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

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

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

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

Plaintiff: Erika Grotheer 

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

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

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

Holding: For the Defendant 

Year: 2017 

Summary

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

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

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

Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The court started with the Common Carrier analysis.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What? 

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

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

 What do you think? Leave a comment. 

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

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

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

E063449

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

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

August 31, 2017, Opinion Filed

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

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

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

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

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

OPINION BY: Slough, J.

OPINION

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

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

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

I

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Preflight

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

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

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

B. The Crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. The Complaint

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

D. The Summary Judgment Motion

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

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

II

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*1305]

III

DISPOSITION

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

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


Colorado Federal District Court judge references a ski area lift ticket in support of decision granting the ski area’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing the lawsuit.

The Federal District Court in this case used the language of the lift ticket to support the defendant ski area’s motion for summary judgment. The decision  also says the release is valid for lift accidents in Colorado closing one of the last gaps in suits against ski areas in Colorado.

Rumpf v. Sunlight, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107946

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

Plaintiff: Sally Rumpf & Louis Rumpf

Defendant: Sunlight, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, negligence per se, and loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: (1) they are barred by the exculpatory language contained in both the ski rental agreement and the lift ticket; (2) they fail for a lack of expert testimony; and (3) that Sally Rumpf
was negligent per se under the Ski Safety Act. 

Holding: for the Defendant 

Year: 2016 

The plaintiff traveled to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to visit family and ski. She rented equipment from the
defendant ski area, Ski Sunlight and purchased a lift ticket. As required to rent the ski equipment, the plaintiff signed a release. 

While attempting to board a chair lift, the plaintiff injured her shoulder. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which the court granted with this decision. 

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

In the statement of the facts, the court quoted from the language on the lift ticket.

Holder understands that he/she is responsible for using the ski area safely and for having the physical dexterity to safely load, ride and unload the lifts. Holder agrees to read and understand all signage and instructions and agrees to comply with them. Holder understands that he/she must control his/her speed and course at all times and maintain a proper lookout. Holder understands that snowmobiles, snowcats, and snowmaking may be encountered at any time. In consideration of using the premises, Holder agrees to ASSUME ALL RISKS associated with the activities and to HOLD HARMLESS the Ski Area and its representatives for all claims for injury to person or property. Holder agrees that any and all disputes between Holder and the Ski Area regarding an alleged incident shall be governed by COLORADO LAW  and EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION shall be in the State or Federal Courts of the State of Colorado.

What is interesting is the Colorado Skier Safety Act, C.R.S. §§ 33-44-107(8)(b) requires specific language to be on the lift ticket.

WARNING

Under Colorado law, a skier assumes the risk of any injury to person or property resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing and may not recover from any ski area operator for any injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing, including: Changing weather conditions; existing and changing snow conditions; bare spots; rocks; stumps; trees; collisions with natural objects, man-made objects, or other skiers; variations in terrain; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities.

It is unclear from the decision, and I do not have a copy of the Ski Sunlight lift ticket, to know if the required language is on the lift ticket. However, the language that was on the lift ticket was important and used by the court to make its decision.

The language required by the Colorado Skier Safety Act speaks to the risks assumed by a skier while skiing and does not speak to any risks of a chair lift. This creates an obvious conflict in the law for a ski area. Do you use the language required by the statute or use different language that a federal judge has said was  instructive in stopping the claims of a plaintiff. 

The court found the plaintiff had read and understood the release and knew she was bound by it. The plaintiff’s argument centered on the theory that the release did not cover lift accidents based on a prior case, Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70 (1998). That case held that a ski area owes the highest degree of care to skiers on the lift. 

Plaintiffs further argue that the exculpatory language at issue is “only applicable to ski cases when the accident or injury occurs while the plaintiff is skiing or snowboarding on the slopes,” and not when loading the ski lift. 

The Bayer decision changed the liability issues for Colorado Ski Areas. It also created the only gap in  protection for Colorado Ski Areas between the Colorado Skier Safety Act and release law. However, this was significantly modified by Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31662, reviewed in Question answered; Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes Colorado Ski Area Safety act. Standard of care owed skiers on chairlift’s reasonable man standard?

The court then reviewed the requirements under Colorado law for releases to be valid. 

Exculpatory agreements, which attempt to insulate a party from liability for its own negligence, are generally recognized under Colorado law, but are construed narrowly and “closely scrutinized” to ensure that the agreement was fairly entered into and that the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Additionally, the  terms of exculpatory agreements must be strictly construed against the drafter. 

The court reiterated several times that it was the intent of the parties within the language of the release that was the important aspect of the release, more than the specific language of the release. This intent was  supported by the language on the lift ticket. Colorado has a 4 factor test to determine the validity of a release. 

…in determining the validity of an exculpatory agreement, the Court must consider the following factors: (1) whether the service provided involves a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service provided; (3) whether the agreement was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. 

Skiing in Colorado is recreational and not a service, so there is no public duty that would void a release. Because it is a service, and the plaintiff is free to go ski else where there is no adhesion so the agreement was entered into by the parties fairly. 

Adhesion was defined by the court in Colorado as:

…Colorado defines an adhesion contract as “generally not bargained for, but imposed on the public for a necessary  service on a take it or leave it basis.” However, printed form contracts offered on a take it or leave it basis, alone, do not render the agreement an adhesion contract.

For the plaintiff to win her argument, the plaintiff must show “, “that the parties were greatly disparate in bargaining power, that there was no opportunity for negotiation, or that [the] services could not be obtained elsewhere.”

The court then applied contract law to determine if the agreement was ambiguous.

“Interpretation of a written contract and the determination of whether a provision in the contract is ambiguous are questions of law.” Under Colorado law, I must examine the actual language of the agreements 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.

The court in reviewing the release found the release to clearly and unambiguously set forth the party’s intent to release the ski area from liability.

The court again backed up its decision by referring to the language on the lift ticket. 

Furthermore, the ski lift ticket specifically references safely loading, riding and unloading Sunlight’s ski lifts and provides that the “Holder agrees to ASSUME ALL RISKS associated with the activities and to HOLD HARMLESS the Ski Area and its representatives for all claims for injury to person or property.” 

As such the release was valid and stopped the claims of the plaintiff and her spouse.

So Now What?

Although the basics of the decision are familiar under Colorado law, the court’s reference to the language on the lift ticket is a departure from Colorado law and the law of most other states. See Lift tickets are not contracts and rarely work as a release in most states

Whether or not a lift ticket standing by itself is enough to stop a claim is still in the air and probably will be. The language on this lift ticket may have been different than the language required by law, which basically states the skier assumes the risk of skiing. The required statutory language does not cover any issues with loading, unloading or riding chair lifts. 

This creates a major conflict for ski areas. What do you put on the lift ticket. The statute requires specific language; however, there are no penalties for failing to put the language on the lift ticket. However, it is negligence to violate any part of the statute, if that negligence caused an injury. 

C.R.S. §§ 33-44-104. Negligence – civil actions.

(1) A violation of any requirement of this article shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of the person violating such requirement.

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

Failing to put the language on the lift ticket by itself could not cause an injury. The language required on the lift ticket is the same language required to be posted where ever lift tickets are sold and posted at the bottom of all base area lifts. Base area lifts are the lifts used to get up the mountain. Lifts that start further up the mountain, which require a lift right to reach don’t need the warning signs. 

My advice is to include the statutory language and much of the language of this decision on lift tickets. You just don’t want to walk into a courtroom and be accused of failing to follow the law. You might be right, but you will look bad and looking bad is the first step in writing a check. The biggest limitation is going to be the size of the lift ticket and print size.

This case, although decided before Question answered; Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes Colorado Ski Area Safety act. Standard of care owed skiers on chairlift’s reasonable man standard? and was quoted in this decision, it adds another block into what is now an almost impregnable wall against claims from skiers in Colorado.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Rumpf v. Sunlight, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107946

Rumpf v. Sunlight, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107946

Sally Rumpf & Louis Rumpf, Plaintiffs, v. Sunlight, Inc., Defendant.

Civil Action No. 14-cv-03328-WYD-KLM

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

August 3, 2016, Decided

August 3, 2016, Filed

CORE TERMS: exculpatory, ski lift, rental agreement, lift tickets, ski, summary judgment, sports, recreational, snow, service provided, ski area, loading, skiing, language contained, unambiguous language, adhesion contract, unambiguously, exculpation, bargaining, equipment rental, loss of consortium, negligence claims, collectively, safely, riding, Ski Safety Act, question of law, ski resort, standard of care, moving party

COUNSEL: [*1] For Sally Rumpf, Louis Rumpf, Plaintiffs: Michael Graves Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, LLC, Denver, CO USA.

For Sunlight, Inc., Defendant: Jacqueline Ventre Roeder, Jordan Lee Lipp, Davis Graham & Stubbs, LLP-Denver, Denver, CO USA.

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

OPINION BY: Wiley Y. Daniel

OPINION

ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This matter is before the Court on the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 39) and the response and reply to the motion. For the reasons stated below, Defendant’s motion is granted.

I have reviewed the record and the parties’ respective submissions, and I find the following facts to be undisputed, or if disputed, I resolve them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs.

On December 24, 2012, Plaintiffs Sally Rumpf and her husband Louis Rumpf traveled to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to visit family and go skiing. On December 27, 2012, Plaintiffs went to Sunlight, a ski resort near Glenwood Springs. Prior to skiing, Plaintiffs rented ski equipment from Sunlight. As part of the ski rental, the Plaintiffs each executed a release, which provides in pertinent part:

I understand that the sports of skiing, snowboarding, skiboarding, [*2] snowshoeing and other sports (collectively “RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS”) involve inherent and other risks of INJURY and DEATH. I voluntarily agree to expressly assume all risks of injury or death that may result from these RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS, or which relate in any way to the use of this equipment.

* * *

I AGREE TO RELEASE AND HOLD HARMLESS the equipment rental facility, its employees, owners, affiliates, agents, officers, directors, and the equipment manufacturers and distributors and their successors in interest (collectively “PROVIDERS”), from all liability for injury, death, property loss and damage which results from the equipment user’s participation in the RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS for which the equipment is provided, or which is related in any way to the use of this equipment, including all liability which results from the NEGLIGENCE of PROVIDERS, or any other person or cause.

I further agree to defend and indemnify PROVIDERS for any loss or damage, including any that results from claims or lawsuits for personal injury, death, and property loss and damage related in any way to the use of this equipment.

This agreement is governed by the applicable law of this state or province. [*3] If any provision of this agreement is determined to be unenforceable, all other provisions shall be given full force and effect.

I THE UNDERSIGNED, HAVE READ AND UNDERSTAND THIS EQUIPMENT RENTAL & LIABILITY RELEASE AGREEMENT.

(ECF No. 39, Ex. 2) (emphasis in original).

