e.g., [Air Prods. & Chems., Inc. v. Eaton Metal Prods. Co., 272 F. Supp. 2d 482, 490 n.9 (E.D. Pa. 2003)] (“Before we even reach the ‘false conflict’ question, we must determine whether, for lack of better terminology, a ‘real conflict’ as opposed to ‘no conflict’ exists; that is, we must determine whether these states would actually treat this issue any differently.”).
Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 230.
15 We leave for another day a determination of which state’s law applies in an [**16] “unprovided-for conflict” in contract cases. In tort cases, generally, the law of the state where the injury occurred is applied. See Miller, 323 Pa. Super. at 470-72, 470 A.2d at 1355-56.
16 If there is more than one issue, then Pennsylvania applies dépeçage, i.e., “different states’ laws may apply to different issues in a single case . . . .” Berg Chilling Sys., Inc. v. Hull Corp., 435 F.3d 455, 462 (3d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted); Broome v. Antlers’ Hunting Club, 595 F.2d 921, 924 (3d Cir. 1979) (predicting Pennsylvania Supreme Court would apply law of different states to separate issues). Although no court in this Commonwealth has explicitly held that Pennsylvania applies dépeçage, Pennsylvania federal courts have consistently applied the doctrine. Furthermore, the doctrine is arguably suggested by, if not harmonious with, the Griffith Court’s flexible choice of law framework. See Griffith, 416 Pa. at 21, 203 A.2d at 805. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit observed that dépeçage was implicit in Professor Cavers’ choice of law analysis, which our Supreme Court approvingly quoted in Cipolla. See Reyno v. Piper Aircraft Co., 630 F.2d 149, 167 n.73 (3d Cir. 1980) (holding dépeçage is “implicit in the analysis of Professor Cavers” (citing David Cavers, The Choice-of-Law Process 40-43 (1965))), rev’d on other grounds, 454 U.S. 235, 102 S. Ct. 252, 70 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1981); Cipolla, 439 Pa. at 567, 267 A.2d at 856-57 (quoting Cavers’ treatise, supra, extensively).
[*108] In Cipolla, our Supreme Court examined whether a true conflict existed between the tort [**17] laws of Delaware and Pennsylvania. Id. at 564, 267 A.2d at 855. The defendant was a Delaware resident and the plaintiff was a Pennsylvania resident. Id. The defendant, who was driving a car registered in Delaware, was driving the plaintiff home to Pennsylvania when they collided with another vehicle in Delaware. Id. The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence only, and our Supreme Court examined which state’s law applied. Id. If Delaware law applied, then the plaintiff could not recover under a Delaware statute preventing a guest from recovering for the negligence of the host. Id. If Pennsylvania law applied, then the plaintiff could recover if he could establish the defendant’s negligence. Id. at 564-65, 267 A.2d at 855. The Cipolla Court reasoned that a true conflict existed because the plaintiff “is a resident of Pennsylvania which has adopted a plaintiff-protecting rule and [the defendant] is a resident of Delaware which has adopted a defendant-protecting rule” and thus a “deeper analysis” was required to determine “which state has the greater interest in the application of its law.” Id. at 565-66, 267 A.2d at 856.
Similarly, in Rosen v. Tesoro Petroleum Corp., 399 Pa. Super. 226, 582 A.2d 27 (1990), the Superior Court ascertained whether a true conflict existed between the laws of Pennsylvania and Texas regarding a malicious prosecution [**18] claim. Id. at 231, 582 A.2d at 30. In Pennsylvania, seizure of the plaintiff’s person or property is not a necessary element for malicious prosecution. Id. Texas, however, requires that a party alleging malicious prosecution suffer physical detention of the claimant’s person or property. Id. The Rosen Court held there was a true conflict because Texas wished “to assure every potential litigant free and open access to the judicial system without fear of a countersuit for malicious prosecution.” Id. at 232, 582 A.2d at 30. Pennsylvania, in contrast, provided “greater protection to those individuals and entities who may be forced to defend a baseless suit.” Id. at 233, 582 A.2d at 31. Thus, having concluded a true conflict existed, the Rosen Court then determined which state had “the greater interest in the application of its law on malicious prosecution to the instant matter.” Id. at 233, 582 A.2d at 31.
In sum, [HN5] in Pennsylvania, a conflict-of-law analysis not involving a statutory or contractual choice of law clause, first requires determining whether the laws in question actually conflict. E.g., Budtel, 915 A.2d at 643. If relevant differences between the laws exist, then we next classify the actual conflict as a “true conflict,” “false conflict,” or “unprovided-for conflict.” Cipolla, 439 Pa. at 565, 267 A.2d at 855-56; Miller, 323 Pa. Super. at 470, 470 A.2d at 1355.
Instantly, a New York statute [**19] voids clauses immunizing recreational facilities from liability for negligence because they violate New York’s public policy.17 N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law § 5-326 (McKinney 2014). Pennsylvania, however, recognizes the validity of such exculpatory clauses when they govern voluntary and hazardous recreational activities. See, e.g., Chepkevich, [*109] 607 Pa. at 36, 2 A.3d at 1195. Because relevant differences exist between New York and Pennsylvania jurisprudence, see Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 230, there is an actual conflict that we must classify as a “true conflict,” “false conflict,” or “unprovided-for conflict.”
17 No party has suggested the statute applies outside of New York. Cf. Garcia, 421 F.3d at 220 (noting, “In our conflicts-of-law analysis[,] the first issue that we must address is whether New York’s . . . [l]aw with respect to the issue at hand has extraterritorial application, and, accordingly, whether that law by its terms can be applied to determine liability for the Pennsylvania accident underlying this appeal.”)
Akin to Rosen, which identified a true conflict because of Pennsylvania’s and Texas’s diametrically opposing views on malicious prosecution, Pennsylvania provides greater protection to recreational facilities, unlike New York, which favors protecting participants injured at such facilities. See Rosen, 399 Pa. Super. at 232-33, 582 A.2d at 30-32. To paraphrase [**20] our Supreme Court in Cipolla, the fact that McDonald is a resident of New York, which has adopted a plaintiff-protecting rule, and Whitewater is a resident of Pennsylvania, which has adopted a defendant-protecting rule, demonstrates a true conflict. See Cipolla, 439 Pa. at 565-66, 267 A.2d at 856.
We thus ascertain whether New York “or Pennsylvania has the greater interest in the application of its law to the question now before us.” See id. at 565, 267 A.2d at 855.
[HN6] In determining which state has the greater interest in the application of its law, one method is to see what contacts each state has with the accident, the contacts being relevant only if they relate to the “policies and interest underlying the particular issue before the court.” [Griffith, 416 Pa. at 21, 203 A.2d at 805]. When doing this it must be remembered that a mere counting of contacts is not what is involved. The weight of a particular state’s contacts must be measured on a qualitative rather than quantitative scale.
* * *
Also, it seems only fair to permit a defendant to rely on his home state law when he is acting within that state.
Consider the response that would be accorded a proposal that was the opposite of this principle if it were advanced against a person living in the state of injury on behalf of a person coming there [**21] from a state having a higher standard of care or of financial protection. The proposal thus advanced would require the community the visitor entered to step up its standard of behavior for his greater safety or lift its financial protection to the level to which he was accustomed. Such a proposal would be rejected as unfair. By entering the state or nation, the visitor has exposed himself to the risk of the territory and should not subject persons living there to a financial hazard that their law had not created.
Inhabitants of a state should not be put in jeopardy of liability exceeding that created by their state’s laws just because a visitor from a state offering higher protection decides to visit there.
Id. at 566-67, 267 A.2d at 856-57 (citations, punctuation, and footnote omitted); accord Myers v. Commercial Union Assurance Cos., 506 Pa. 492, 496, 485 A.2d 1113, 1115-16 (1984).18
18 We acknowledge that other Pennsylvania state and federal courts have construed the Griffith interest analysis differently. In Gillan v. Gillan, 236 Pa. Super. 147, 345 A.2d 742 (1975), and Knauer v. Knauer, 323 Pa. Super. 206, 470 A.2d 553 (1983), the Superior Court interpreted Griffith as adopting the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Law § 188, and applied the Restatement to the contracts at issue. Knauer, 323 Pa. Super. at 215, 470 A.2d at 558; Gillan, 236 Pa. Super. at 150, 345 A.2d at 744. Our Commonwealth Court in Ario v. Underwriting Members of Lloyd’s of London Syndicates 33, 205 & 506, 996 A.2d 588 (Pa. Commw. 2010), similarly opined in an insurance contract case that Griffith “adopted the [**22] approach of the Restatement of Conflict of Laws, Second to resolving choice of law questions.” Id. at 595 (citations omitted). “We of course recognize that a decision of the Commonwealth Court is not binding precedent upon this Court; however, it may be considered for its persuasive value.” Holland v. Marcy, 2002 PA Super 381, 817 A.2d 1082, 1083 n.1 (Pa. Super. 2002) (en banc) (citation and punctuation omitted). Section 188 identifies several factors in resolving choice of law:
(a) the place of contracting,
(b) the place of negotiation of the contract,
(c) the place of performance,
(d) the location of the subject matter of the contract, and
(e) the domicil, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties.
Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 188 (1971). In contrast, the Third Circuit has consistently opined that Griffith combined “the ‘approaches of both the Restatement II (contacts establishing significant relationships) and interests analysis (qualitative appraisal of the relevant States’ policies with respect to the controversy).'” Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 231 (punctuation omitted) (quoting Melville, 584 F.2d at 1311).
[*110] For example, the Walter Court ascertained whether Pennsylvania or New Jersey law should apply to an automobile insurance policy. Walter, 290 Pa. Super. at 136, 434 A.2d at 167. The Walter Court reviewed each state’s contacts with the contract:
In this contract case, [**23] the state having the most vital contacts with the policy of insurance involved was New Jersey. The policy was issued in New Jersey by the appellant in June, 1972, to Mr. Walter, a resident of New Jersey. It was issued for the twofold purpose of giving insurance protection to Mr. Walter and others as set forth in the policy, and to comply with the requirements set forth in the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Security Responsibility Statute . . . . No matter where [Mr. Walter’s agent] drove [Mr. Walter’s] car or gave consent to others to operate his vehicle, [Mr. Walter] had the right to expect that his policy conformed to New Jersey law and that the laws of New Jersey would apply in interpreting the policy. Pennsylvania had no contact with the transaction involving the insurance policy. It was by mere happenstance that the automobile was involved in an accident while located in Pennsylvania. As noted in Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc., 416 Pa. 1, 203 A.2d 796: “(T)he site of the accident purely fortuitous.”
Id. at 137, 434 A.2d at 167-68. Because, inter alia, the appellant “issued an insurance policy to [Mr. Walter] to cover an automobile located in New Jersey,” and he obtained the policy to comply with New Jersey laws, the Walter Court held New Jersey law applied. Id. at 138, 434 A.2d at 168.