The Plaintiffs also purchased lift tickets from Sunlight, which included the following release language:

Holder understands that he/she is responsible for using the ski area safely and for having the physical dexterity to safely load, ride and unload the lifts. Holder agrees to read and understand all signage and instructions and agrees to comply with them. Holder understands that he/she must control his/her speed and course at all times and maintain a proper lookout. Holder understands that snowmobiles, snowcats, and snowmaking may be encountered at any time. In consideration of using the premises, Holder agrees to ASSUME ALL RISKS associated with the activities and to HOLD HARMLESS the Ski Area and its representatives for all claims for injury to person or property. Holder agrees that any and all disputes between Holder and the Ski Area regarding an alleged incident shall be governed by COLORADO LAW and EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION [*4] shall be in the State or Federal Courts of the State of Colorado. …

(ECF No. 39, Ex. 4) (emphasis in original).

Plaintiff Sally Rumpf injured her shoulder when she attempted to board the Segundo chairlift at Sunlight. Plaintiffs Sally and Louis Rumpf bring this action against Defendant Sunlight alleging claims of negligence, negligence per se, and loss of consortium. (Compl. ¶¶ 21-35).1

1 Plaintiff Sally Rumpf asserts the two negligence claims while Plaintiff Louis Rumpf asserts the loss of consortium claim.

The Defendant moves for summary judgment on all three claims, arguing that (1) they are barred by the exculpatory language contained in both the ski rental agreement and the lift ticket; (2) they fail for a lack of expert testimony; and (3) that Sally Rumpf was negligent per se under the Ski Safety Act.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact 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, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Equal Employment Opportunity Comm. v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000). “When applying this standard, the court must ‘view [*5] the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.'” Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1148 (10th Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted). “‘Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.'” Id. (quotation omitted). Summary judgment may be granted only where there is no doubt from the evidence, with all inferences drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, that no genuine issue of material fact remains for trial and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bee v. Greaves, 744 F.2d 1387 (10th Cir. 1984).

III. ANALYSIS

I first address Defendant’s argument that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ three claims for relief based on the exculpatory agreements contained in both the ski rental agreement and the lift ticket. It is undisputed that Plaintiff Sally Rumpf read and understood that she was bound by the release language on both the rental agreement and the lift ticket. (Sally Rumpf Dep. at 72:17-23, 97-8-17, 99:2-25, 101:11-25, 102:1-21, 106:6-25, 107:1-25, 108:1-25, and 109:1-7).2

2 The evidence reveals that Plaintiff Louis Rumpf also understood and agreed to the release language on both the [*6] rental agreement and the lift ticket.

Defendant argues that the exculpatory language is valid and enforceable under the four-factor test set forth in Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). The determination of the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the Court. Jones, 623 P.2d at 376. Exculpatory agreements, which attempt to insulate a party from liability for its own negligence, are generally recognized under Colorado law, but are construed narrowly and “closely scrutinized” to ensure that the agreement was fairly entered into and that the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Id. Additionally, the terms of exculpatory agreements must be strictly construed against the drafter. Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784 (Colo. 1990). Pursuant to Jones, in determining the validity of an exculpatory agreement, the Court must consider the following factors: (1) whether the service provided involves a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service provided; (3) whether the agreement was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Jones, 623 P.2d at 376; Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 784, see Robinette v. Aspen Skiing Co., L.L.C., No. 08-cv-00052-MSK-MJW, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34873, 2009 WL 1108093 at *2 (D. Colo. April 23, 2009).

Based on the Plaintiffs’ response, it does not appear that they [*7] are contesting that the exculpatory language contained in the rental agreement or the lift ticket satisfies the above-mentioned Jones criteria, arguing instead that because “this case arises from a ski lift attendant’s negligence, the exculpatory release language is inapplicable and irrelevant.” (Resp. at 1). Citing Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70 (1998), Plaintiffs claim that Colorado law “specifically provides negligence causes of action for skiers injured getting on and getting off ski lifts.” (Resp. at 10).

In Bayer, the plaintiff was injured when he attempted to board a ski lift at Crested Butte ski resort. After the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified various questions to the Colorado Supreme Court, the Colorado Supreme Court held that “the standard of care applicable to ski lift operators in Colorado for the design, construction, maintenance, operation, and inspection of a ski lift, is the highest degree of care commensurate with the practical operation of the lift. Neither the Tramway Act nor the Ski Safety Act preempt or otherwise supersede this standard of care, whatever the season of operation.” Id. at 80. I agree with Defendant, however, that Bayer is not controlling here because the question of the applicability [*8] of exculpatory language was not presented.

Plaintiffs further argue that the exculpatory language at issue is “only applicable to ski cases when the accident or injury occurs while the plaintiff is skiing or snowboarding on the slopes,” and not when loading the ski lift. (Resp. at 11).

I now analyze the exculpatory language at issue using the four Jones factors mentioned above. In Jones, the court instructed that for an exculpatory agreement to fail, 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 to some members of the public. Jones, 623 P.2d at 376-77. Here, the service provided is recreational and not an essential service that gives the party seeking exculpation an unfair bargaining advantage. Thus, there is no public duty that prevents enforcement of either the ski rental agreement or the exculpatory language included in Sunlight’s lift ticket.

To the extent that Plaintiffs contend that the exculpatory language at issue was “adhesive,” I note that Colorado defines an adhesion contract as “generally not bargained for, but imposed on the public for a necessary service on a take it or leave it basis.” Id. at 374. However, [*9] printed form contracts offered on a take it or leave it basis, alone, do not render the agreement an adhesion contract. Clinic Masters v. District Court, 192 Colo. 120, 556 P.2d 473 (1976). Rather, “[t]here must a showing that the parties were greatly disparate in bargaining power, that there was no opportunity for negotiation, or that [the] services could not be obtained elsewhere.” Id. In Jones, the court held that the agreement was not an adhesion contract and the party seeking exculpation did not possess a decisive bargaining advantage “because the service provided … was not an essential service.” Jones, 623 P.2d at 377-78. Thus, here, I find that the exculpatory agreements were fairly entered into and are not adhesion contracts.

Finally, I examine whether the exculpatory agreements express the parties’ intent in clear and unambiguous language. Plaintiffs argue that loading or riding a ski lift is outside the scope of the exculpatory language set forth in both the ski rental agreement and the lift ticket.

“Interpretation of a written contract and the determination of whether a provision in the contract is ambiguous are questions of law.” Dorman v. Petrol Aspen, Inc., 914 P.2d 909, 912 (Colo. 1996). Under Colorado law, I must examine the actual language of the agreements for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of [*10] confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. See Heil Valley Ranch 784 P.2d at 785; Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004). Specific terms such as “negligence” or “breach of warranty” are not required to shield a party from liability. What matters is whether the intent of the parties to extinguish liability was clearly and unambiguously expressed. Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 785.

After carefully reviewing the relevant language set forth in both the ski rental agreement and the lift ticket, I find that both agreements clearly and unambiguously express the parties’ intent to release Sunlight from liability for certain claims. When Plaintiffs executed the ski rental agreement, they agreed to

RELEASE AND HOLD HARMLESS the equipment rental facility [Sunlight], its employees, owners, affiliates, agents, officers, directors, and the equipment manufacturers and distributors and their successors in interest (collectively “PROVIDERS”), from all liability for injury … which results from the equipment user’s participation in the RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS for which the equipment is provided, or which is related in any way to the use of this equipment, including all liability which results from the NEGLIGENCE of PROVIDERS, or any other person or cause.

(ECF [*11] No. 39, Ex. 2) (emphasis in original). I find that this language unambiguously encompasses the use of Sunlight’s ski lifts. Furthermore, the ski lift ticket specifically references safely loading, riding and unloading Sunlight’s ski lifts and provides that the “Holder agrees to ASSUME ALL RISKS associated with the activities and to HOLD HARMLESS the Ski Area and its representatives for all claims for injury to person or property.” (ECF No. 39, Ex. 4) (emphasis in original). I find that the language at issue is neither long nor complicated and clearly expresses the intent to bar negligence claims against Sunlight arising from the participation in recreational snow sports, which includes loading or riding ski lifts. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ negligence claims and loss of consortium claim are barred by the exculpatory language contained in both the ski rental agreement and the lift ticket. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted.3

3 In light of my findings in this Order, I need not address Defendant’s additional, independent arguments in support of summary judgment.

IV. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 39) is GRANTED. This [*12] case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, and Judgment shall enter in favor of Defendant against the Plaintiffs. It is

FURTHER ORDERED that the Defendant is awarded its costs, to be taxed by the Clerk of the Court under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1) and D.C.COLO.LCivR 54.1.

Dated: August 3, 2016

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Wiley Y. Daniel

Wiley Y. Daniel

Senior United States District Judge


Tennessee still does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue, but might enforce a jurisdiction and venue clause, maybe an arbitration clause.

The release was written poorly choosing California as the forum state for the lawsuit and applying California law. The accident occurred in Tennessee, and the defendant was based in Nevada so the court quickly through the venue and jurisdiction clauses out.

Blackwell, v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC. 2017 Tenn. App. LEXIS 6

State: Tennessee, Court of Appeals of Tennessee, at Nashville

Plaintiff: Crystal Blackwell, as Next Friend to Jacob Blackwell, a Minor

Defendant: Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2017

Another trampoline case, another stretch outside the normal subject matter of these articles, however, the case is instructive on two points. (1.) The court just slammed the defendant’s release based on a jurisdiction and venue clause that had nothing to do with the place where the accident occurred and (2.) The judge stated a jurisdiction and venue clause in a release; if it met Tennessee’s law would be valid when signed by a parent to stop the claims of a child.

The minor plaintiff was injured while jumping on a trampoline at the defendant’s facility in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to his injury, his mother signed a release. The minor plaintiff visited the defendant’s facilities on numerous occasions prior to his injury. He was injured playing a game of trampoline dodgeball.

The release included a forum selection (venue) clause, which stipulated California was the site of any lawsuit applying California law. (California allows a mother to sign away a parent’s right to sue. See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue).

The mother and the son sued the defendant. The defendant filed a motion to change parties, meaning the defendant named in the lawsuit was not the defendant who owned the facility where the accident occurred. The parties eventually stipulated to that, and the correct parties were identified and in the lawsuit. The defendant filed a motion to enforce the contract between the parties, meaning the lawsuit should be moved to California as stated in the release. The motion also stated the claims made by the mother should be dismissed because she signed the release.

The mother voluntarily dismissed her claims against the defendant. By doing so, the defendant was now arguing release law only against the minor plaintiff in a state with a long history of denying those releases. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue).

The trial court had a hearing on the issue of the venue and jurisdiction clauses and ruled them unenforceable.

Therein, the trial court ruled that neither the forum selection clause nor the choice of law provision were valid because their enforcement would cause a great hardship for Son to prosecute his action in California and, Tennessee, rather than California, has “a more significant relationship to the facts surrounding this case.”

The court also ruled that the release was not valid to protect against the claims of the minor, now the sole plaintiff in the case finding “The trial court also noted that Tennessee’s law included a fundamental public policy regarding the protection of children.”

The trial court eventually granted the defendant’s motion for an interlocutory appeal. An interlocutory appeal is an appeal prior to the granting of a final decision by the court. This type of appeal is rare and only done when one party can argue the issue should be decided by the appellate court prior to going to trial and has a good basis for their argument.

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

The Appellate Court found four issues to review:

1. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the forum selection clause contained in the release?

2. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the choice of law provision contained in the release?

3. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the waiver of liability against Son contained in the release signed by Mother?

4. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to allow the amendment to the complaint to allow Son to recover for pre-majority medical expenses.

Starting with issue one the court looked at the exact same issues discussed in Your Jurisdiction and Venue clause must be relevant to the possible location of the accident. Screw this up and you can void your release as occurred in this ski racing case. The court started with the general law concerning venue or forum selection clauses.

Generally, a forum selection clause is enforceable and binding on the parties entering into the contract. A forum selection clause will be upheld if it is fair and reasonable in light of all the circumstances surrounding its origin and application.

Forum selection clauses will be enforced unless:

(1) the plaintiff cannot secure effective relief in the other state, for reasons other than delay in bringing the action; (2) or the other state would be a substantially less convenient place for the trial of the action than this state; (3) or the agreement as to the place of the action was obtained by misrepresentation, duress, abuse of economic power, or other unconscionable means; (4) or it would for some other reason be unfair or unreasonable to enforce the agreement.

The forum selection clause is valid unless the party arguing against the clause proves it would be unfair and inequitable. “Tennessee law is clear, however, that the party challenging the enforcement of the forum selection clause “should bear a heavy burden of proof.”

The plaintiffs were from Tennessee, and the accident occurred in Tennessee. All the plaintiff’s witnesses were from Tennessee because that is where the injured minor received his medical treatment. The defendant was a Nevada corporation doing business in Nevada. However, the defendant’s release stated that California was the place for any litigation. The reason for that is California allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue).

California was obviously a “less convenient place” to have a trial because the majority, if not all the witnesses, were based in Tennessee. However, inconvenience or annoyance is not enough to invalidate a venue clause, nor will increased cost of litigating the case.

Still, the Tennessee Supreme Court has previously held that where neither company at issue was a resident of the proposed forum and none of the witnesses were residents of the proposed forum, the party resisting a forum selection clause had met its burden to show that the proposed forum was a substantially less convenient forum.

What triggered the court in its decision is the total lack of any real relationship of the parties to the case or the facts of the case to California. Add to that California first issue, the law would allow the release to be effective. Under Tennessee’s law, California would not provide a fair forum for the plaintiff. The release was signed in Tennessee, which the court stated was the default location for the litigation. “Tennessee follows the rule of lex loci contractus. This rule provides that a contract is presumed to be governed by the law of the jurisdiction in which it was executed absent a contrary intent.”

The choice of law or jurisdiction question sunk for the same reason.

Instead, the choice of law provision fails for largely the same reason that the forum selection clause fails: no material connection exists between the transaction at issue and California. As previously discussed, the contract at issue was signed in Tennessee, between Tennessee residents and a Nevada company, concerning activities taking place in Tennessee. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “material” as “[h]aving some logical connection with the consequential facts.” The simple fact that Sky High’s parent company was founded in California over a decade ago and now operates several facilities there is simply not sufficient to show a logical connection to the transaction at issue in this case.

The choice of law provision in Tennessee and most if not all states, will be honored when there is a “material connection” to the transactions at issue. That means that a jurisdiction and venue clause must be based where the plaintiff is, where the defendant is or where the accident happened. IF the jurisdiction and venue clause is based on the defendant’s location, the courts are looking for more than just location. They want witnesses needed to be there or a real reason why the defendant’s location to be the site of the trial and the law to be applied.

After throwing out the jurisdiction and venue clauses in the release for being an attempt to get around an issue, the court then looked at the release itself. The court first looked at limitations on releases in Tennessee.

These types of agreements, however, are subject to some important exceptions, such as waivers involving gross negligence or willful conduct or those involving a public duty. These types of provisions must also be clear and unambiguous.

The plaintiff’s argument was the release violated Tennessee’s public policy.

[T]he public policy of Tennessee is to be found in its constitution, statutes, judicial decisions and applicable rules of common law.'” “Primarily, it is for the legislature to determine the public policy of the state, and if there is a statute that addresses the subject in question, the policy reflected therein must prevail.”

To determine if a contract violates public policy the court must look at the purpose of the contract, if the contract will have a detrimental effect on the public. “‘The principle that contracts in contravention of public policy are not enforceable should be applied with caution and only in cases plainly within the reasons on which that doctrine rests.’”

The court then reviewed the Childress decision in detail and found it to still be viable law in Tennessee.

Based on the foregoing, we conclude that there is no basis to depart from this Court’s well-reasoned decision in Childress. Because the law in Tennessee states that parents may not bind their minor children to pre-injury waivers of liability, releases, or indemnity agreements, the trial court did not err in refusing to enforce the waiver of liability and indemnity provisions of the release signed by Mother on behalf of Son.

This court agreed, releases signed by parents to stop claims of a minor are invalid in Tennessee. Tennessee now has two appellate court decisions prohibiting a parent from signing away a minor’s right to sue. The Tennessee Supreme Court declined to review the decision, Blackwell v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC, 2017 Tenn. LEXIS 305.

The court then looked at a motion filed by the plaintiff to increase the damages based on pre-majority medical expenses. These were medical bills paid by the mother prior to the injured plaintiff reaching the age of 18. Those bills under Tennessee’s law where the mother’s bills, the person who paid them, however, since she had dismissed her claims, those damages were no longer part of the suit. Now the plaintiff was trying to include them in the injured plaintiff’s claims.

The court denied that motion based on the release the mother signed, which prevented her claims and the plaintiff as a minor had no legal duty to pay those bills, only the mother could. Therefore, those damages could not be included in the lawsuit.

The release in that regard proved valuable to the defendant because the medical bills incurred right after the accident were the largest amount of claims to be paid.

So Now What?

This is a great example of a case where the local business accepted the release from above, home office, without checking to see if that release was valid. This occurs every day, with the same results, when an insured asks for a release from their insurance company or a new franchise opens up and accepts the paperwork from the franchisor as is.

Always have your release reviewed to see if it meets the needs of your business and the laws of your state.

The release was effective to stop the lawsuit for claims made by the mother of the injured minor. Those medical bills paid by the mother were probably substantial and would the largest amount of claims owed. In many cases with the reduced amount of medical bills, other damages would be significantly reduced because those damages tend to be a factor of the medical bills.

What is of note in this decision is the jurisdiction and venue clause, or choice of law and forum selection clause as defined in the decision would have been upheld if it was not so absurd. If the choice of law clause was based on the requirements that it have some relationship to the parties or the accident, it seems to have been a valid decision and upheld.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Blackwell, v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC. 2017 Tenn. App. LEXIS 6

Blackwell, v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC. 2017 Tenn. App. LEXIS 6

Crystal Blackwell, as Next Friend to Jacob Blackwell, a Minor v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC.

No. M2016-00447-COA-R9-CV

COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE, AT NASHVILLE

2017 Tenn. App. LEXIS 6

November 16, 2016, Session

January 9, 2017, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Appeal denied by Blackwell v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC, 2017 Tenn. LEXIS 305 (Tenn., May 18, 2017)

PRIOR HISTORY: Tenn. R. App. P. 9 [*1]  Interlocutory Appeal; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in Part; Reversed in Part; and Remanded. Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County. No. 14C524 Thomas W. Brothers, Judge.

COUNSEL: David J. Weissman, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Crystal Blackwell, as next friend of Jacob Blackwell, a minor.

Ben M. Rose and Joshua D. Arters, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellee, Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC.

JUDGES: J. STEVEN STAFFORD, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. MICHAEL SWINEY, C.J., and BRANDON O. GIBSON, J., joined.

OPINION BY: J. STEVEN STAFFORD

OPINION

In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant trampoline park argues that the trial court erred by refusing to enforce a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a waiver of liability and indemnity clause against the minor plaintiff. Additionally, the minor plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to alter or amend his complaint to allow him to claim pre-majority medical expenses. We reverse the trial court’s denial of the minor plaintiff’s motion to amend only to the extent that the minor plaintiff [*2]  may be permitted to assert pre-majority medical expenses that were paid by him or that he is legally obligated to pay. We affirm the trial court in all other respects. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

OPINION

Background

On July 3, 2012, Plaintiff/Appellant Crystal Blackwell (“Mother”) signed a contract entitled “Customer Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk” (“the release”) with Defendant/Appellee Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC (“Sky High”) in order for her son, Jacob Blackwell (“Son,” and, as represented by Mother as next friend in this lawsuit, “Appellants”) to participate in activities at an indoor trampoline park operated by Sky High. The release included a forum selection clause designating California as the proper forum for litigation, a choice of law provision stipulating California as the applicable law governing the contract, and a liability waiver on behalf of both Mother and Son, as discussed in detail infra. The release further provided that it would remain in effect for any future visits to Sky High until Son turned eighteen. Mother and Son returned to Sky High to participate in trampolining activities on multiple occasions after Mother [*3]  signed the contract. On March 26, 2013, Son was allegedly injured at Sky High while participating in a trampoline dodgeball tournament.

On February 5, 2014, Appellants filed a complaint in the Davidson County Circuit Court against “Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC.” The complaint alleged that Son moved in an awkward fashion on a trampoline to dodge the ball and landed “awkwardly,” that another player’s “double bounce” contributed to his awkward landing, and that Son suffered from a torn patellar tendon and broken tibia as a result, necessitating surgery. According to Appellants, Sky High “knew or should have known that playing dodgeball on a trampoline was a very dangerous activity” and therefore was guilty of negligence. The complaint further alleged that any warnings, disclaimers, or waivers of liability signed by Mother were “void, invalid, and/or inadequate.” The complaint sought damages, including past medical expenses, future medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional injury and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, lost wages, and loss of consortium in the amount of $500,000.00.

On May 5, 2014, Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC filed an answer denying the material allegations [*4]  contained in the complaint. In addition, Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC raised several affirmative defenses: (1) that Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC was not the proper party; (2) that pursuant to the parties’ contract, California was the proper forum and California law was applicable to the dispute; and (3) that Appellants’ claims were barred by the release signed by Mother individually and on Son’s behalf. On November 3, 2014, Sky High was substituted as the proper defendant by agreement of the parties and an amended complaint was filed reflecting the change.

On March 17, 2015, Sky High filed its motion to enforce the contract between the parties. The motion first argued that any claims on behalf of Mother should be dismissed because the release contained a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a waiver of liability, all of which were enforceable against Mother. Sky High also argued that the forum selection clause, choice of law provision, and liability waiver should be enforced against Son as well, despite “dated Tennessee authority to the contrary” which did “not reflect the current state of the law.” In sum, Sky High offered the following various alternative methods [*5]  for resolving this dispute: (1) that the trial court should dismiss the case based on the forum selection clause; (2) that the trial court retain jurisdiction but apply California law; or (3) that the trial court should enforce the release’s liability waiver and dismiss the case as to both Mother and Son.

Appellants filed a response to the motion to enforce on May 4, 2015. Therein, Appellants argued that the forum selection clause and choice of law provision were invalid because the dispute involved in this case has no connection to California. Appellants also asserted that based upon this Court’s decision in Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989), a parent may not effectively waive liability on behalf of a minor. The response offered no argument, however, that the release of liability did not apply to any claims on behalf of Mother. Accordingly, on the same day, Mother filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of her claims against Sky High.