In McCabe [**24] , this Court likewise examined each state’s contacts to a Connecticut insurance contract:
In the instant case, [the insurer] argues that Connecticut law would apply since [the insured] lived in Connecticut, and the . . . policy of Insurance was executed there. It also contends that “underlying these contacts are Connecticut’s sovereign interests that the rights of its residents and those who do business in its state are governed by Connecticut law and that its insurance law, as applied to the insurance policy, will be given full faith and credit by a sister state.” Finally, [the insurer] alleges that Connecticut has an interest in minimizing insurance premiums for its residents. . . .
Pennsylvania had no contact with the transaction involving the insurance policy. It was by mere happenstance that [*111] the Connecticut automobile owned and operated by [the insured] was involved in an accident while located in Pennsylvania. . . . At this time, we are concerned with contract of insurance, and, as to the insurance policy, Connecticut had the most significant contacts.
McCabe, 356 Pa. Super. at 232, 514 A.2d at 586.
Instantly, similar to McCabe and Walter, whose contracts were executed outside of Pennsylvania, the exculpatory clause was executed [**25] in New York by McDonald, a New York resident. See id.; Walter, 290 Pa. Super. at 137, 434 A.2d at 167-68. New York certainly has a sovereign interest in protecting McDonald and may wish, as she averred, to recoup the costs of her medical treatment. See McCabe, 356 Pa. Super. at 232, 514 A.2d at 586. But, comparable to the insurance policy in Walter, the instant release was executed for the purpose of protecting Whitewater, a Pennsylvania business that “had the right to expect that [the release] conformed to [Pennsylvania] law and that the laws of [Pennsylvania] would apply in interpreting the [release].” See Walter, 290 Pa. Super. at 137, 434 A.2d at 167-68. “[I]t seems only fair to permit” Whitewater to rely on Pennsylvania law when it acted within Pennsylvania. See Cipolla, 439 Pa. at 567, 267 A.2d at 856. Whitewater should not be placed in jeopardy of liability exceeding that created by Pennsylvania law just because McDonald is a visitor from New York, a state offering higher protection. See id. Unlike McCabe and Walter, the site of the accident was not fortuitous, as the underlying accident occurred at Whitewater’s place of business in Pennsylvania on a preplanned outing for which McDonald signed a contract. Cf. McCabe, 356 Pa. Super. at 232, 514 A.2d at 586; Walter, 290 Pa. Super. at 137, 434 A.2d at 167-68. After carefully weighing the sovereign interests at stake, which include contacts establishing the significant relationships with each sovereign, we [**26] hold that Pennsylvania has the greater interest in the application of its law to this case. See Cipolla, 439 Pa. at 566, 267 A.2d at 856. Accordingly, we discern no basis for reversing the trial court’s order on this point. See Charlie, 100 A.3d at 250.
We next address Whitewater’s appeal, which raised the following issues:
Whether the trial court erred by denying summary judgment on the basis of [McDonald’s] alleged, and mere belief, that she was “economically compelled” to sign the release by her employer?
Whether [Whitewater] was entitled to summary judgment because the “Release of Liability” is a valid and enforceable exculpatory clause involving a recreational activity as a matter of well-established Pennsylvania law?
Whether [McDonald’s] claims against Whitewater are barred by the valid and enforceable Release, which [McDonald] signed knowingly and fully conscious of its meaning, and which contains clear and unambiguous language expressly releasing [Whitewater] from any liability for negligent conduct and shows [McDonald’s] express waiver of her right to bring any such negligence claims?
Whitewater’s Brief, 1221 MDA 2013, at 5 (reordered to facilitate resolution).
We set forth the following as background.
[McDonald] had testified in her deposition that on May 17, 2006, the Headmaster [**27] of the School of the Holy Child handed the Release form to [McDonald], while she was between classes and walking through the school hallway and told her to sign it, since she would be one of the chaperones for the students on the rafting trip.
[McDonald] alleges she [*112] signed the Release form without reading it.
Trial Ct. Op., 9/15/10, at 2. McDonald explained “that she did not read the Release because she had previously been on a whitewater trip in 2004.” McDonald’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Whitewater’s Second Mot. for Summ. J., 1/14/13, at 6 (citation omitted).
At her deposition, McDonald testified about the circumstances of her departure from the School of the Holy Child:
[Whitewater’s counsel]. Why did you leave School of the Holy Child to go [elsewhere]?
A. Well, due to the accident, I was only able to work parttime and after–
* * *
A. And when [teaching] contracts were renewed [in February 2007], I was given a contract, but I only received a one percent increase and–
* * *
A. . . . despite the fact that I had, you know, superior evaluation and the fact that I had been hurt on the job, I was insulted by the one percent increase.
Q. Were you told by one of your supervisors that the reason you [**28] got a one percent increase was because of your reduced work and the fact that you were injured on the job?
Q. Did anyone tell you that?
Q. That’s something that you surmised–
Q. –based on the circumstances?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Well, it carried [sic] $5,000. I can’t do the math very quickly, but.
A. Okay, all right, and this one percent raise turned out to be what?
A. Approximately $610.
Q. Okay, and your raises, while you were at School of the Holy Child, were they always consistent with approximately the $5,000 increase?
A. Three years previous to that, I’d gotten a $20,000 boost because I was seen as being a master teacher.
Q. Okay, all right. And this $600 . . . you didn’t expect another $20,000 bump, but you thought you might get something closer to the 5 grand that you had gotten the previous year.
Q. And when you didn’t, you surmised it was because of your injury.
A. Yes, and I wasn’t going to be able to do all the extras that are pretty much inherent in working in an independent school.
Q. Extras, such as what?
A. Chaperoning trips to Europe, did that. Attending trustees, board of trustees and faculty dinners. Participating in faulty/student games. All the extras that [**29] are just read into our contract.
Q. Okay, and those are things that you did prior to the accident.
Q. And you did not do them after the accident.
Q. Okay, so when you got your one percent raise, is that when you quit, you resigned?
A. No, I looked for a job first.
Ex. C to McDonald’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Whitewater’s Second Mot. for Summ. J., at 11-14.
We reproduce the following exchange from the deposition testimony of Ann Sullivan, [*113] the head of the School of the Holy Child, regarding its annual job evaluations:
[McDonald’s counsel]. And in terms of conducting evaluations of employees, and in particular teachers, was participation in afterschool extracurriculars or school trips, was that a factor looked at in terms of doing the evaluation?
A. I think it’s discussed during the evaluation. If you look at the evaluation forms, which are very idiosyncratic, there are four buckets. One is professional competence, one is commitment–
Q. I’m going to ask you–
A. Let me give you the background–one is commitment to the community, the third is leadership, and the fourth is congruence with the mission. There was a lot of discussion as to what percent each of those buckets was taken into [**30] consideration, and, frankly, it varies, and there was no answer to that. And I have to say it was all of those ways, but to varying degrees. Some people are great community people and not so great in the classroom, some people are great in the classroom and not so great in the community life. So, you know, it wasn’t meant to be punitive. It was to recognize different contributions.
Q. All right, I understand. But I just want to make sure I understand correctly. Even though there were different ways–you indicated there were different wings [sic] attached to different factors, you are saying, if I understand correctly–I’m not trying to put words in your mouth–that participation in school trips and extracurricular activities was at least a factor?
A. I’m going to go back to that that it is a broader discussion of community than going on school trips. Sometimes it is class trips, sometimes it is attending events. You know, it’s broader than that. It’s not a quid pro quo. You don’t get an extra $500 added to your salary because you are a chaperon [sic].
Q. Right, I understand there wasn’t a specific dollar amount that was attached for any particular factor indicated on the evaluation form, [**31] but it was at least a factor that was put into the overall mix in conducting evaluations of faculty, is that fair to say?
A. But it could be something quite different. It could be being the moderator of the yearbook or the Model UN. You are a making this assumption that going on extracurricular trips was part of your evaluation. It’s only one of many, many possible factors. I want you to know many people did not go on trips. There are a lot of young parents in the school and they are not able to go away overnight because–
[Sullivan’s counsel]: Parents or teachers?
A. Parents who are teachers. There are teachers who are young parents, have infants and toddlers and couldn’t do those trips, and certainly it was great if they would go to a concert and they would show up at field hockey games.
[McDonald’s counsel]. I understand. No one was compelled to go on any particular trip, but participation in things was at least a factor identified in her evaluation, is that correct?
A. I read [in McDonald’s employment file] that her supervisor thanked her for going on trips and going to athletic events.
A. But, you know, I could say that there were wonderful people who declined to go on the [**32] trips and there were no financial repercussions.
Q. Okay. No one was ever terminated for not going on any extracurricular trips?
[*114] A. Never. And they were not–their salaries were not reduced for not going on trips.
Q. And there was never an employee who was penalized in his or her paycheck for not going on a school extracurricular or participating in afterschool projects.
Ex. I to McDonald’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Whitewater’s Second Mot. for Summ. J., at 38-41.
In support of their first issue, Whitewater contends that economic compulsion does not apply because McDonald’s employer–and not Whitewater–compelled McDonald to sign the release. Regardless, Whitewater argues that McDonald failed to present evidence establishing her employer compelled her to sign. Whitewater asserts that the undisputed record demonstrated McDonald would have suffered no repercussions by not participating in rafting.19 We hold Whitewater is entitled to relief.
19 Whitewater also contends McDonald waived her defense of duress by failing to raise it in her answer to Whitewater’s new matter invoking the release as a defense. Whitewater’s Brief, 1221 MDA 2013, at 28 (citing only Tri-State Roofing Co. of Uniontown v. Simon, 187 Pa. Super. 17, 19, 142 A.2d 333, 334 (1958) [hereinafter “Tri-State“]). The Tri-State Court did not hold that when the [**33] defendant invokes a contract as a defense in a new matter, the plaintiff is bound to raise all affirmative defenses in its reply to the new matter. Rather, the Court was merely summarizing the procedural posture in which the defendant filed a reply alleging duress in response to the plaintiff’s new matter. See id. at 19, 142 A.2d at 335. Whitewater did not articulate any other basis for waiver, and it is well-settled that [HN7] we may not reverse on an argument not raised. See generally Pa.R.A.P. 302. Accordingly, we decline to hold McDonald waived her defense.
It is well-settled that [HN8] the standard of review for an order resolving summary judgment is abuse of discretion or error of law. Charlie, 100 A.3d at 250. Our Supreme Court defined duress as follows:
[HN9] The formation of a valid contract requires the mutual assent of the contracting parties. Mutual assent to a contract does not exist, however, when one of the contracting parties elicits the assent of the other contracting party by means of duress. Duress has been defined as:
That degree of restraint or danger, either actually inflicted or threatened and impending, which is sufficient in severity or apprehension to overcome the mind of a person of ordinary firmness . . . . The quality of firmness is assumed [**34] to exist in every person competent to contract, unless it appears that by reason of old age or other sufficient cause he is weak or infirm . . . . Where persons deal with each other on equal terms and at arm’s length, there is a presumption that the person alleging duress possesses ordinary firmness . . . . Moreover, in the absence of threats of actual bodily harm there can be no duress where the contracting party is free to consult with counsel . . . .
Degenhardt v. Dillon Co., 543 Pa. 146, 153-54, 669 A.2d 946, 950 (1996) (citations and punctuation omitted).
[HN10] Economic duress, i.e., business or economic compulsion, is a form of duress. Tri-State, 187 Pa. Super. at 20, 142 A.2d at 335. The Tri-State Court defined economic duress as follows:
To constitute duress or business compulsion there must be more than a mere threat which might possibly result in injury at some future time, such as a threat of injury to credit in the indefinite future. It must be such a threat that, in conjunction with other circumstances [*115] and business necessity, the party so coerced fears a loss of business unless he does so enter into the contract as demanded.
Id. at 20-21, 142 A.2d at 335 (citation and punctuation omitted). The Court applied the above principles in ascertaining “whether [the] plaintiff’s threat to breach its contract with the defendant, if defendant [**35] did not sign the release . . . , constituted duress.” Id. at 18, 142 A.2d at 334.
In Litten v. Jonathan Logan, Inc., 220 Pa. Super. 274, 286 A.2d 913 (1971), this Court addressed whether a prior, favorable oral contract or a subsequent, unfavorable written contract controlled. Id. at 276-77, 286 A.2d at 914. “Plaintiffs contend they were compelled under the duress and coercion of the defendant to enter into the written contract because defendant had maneuvered plaintiffs into an untenable economic crisis from which they could extricate themselves only by signing the agreement prepared by defendant.” Id. at 277, 286 A.2d at 914-15. The jury agreed with the plaintiffs, and the defendant appealed, arguing, inter alia, the court failed to instruct the jury properly regarding duress. Id. at 277, 286 A.2d at 915. This Court affirmed, holding the defendant economically compelled the plaintiff to execute the subsequent written contract. Id. at 281-82, 286 A.2d at 917. In affirming the jury verdict, this Court approvingly quoted the trial court’s jury charge, which identified the elements of economic duress:
(1) there exists such pressure of circumstances which compels the injured party to involuntarily or against his will execute an agreement which results in economic loss, and (2) the injured party does not have an immediate legal remedy. The cases cited by defendant on this point . . . are inapplicable [**36] because in those cases the defendants did not bring about the state of financial distress in which plaintiffs found themselves at the time of signing. In the instant case, the final and potentially fatal blow was prepared by defendant, which by its actions created the situation which left plaintiffs with no alternative but to sign the contract as written.
* * *
Business compulsion is not establish[ed] merely by proof that consent was secured by the pressure of financial circumstances, but a threat of serious financial loss may be sufficient to constitute duress and to be ground for relief where an ordinary suit at law or equity might not be an adequate remedy. . . .
Id. at 282-83, 286 A.2d at 917 (citations, punctuation, and footnote omitted).
In Chepkevich, our Supreme Court adverted to economic duress in resolving whether an exculpatory agreement should be construed as a contract of adhesion:
[D]ownhill skiing–like auto racing–is a voluntary and hazardous activity . . . . Moreover, an exculpatory agreement conditioning use of a commercial facility for such activities has not been construed as a typical contract of adhesion. The signer is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, [**37] because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity. See [Schillachi v. Flying Dutchman Motorcycle Club, 751 F. Supp. 1169 (E.D. Pa. 1990)] (exculpatory clause valid under Pennsylvania law where activity is purely recreational); Grbac v. Reading Fair Co., 521 F. Supp. 1351, 1355 (W.D. Pa. 1981), aff’d, 688 F.2d 215 (3d Cir. 1982) (exculpatory clause releasing stock car racing company from liability for death arising out of recreational race not invalid contract of adhesion [*116] under Pennsylvania law). The signer is a free agent who can simply walk away without signing the release and participating in the activity, and thus the contract signed under such circumstances is not unconscionable. . . .
It is also apparent that the Release here is valid under the other elements of the [standard governing validity of exculpatory provisions set forth in Topp Copy Prods., Inc. v. Singletary, 533 Pa. 468, 626 A.2d 98 (1993), and Emp’rs Liab. Assurance Corp. v. Greenville Bus. Men’s Ass’n, 423 Pa. 288, 224 A.2d 620 (1966) (referred to as the Topp Copy/Employers Liability standard)], aside from adhesion contract concerns. First, the Release cannot be said to contravene any policy of the law. Indeed, the clear policy of this Commonwealth, as embodied by the [Skier’s Responsibility] Act, is to encourage the sport and to place the risks of skiing squarely on the skier. 42 Pa.C.S. § 7102(c)(2). Furthermore, Pennsylvania courts have upheld similar releases respecting skiing and other inherently dangerous sporting [**38] activities. See, e.g., Wang v. Whitetail Mountain Resort, 2007 PA Super 283, 933 A.2d 110 (Pa. Super. 2007) (citing Superior Court panel’s decision in instant case, but upholding release as applied to snow tubing accident); [Nissley v. Candytown Motorcycle Club, 2006 PA Super 349, 913 A.2d 887 (Pa. Super. 2006)] (upholding exculpatory agreement that released defendant motorcycle club from “all liability”); [Zimmer v. Mitchell & Ness, 253 Pa. Super. 474, 385 A.2d 437 (1978)] (upholding exculpatory clause releasing ski rental shop from liability for injury suffered when skier’s bindings failed to release during fall). And, finally, the Release [the appellee] signed is a contract between the ski resort and [the appellee] relating to their private affairs, specifically [the appellee’s] voluntary use of the resort’s facilities.
Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 28-30, 2 A.3d at 1190-91. Thus, an exculpatory clause is not typically analyzed within the framework of whether it is an contract of adhesion. Id. at 29, 2 A.3d at 1191 (“The signer is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.”).
The case of Gillingham v. Consol Energy, Inc., 2012 PA Super 133, 51 A.3d 841 (Pa. Super. 2012), appeal denied, 621 Pa. 679, 75 A.3d 1282 (2013), is also instructive. Technical Solutions contractually employed Gillingham to work full-time on a software development project located at one of Consol Energy’s properties; Gillingham was considered an independent contractor of [**39] Consol. Id. at 853-54. A few weeks later, Consol asked Gillingham to sign “a stack of documents,” which included
a waiver of his right to sue Consol in the event he was injured due to its negligence. He felt that he had to sign the pages in question since he was contractually obligated to provide his services on the project through Technical Solutions. Mr. Gillingham believed that he was not in a position to refuse to sign the documents presented to him by Consol, and he stated, “If I would have not signed them, I would have to leave the site . . . because it’s like saying, No, I’m not going to honor your agreement and protect this technology.” He also would have violated his contract with Technical Solutions.
Id. at 854 (citation omitted). While exiting a Consol building via an exterior metal stairway, Gillingham was injured when the stairway collapsed. Id. at 847.
[*117] Gillingham successfully sued Consol. Id. On appeal, Consol contended the trial court should have granted its request for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because of the release Gillingham signed. Id. at 852. Gillingham countered that he felt compelled to sign the Consol release because (1) “he was contractually obligated to provide his services on the [**40] project through Technical Solutions,” and (2) he would have violated his employment contract with Technical Solutions, i.e., his employer. Id. at 854. The Gillingham Court held the record was sufficient to have a jury ascertain whether “Gillingham, who was under contract to provide services on the project, was compelled to execute the documents due to Consol’s superior bargaining position.” Id. The Court thus affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of Gillingham. Id.
Instantly, we frame Whitewater’s question as whether one party to a contract can invoke duress when that duress was allegedly imposed by a non-party and not by the other party to the contract. More precisely, we examine whether McDonald can void the release by claiming the School of the Holy Child economically compelled her to sign the release with Whitewater. McDonald’s presumption is that economic compulsion, i.e., duress, by a non-party to a contract can be “transferred.”
Under these unique facts, we decline McDonald’s apparent invitation to expand a doctrine traditionally invoked between contracting parties. Our Supreme Court held that [HN11] mutual assent is a prerequisite to contract formation and that such mutual assent is absent [**41] “when one of the contracting parties elicits the assent of the other contracting party by means of duress.” See Degenhardt, 543 Pa. at 153, 669 A.2d at 950. McDonald and Whitewater are the contracting parties to the release; the School of the Holy Child is not a contracting party. It follows that the School of the Holy Child could not elicit the assent of McDonald by duress. See id.
Further, McDonald does not claim Whitewater economically compelled her to sign the release. Unlike the plaintiff in Litten, McDonald has not alleged that Whitewater–a contracting party–maneuvered her into economic distress and compelled her to sign the contract. Cf. Litten, 220 Pa. Super. at 281-82, 286 A.2d at 917; Tri-State, 187 Pa. Super. at 18, 142 A.2d at 334 (resolving allegation of duress between contracting parties). Whitewater, which provided recreational services similar to the ski resort in Chepkevich, did not compel McDonald to participate, “much less . . . sign the exculpatory agreement.” See Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 29, 2 A.3d at 1191. In contrast to Gillingham, in which the plaintiff was contractually obligated to work for Consol, the other contracting party, McDonald was not contractually obligated to participate in recreational activities at Whitewater. Cf. Gillingham, 51 A.3d at 854. Nor did she allege that she would have violated her contract with the School of the Holy Child if she did not [**42] sign the Whitewater release. Cf. id. (stating plaintiff would have violated his employment contract with Technical Solutions, his direct employer, if he did not sign Consol release). In sum, given the predicate condition of a threat by one contracting party against another contracting party, economic duress by a non-party to a contract does not appear easily amenable to concepts of “transference” in this case.20
20 We do not foreclose the possibility, however, in other cases.
Assuming, however, duress by a non-contracting party could be invoked to negate mutual assent between contracting parties, and assuming that the possibility of not receiving a raise greater than 1% is [*118] a cognizable economic loss, McDonald’s suggestion that unless she signed the release, she could potentially not receive such a raise is, on this record, too conjectural. See Litten, 220 Pa. Super. at 282, 286 A.2d at 917; Tri-State, 187 Pa. Super. at 20-21, 142 A.2d at 335 (holding duress is “more than a mere threat” of possible economic injury in indefinite future). McDonald notes she received only a 1% raise in February of 2007. See Ex. C to McDonald’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Whitewater’s Second Mot. for Summ. J., at 13. But a minimal raise, after the fact, does not alone demonstrate that when McDonald signed the [**43] release in May 2006, she did so because she feared economic injury, i.e., not receiving a raise greater than 1%.
Having resolved that economic compulsion is not available to McDonald, we address Whitewater’s last two issues together: whether the release is valid and enforceable and thus bars McDonald’s claims. Whitewater asserts the release met all the elements of the Topp Copy/Employers Liability standard governing the validity of exculpatory clauses. Whitewater thus contends the trial court erred by denying summary judgment on liability. Whitewater, we hold, is entitled to relief.
In Chepkevich, our Supreme Court resolved “whether a skier may maintain a negligence action against a ski resort for injuries sustained while skiing or whether suit is barred by statute and/or a release signed by the skier.” Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 3, 2 A.3d at 1175.