In response to Appellants’ contention that the dispute in this case had no connection with California, Sky High filed the affidavit of Rolland Weddell on May 6, 2015. In his affidavit, Mr. Weddell asserted that he helped found Sky High Sports, “a larger national brand” of which Sky High [*6]  was a part. According to Mr. Weddell, the company’s first two stores were founded in California in 2006. Mr. Weddell explained that ten trampoline parks under the Sky High Sports brand currently operate in California. Mr. Weddell, however, resides in Nevada, where he serves as the loss prevention manager for Sky High. There is no dispute that Sky High’s corporate headquarters is also in Nevada.

The trial court held a hearing on Sky High’s motion to enforce on May 8, 2014. On May 22, 2015, the trial court entered an order denying Sky High’s motion to enforce in its entirety. Therein, the trial court ruled that neither the forum selection clause nor the choice of law provision were valid because their enforcement would cause a great hardship for Son to prosecute his action in California and, Tennessee, rather than California, has “a more significant relationship to the facts surrounding this case.” The trial court also noted that Tennessee law included a fundamental public policy regarding the protection of children. Consequently, the trial court denied Sky High’s request to enforce the waiver of liability as to the Son’s claims, noting that such a contract is not permissible in Tennessee [*7]  under the holding in Childress.

On June 22, 2015, Sky High filed a motion to alter or amend the trial court’s judgment, or in the alternative, for an interlocutory appeal of the trial court’s denial of the motion to enforce pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. While this motion was pending, on July 31, 2015, Appellants filed a motion to amend their complaint. Therein, Appellants contended that because the individual claims of Mother had been voluntarily dismissed, an amendment was necessary to ensure the proper parties were named in the complaint and to request medical expenses, both past and future, on behalf of Son, with Mother acting as next friend. Sky High opposed the amendment, arguing that only a parent could bring a claim for past medical expenses for a minor child. Sky High contended that, because Mother’s claims were barred by the release, neither Mother nor Son was entitled to recover these damages.

On February 23, 2016, the trial court entered an order on the pending motions to amend the complaint and to alter or amend, or in the alternative, for an interlocutory appeal. First, the trial court denied Sky High’s motion to alter or amend but granted their request for an interlocutory appeal of the [*8]  denial of the motion to enforce. Additionally, the trial court granted Appellants’ motion to alter or amend, except to the extent that the amendment would allow “recovery of any pre-majority medical expenses.” The trial court, however, also allowed an interlocutory appeal of this ruling. Eventually, this Court also granted the requested interlocutory appeal as to both issues. Accordingly, this appeal followed.

Issues Presented

As we perceive it, this appeal involves four issues:

1. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the forum selection clause contained in the release?

2. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the choice of law provision contained in the release?

3. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the waiver of liability against Son contained in the release signed by Mother?

4. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to allow the amendment to the complaint to allow Son to recover for pre-majority medical expenses.

Standard of Review

In this case, the trial court denied Sky High’s motion to dismiss based upon a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a liability waiver contained in the release.  [HN1] In considering an appeal from [*9]  a trial court’s ruling on a motion to dismiss, we take all allegations of fact in the complaint as true and review the trial court’s legal conclusions de novo with no presumption of correctness. Mid-South Industries, Inc. v. Martin Mach. & Tool, Inc., 342 S.W.3d 19, 27 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2010) (citing Owens v. Truckstops of America, 915 S.W.2d 420, 424 (Tenn. 1996)); see also Stevens ex rel. Stevens v. Hickman Cmty. Health Care Servs., Inc., 418 S.W.3d 547, 553 (Tenn. 2013) (citing Graham v. Caples, 325 S.W.3d 578, 581 (Tenn. 2010)) (“The trial court’s denial of [d]efendants’ motions to dismiss involves a question of law, and, therefore, our review is de novo with no presumption of correctness.”).

In addition, the trial court denied Appellants’ motion to amend their complaint.  [HN2] A trial court’s decision to deny a motion to amend a complaint is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Merriman v. Smith, 599 S.W.2d 548, 559 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1979).

Discussion

I.

We begin first by considering whether the trial court erred in refusing to dismiss Appellants’ complaint on the basis of the forum selection clause contained in the release, or in the alternative, in refusing to apply California law to this dispute. The release signed by Mother on behalf of Son contains the following language: “In the event that I file a lawsuit against Sky High [], I agree to do so solely in the state of California and I further agree that the substantive law of California shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict [*10]  of law rules of that state.”

The trial court did not rule that the forum selection and choice of law provisions were unenforceable because the release containing them was signed by Mother on behalf of Son, as is true of the liability waiver discussed in detail infra; instead, the trial court ruled that the forum selection and choice of law provisions were unenforceable based upon the Tennessee framework regarding provisions of this type. Likewise, in their reply brief to this Court, Appellants do not assert that the forum selection and choice of law provisions are unenforceable against Son simply due to the fact that the provisions were included in a contract signed by Mother on behalf of Son. Rather, Appellants assert that the trial court correctly determined that California has so little interest in this case and litigating in California would be substantially less convenient than in Tennessee so as to militate against enforcement of both the forum selection and choice of law provisions. Accordingly, we assume arguendo for purposes of this appeal that both the forum selection clause and choice of law provision are binding against Son unless otherwise rendered unenforceable by Tennessee [*11]  law. We therefore first proceed to address whether Tennessee law renders the forum selection clause unenforceable in this case.

A.

[HN3] Generally, a forum selection clause is enforceable and binding on the parties entering into the contract. Lamb v. MegaFlight, Inc., 26 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000). A forum selection clause will be upheld if it is fair and reasonable in light of all the circumstances surrounding its origin and application. Id. (citing Dyersburg Mach. Works, Inc. v. Rentenbach Eng’g Co., 650 S.W.2d 378 (Tenn. 1983)). According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, a court must give effect to a forum selection clause and refuse to entertain the action unless:

(1) the plaintiff cannot secure effective relief in the other state, for reasons other than delay in bringing the action; (2) or the other state would be a substantially less convenient place for the trial of the action than this state; (3) or the agreement as to the place of the action was obtained by misrepresentation, duress, abuse of economic power, or other unconscionable means; (4) or it would for some other reason be unfair or unreasonable to enforce the agreement.

Dyersburg, 650 S.W.2d at 380 (quoting The Model Choice Forum Act of 1968). The Dyersburg Court further stated that Tennessee courts should give consideration to the above factors and should enforce a forum selection clause [*12]  unless the party challenging the clause demonstrates that enforcement would be unfair or inequitable. Id. Our research demonstrates that the factors promulgated by the Dyersburg Court have been followed in numerous subsequent cases. E.g., Cohn Law Firm v. YP Se. Advert. & Publ’g, LLC, No. W2014-01871-COA-R3-CV, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 497, 2015 WL 3883242, at *11 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 24, 2015); Sevier Cnty. Bank v. Paymentech Merch. Servs., No. E2005-02420-COA-R3-CV, 2006 Tenn. App. LEXIS 553, 2006 WL 2423547 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 23 2006); Spell v. Labelle, No. W2003-00821-COA-R3-CV, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 255, 2004 WL 892534 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 22, 2004); Signal Capital, No. E2000-00140-COA-R3-CV, 2000 Tenn. App. LEXIS 603, 2000 WL 1281322 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 7, 2000); Tennsonita (Memphis), Inc. v. Cucos, Inc., No. 6, 1991 Tenn. App. LEXIS 297, 1991 WL 66993 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 2, 1991). Tennessee law is clear, however, that the party challenging the enforcement of the forum selection clause “should bear a heavy burden of proof.” Chaffin v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., No. 02A01-9803-CH-00080, 1999 Tenn. App. LEXIS 231, 1999 WL 188295, *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 7, 1999).

We first note that there are no allegations in this case that the forum selection clause at issue was “obtained by misrepresentation, duress, abuse of economic power, or other unconscionable means[.]” Dyersburg, 650 S.W.2d at 380. We agree with both Appellants and the trial court, however, that, with respect to the second Dyersburg factor, California is a substantially less convenient place to hold this lawsuit. We recognize that  [HN4] a “party resisting a forum selection clause must show more than inconvenience or annoyance[.]” [*13]  ESI Cos., Inc. v. Ray Bell Constr. Co., No. W2007-00220-COA-R3-CV, 2008 Tenn. App. LEXIS 115, 2008 WL 544563, at *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 29, 2008). Accordingly, mere increased litigation expenses will be insufficient to invalidate a forum selection clause. Still, the Tennessee Supreme Court has previously held that where neither company at issue was a resident of the proposed forum and none of the witnesses were residents of the proposed forum, the party resisting a forum selection clause had met its burden to show that the proposed forum was a substantially less convenient forum. See Dyersburg, 650 S.W.2d at 381 (holding that the second factor was met because the chosen forum of Kentucky was “a substantially less convenient place for trial . . . wherein all witnesses are Tennessee residents, the plaintiffs and the defendants, . . . are Tennessee corporations”).

The same is true in this case. Here, Mother and Son are Tennessee residents. Moreover, the alleged injury to Son and his later treatment all occurred in Tennessee. It thus appears that Appellants’ witnesses to both the alleged negligence and later treatment may all be found in Tennessee. On the other hand, Sky High has not presented this Court with any prospective witnesses regarding the events at issue in this case that are California residents. [*14]  While it is true that Sky High is not a Tennessee corporation, as were the corporations in Dyersburg, nothing in the record suggests that Sky High is incorporated or has its principal place of business in California, the forum designated in the release. Rather, the only information in the record indicates that Sky High has its headquarters in Nevada. Instead, from the affidavit of Mr. Weddell, we discern that Sky High’s limited contact with California involves only that the “larger brand” under which Sky High operates was founded in California over a decade ago and now operates several facilities in California. Respectfully, a decades-old contact by a parent company with a state and the operation of several trampoline parks in a state is insufficient to undermine Appellants’ contentions regarding the inconvenience that would be posed by litigating in California. Accordingly, we hold that Appellants have met their burden to show that California presents a substantially less convenient forum than Tennessee.

We also agree that, with respect to the first and fourth Dyersburg factors, California is unlikely to provide Son with effective relief and that forcing Son to litigate in California [*15]  would otherwise be unfair. As discussed in detail infra,  [HN5] Tennessee law and California law differ as to whether waivers of liability signed by parents may be enforced as to their children. Compare Childress v. Madison Cnty., 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989) (refusing to enforce such a waiver), with Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (Ct. App. 1990) (enforcing such a waiver). Because we reaffirm Tennessee law that parents cannot effectively sign pre-injury waivers on behalf of their children, as discussed in detail infra, allowing Son to litigate his case in Tennessee provides him with a better opportunity for full relief.

B.