The Release, printed on a single page and titled “RELEASE FROM LIABILITY,” stated:
Skiing, Snowboarding, and Snowblading, including the use of lifts, is a dangerous sport with inherent and other risks which include but are not limited to variations in snow and terrain, ice and icy conditions, moguls, rocks, debris (above and below the surface), bare spots, lift towers, poles, snowmaking [**44] equipment (including pipes, hydrants, and component parts), fences and the absence of fences and other natural and manmade objects, visible or hidden, as well as collisions with equipment, obstacles or other skiers. . . . All the risks of skiing and boarding present the risk of serious or fatal injury. By accepting this Season Pass I agree to accept all these risks and agree not to sue Hidden Valley Resort or their employees if injured while using their facilities regardless of any negligence on their part.
Id. at 5, 2 A.3d at 1176.
The Chepkevich Court set forth the three elements of the Topp Copy/Employers Liability standard for determining the validity and enforceability of an exculpatory clause:
[HN12] It is generally accepted that an exculpatory clause is valid where three conditions are met. First, the clause must not contravene public policy. Secondly, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs and thirdly, each party must be a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion. In Dilks v. Flohr Chevrolet, 411 Pa. 425, 192 A.2d 682 (1963), we noted that once an exculpatory clause is determined to be valid, it will, nevertheless, still be unenforceable unless the language of the parties is clear [**45] that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence. In interpreting such clauses we listed as guiding standards that: 1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention [*119] of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing the immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.
Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 26, 2 A.3d at 1189 (citations omitted). Our Supreme Court held the release was valid and enforceable, and concluded the release barred the skier’s negligence lawsuit.21 Id. at 3, 31, 35, 2 A.3d at 1175, 1192, 1195.
21 The Chepkevich Court also held that the skier’s lawsuit was alternatively barred by the Skier’s Responsibility Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 7102. See Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 25, 2 A.3d at 1188.
In Tayar, the plaintiff was injured while snow tubing at a ski resort. Tayar, 616 Pa. at 390, 47 A.3d at 1193. She raised claims of negligence and reckless conduct against the ski resort and one of its employees. Id. at 391, 47 A.3d at 1194 (summarizing trial court’s decision). In response, the defendants [**46] asserted the plaintiff’s claims were barred because she signed the following release:
CAMELBACK SNOW TUBING
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISKS AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE
THIS IS A CONTRACT–READ IT
I understand and acknowledge that snow tubing, including the use of lifts, is a dangerous, risk sport and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport and that all of these risks can cause serious and even fatal injuries. I understand that part of the thrill, excitement and risk of snow tubing is that the snow tubes all end up in a common, runout area and counter slope at various times and speeds and that it is my responsibility to try to avoid hitting another snowtuber and it is my responsibility to try to avoid being hit by another snowtuber, but that, notwithstanding these efforts by myself and other snowtubers, there is a risk of collisions.
* * *
IN CONSIDERATION OF THE ABOVE AND OF BEING ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SPORT OF SNOWTUBING, I AGREE THAT I WILL NOT SUE AND WILL RELEASE FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY CAMELBACK SKI CORPORATION IF I OR ANY MEMBER OF MY FAMILY IS INJURED WHILE USING ANY OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITIES OR WHILE BEING PRESENT AT THE FACILITIES, EVEN IF I CONTEND THAT [**47] SUCH INJURIES ARE THE RESULT OF NEGLIGENCE OR ANY OTHER IMPROPER CONDUCT ON THE PART OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITY.
Id. at 388-89, 47 A.3d at 1192-93. The trial court agreed with the defendants that the release absolved them of liability. Id. at 390-91, 47 A.3d at 1194. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court on, inter alia, whether the release exculpated defendants from reckless conduct. Id. at 391, 47 A.3d at 1194. The Superior Court, in an en banc decision, held that the release was limited to negligent conduct only. Id. (summarizing Superior Court’s holding).
The Tayar Court granted allowance of appeal to address, among other issues, whether the release barred the plaintiff’s claim for reckless conduct. Id. at 392, 47 A.3d at 1194. Our Supreme Court initially [*120] observed that “exculpatory clauses releasing a party from negligence generally are not against public policy.” Id. at 401, 47 A.3d at 1200. The Tayar Court held that the above release did not exculpate the defendants from reckless conduct because of the fundamental differences between negligence and recklessness. Id. at 403, 47 A.3d at 1201. Thus, our Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s claim for reckless conduct could proceed. Id. at 406, 47 A.3d at 1203.
Regarding the first element needed for a valid exculpatory clause, Pennsylvania courts have affirmed exculpatory releases for “skiing and other inherently dangerous [**48] sporting activities,” such as snowtubing and motorcycle racing. See Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 30, 2 A.3d at 1191 (citing Wang, supra, and Nissley, supra). Other activities include automobile racing,22 paintballing,23 and whitewater rafting.24 Thus, [HN13] Pennsylvania courts have held exculpatory clauses pertaining to inherently dangerous sporting activities do not “contravene any policy of the law.”25 Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 29, 2 A.3d at 1191.
22 Seaton v. E. Windsor Speedway, Inc., 400 Pa. Super. 134, 140, 582 A.2d 1380, 1383 (1990) (affirming summary judgment in favor of defendant based on valid and enforceable exculpatory agreement signed by plaintiff).
23 Martinez v. Skirmish, U.S.A., Inc., Civ. No. 07-5003, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51628, *34, 2009 WL 1676144, *12 (E.D. Pa. June 15, 2009) (holding release was valid and enforceable against plaintiff’s negligence claim).
24 Wroblewski v. Ohiopyle Trading Post, Civ. No. 12-0780, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119206, at *30, 2013 WL 4504448, at *9 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 22, 2013) (concluding release signed by plaintiff exculpated whitewater rafting company for plaintiff’s negligence claim).
25 Courts have held invalid exculpatory clauses involving bailees, banks, and common carriers. Dilks, 411 Pa. at 434 n.9, 192 A.2d at 687 n.9 (citing cases).
With respect to the second element, our Supreme Court held [HN14] “[t]he validity of a contractual provision which exculpates a person from liability for his own acts of negligence is well settled if the contract is between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs.” Dilks, 411 Pa. at 433, 192 A.2d at 687. Lastly, the third element’s reference to “contracts of adhesion” may be problematic given different facts, as the Chepkevich Court acknowledged. Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 28 n.18, 2 A.3d at 1190 n.18. The Chepkevich [**49] Court conceded that if the plaintiff “could not dicker over the terms of the form contract,” the release could have been a contract of adhesion. Id. But our Supreme Court emphasized, “such contracts executed in the course of voluntary participation in recreational activities have not been declared unenforceable on these grounds, presumably because we recognize an inherent policy-based distinction between ‘essential’ activities (such as signing a residential lease) and voluntary, nonessential ones (such as engaging in dangerous sports).” Id. Finally, [HN15] absent fraud, “failure to read [the contract] is an unavailing excuse or defense and cannot justify an avoidance, modification or nullification of the contract or any provision thereof.” Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. Am. Empire Ins. Co., 503 Pa. 300, 305, 469 A.2d 563, 566 (1983) (citations omitted and alteration in original).
Instantly, Whitewater’s exculpatory clause addressing negligence does not contravene Pennsylvania’s public policy. See Tayar, 616 Pa. at 401, 47 A.3d at 1200; Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 29, 2 A.3d at 1191. Pennsylvania state and federal courts have affirmed substantively identical clauses in other dangerous sporting activities, including whitewater rafting. See Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 30, 2 A.3d at 1191 (collecting [*121] cases); see also Wroblewski, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119206, at *30, 2013 WL 4504448, at *9. Second, the release between McDonald and Whitewater related entirely to her participation in a hazardous [**50] recreational activity. See Dilks, 411 Pa. at 433, 192 A.2d at 687. We acknowledge that McDonald chaperoned this trip and that, in general, chaperoning field trips, among other duties, was an “extra” duty inherent to working at the School of the Holy Child. See Ex. C to McDonald’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Whitewater’s Second Mot. for Summ. J., at 14. But McDonald did not identify any materials issues of fact contradicting Sullivan’s deposition testimony that no teacher was compelled to chaperone any particular trip. See Ex. I to McDonald’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Whitewater’s Second Mot. for Summ. J., at 40-41. Indeed, McDonald did not dispute that an employee was not required to participate in extracurricular trips to demonstrate commitment to the community–one of four areas employees are evaluated in each year. See id. Lastly, identical to the plaintiff in Chepkevich, McDonald voluntarily engaged in a non-essential activity. See Chepkevich, 607 Pa. at 28 n.18, 2 A.3d at 1190 n.18. Accordingly, we hold Whitewater’s exculpatory clause is valid. See id. at 26, 2 A.3d at 1189.
As for the clause’s enforceability, we examine whether the clause “spells out the intention of the parties with particularity and shows the intent to release [Whitewater] from liability by express stipulation.” See id. at 30, 2 A.3d at 1191. The instant [**51] clause was titled “RELEASE OF LIABILITY — READ BEFORE SIGNING” “in capital letters in large font at the top,” identical to the Chepkevich release. See id. at 31, 2 A.3d at 1192. The language releasing Whitewater from liability was written in the same size font as the body of the release and required McDonald’s signature. See id.
Whether or not [McDonald] availed herself of the opportunity to read the Release she signed, we cannot agree that a full-page, detailed agreement, written in normal font and titled “RELEASE [OF] LIABILITY” constitutes an insufficient effort on the part of [Whitewater] to inform [McDonald] of the fact that, by signing [the release], she was giving up any right she might have to sue for damages arising from injuries caused even by negligence.
See id. Further, McDonald voluntarily engaged in whitewater rafting and Whitewater did not compel her to sign the release. See id. McDonald admittedly did not attempt to negotiate the terms of the release. See id. Accordingly, we conclude the release is enforceable. See id. Because the release is valid and enforceable, the trial court erred by denying Whitewater’s motion for summary judgment on liability and thus, Whitewater is due relief. See Charlie, 100 A.3d at 250. The [**52] order below is affirmed with respect to its holding that Pennsylvania law applies and reversed to the extent it held material issues of fact existed regarding Whitewater’s liability.
Order affirmed in part and reversed in part. Case remanded with instructions to grant judgment in favor of Whitewater and adverse to McDonald and for further proceedings, as deemed necessary. Jurisdiction relinquished.
Jesus Espinoza, Jr., Plaintiff, v. Arkansas Valley Adventures, LLC; Defendant.
Civil Action No. 13-cv-01421-MSK-BNB
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136102
September 26, 2014, Decided
September 26, 2014, Filed
CORE TERMS: rafting, trip, undersigned, wrongful death, decedent’s, exculpatory provision, outfitter, exculpatory clause, summary judgment, white water, website, participating, genuine, raft, river, affirmative defense, material facts, misrepresentation, exculpatory, enforceable, unambiguous, whitewater, survived, heir, obstacles, matter of law, entitled to judgment, assumption of risk, burden of proof, personal representative
COUNSEL: [*1] For Jesus Espinoza, Jr., Plaintiff: William James Hansen, LEAD ATTORNEY, McDermott & McDermott, LLP, Denver, CO; George E. McLaughlin, Warshauer-McLaughlin Law Group, P.C., Denver, CO.