We next consider whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the release’s choice of law provision indicating that California law should apply to this case.  [HN6] Generally, absent a choice of law provision in a contract, “Tennessee follows the rule of lex loci contractus. This rule provides that a contract is presumed to be governed by the law of the jurisdiction in which it was executed absent a contrary intent.” Messer Griesheim Indus., Inc. v. Cryotech of Kingsport, Inc., 131 S.W.3d 457, 474-75 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003) (quoting Vantage Tech., LLC v. Cross, 17 S.W.3d 637, 650 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999)). As this Court explained:

If the parties manifest an intent to instead apply the laws of another jurisdiction, then that intent will be honored provided certain requirements are met. The [*16]  choice of law provision must be executed in good faith. Goodwin Bros. Leasing, Inc. v. H & B Inc., 597 S.W.2d 303, 306 (Tenn. 1980). The jurisdiction whose law is chosen must bear a material connection to the transaction. Id. The basis for the choice of another jurisdiction’s law must be reasonable and not merely a sham or subterfuge. Id. Finally, the parties’ choice of another jurisdiction’s law must not be “contrary to ‘a fundamental policy’ of a state having [a] ‘materially greater interest’ and whose law would otherwise govern.” Id., n.2 (citing RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONFLICT OF LAWS § 187(2) (1971)).

Messer Griesheim, 131 S.W.3d at 475 (quoting Vantage, 17 S.W.3d at 650).1

1 Sky High asserts that the party seeking to invalidate a choice of law provision bears a “heavy burden,” citing Security Watch, Inc. v. Sentinel Systems, Inc., 176 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999). First, we note that a federal decision, even when interpreting Tennessee law, is not binding on this Court. See Elias v. A & C Distrib. Co., Inc., 588 S.W.2d 768, 771 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1979) (“[D]ecisions of [ f]ederal . . . [c]ourts are not binding authority upon this Court and other State Courts in Tennessee[.]”). Furthermore, the phrase “heavy burden” as quoted by Sky High simply does not appear in the Security Watch Opinion. See Security Watch, 176 F.3d at 375. Finally, we note that the Security Watch Opinion does not concern a choice of law provision, but rather, a forum selection clause. Id.

Here, there is no allegation that the choice of law provision at issue was not executed in good faith. Instead, the choice of law provision fails for largely the same reason that the forum selection clause fails: no material connection exists between the transaction at issue and California. As previously discussed, the contract at issue was signed in Tennessee, between Tennessee residents and a Nevada company, concerning activities taking place in Tennessee. Black’s Law Dictionary  [HN7] defines “material” as “[h]aving some logical connection with the consequential facts.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1066 (9th ed. 2009). The [*17]  simple fact that Sky High’s parent company was founded in California over a decade ago and now operates several facilities there is simply not sufficient to show a logical connection to the transaction at issue in this case.

We do not disagree with Sky High’s assertion that it is reasonable and generally enforceable for a company to “limit where it is subject to suit.”  [HN8] Tennessee law is clear, however, that a company’s choice of law provision will only be honored where the proposed state’s law has a material connection to the transaction at issue. See Messer Griesheim, 131 S.W.3d at 475. Furthermore, the cases that Sky High cites for this proposition do not support their argument in this case. First, in Bright v. Spaghetti Warehouse, Inc., No. 03A01-9708-CV-00377, 1998 Tenn. App. LEXIS 286, 1998 WL 205757 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 1998), the Court of Appeals enforced a choice of law provision designating that Texas law would apply to the contract where the contract was largely negotiated in Texas and the defendant was a Texas corporation. 1998 Tenn. App. LEXIS 286, [WL] at *5. As such, the transaction at issue in Bright had far more contact with the state whose law was named in the contract than is present in this case. Even more puzzling, Thomas v. Costa Cruise Lines N.V., 892 S.W.2d 837 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994), does not involve either a choice of law provision or the application of Tennessee law to determine its enforceability; rather, Thomas [*18]  involves a forum selection clause, whose enforcement was governed by federal law. Id. at 840. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying Sky High’s request to enforce the choice of law provision on this basis. Because the contract’s choice of law provision is unenforceable, the general rule of lex loci contractus applies in this case. See Messer Griesheim, 131 S.W.3d at 474. As such, Tennessee law, as the law of the place where the contract was executed, governs the dispute in this case.

II.

Having determined that this case has been properly brought in a Tennessee court and that Tennessee law applies, we next consider whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the waiver of liability and the indemnity language contained in the release pursuant to Tennessee law. Here, the contract at issue contains the following language, in relevant part:

3. I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to defend indemnify and hold harmless [Sky High] from any and all claims, demands, causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity or any use of [Sky High’s] equipment or facilities, including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of [Sky High]. [*19]

4. Should [Sky High] or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney’s fees and costs to enforce this agreement, I agree to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. This means that I will pay all of those attorney’s fees and costs myself.

5. I certify that I have adequate insurance to cover any injury or damage that I may cause or suffer while participating, or else I agree to bear the costs of such injury or damage myself. I further certify that I am willing to assume the risk of any medical or physical condition that I may have.

* * *

8. If the participant is a minor, I agree that this Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk agreement (“RELEASE”) is made on behalf of that minor participant and that all of the releases, waivers and promises herein are binding on that minor participant. I represent that I have full authority as Parent or Legal Guardian of the minor participant to bind the minor participant to this agreement.

9. If the participant is a minor, I further agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless SKY HIGH SPORTS from any and all claims or suits for personal injury, property damage or otherwise, which are brought by, or on behalf of [*20]  the minor, and which are in any way connected with such use or participation by the minor, including injuries or damages caused by the negligence of [Sky High], except injuries or damages caused by the sole negligence or willful misconduct of the party seeking indemnity.

(Emphasis added).

In the trial court, Sky High argued that the above language constituted a legal and enforceable waiver of liability and indemnity agreement against both the claims brought by Mother and the claims brought on behalf of Son. There is no dispute in this case that  [HN9] “parties may contract that one shall not be liable for his negligence to another but that such other shall assume the risk incident to such negligence.” Moss v. Fortune, 207 Tenn. 426, 429, 340 S.W.2d 902, 903-04 (Tenn. 1960). These types of agreements, however, are subject to some important exceptions, such as waivers involving gross negligence or willful conduct or those involving a public duty. Id. at 904. These types of provisions must also be clear and unambiguous. See Pitt v. Tyree Org. Ltd., 90 S.W.3d 244, 253 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002) (citing Kroger Co. v. Giem, 215 Tenn. 459, 387 S.W.2d 620 (Tenn. 1964)).

Here, Appellants do not argue, nor did the trial court find, that the liability waiver above was unenforceable on its face against Mother pursuant to the above law. Rather, the trial court found that the waiver of liability [*21]  was ineffective to waive Son’s claims due to Tennessee public policy, as expressed in this Court’s Opinion in Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989). A brief discussion of the facts and holding in Childress is therefore helpful.

A.

In Childress, the parents of a young man with severe intellectual disabilities brought suit on behalf of their son. According to the parents, the young man, who was twenty years old at the time of the accident, was injured while training for the Special Olympics in connection with his school. Id. at 2. Specifically, while on a trip to a local YMCA supervised by a teacher and aide from the Madison County school district, the young man was found on the floor of the YMCA pool. The young man was successfully resuscitated but sustained injuries and incurred medical expenses as a result of the incident. Id.

The parents, individually and on behalf of their son, sued Madison County and the Madison County Board of Education for negligence in failing to properly supervise the students in the pool. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, finding that they had committed no negligence. The parents thereafter appealed to this Court. Id.

This Court first reversed the trial court’s finding [*22]  that the defendants had not committed negligence in failing to supervise the young man while he was in the pool. Id. at 3. The defendants argued, however, that even if they were guilty of negligence, any liability had been waived by parents when the mother “executed a release of all liability of these defendants.” Id. at 3. In response, the parents argued, inter alia, that the waiver was unenforceable because it was against Tennessee public policy to allow parents or guardians to release the claims of incompetent persons. Id. at 6-7.

The Court of Appeals, in what the concurrence characterized as an “excellent opinion,” agreed that the parents could not release the claims of their incompetent son. Id. at 8 (Tomlin, J., concurring). The Childress Court first noted that the adult son had not personally signed the release but that, instead, his mother had signed the document. Id. at 6. The Court held that had the young man signed the release, it would certainly have been invalid, as the young man was “incompetent, incapable of understanding the nature of his action, [and, thus,] the execution could not be given effect.” Id. (citing 44 C.J.S. Insane Persons § 49 (1945)). The question was therefore whether the mother’s action in signing [*23]  the form, which included an indemnity agreement and an assumption of risk clause that were applicable to the son’s claims, were sufficient to bar the young man’s claims.2

2 In Childress, this Court held that by the contract’s own terms, the waiver of liability only applied to the mother. Id. at 6 (“[T]here is no indication in the language of the form or in the manner in which [the mother] signed that she did in fact . . . release or discharge the Special Olympics on [her son’s] behalf”). The Court of Appeals therefore affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the mother’s individual claims. The Court held, however, that the contract provided that both the indemnity clause and assumption of risk provision applied to both the mother and the son. Id. (“[The mother] did clearly agree to indemnify the Special Olympics ‘from all liabilities for damage, injury or illness to the entrant or his/her property during his/her participation in or travel to or from any Special Olympics event.’ . . . [A]ccording to the language of the release, [the mother], as his mother and natural parent, acknowledged on [her son’]s behalf that he would be participating at his own risk.”).

In reaching its decision, the Childress Court analogized “the status of guardians of incompetent persons” with “that of guardians of infants” under well-settled Tennessee law. Id. According to the Court:

 [HN10] The general rule is that a guardian may not waive the rights of an infant or an incompetent. 39 Am. Jur. 2d, Guardian & Ward § 102 (1968); 42 Am. Jur. 2d, Infants § 152 (1969). Specifically, the Supreme Court of Tennessee long ago stated that a guardian cannot settle an existing claim apart from court approval or statutory authority. Miles v. Kaigler, 18 Tenn. (10 Yerg.) 10 (1836)[;] Spitzer v. Knoxville Iron, Co., 133 Tenn. 217, 180 S.W. 163 (1915)[;] Tune v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co., 223 F. Supp. 928 (M[.]D[.] Tenn. 1963). It has also been held that a guardian may not waive the statutory requirements for service of process on an infant or incompetent by accepting service of process on himself alone. Winchester v. Winchester, 38 Tenn. (1 Head) 460 (1858).3

Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 6.

3 We note that this statement was supported by what appears to be an incorrect citation to authority. See Watterson v. Watterson, 38 Tenn. 1, 2 (1858) (not involving an infant or service of process); Winchester v. Winchester, 23 Tenn. 51, 51 (1843) (same). Regardless, the Childress Court is correct as to this – 11 – proposition of law. See Taylor v. Walker, 48 Tenn. 734, 738 (Tenn. 1870) (“It is a settled law of this State, that a sale without service of process on an infant who has no regular guardian, is void, and that the want of such service can not [sic] be waived by the appearance of a guardian ad litem.”); Robertson v. Robertson, 32 Tenn. 197, 199 (Tenn. 1852) (“‘A guardian ad litem cannot, by his consent, make his ward a party to a suit.’ The infant must be served with process.”); Wheatley’s Lessee v. Harvey, 31 Tenn. 484, 485 (Tenn. 1852) (holding that “the guardian ad litem had no authority to waive the service of process, without which the infant was no party to the suit”).