For Arkansas Valley Adventures, LLC, Defendant: Conor P. Boyle, Ryan L. Winter, Hall & Evans, LLC-Denver, Denver, CO.
JUDGES: Marcia S. Krieger, Chief United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: Marcia S. Krieger
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (# 17), the Plaintiff’s Response (# 22), and the Defendant’s Reply (# 26).
I. JURISDICTION AND ISSUES PRESENTED
Sue Ann Apolinar died on a white water rafting trip conducted by Defendant Arkansas Valley Adventures (“AVA”). This action is brought by Ms. Apolinar’s son, Jesus Espinoza, who asserts three claims related to his mother’s death: (1) negligent, careless, and imprudent operation of a raft resulting in wrongful death; (2) negligence and negligence per se; and (3) fraud and misrepresentation.
AVA moves for summary judgment on all three claims. It seeks to dismiss any “survivorship” claim premised on C.R.S. § 13-20-101 for lack of capacity. In addition, it seeks judgment in its favor on all of Plaintiff’s [*2] claims based on its affirmative defense that Ms. Apolinar released AVA from liability and assumed all risks prior to the rafting trip. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332. The issues are governed by Colorado law.
II. MATERIAL FACTS
Based upon the evidence submitted by the parties, which the Court construes most favorably to the Plaintiff, the material facts are summarized below. Where appropriate, the Court provides further explication explication in conjunction with its analysis.
Mr. Espinoza is Ms. Apolinar’s son. There is no evidence of record that an estate was created following Ms. Apolinar’s death or whether Mr. Espinoza acts in a fiduciary capacity for such estate.
AVA is a river outfitter licensed under C.R.S. § 33-32-104. It offers a number of river rafting trips of varying levels of difficulty. Among the trips it offers is “24 Hours in Brown’s Canyon,” which Ms. Apolinar booked based on her review of AVA’s website. She made reservations for herself, her significant other, her god-daughter, and Mr. Espinoza because “it looked like fun and was appropriate for [the group’s] level of experience.”
Before beginning the rafting trip, AVA required its participants to review and execute a document [*3] entitled “Rafting Warning, Assumption of Risk, and Release of Liability & Indemnification Agreement” (“Agreement”). Ms. Apolinar signed the Agreement for herself and for her minor son, Mr. Espinoza, on June 7, 2011 before beginning the trip.
On the second day of the trip, the raft carrying Ms. Apolinar capsized while navigating a rapid known as “Seidel’s Suck Hole.” Ms. Apolinar was ejected from the raft. An AVA guide pulled her back into the raft, but it capsized and ejected Ms. Apolinar, again. Ms. Apolinar was swept into a logjam, became entangled with the collection of tree logs and branches, and tragically drowned.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Intern. Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Summary adjudication is authorized when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law governs what facts are material and what issues must be determined. It also specifies the elements that must be proved for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof, and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Kaiser–Francis Oil Co. v. Producer’s Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). A factual dispute is “genuine” and summary judgment is precluded if [*4] the evidence presented in support of and opposition to the motion is so contradictory that, if presented at trial, a judgment could enter for either party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a summary judgment motion, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby favoring the right to a trial. See Garrett v. Hewlett Packard Co., 305 F.3d 1210, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002).
If the movant has the burden of proof on a claim or defense, the movant must establish every element of its claim or defense by sufficient, competent evidence. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the moving party has met its burden, to avoid summary judgment the responding party must present sufficient, competent, contradictory evidence to establish a genuine factual dispute. See Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991); Perry v. Woodward, 199 F.3d 1126, 1131 (10th Cir. 1999). If there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, a trial is required. If there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, no trial is required. The court then applies the law to the undisputed facts and enters judgment.
AVA’s motion raises a straight forward issue — are Ms. Espinoza’s claims barred by the exculpatory and release provisions of the Agreement executed by Ms. Apolinar. However, before addressing that question, AVA asks that the Court clarify the capacity in which Mr. Espinoza [*5] brings this action.
As noted, Mr. Espinoza asserted three claims in the Amended Complaint: (1) negligent, careless, and imprudent operation of a raft resulting in wrongful death; (2) negligence and negligence per se; and (3) fraud and misrepresentation. None of these are brought for injuries to Mr. Espinoza1, only for the death of his mother.
1 Much of the parties’ argument addresses questions of Ms. Apolinar’s capacity to execute the Agreement for her son (then a minor), Mr. Espinoza. The Court need not address this debate because Mr. Espinoza is not asserting claims for injuries to him. He asserts claims for the death of his mother, which grow out of what she could have asserted had she survived, and therefore it is the Agreement that she executed for herself that is at issue.
Colorado law recognizes that claims can be brought on behalf of a decedent in two different capacities. The first type of claim is brought in a fiduciary capacity by the personal representative of the estate of the deceased person. C.R.S. § 13-20-101. Claims brought in this capacity are often referred to as “survival” claims. The personal representative “stands in the decedent’s shoes” in order to assert a claim that the [*6] decedent could have asserted had he or she been alive. The beneficiary of a survival claim is the decedent’s estate.
The second type of claim is brought by the decedent’s heir. Known as a wrongful death claim, it is created and limited by statute. C.R.S. § 13-21-201 et seq; see also Espinoza v. O’Dell, 633 P.2d 455, 462-466 (Colo. 1981). A wrongful death claim differs from a claim that a decedent could have asserted during his or her lifetime. A wrongful death claim arises only upon the decedent’s death, it addresses wrongful acts that caused the death, and the amount of recovery is limited by statute. C.R.S. § 13-21-203; Fish v. Liley, 120 Colo. 156, 208 P.2d 930, 933 (1949); Colorado Comp. Ins. Auth. v. Jorgensen, 992 P.2d 1156, 1164 n. 6 (Colo. 2000). To prove a wrongful death claim, an heir must establish that (1) the death of the decedent; (2) was caused by a wrongful act and 3) that the decedent would have been able to maintain an action for injuries, had the person survived. Stamp v. Vail Corp., 172 P.3d 437, 451 (Colo. 2007). A wrongful death claim is subject to the same limitations and defenses that would have applied to the claim had the decedent survived and brought the claim. Elgin v. Bartlett, 994 P.2d 411, 416 (Colo.1999); see also Lee v. Colo. Dep’t of Health, 718 P.2d 221, 233 (Colo.1986) ( comparative negligence of the decedent will reduce the recovery available in a wrongful death action brought by the decedent’s heirs).
The Amended Complaint does not clearly identify in what capacity Mr. Espinoza asserts the claims in this action, but in the absence [*7] of the representation that a probate estate has been created for Ms. Apolinar and that Mr. Espinoza is the appointed executor or personal representative, the Court assumes that he brings this action for wrongful death of his mother. Thus, the three claims are merely alternate theories of alleged wrongful conduct leading to wrongful death. With that clarification, the Court turns to AVA’s affirmative defense.
B. The Agreement
AVA argues that it is entitled to judgment on Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim, regardless of the theory upon which it is premised, because Ms. Apolinar contractually released AVA from any claims and liability and assumed all risks associated with white water rafting. These arguments are in the nature of affirmative defenses upon which AVA bears the burden of proof. See Squires ex rel. Squires v. Goodwin, 829 F.Supp 2d 1062, 1071 (D. Colo. 2011).
There is no dispute that prior to the raft trip, AVA presented and Ms. Apolinar executed a two-page Agreement that provides in pertinent part:
2. Risks of Activity. The Undersigned agree and understand that taking part in the Activity can by HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH. The Undersigned acknowledge that the Activity is inherently dangerous and fully realize the [*8] dangers of participating in the Activity. The risks and dangers of the activity include, but are not limited to: choice of rafting course, . . . choice of outfitter, negligence of rafting or climbing or zip lining guides, changing weather conditions, changing water conditions, cold water immersion, hidden underwater obstacles, trees or other above water obstacles, . . . changing and unpredictable currents, drowning, exposure, swimming, overturning, . . . entrapment of feet or other body parts under rocks or other objects . . . . THE UNDERSIGNED ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND THAT THE DESCRIPTION OF THE RISKS LISTED ABOVE IS NOT COMPLETE AND THAT PARTICIPATING IN THE ACTIVITY MAY BE DANGEROUS AND MAY INCLUDE OTHER RISKS.
3. Release, Indemnification, and Assumption of Risk. In consideration of the Participant being permitted to participate in the activity, the Undersigned agree as follows:
(a) Release. THE UNDERSIGNED HEREBY IRREVOCABLY AND UNCONDITIONALLY RELEASE, FOREVER DISCHARGE, AND AGREE NOT TO SUE OR BRING ANY OTHER LEGAL ACTION AGAINST THE RELEASED PARTIES with respect to any and all claims and causes of action of any nature whether currently known or unknown, which the Undersigned [*9] or any of them, have or which could be asserted on behalf of the Undersigned in connection with the Participant’s participation in the Activity, including, but not limited to claims of negligence, breach of warranty, and/or breach of contract.
(b) Indemnification. The Undersigned hereby agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless the Released Parties from and against any and all liability, cost, expense or damage of any kind or nature whatsoever and from any suits, claims or demands including legal fees and expenses whether or not in litigation, arising out of, or related to, Participant’s participation in the Activity. Such obligation on the part of the Undersigned shall survive the period of the Participant’s participation in the Activity.
(c) Assumption of Risk. The Undersigned agree and understand that there are dangers and risks associated with participation in the Activity and that INJURIES AND/OR DEATH may result from participating in the Activity, including, but not limited to the acts, omissions, representations, carelessness, and negligence of the Released Parties. By signing this document, the Undersigned recognize that property loss, injury and death are all possible while [*10] participating in the Activity. RECOGNIZING THE RISKS AND DANGERS, THE UNDERSIGNED UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF THE ACTIVITY AND VOLUNTARILY CHOOSE FOR PARTICIPANT TO PARTICIPATE IN AND EXPRESSLY ASSUME ALL RISKS AND DANGERS OF THE PARTICIPATION IN THE ACTIVITY, WHETHER OR NOT DESCRIBED ABOVE, KNOWN OR UNKNOWN, INHERENT, OR OTHERWISE.
As noted earlier, Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim is subject to the defenses that could have been asserted against Ms. Apolinar, had she lived and brought the claim. The issue is whether the exculpatory provision in Paragraph 3(a) or the assumption of risk provision in Paragraphs 2 and 3(c) of the Agreement would have barred Ms. Apolinar’s claims. If so, Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim is similarly barred.
The Court begins with the exculpatory provision of the Agreement. Colorado law favors enforcement of contracts, but exculpatory provisions that shield one party from its future negligence must be carefully scrutinized.2 Whether an exculpatory provision is enforceable is a question of law. In order to determine whether an exculpatory clause is enforceable, courts evaluate the four “Jones factors”3: “(1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature [*11] of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.”