The Childress Court then considered the decisions of other states that also refused to enforce waivers made on behalf of minors or incompetent persons. See id. at 6-7 (citing Gibson v. Anderson, 265 Ala. 553, 92 So. 2d 692, 695 (1956) (legal guardian’s acts do not estop ward from asserting rights [*24]  in property); Ortman v. Kane, 389 Ill. 613, 60 N.E.2d 93, 98 (1945) (guardian cannot waive tender requirements of land sale contract entered into by ward prior to incompetency); Stockman v. City of South Portland, 147 Me 376, 87 A.2d 679 (1952) (guardian cannot waive ward’s property tax exemption); Sharp v. State, 240 Miss. 629, 127 So.2d 865, 90 A.L.R.2d 284 (1961) (guardian cannot waive statutory requirements for service of process on ward); Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370 (Colo.1981) (ratification by parent of contract executed by child does not bind child); Whitcomb v. Dancer, 140 Vt. 580, 443 A.2d 458 (1982) (guardian cannot settle personal injury claim for a ward without court approval); Natural Father v. United Methodist Children’s Home, 418 So.2d 807 (Miss. 1982) (infant not bound by evidentiary admissions of parent); Colfer v. Royal Globe Ins. Co., 214 N.J.Super. 374, 519 A.2d 893 (1986) (guardian cannot settle personal injury claim for ward without court approval)). This Court found the decisions of three states particularly helpful. First, the Court noted that the Mississippi Supreme Court had previously “expressed in broad terms” that under Mississippi law: “‘Minors can waive nothing. In the law they are helpless, so much so that their representatives can waive nothing for them.'” Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 7 (quoting Khoury v. Saik, 203 Miss. 155, 33 So.2d 616, 618 (Miss. 1948)). Further, the Court cited with approval the Supreme Court of Connecticut, which held that “an agreement, signed by one of the parents of a minor as a condition to his being allowed to attend a camp, waiving the minor’s claims against a camp for damages in the event of an injury was ineffective to waive the [*25]  rights of the minor against the defendant camp.” Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 7 (citing Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 21 Conn. Sup. 38, 143 A.2d 466, 468 (1958)). Finally, the Childress Court also noted that the Maine Supreme Court came to a similar conclusion, holding that the release in question was ineffective “because a parent cannot release the child’s action.” Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 7 (citing Doyle v. Bowdoin College, 403 A.2d 1206, 1208 n.3 (Me. 1979)).

The Childress Court, however, did not rely solely on the law from other jurisdictions. It also noted the conflict created by such agreements, as well as the fundamental public policy inherent in Tennessee law to protect the financial interests of minors. For example, this Court explained that agreements wherein a parent agrees to indemnify a third party for injuries to his or her child “are invalid as they place the interests of the child or incompetent against those of the parent or guardian.” Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 7 (citing Valdimer v. Mt. Vernon Hebrew Camps, Inc., 9 N.Y.2d 21, 210 N.Y.S.2d 520, 172 N.E.2d 283, 285 (1961)). In addition, the Court noted that refusing to enforce a waiver of the child’s rights by the parent “is in keeping with the protection which Tennessee has afforded to the rights of infants and minors in other situations.” Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 7. The Childress Court noted that arguments to the contrary exist, specifically with regard to the chilling effect of its chosen rule, stating:

We do not deny that there are good and logical reasons [*26]  for giving effect to exculpatory and indemnification clauses executed by parents and guardians on behalf of infants and incompetents. Risk is inherent in many activities that make the lives of children richer. A world without risk would be an impoverished world indeed. As Helen Keller well said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Partnow, Quotable Woman, 173 (1977). Ultimately, this case is a determination of who must bear the burden of the risk of injury to infants and minors.

It is not our intention, nor do we feel the result of this case will be, to put a chill on activities such as the Special Olympics. The law is clear that a guardian cannot on behalf of an infant or incompetent, exculpate or indemnify against liability those organizations which sponsor activities for children and the mentally disabled.

Id. at 7-8.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with those courts that had held that  [HN11] a parent cannot release a child’s claim against a third party. See id. at 7 (“We, therefore, hold that [the mother] [*27]  could not execute a valid release or exculpatory clause as to the rights of her son against the Special Olympics or anyone else, and to the extent the parties to the release attempted and intended to do so, the release is void.”). The Court likewise held that the indemnity language contained in the contract was invalid. Id. The Childress Court therefore adopted a rule wherein  [HN12] parents or guardians cannot sign indemnity agreements or liability waivers on behalf of minor children or the incompetent. Noting the impact that the rule would have on many organizations, however, this Court specifically invited either the Tennessee Supreme Court or the Tennessee General Assembly to “remedy” this situation if either believed that Tennessee law should be otherwise. Id. at 8 (“If this rule of law is other than as it should be, we feel the remedy is with the Supreme Court or the legislature.”).

An application for permission to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court was eventually filed in Childress. The application was denied, however, by order of August 7, 1989. The issue was raised again in the Court of Appeals in 1990 by the case of Rogers v. Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce, 807 S.W.2d 242 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990), perm. app. denied (Tenn. 1991), wherein this Court again held that the [*28]  parent’s purported release of the child’s cause of action was unenforceable, even in the context of a wrongful death action. Id. at 246-47. Again, an application for permission to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court was filed and rejected by order of March 11, 1991. In addition, no legislative action has been taken to alter the rule established in Childress over twenty-five years ago.

B.

Sky High does not argue that Childress is not controlling or that it was wrongly decided in 1989. See Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. 4(G)(2) (“Opinions reported in the official reporter . . . shall be considered controlling authority for all purposes unless and until such opinion is reversed or modified by a court of competent jurisdiction.”). As such, there is no dispute that if the Childress rule remains the law in Tennessee, Son’s cause of action is not barred by the waiver and indemnity language contained in the release signed by Mother. Instead, Sky High asserts that this Court should revisit the rule set forth in Childress because changes in constitutional law concerning parental rights following the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Hawk v. Hawk, 855 S.W.2d 573 (Tenn. 1993), and the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49 (2000), have resulted in a “strong shift” in the law in this [*29]  area across the country. Accordingly, we begin with a brief discussion of the Hawk decision.

In Hawk, paternal grandparents sought court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren pursuant to the Grandparents’ Visitation Act located in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-301 (1985). Hawk, 855 S.W.2d at 575. The facts showed that grandparents and the children’s married parents had an acrimonious relationship and that, eventually, grandparents had been denied any visitation with the children. Id. Under the version of Section 36-6-301 then in existence, a court could order “‘reasonable visitation’ with grandparents if it is ‘in the best interests of the minor child.'” Id. at 576 (quoting Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-301). Although the trial court declined to find that parents were unfit, it nevertheless ordered substantial visitation between grandparents and the children. Id. at 577. The trial court also noted that the grandparents “don’t have to answer to anybody when they have the children.” Id.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the Tennessee Supreme Court eventually granted the parents’ application for permission to appeal. Id. at 573, 577. The Tennessee Supreme Court first characterized the trial court’s ruling as “a virtually unprecedented intrusion into a protected sphere of family life.” [*30]  Id. at 577. Because Section 36-6-301 “suggest[ed] that this level of interference is permissible,” the Tennessee Supreme Court determined that it was necessary to examine the constitutionality of the statute “as it applies to married parents whose fitness as parents is unchallenged.” Id.

Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the trial court’s and Section 36-6-301’s intrusion into parental decisions was unconstitutional because it interfered with the fundamental liberty interest allowing parents the “right to rear one’s children.” Id. at 578 (citing Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, 43 S. Ct. 625, 626, 67 L. Ed. 1042 (1923)). According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, this right stemmed from the United States Supreme Court’s “larger concern with privacy rights for the family.” Id. at 578 (citing Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166, 64 S. Ct. 438, 442, 88 L. Ed. 645 (1944)). As such, the Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that the right to privacy inherent in both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions “fully protects the right of parents to care for their children without unwarranted state intervention.” Id. at 579.

The grandparents in Hawk asserted, however, that grandparent visitation was “a ‘compelling state interest’ that warrants use of the state’s parens patriae power to impose visitation in [the] ‘best interests of the children.'” Id. (footnote omitted). The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected this [*31]  argument, however, holding that “without a substantial danger of harm to the child, a court may not constitutionally impose its own subjective notions of the ‘best interests of the child’ when an intact, nuclear family with fit, married parents is involved.” Id. In reaching this decision, the Hawk Court noted that “[i]mplicit in Tennessee case and statutory law has always been the insistence that a child’s welfare must be threatened before the state may intervene in parental decision-making.” Id. at 580 (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-101 (allowing court intervention into custody matters in cases of divorce); Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-113 & -114 (allowing court intervention into custody matters in dependency and neglect)). The Court also noted that its ruling was in line with federal decisions “requir[ing] that some harm threaten a child’s welfare before the state may constitutionally interfere with a parent’s right to rear his or her child.” Hawk, 855 S.W.2d at 580 (citing Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 230, 92 S. Ct. 1526, 1540, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15 (1972) (noting that the children at issue would not be harmed by receiving an Amish education); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534, 45 S. Ct. 571, 573, 69 L. Ed. 1070 (1925) (noting that the parents’ choice of private school was “not inherently harmful”); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402-03, 43 S.Ct. 625, 628, 67 L. Ed. 1042 (1923) (opining that “proficiency in a foreign language . . . is not injurious to the health, morals or understanding of the ordinary child”)). As the Tennessee [*32]  Supreme Court explained: “The requirement of harm is the sole protection that parents have against pervasive state interference in the parenting process.” Hawk, 855 S.W.2d at 581. As such, the Hawk Court held that “neither the legislature nor a court may properly intervene in parenting decisions absent significant harm to the child from those decisions.” Id. The trial court’s award of grandparent visitation absent a showing of harm was therefore deemed unconstitutional. Id. Only a year later, the Tennessee Supreme Court extended the holding in Hawk to be applicable to all fit parents, not merely those part of “an intact, nuclear family[.]” Nale v. Robertson, 871 S.W.2d 674, 678 & 680 (Tenn. 1994).

A similar situation was at issue in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Troxel v. Granville. In Troxel, the paternal grandparents of two non-marital children filed a petition for grandparent visitation against the children’s mother. Troxel, 530 U.S. at 61. Under the Washington statute applicable at that time, any person could petition the court for visitation with a child at any time so long as the child’s best interests would be served by the visitation. Id. at 60. The trial court eventually entered an order allowing visitation. Id. at 61. The Washington Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s [*33]  order, holding that the paternal grandparents lacked standing to seek visitation under the statute where no custody proceeding was pending. Id. at 62. In the meantime, the mother remarried, and her new husband adopted the children. Eventually, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the Washington Court of Appeals on the issue of standing, holding that the statute at issue allowed a visitation petition at any time. The Washington Supreme Court concluded, however, that the trial court nevertheless erred in ordering visitation under the statute, holding that the statute infringed on the fundamental right of parents to rear their children. Id. at 63. The United States Supreme Court eventually granted a writ of certiorari on the constitutional issue. Id.

The United States Supreme Court first recognized that “the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children–is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.” Id. at 65. Citing decades of United States Supreme Court precedent, similar to the Tennessee Supreme Court in Hawk, the Court opined that “it cannot now be doubted that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, [*34]  custody, and control of their children.” Id. at 66. The Troxel Court therefore held that the Washington statute, as applied to the facts of the case, “unconstitutionally infringes on [] fundamental parental right[s].” Id. at 67. The Court noted that the statute essentially permitted judges, based solely on their personal evaluation of the child’s best interests, to “disregard and overturn any decision by a fit custodial parent concerning visitation whenever a third party affected by the decision files a visitation petition[.]” Id. The Court noted that none of the courts below had ever found the parents to be unfit, an important omission, as “there is a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children.” Id. at 68. As such, “so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children (i.e., is fit), there will normally be no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children.” Id. at 68-69. Because the trial court failed to honor this presumption, failed to give any weight to the preferences of the parents, and also failed to consider whether the parents had even [*35]  denied visitation, the Troxel Court held that the visitation award was unconstitutional in that case. Id. at 72. The United States Supreme Court declined, however, to rule on “whether the Due Process Clause requires all nonparental visitation statutes to include a showing of harm or potential harm to the child as a condition precedent to granting visitation.” Id. at 73. Accordingly, the Court did not “define . . . the precise scope of the parental due process right in the visitation context.” Id.

C.

Although this case does not involve grandparent visitation, Sky High argues that the Hawk Court’s rejection of the state’s parens patriae power to interfere in a parenting decision is also applicable to Mother’s decision to waive Son’s claims against Sky High. Because the Hawk holding has never been applied in the context of an exculpatory clause, Sky High cites several decisions relying on the recognition of fundamental parental rights in upholding liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of children. Indeed, Sky Hall asserts that in the wake of the Troxel decision, the law has seen a “strong shift” in favor of enforceability.

Sky High heavily relies on the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 (Ohio 1998). In Zivich, the child was injured [*36]  while participating in a non-profit soccer club. Id. at 202. Prior to the child’s participation, his mother signed a registration form for the activity, which contained a waiver of liability against the soccer club on behalf of the child. Id. When the parents sued the soccer club for the child’s injuries, the soccer club responded that the claim was barred by the waiver. The trial court agreed with the soccer club and granted summary judgment in its favor. Id. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal but held that the child’s cause of action, once he reached the age of majority, had not been waived. See Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., No. 95-L-184, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 1577, 1997 WL 203646, at *1 (Ohio Ct. App. Apr. 18, 1997), aff’d on other grounds, 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 (hereinafter, “Court of Appeals’s Zivich”). Id. One Judge concurred in the result only, opining that that Ohio public policy favored enforcement of the exculpatory agreement against both parents and the child. Court of Appeals’s Zivich, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 1577, 1997 WL 203646, at *23 (Ford, J., concurring in result only).

The Ohio Supreme Court likewise affirmed the trial court’s decision that the claims of both the parents and the child were barred by the exculpatory clause contained in the registration form. Zivich, 696 N.E.2d at 207. In reaching this result, the Ohio Supreme Court first rejected [*37]  the parents’ argument that the agreement should not be enforced on public policy grounds, given that contracts entered into by minors were generally unenforceable in Ohio. Id. at 204. Rather, the Ohio Supreme Court held that Ohio public policy actually favored enforcement of the agreement, citing Ohio statutes enacted to “encourage landowners to open their land to public use for recreational activities without fear of liability.” Id. at 204-05 (citing Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 1533.18 & 1533.181). Indeed, the Ohio Supreme Court noted that, although the statute was not applicable to the case-at-bar, the Ohio General Assembly had recently enacted statutes that “accord qualified immunity to unpaid athletic coaches and sponsors of athletic events.” Id. at 205 (citing Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2305.381 & 2305.382). The Zivich Court also noted the inherent benefits in allowing children to participate in sporting activities:

Organized recreational activities offer children the opportunity to learn valuable life skills. It is here that many children learn how to work as a team and how to operate within an organizational structure. Children also are given the chance to exercise and develop coordination skills. Due in great part to the assistance of volunteers, nonprofit organizations are able to offer these [*38]  activities at minimal cost. . . . Clearly, without the work of its volunteers, these nonprofit organizations could not exist, and scores of children would be without the benefit and enjoyment of organized sports. Yet the threat of liability strongly deters many individuals from volunteering for nonprofit organizations. Developments in the Law–Nonprofit Corporations–Special Treatment and Tort Law (1992), 105 Harv. L. Rev. 1667, 1682. Insurance for the organizations is not the answer, because individual volunteers may still find themselves potentially liable when an injury occurs. Markoff, Liability Threat Looms: A Volunteer’s Thankless Task (Sept. 19, 1988), 11 Natl. L.J. 1, 40. Thus, although volunteers offer their services without receiving any financial return, they place their personal assets at risk.

Id. Given these risks, the Ohio Supreme Court noted that these organizations “could very well decide that the risks are not worth the effort,” which would reduce the number of low-cost sporting activities available to the youth. Id.

In addition to the Ohio public policy favoring low-cost youth sporting activities, the Zivich Court noted that its decision aligned with “the importance of parental authority.” Id. [*39]  (citing Court of Appeals’s Zivich, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 1577, 1997 WL 203646, at *23 (Ford, J., concurring in result only)) (agreeing with the reasoning espoused by Judge Ford in his concurrence to the Court of Appeals’s Zivich). As the Zivich Court explained, parents have a right to raise their children, a fundamental liberty interest in the “the care, custody, and management of their offspring[,]” and “a fundamental, privacy-oriented right of personal choice in family matters,” all of which are protected by due process. Id. at 206 (citing Court of Appeals’s Zivich, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 1577, 1997 WL 203646, at *24 (Ford, J., concurring in result only)). In addition, the Ohio Supreme Court provided examples where Ohio statutory law empowers parents to make decisions for their children, including the right to consent or decline medical treatment. Id. (citing Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2317.54[C]; Lacey v. Laird, 166 Ohio St. 12, 19, 1 O.O.2d 158, 161, 139 N.E.2d 25, 30 (Ohio 1956) (Hart, J., concurring)). Thus, the Zivich Court concluded that invalidating the release would be “inconsistent with conferring other powers on parents to make important life choices for their children.” Id. at 206 (citing Court of Appeals’s Zivich, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 1577, 1997 WL 203646, at *25-26 (Ford, J., concurring in result only)). According to the Ohio Supreme Court, the decision to allow the child to participate in a potentially dangerous activity after having signed a liability waiver on behalf of the child is “an important family decision” in which a parent makes a decision regarding whether “the benefits to her child outweighed the risk of physical injury.” Id. at 207. After concluding that this decision is protected by the fundamental right of parental authority, the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately held that the decision could not be “disturb[ed]” by the courts. Id. Accordingly, the Zivich Court ruled that the waiver was enforceable.

Sky High emphasizes that at least three other states have similarly held that pre-injury waivers of a minor’s claims by parents were enforceable due to the court’s inability to interfere with fit parents’ decisions. See Saccente v. LaFlamme, No. CV0100756730, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1913, 2003 WL 21716586 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 11, 2003); Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738 (Mass. 2002); BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714, 80 A.3d 345 (Md. 2013). First, in Saccente v. LaFlamme, the child’s father signed an indemnity agreement on behalf of his daughter to participate in horseback riding lessons. Saccente, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1913, 2003 WL 21716586, at *1. When the child was injured and the mother sued on her behalf, the defendant farm raised the indemnity agreement as a defense. Id. The Superior Court of Connecticut ultimately held that the indemnity agreement signed by the child’s parent was enforceable to bar the child’s claim. 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1913, [WL] at 7.4 In reaching this result, the Saccente Court relied, in part, on the fundamental parental rights recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Troxel. 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1913, [WL] at *6 (citing Troxel, 530 U.S. at 65). In the Saccente Court’s view, a parent’s right to make decisions regarding the rearing of children extends to “the right to control their associations,” including the “[t]he decision here by her father to let the minor plaintiff waive her claims [*40]  against the defendants in exchange for horseback riding lessons at their farm[.]” Saccente, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1913, 2003 WL 21716586, at *6-7 (distinguishing cases where releases have been held invalid by the fact that Connecticut statutory law did not forbid parents from settling the claims of their children).

4 The Superior Court in Saccente comes to the opposite conclusion as the Superior Court previously came to in Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of Am., Inc., 21 Conn. Supp. 38, 143 A.2d 466 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1958). The Saccente Court distinguished Fedor on the basis that parents there had “had no choice but to sign the waiver” in order to participate in a Boy Scout camp for low-income families. Saccente, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1913, 2003 WL 21716586, at *4. The Saccente Court concluded that the same was not true of the child’s horseback riding lessons.

In Sharon v. City of Newtown, a student sued the city for injuries she had incurred while participating in cheerleading practice at a public school. Sharon, 769 N.E.2d at 741. In rejecting the student’s argument that a waiver signed by the student’s father was invalid, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that enforcing the waiver “comports with the fundamental liberty interest of parents in the rearing of their children, and is not inconsistent with the purpose behind our public policy permitting minors to void their contracts.” Id. at 747. In addition, the Sharon Court noted that its decision was in line with Massachusetts statutes exempting certain nonprofit organizations, volunteer managers and coaches, and owners of land who permit the public to use their land for recreational purposes without imposing a fee from liability for negligence. Id. (noting that enforcement also comports with a policy of “encouragement of athletic activities [*41]  for minors” and does not conflict with Massachusetts statutory law requiring court approval of minor settlements).

Likewise in BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, the defendant wholesale club sought to dismiss a negligence claim brought on behalf of a minor due to the fact that the parents had signed an exculpatory agreement on behalf of the child. Rosen, 80 A.3d at 346. The Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland’s high court, held that the exculpatory agreement was valid, rejecting the parents’ argument that the agreement should be invalidated through the States’ parens patrie authority. The Rosen Court noted, however, that such authority was only invoked where a parent is unfit or in the context of juvenile delinquency. Id. at 361. As the Maryland Court of Appeals explained: “We have, thus, never applied parens patriae to invalidate, undermine, or restrict a decision, such as the instant one, made by a parent on behalf of her child in the course of the parenting role.” Id. at 362. Ultimately, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the validity of the agreement, relying also on Maryland statutes allowing parents to make financial, medical, mental health, and educational decisions for their children Id. (citing Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 6-405 (allowing parents [*42]  to settle claims on behalf of minors without court approval);5 Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7-301 (allowing parents the choice to homeschool their children); Md. Code Ann., Health-Gen. § 10-610 (allowing a parent to commit a child to mental health services under limited circumstances); Md. Code Ann., Health-Gen. § 20-102 (giving parents the authority to consent to a minor’s medical treatment)). At least one federal case interpreting state law has also enforced such an agreement. See Kelly v. United States, No. 7:10-CV-172-FL, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289, 2014 WL 4793009, at *5 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 25, 2014) (holding that upholding releases signed by parents on behalf of children “serve[s] the public interest by respecting the realm of parental authority to weigh the risks and costs of physical injury to their children against the benefits of the child’s participation in an activity”).

5 The Rosen Court found this statute particularly instructive, as other jurisdictions where exculpatory agreements signed by parents were unenforceable had often relied upon statutes that required court approval for parents to settle lawsuits on behalf of minors as next friend. Rosen, 80 A.3d at 356-57; see also infra, for additional discussion of this factor.