2 Indeed, there are some types of conduct for which exculpatory clauses are never enforceable. For example, they cannot be used as a shield against a claim for willful and wonton negligence. See, e.g., Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo.2004); Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981); Barker v. Colorado Region, 35 Colo. App. 73, 532 P. 2d 372 (1974).
3 These come from Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). Although colloquially referred to as “factors,” they really are not treated as such — they are not weighed, compared or tallied. Instead, they might be better understood as situations in which an exculpatory clause should not be enforced.
1. Duty to the Public
This factor focuses on whether the party seeking to enforce the contract (here, AVA) provided such a necessary and important service to the public that the releasing party (Ms. Apolinar) could not reasonably be expected to refuse the service in order to avoid the exculpatory provision. Drawing from Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 444 (1963), Colorado law recognizes that when a service has great importance to the public and it is a matter of practical necessity to some members of the public, then the provider of the service has undue bargaining power in setting the terms of the contract. [*12] In such case, an exculpatory agreement may be void as an adhesion contract. See Jones, 623 P. 2d at 376; Potter v. Nat’l Handicapped Sports, 849 F. Supp. 1407, 1409 (D. Colo. 1994).
By their nature, recreational activities generally are not considered necessary public services. Instead, participation in these activities is optional. See, e.g., Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; Mincin v. Vail Holdings, Inc.., 308 F.3d 1105, 1110 (10th Cir. 2002); Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Indeed, at least one court has specifically found that white water rafting activities are not necessary public services. See Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo 1996).
Mr. Espinoza does not dispute this authority. Instead, he argues that because white water rafting is regulated by Colorado statute, it has a public aspect4, and that enforcement of the exculpatory clause in the Agreement would frustrate the purposes of regulation. Mr. Espinoza is quite correct that white water rafting enterprises are regulated under the Colorado River Outfitter’s Act (CROA), C.R.S. § 33-32-101 et seq. CROA makes it “unlawful any river outfitter, guide, trip leader, or guide instructor to (i) violate CROA’s safety equipment provisions; (ii) operate a vessel in a careless or imprudent manner without due regard for river conditions or other attending circumstances, or in such a manner as to endanger any person, property, or wildlife; or (iii) operate a vessel with wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. [*13] An outfitter or guide that does not comply with CROA’s safety obligations commits a misdemeanor. § 33-32-107.
4 Presumably, this argument is based on a sentence found in Tunkl‘s explanation of the types of services that might create public duties: “It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation.” Tunkl, 383 P2d at 444.
The regulation of white-water rafting enterprises, however, does not change the nature of the service that AVA provides. White water rafting is a purely recreational activity, as compared to an essential or necessary one. The rafter is free to decline the service if the rafter is unwilling to accept the terms of the exculpatory clause. Indeed, since CROA was enacted, several courts have enforced exculpatory agreements protecting white water rafting operators. See Lahey, 964 F. Supp. at 1446; Forman v. Brown, 944 P2d 559, 563-64 (Colo. App. 1996).
Furthermore, enforcement of the exculpatory provision does not logically or practically have any impact on regulation under CROA. There is Colorado authority that recognizes that when a statute defines the scope of civil liability, individuals cannot contract around it; however, such authority is not instructive here.
In Stanley v. Creighton Co., 911 P.2d 705, 708 (Colo. App. 1996), the Colorado Court of Appeals compared the provision of the Colorado Premises Liability [*14] Act that made a landowner liable to invitees for damages caused by the “landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known”5 with conflicting exculpatory language in a lease, “Lessor shall not be responsible for any damage or injury said Lessee may sustain from any cause whatsoever unless injury is a direct result of the Lessor’s gross negligence.” The Court characterized the issue of the validity of the lease’s exculpatory clause as implicating competing principles: freedom of contract and responsibility for damages caused by one’s own negligent acts. Stanley, at 706 (citing Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (Colo.1989)). Ultimately, it held that where the General Assembly has expressed its intent in an area of clear public policy, a contract to the contrary is invalid.
5 C.R.S. §13-21-115(3)(c)(I).
However, the Stanley-type situation is not present here. CROA does not address the scope of civil liability of rafting operators.6 Rather, it provides for the creation of safety standards that are enforceable by criminal penalty. See C.R.S. §§ 33-32-107,108. If the exculpatory provision of the Agreement were to bar Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim, Colorado nevertheless could implement its public policy under CROA [*15] by prosecuting and punishing AWA under the CROA safety standards. In fact, the record reflects that CROA enforcement occurred in this case. The Colorado State Parks (“CSP”) conducted an investigation, and found that all required safety equipment was on the trip, all equipment to was in serviceable condition, and all of the guides were qualified as required by Colorado law. CSP concluded that other than filing a late written report that there were “[n]o other violations of Colorado law”.
6 In this respect, CROA differs from the statutory schemes in other states cited by Mr. Espinoza in his Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment because those statutes establish the limits on civil liability for recreational outfitters, rather than a public right enforced through criminal penalties. See W. Va. Code Ann. § 20-3B-5 (West) (“No licensed commercial whitewater outfitter or commercial whitewater guide acting in the course of his employment is liable to a participant for damages or injuries to such participant unless such damage or injury was directly caused by failure of the commercial whitewater outfitter or commercial whitewater guide to comply with duties placed on him by [statute or rule].”); Idaho Code Ann. § 6-1206 (West) (“No licensed [*16] outfitter or guide acting in the course of his employment shall be liable to a participant for damages or injuries to such participant unless such damage or injury was directly or proximately caused by failure of the outfitter or guide to comply with the duties placed on him by [statute or rule].”).
Because rafting is not a necessary, public service and its regulation is unaffected by the terms of the exculpatory provision, this factor does not compel a determination of unenforceability.
2. Nature of Service Performed
Somewhat duplicative of the first factor, the second concerns the nature of the service that was performed. An exculpatory provision can be invalidated when “the activity can be described as an essential service.” See Lahey, 964 F.Supp. at 1445. The parties agree that white-water rafting is not an essential service. Thus, this factor does not invalidate the exculpatory provision in the Agreement.
3. Whether the Agreement was Fairly Entered Into
The third factor focuses on whether the party benefitted by the exculpatory clause overreached the releasing party. Colorado law specifies that a contract is “fairly entered into” if neither party is so obviously disadvantaged with respect to bargaining power [*17] that he/she is placed at the mercy of the other party’s negligence.” Hamill v. Cheley Colorado Camps, Inc., 262 P.3d 945, 949 (Colo. App. 2011). Simply because a contract is on a printed form and is offered on a “take-it-or-leave-it basis” does not necessarily make it unfair, especially when similar services can be obtained by another provider. See Jones, 623 P.2d at 375; Mincin, 308 F.3d at 1111; Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949. Analysis with regard to this factor turns on the particular facts surrounding the execution of the Agreement.
Mr. Espinoza argues that AVA defrauded Ms. Apolinar at the time she selected and reserved seats for the rafting trip. He contends that on its website, AVA misrepresented that the trip was for beginners and was safe for families on its website. In particular, he contends that AVA represented that this trip included no rapids rated higher than Class III rapids, when in reality one rapid known as Seidel’s Suck Hole was a Class IV rapid. He states that had Ms. Apolinar known that Seidel’s Suck Hole was a Class IV rapid, she would not have selected the particular rafting trip, participated in the trip or signed the Agreement.
The Court recognizes that there is a genuine dispute as to the difficulty level of Seidel’s Suck Hole and assumes that it was a Class IV rapid for purposes of this motion. The Court [*18] further assumes that AVA did not disclose the severity of the rapid to Ms. Apolinar on its website or later when Ms. Apolinar signed the Agreement. The nature of the omitted information (severity of the rapid) arguably was material to questions of risk of injury or death. Even if viewed as misrepresentation by omission (failure to disclose Seidel’s Suck Hole as a class IV rapid) or false representation (that Seidel’s Suck Hole was a Class III rapid), there is no evidence that suggests that Ms. Apolinar relied on such designation in executing the Agreement.
The chronology of events shows two independent decisions by Ms. Apolinar. She viewed the website and booked the trip online before traveling to Colorado. But, Ms. Apolinar executed the Agreement after she arrived in Colorado before the trip began. There is no evidence in the record addressing the manner in which the Agreement was presented to Ms. Apolinar or any representations made to her by AVA before or at the time of its execution. There is no evidence, for example, that an AVA employee told Ms. Apolinar that the Agreement or release language was not important, was not accurate, would not be enforced, or did not mean what it said. [*19]
Turning to the Agreement, it both applied to all rafting trips (not just the one Ms. Apolinar had chosen) and it described the risks in the contexts of all rafting activity. It characterizes all rafting activity as “HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH” and it states that there are particular risks and dangers that cannot be anticipated including changing water conditions, obstacles, currents, etc. In capitalized print, it states that “THE UNDERSIGNED ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND THAT THE DESCRIPTION OF THE RISKS LISTED ABOVE IS NOT COMPLETE AND THAT PARTICIPATING IN THE ACTIVITY MAY BE DANGEROUS AND MAY INCLUDE OTHER RISKS”. It also contains an integration and merger clause. Paragraph (6)(c) states that the Agreement’s representations “supersede prior contracts, arrangements, communications or representations, whether oral or written, between the parties relating to the subject matter hereof.”
Assuming that AVA’s website portrayed, and Ms. Apolinar believed, that the rafting trip she booked was safe for families before participating, she was presented with an Agreement that contained comprehensive, even dire, descriptions of the risks she was undertaking. There is no evidence [*20] that Ms. Apolinar relied on the website information in lieu of the risks outlined in the Agreement at the time she signed the Agreement, nor any evidence that she was misled or overreached by AVA employees. Faced with stark representations of risk in the Agreement, Ms. Apolinar could have cancelled her reservation and declined to participate in the rafting trip. Thus, the Court finds that Ms. Apolinar fairly entered into the Agreement. On this record, the Court cannot find that she was either overreached or defrauded. See Squires v. Breckenridge Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 715 F.3d 867, 879 (10th Cir. 2013) (“Plaintiff has failed to provide any evidence that [her mother] relied on this misrepresentation in deciding to sign the Release.”).
4. Whether the Agreement is Clear and Unambiguous
The final “Jones factor” asks whether the exculpatory provision was clear and unambiguous. To evaluate this factor, a court “examine[s] the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.” See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467.
Mr. Espinoza argues that Agreement is not clear and unambiguous because it is broad, unduly long, and obscures the key terms. The Court disagrees.
First, at less than two [*21] pages, the Agreement “is not inordinately long or complicated.” See Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 127 F.3d 1273, 1275 (10th Cir. 1997); Lahey, 964 F. Supp. at 1445 (concluding that a release agreement of “just over one page” was “short”).
Second, the Agreement repeatedly and clearly states that the signor is releasing AVA from liability. The title of the document is “RAFTING WARNING, ASSUMPTION OF RISK, RELEASE OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNIFICATION AGREEMENT”. This is immediately followed by a directive, “PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING. THIS IS A RELEASE OF LIABILITY & WAIVER OF LEGAL RIGHTS.”
The body of the Agreement contains six main paragraphs titled in boldface print. For example: 2. Risks of Activity” and “3. Release, Indemnification and Assumption of Risk.” Key portions are printed in all capital letters. For example, the “Release” clause indicates the signor’s agreement to “THE UNDERSIGNED HEREBY IRREVOCABLY AND UNCONDITIONALLY RELEASE, FOREVER DISCHARGE , AND AGREE NOT TO SUE OR BRING ANY OTHER LEGAL ACTION AGAINST THE RELEASED PARTIES with respect to any and all claims and causes of action of any nature whether currently known or unknown, which the undersigned of any of them have or which could be asserted on behalf of the Undersigned in connection with the Participant’s [*22] participation in the Activity.” There is no legal jargon that impairs the meaning of this or other provisions.
Third, the Agreement clearly expresses intent for the release to apply to claims based on injury or death resulting from white water rafter, including the type of circumstances that led to Ms. Apolinar’s death. It expressly states there is a risk of physical injury or death and lists specific risks such as “trees or other above water obstacles,” drowning, overturning, and “entrapment of feet or other body parts under rocks or other objects.” The Court finds that the Agreement clearly and unambiguously articulates the intent of the parties to release AVA from all liability resulting from Ms. Apolinar’s participation in the rafting trip.
As explained above, none of the Jones factors compels a finding that the Agreement’s exculpatory clause is invalid. Thus, as a matter of law, the exculpatory clause would have barred claims for injury to Ms. Apolinar, had she survived. Similarly, it bars wrongful death claims by Mr. Espinoza as her heir. C.R.S. § 13-21-202; see also Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F.Supp.2d 889, 895 (D. Colo. 1998) (“Colorado courts interpreting the statute hold, consistent with the plain language of the statute, that the right to bring a wrongful [*23] death claim is dependent on the decedent’s ability to have brought the claim.”). Because this action is barred, it is not necessary to address the parties’ arguments as to the Agreement’s assumption of risk provisions. As a matter of law, AVA is entitled to dismissal of all claims with prejudice.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that AVA’s Motion for Summary Judgment (#17) is GRANTED. AVA is entitled to judgment on its affirmative defense as against all claims of the Plaintiff. The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of the Defendant and against the Plaintiff on all claims and close this case.
Dated this 26th day of September, 2014.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Marcia S. Krieger
Marcia S. Krieger
Chief United States District Judge
Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440 (Dist Colo 1996)
Carol Lahey, Plaintiff, v. Rick Covington d/b/a Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., and Douglas (Blues) Voisard, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs, v. Rob Mobilian, Third-Party Defendant.
Civil Action No. 95 N 1396
United States District Court for the District of Colorado
964 F. Supp. 1440; 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21247
April 29, 1996, Decided
April 29, 1996, FILED; May 1, 1996, ENTERED
Disposition: [**1] Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings Granted.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment Granted in part and Denied in part.
Counsel: For Carol Lahey, plaintiff: William A. Trine, Williams & Trine, P.C., Boulder, CO U.S.A.
For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., a Colorado corporation, defendant: James V. Pearson, Pearson, Milligan & Horowitz, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A. For Rick Covington, defendant: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (Blues) Voisard, defendant: James V. Pearson, (See above).
For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, Pearson, Milligan & Horowitz, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A. For Rick Covington, counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (Blues) Voisard, counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, (See above).
For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Rick Covington, third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (BLUES) Voisard, third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above).
For Carol Lahey, counter-defendant: William A. Trine, Williams & Trine, P.C., Boulder, CO U.S.A.
For Rob Mobilian, third-party defendant: Ira M. Long, Jr., Roos, [**2] Cohen & Long, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A.
Judges: Edward W. Nottingham, United States District Judge
Opinion by: Edward W. Nottingham
[*1441] Order and Memorandum of Decision
This is a personal injury action. Plaintiff Carol Lahey alleges that she suffered serious injuries during a white-water rafting trip as a result of the negligence and willful and wanton conduct of Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs Rick Covington d/b/a Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., and Douglas (Blues) Voisard [hereinafter “defendants”]. Defendants allege that, pursuant to an indemnity agreement, both plaintiff and Third-Party Defendant Rob Mobilian (“Mobilian”) are liable to defendants for any fees and costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit. The matter is before the court on (1) “Third-Party Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” filed November 15, 1995, and (2) “Defendants’ and Third-Party Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment” filed January 19, [*1442] 1996. Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 (West 1993).
At all times relevant to this case, Covington owned and operated Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., a white-water rafting company located in Twin Lakes, Colorado. (Defs.’ and Third-Party [**3] Pls.’ Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P A [filed Jan. 19, 1996] [hereinafter “Defs.’ Summ. J. Br.”]; admitted at Pl.’s Mem. Br. in Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P A [filed Feb. 5, 1996] [hereinafter “Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot.”]; Mobilian’s Br. in Opp’n to Mot. for Summ. J., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts [filed Feb. 9, 1995] [hereinafter “Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot.”] [incorporating “Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Undisputed Material Facts”].) At all times relevant to this case, Voisard worked for Twin Lakes as a rafting guide. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P B; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P B; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.)
At sometime prior to June 1, 1993, Mobilian scheduled a white-water rafting trip for himself and his family with Covington and Twin Lakes. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P C; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material [**4] Facts P C; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Mobilian is plaintiff’s brother. (See Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl. P 15 [filed Sept. 15, 1995]; Am. Answer to Third-Party Compl. P 3 [filed Nov. 7, 1995].) On the morning of June 1, 1993, plaintiff, Mobilian, and family members arrived at Twin Lakes for the purpose of taking a white-water rafting trip. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. A [Mobilian Dep. at 15-16].)
At the Twin Lakes office, plaintiff and Mobilian signed identical release agreements. (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Exs. A [copy of release signed by plaintiff], B [copy of release signed by Mobilian].) Plaintiff did not read the release before she signed it. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. at 18.) The releases provided:
I recognize that there is a significant element of risk in whitewater rafting or any adventure expedition, sport or activity associated with the outdoors which I have voluntarily applied to participate in.
I fully understand that any activity associated with Twin Lakes Expeditions may include hazards and exposures connected in the outdoors which do involve risk and that I [**5] am aware of the risks and dangers inherent with the activities that I and/or my family, including any minor children, are involved in. I am mentally and physically capable of participating in the activities contracted for and willingly assume the risk of injury as my responsibility, including loss of control, collisions with other participants, trees, rocks, and other man made or natural obstacles, whether they are obvious or not obvious.
. . . .
As lawful consideration for being permitted by Twin Lakes Expeditions to participate in the activities involved, the undersigned, for himself and/or his heirs and assigns, hereby releases the State of Colorado, Bureau of Land Management, Twin Lakes Expeditions and employees of Twin Lakes Expeditions from any liability for claims or lawsuits brought by the undersigned and arising out of the activities provided by the concessioner.
I agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Twin Lakes Expeditions, the United States Forest Service and Parks Department, and all State or Government agencies, and private property [sic] the activities may be conducted on, and all of their officers, members, affiliated organizations, agents and employees [**6] for any injury or death caused by or resulting from me or my family’s participation in the activities associated with Twin Lakes Expeditions both scheduled and unscheduled whether or not such injury or death was caused by their negligence or from any other causes.
I assume complete and full responsibility for my family and myself, including any minor children, for bodily injury, loss of [*1443] life, loss of personal property and expenses thereof.
I have carefully read the agreement, fully understand and accept the terms and conditions explained and stated herein and acknowledge that this release shall be effective and legally binding upon me, my heirs, my estate, assigns[,] legal guardians and my personal representatives during the entire period of participation in the activities.
DO NOT SIGN THE RELEASE IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND OR DO NOT AGREE WITH ITS TERMS.
After signing the releases, plaintiff, Mobilian, and the others embarked on a white-water rafting trip. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. A [Mobilian Dep. at 21].) They went to the “Numbers” section of the Arkansas River. (See Am. Compl. in Tort for Damages P 10 [filed Aug. 24, 1995] [**7] [hereinafter “Am. Compl.”]; Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl. P 10 [filed Sept. 15, 1995].) Plaintiff testified that, at the time of the trip, she understood that she faced the following risks: (1) she might fall into the river; (2) she might be swept away from her raft; (3) she might strike rocks in the river; and (4) she could be injured. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P F; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P F; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.).
Covington testified that, on June 1, 1993, “Numbers” were a Class IV-plus set of rapids. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 128 11. 16-18].) He described the condition of the river as “high” but not “any more challenging that day than any other day.” (Id., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 136 11. 6-11].) On June 1, 1993, the water flow at the “Numbers” measured 3.8 feet high on the Scott’s Bridge Gauge. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P L; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P L; Mobilian’s [**8] Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) The Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area, apparently a white-water rafting regulatory group, recommends against commercial rafting through the “Numbers” when the water flow measures 4.0 feet high or more on the Scott’s Bridge Gauge. (Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P M; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P M; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Covington testified that his company policy was not to take people rafting through the “Numbers” if the water was four feet high or more. (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 160 1. 23 to 161 1.7]; Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 169 11. 4].) He explained that “anything up to [four] feet . . . was certainly not only acceptable, but a fine rafting level, exciting, and a guide’s favorite, if you want to put it that way.” (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 161 ll. 4-7].)
During the trip, plaintiff was in a raft guided by Voisard. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P K; [**9] admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P K; Mobilian ‘s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) As plaintiff ‘s raft entered “rapid number 4,” Voisard was thrown out of the raft. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P N; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P N; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Shortly thereafter, the raft capsized, tossing plaintiff into the river. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that, as she was swept through the rapids, she incurred multiple injuries and, as a result, has had to undergo surgery and physical therapy. (Am. Compl. P 29.)
On May 31, 1995, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants in this court, alleging that defendants were liable for (1) negligence and (2) willful and wanton conduct. (See Compl. [filed May 31, 1995].) On August 24, 1995, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, in which she corrected her allegation regarding Covington’s residence. (See Am. Compl.) [*1444] On September 15, 1995, defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint, a [**10] counterclaim against plaintiff, and a third-party complaint against Mobilian. (See Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl.) In their counterclaim, defendants assert that, according to the terms of the release agreement, plaintiff is obligated to indemnify defendants for “all of their damages, attorneys’ fees, costs and other expenses incurred as a result of” her participation in the June 1, 1993, rafting trip. (See id. at 7-8.) Similarly in their third-party claim against Mobilian, defendants assert that, according to the terms of the release agreement, Mobilian must indemnify defendants for all of the fees and costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit.
The motions currently before the court present the following three issues:
(1) whether the release agreement bars plaintiff’s negligence claims; (2) whether plaintiff has presented evidence that defendants acted willfully and wantonly; (3) whether, by signing the release agreement, plaintiff and Mobilian agreed to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. In his motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mobilian argues that the release agreement is unclear and ambiguous and counter to public [**11] policy and, thus, does not obligate him to indemnify defendants. In their motion for summary judgment, defendants maintain that: (1) plaintiff’s negligence claims are barred by the release agreement; (2) plaintiff has not presented evidence that defendants acted willfully and wantonly in taking her on the rafting trip; and (3) Mobilian is obligated to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. I begin with the issues raised in defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
1. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
a. Legal Standard
Pursuant to rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where “the pleadings, depositions, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts and the . . . moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Concrete Works, Inc. v. City and County of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1004, 131 L. Ed. [**12] 2d 196, 115 S. Ct. 1315 (1995). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). “Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter.” Concrete Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S. Ct. at 2554). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but must instead designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S. Ct. at 2553, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The court may consider only admissible evidence when ruling on a summary judgment motion. See World of Sleep, Inc. v. La-Z-Boy Chair Co., 756 F.2d 1467, 1474 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 823, 106 S. Ct. 77, 88 L. Ed. 2d 63 (1985). Additionally, the factual record must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Concrete Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Applied Genetics Int’l, Inc. v. First Affiliated [**13] Sec., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 [10th Cir. 1990]).
Colorado law disfavors exculpatory agreements such as the release agreement at issue here. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 783 (Colo. 1989) (en banc). Thus, they are strictly construed against the drafter. Anderson v. Eby, 998 F.2d 858, 861 (10th Cir. 1993) (quoting Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 [Colo. 1981] [en banc]); Potter v. National Handicapped Sports , 849 F. Supp. 1407, 1409 (D. Colo. 1994). Nevertheless, an exculpatory agreement is “not necessarily void . . . as long as one party [*1445] is not ‘at such obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to put him at the mercy of the other’s negligence.’” Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784 (quoting W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 482 [5th ed. 1984].) The release agreement at issue here is not the sort where one party is at so great a disadvantage as to render the agreement void. See Jones, 623 P.2d at 374-75.
In determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid, the court must consider the following four factors: “’(1) [**14] the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.’” Id. at 784 (quoting Jones, 623 P.2d at 376). Whether an exculpatory agreement is valid is a question of law for the court. Jones, 623 P.2d at 376; Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. “For an exculpatory agreement to fail under the first factor, the party seeking exculpation must be engaged in providing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.” Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Such is not the case here. As in Potter, the activity at issue—white-water rafting—is recreational in nature. Thus, “by definition and common sense, it is neither a matter of great public importance nor a matter of practical necessity.” Id. (citing Bauer v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 788 F. Supp. 472, 474 [D. Colo. 1992]).
The second factor, “the nature of the activity,” involves an assessment of whether the activity can be described as an “essential service.” See Potter, [**15] 849 F. Supp. at 1410; Jones, 784 P.2d. at 784. Clearly white-water rafting is neither. See Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Regarding the third factor, plaintiff testified that she does not feel that she was treated unfairly by Twin Lake’s requirement that she sign the release form before going on the rafting trip. (Def.’s Summ. J. Br., Ex. G [Pl.’s Dep. at 131 l. 23 to 132 l.
1].) Because plaintiff has presented no evidence which contradicts her testimony, I conclude that she entered into the release fairly. Thus, only the fourth factor, whether the terms of the exculpatory agreement are clear and unambiguous, remains to be considered.
The release agreement in this case is short (just over one page), written in simple, clear terms, free of legal jargon, and uncomplicated. Thus, under the standard expressed in Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., it appears to be clear and unambiguous. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 785; see also Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1410. Plaintiff maintains, however, that the agreement is not clear because, even if she had read it, n1 it would not have fully apprised her of the risks she would encounter on the rafting trip. Specifically, plaintiff [**16] complains that the release did not inform her of the following: (1) she would not be given an opportunity to observe “rapid number 4” before proceeding through it; (2) she would not be given an opportunity to determine what risks were inherent in “rapid number 4” before proceeding through it; (3) she would not be given an opportunity to walk around “rapid number 4” instead of rafting through it; and (4) Voisard could fall out of the raft and, consequently, be unable to direct and navigate the raft. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. At 16.)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
n1 Even though plaintiff did not read the agreement before signing it, she is nevertheless bound by its terms since there is no evidence that she was fraudulently induced to sign it. See Day v. Snowmass Stables, Inc., 810 F. Supp. 289, 294 (D. Colo. 1993).
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Colorado law does not require that an exculpatory agreement describe in detail each specific risk that the signor might encounter. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 785; see also Potter, 849 F. Supp. [**17] at 1410-11. Rather, an exculpatory agreement bars a claim if the agreement clearly reflects the parties’ intent to extinguish liability for that type of claim. See id.
Plaintiff asserts that the above-listed risks of which she allegedly was not informed were the product of defendants’ negligence. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. at 16.) The release agreement states in plain language, however, that plaintiff agreed to “hold harmless Twin Lakes Expeditions . . . and all of [its] officers . . . and employees for any injury . . . whether [*1446] or not such injury . . . was caused by their negligence. . . . “ (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. A [copy of release agreement signed by plaintiff] [emphasis supplied].) Thus, the exculpatory agreement clearly reflects an intent to preclude claims based on defendants’ negligence. See Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1411.
I conclude that the exculpatory portion of the release agreement is valid as a matter of law. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784; Jones, 623 P.2d at 378; see also Anderson, 998 F.2d at 861-62; Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1410.
Consequently, it bars plaintiff’s claims to the extent that they are based on defendants’ [**18] alleged negligence. See id. Accordingly, defendants are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s negligence claims. See id.c.
Willful and Wanton Conduct
In Colorado, “willful and wanton conduct” is conduct which an actor realizes is highly hazardous and poses a strong probability of injury to another but nevertheless knowingly and voluntarily chooses to engage in. See Steeves v. Smiley, 144 Colo. 5, 354 P.2d 1011, 1013-14 (Colo. 1960); Hodges v. Ladd, 143 Colo. 143, 352 P.2d 660, 663 (Colo. 1960) (en banc); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102(1)(b) (1987) (concerning exemplary damages). Here, plaintiff claims that defendants are liable for willful and wanton conduct because they concealed from her the fact that the risks she would face on the rafting trip were greater that those usually involved in white-water rafting. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Br. at 13-14.) She maintains that “defendants knew that the [’Numbers’] stretch of the river was extremely dangerous and that only skilled and experienced rafters could safely maneuver the rapids.” (See id. at 13.)
Plaintiff’s claim, however, is wholly unsupported by the record. Plaintiff presents no evidence [**19] that defendants knew that the risks posed by rafting through the “Numbers” were greater than usual for the sport of white-water rafting, let alone any evidence that the risks were, in fact, greater. To the contrary, Covington’s uncontroverted testimony is that the river ‘s water-height on the day of plaintiff’s trip was appropriate for rafting according to industry standards as well as his company policy, and that the “Numbers” was not any more dangerous on June 1, 1993, than on any other day. (See Def.’s Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 160 l. 21 to 164 l. 25]; Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 136 ll. 6-12].) Plaintiff has introduced nothing to suggest that defendants did not believe that, in taking plaintiff on the rafting trip, they were acting (1) in conformance with industry standards, (2) in conformance with their company standards, and (3) in what they knew to be a reasonably safe manner, given the nature of white-water rafting. Thus, because plaintiff has failed to introduce evidence that defendants’ conduct rises to the level of willful and wanton, I conclude that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on that claim. Concrete [**20] Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S. Ct. at 2554).
As indicated above, defendants maintain that, by signing the release agreement, plaintiff agreed to indemnify them for their attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred in connection with this lawsuit. Similarly, defendants argue that, because Mobilian is plaintiff’s brother, the indemnity clause in the release agreement obligates him to indemnify defendants for any costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit, including attorneys’ fees and costs.
In general, indemnity agreements, like exculpatory agreements, are strictly construed under Colorado law. Public Serv. Co. of Colo. v. United Cable Television of Jeffco, Inc., 829 P.2d 1280, 1284 (Colo. 1992) (en banc). For an indemnity agreement to be enforceable, it must contain clear and unequivocal language which manifests the parties’ intent that the indemnitee be indemnified for the expenses at issue. See id.; Williams v. White Mountain Constr. Co., Inc. , 749 P.2d 423, 426 (Colo. 1988) (en banc).
Here, the relevant language provides, “I agree to . . . indemnify [defendants] . . . for any injury or [**21] death caused by or resulting from me or my family’s participation [*1447] [in the rafting activity].” (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Exs. A [copy of release signed by plaintiff], B [copy of release signed by Mobilian].) That language does not clearly and unequivocally state that the signor agrees to pay the attorney’s fees and costs associated with a lawsuit such as this. In fact, it seems more likely that the clause means that the signor agrees to pay expenses such as medical bills which result from her or her family member’s physical injury during a rafting trip. Further, with respect to defendant’s claim against Mobilian, the term “family” is not clearly and unequivocally broad enough to encompass the signor’s adult sister as opposed to only the signor’s spouse and children. Thus, I conclude that the language of the indemnity clause does not obligate plaintiff or Mobilian to indemnify defendants for the attorneys’ fees and other expenses they incur in connection with this lawsuit. See Public Serv. Co. of Colo., 829 P.2d at 1284; Williams, 749 P.2d at 426. Accordingly, defendants’ summary judgment motion is denied on the issue of plaintiff’s and Mobilian’s indemnity obligations. [**22] I need not reach the parties’ further arguments on that issue.
2. Mobilian’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
As indicated above, Mobilian moves for judgment on the pleadings with respect to his obligation to indemnify defendants for their attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred in connection with this lawsuit. A motion for judgment on the pleadings is a motion to dismiss that is filed after the pleadings are closed.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); 2A James W. Moore, Moore’s Federal Practice P 12.15 (2d ed. 1995). The standard of review for such a motion is as follows:
For purposes of the motion, all well-pleaded material allegations of the non-moving party’s pleading are to be taken as true, and all allegations of the moving party which have been denied are taken as false. Conclusions of law are not deemed admitted. On the basis of the facts so admitted, the court may grant judgment only if the moving party is clearly entitled to judgment. 2A Moore P 12.15; Hamilton v. Cunningham, 880 F. Supp. 1407, 1410 (D. Colo. 1995). I therefore accept as true all allegations set forth by defendants. See id. “A judgment on the pleadings is appropriate [**23] when, even if all allegations in the complaint are true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Westlands Water Dist. v. Firebaugh Canal, 10 F.3d 667, 670 (9th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).
Here, for the reasons explained in the previous section, I conclude as a matter of law that Mobilian is not obligated to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. Accordingly, Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.
Based on the foregoing, it is therefore
ORDERED as follows:
1. Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED.
2. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
3. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED with respect to plaintiff’s claims of negligence and willful and wanton conduct.
4. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is DENIED with respect to defendants’ claim that plaintiff and Mobilian are obligated to indemnify defendants for their attorneys’ fees and other costs incurred in connection with this lawsuit.
5. Defendants’ third-party claim is hereby dismissed.
Dated this 29 day of April, 1996.
By The [**24] Court:
Edward W. Nottingham
United States District Judge