In addition to these cases, it appears that other jurisdictions have likewise upheld similar exculpatory agreements signed on behalf of children without reliance on the fundamental parental rights doctrine. See Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (Ct. App. 1990) (holding, with little analysis regarding the public policy in favor or against such a rule, that “[a] parent may contract on behalf of his or her children” even in the context of a release); Kondrad ex rel. McPhail v. Bismarck Park Dist., 2003 ND 4, ¶ 5, 655 N.W.2d 411, 413 (including no analysis as to the issue of whether [*43]  a parent may waive claims on behalf of a minor); Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 2003 WI App 1, ¶ 10, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 655 N.W.2d 546 (same). In still other states, court decisions refusing to enforce such agreements have been legislatively overturned. See Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co., 48 P.3d 1229 (Colo. 2002), superseded by Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-22-107 (declaring it the public policy of Colorado to permit “a parent of a child to release a prospective negligence claim of the child against” organizations that provide “sporting, recreational, educational, and other activities where certain risks may exist”); Kirton v. Fields, 997 So. 2d 349, 358 (Fla. 2008), somewhat superseded by Fla. Stat. Ann. § 744.301 (permitting a parent to waive a child’s future cause of action only as to the inherent risks of an activity against a “commercial activity provider,” not claims resulting from the provider’s own negligence). Sky High therefore argues that this Court should follow the “strong shift” in the law in favor of enforceability based upon Tennessee and federal constitutional law regarding the state’s inability to interfere in the parenting decisions of fit parents.

That is not to say, however, that jurisdictions that enforce exculpatory agreements or liability waivers signed on behalf of children by their parents enjoy a distinct majority in the United States. Indeed, even as recently as 2010, one court [*44]  characterized the state of the law as the opposite–that “a clear majority” of courts have held in favor of finding such agreements unenforceable. Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252, 258 (Iowa 2010). Compared with the approximately nine jurisdictions wherein courts or legislatures have enforced such agreements, our research has revealed at least fourteen jurisdictions wherein courts have specifically held that exculpatory, release, or indemnification agreements signed by parents on behalf of children are unenforceable. See Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. Co. v. Lee, 92 F. 318, 321 (8th Cir. 1899); J.T. ex rel. Thode v. Monster Mountain, LLC, 754 F. Supp. 2d 1323, 1328 (M.D. Ala. 2010) (applying Alabama law and “the weight of authority in other jurisdictions”); Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of Am., Inc., 21 Conn. Supp. 38, 143 A.2d 466 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1958); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 262 Ill. App. 3d 141, 145, 634 N.E.2d 411, 413, 199 Ill. Dec. 572 (Ill. 1994); Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252, 258 (Iowa 2010); Doyle v. Bowdoin College, 403 A.2d 1206, 1208 n.3 (Me. 1979); Woodman ex rel. Woodman v. Kera LLC, 486 Mich. 228, 785 N.W.2d 1 (Mich. 2010); Khoury v. Saik, 203 Miss. 155, 33 So. 2d 616, 618 (1948) (reaffirmed in Burt v. Burt, 841 So. 2d 108 (Miss. 2001)); Fitzgerald v. Newark Morning Ledger Co., 111 N.J. Super. 104, 108, 267 A.2d 557, 559 (N.J. Law. Div. 1970); Valdimer v. Mount Vernon Hebrew Camps, Inc., 9 N.Y.2d 21, 24, 172 N.E.2d 283, 285, 210 N.Y.S.2d 520 (N.Y. 1961); Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. v. Mallison, 223 Or. 406, 412, 354 P.2d 800, 803 (Or. 1960); Shaner v. State Sys. of Higher Educ., 40 Pa. D. & C.4th 308, 313 (Com. Pl. 1998), aff’d without opinion, 738 A.2d 535 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1999); Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062, somewhat superseded by Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-203 (allowing a release against an “equine or livestock activity sponsor”);6 Munoz v. II Jaz Inc., 863 S.W.2d 207, 210 (Tex. App. 1993); Scott By & Through Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wash. 2d 484, 494, 834 P.2d 6, 11 (Wash. 1992).

6 The Utah Supreme Court has recently announced that Hawkins remains valid law as to whether public policy invalidates an exculpatory agreement “in the absence of statutory language.” See Penunuri v. Sundance Partners, Ltd., 2013 UT 22, ¶ 28, 301 P.3d 984, 992

A few courts refusing to enforce these agreements have expressly considered, and rejected, similar arguments contending that enforcement is necessary to comport with a parent’s fundamental right to control his or her children. For example, the court in Woodman ex rel. Woodman v. Kera LLC rejected this argument on the ground that under such an analysis “a parent would be able to bind the child in any contract, [*45]  no matter how detrimental to the child,” including contracts where the law is well-settled that parents may not consent on behalf of their children. Woodman, 785 N.W.2d at 8 (quoting McKinstry v. Valley Obstetrics-Gynecology Clinic, P.C., 428 Mich. 167, 405 N.W.2d 88 (1987) (noting the general rule that “a parent has no authority to waive, release, or compromise claims by or against a child”). Rather, the Woodman Court noted that if such a massive shift in the law was warranted, the change should originate in the legislature, rather than the courts. Id. at 9-10.

The Iowa Supreme Court likewise considered an argument that the enforcement of pre-injury releases was in line with the “public policy giving deference to parents’ decisions affecting the control of their children and their children’s affairs.” Galloway, 790 N.W.2d at 256. The Galloway Court recognized that parents have a fundamental liberty interest “in the care, custody, and control of [their] children[.]” Id. (quoting Lamberts v. Lillig, 670 N.W.2d 129, 132 (Iowa 2003)). The Court noted, however, that this interest was “restricted to some extent by the public’s interest in the best interests of children.” Id. In support, the Court cited Iowa law preventing parents from waiving child support payments, preventing parents from receiving payments on behalf of a child of more than $25,000.00, and preventing conservators from compromising [*46]  a child’s cause of action absent court approval. Id. at 256-57 (citing Iowa Code § 598.21C(3) (stating that any modification to child support is void unless approved by the court); Iowa Code § 633.574 (limiting a parent’s ability to receive property on behalf of child to an aggregate value of $25,000.00); Iowa Code § 633.647(5) (requiring a child’s conservator to obtain court approval for the settlement of the child’s claim)). The Court further rejected the defendants’ claim that “recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities for youths will cease because organizations sponsoring them will be unable or unwilling to purchase insurance or otherwise endure the risks of civil liability,” finding such fear “speculative and overstated.” Id. at 258-59. The Galloway Court therefore held that inherent in Iowa law was “a well-established public policy that children must be accorded a measure of protection against improvident decisions of their parents.” Id. at 256. The Iowa Supreme Court therefore held that public policy prevented enforcement of the pre-injury release signed by a student’s mother regarding injuries the child sustained while on an educational field trip organized by a state university. Id. at 253.

Although the holding was later superseded by statute, the reasoning of the Colorado [*47]  Supreme Court on this issue is also illuminating. Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co. involved a child injured in a skiing accident whose mother had signed a pre-injury release on his behalf. Cooper, 48 P.3d at 1230. In invalidating the release, the Colorado Supreme Court specifically held that a parent’s fundamental right to “the care, custody, and control of their children” did not extend to a parent’s decision to disclaim a minor’s potential future recovery for injuries caused by the negligence of a third party. Id. at 1235 n.11 (quoting Troxel, 530 U.S. at 65). As the Cooper Court explained:

 [HN13] A parental release of liability on behalf of his child is not a decision that implicates such fundamental parental rights as the right to “establish a home and bring up children,” Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, 43 S.Ct. 625, 67 L. Ed. 1042 (1923), and the right “to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control,” Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35, 45 S. Ct. 571, 69 L. Ed. 1070 (1925). Moreover, it does not implicate a parent’s “traditional interest . . . with respect to the religious upbringing of their children,” Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 214, 92 S. Ct. 1526, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15 (1972), or such medical decisions as a parent’s right to “retain a substantial . . . role” in the decision to voluntary commit his child to a mental institution (with the caveat that the child’s rights and the physician’s independent judgment also plays a role), Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584, 604, 99 S. Ct. 2493, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1979); rather [*48]  a parental release on behalf of a child effectively eliminates a child’s legal right to sue an allegedly negligent party for torts committed against him. It is, thus, not of the same character and quality as those rights recognized as implicating a parents’ fundamental liberty interest in the “care, custody, and control” of their children.

Furthermore, even assuming arguendo, that a parental release on behalf of a minor child implicates a parent’s fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of his child, this right is not absolute. Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166, 64 S. Ct. 438, 88 L. Ed. 645 (1944); People v. Shepard, 983 P.2d 1, 4 (Colo. 1999). Indeed, “[a]cting to guard the general interest in youth’s well being, the state as parens patriae may restrict the parent’s control by requiring school attendance, regulating or prohibiting the child’s labor and in many other ways.” Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. [at] 166 . . . (footnotes omitted). In fact, “in order to protect a child’s well-being, the state may restrict parental control.” Shepard, 983 P.2d at 4.

Cooper, 48 P.3d at 1235 n.11.

Appellants argue that this Court should likewise reject any argument that the enforcement of liability waivers against minors is required by the fundamental parental rights doctrine. Based upon this split of authority, we must determine whether Tennessee public [*49]  policy favors a change in the rule established by this Court in Childress.

D.

[HN14] “‘[T]he public policy of Tennessee is to be found in its constitution, statutes, judicial decisions and applicable rules of common law.'” In re Baby, 447 S.W.3d 807, 823 (Tenn. 2014) (quoting Cary v. Cary, 937 S.W.2d 777, 781 (Tenn.1996)). “Primarily, it is for the legislature to determine the public policy of the state, and if there is a statute that addresses the subject in question, the policy reflected therein must prevail.” Hyde v. Hyde, 562 S.W.2d 194, 196 (Tenn. 1978) (citing United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Ass’n, 166 U.S. 290, 17 S. Ct. 540, 41 L. Ed. 1007 (1897)). In order to determine whether a contract “is inconsistent with public policy, courts may consider the purpose of the contract, whether any violation is inherent in the contract itself, as opposed to merely a collateral consequence, and, finally, whether the enforcement of the contract will have a detrimental effect on the public.” Baby, 447 S.W.3d at 823 (citing Baugh v. Novak, 340 S.W.3d 372, 382 (Tenn. 2011)). “‘The principle that contracts in contravention of public policy are not enforceable should be applied with caution and only in cases plainly within the reasons on which that doctrine rests.'” Home Beneficial Ass’n v. White, 180 Tenn. 585, 589, 177 S.W.2d 545, 546 (1944) (quoting Twin City Pipe Line Co. v. Harding Glass Co., 283 U.S. 353, 356-57, 51 S. Ct. 476, 477, 75 L. Ed. 1112 (1931)).

Here, there can be no doubt that the Tennessee public policy, as evidenced by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Hawk, does not favor intervention in the parental decisions of fit parents. See Hawk, 855 S.W.2d at 579. As such, where a fit [*50]  parent makes a parental decision, our courts generally will not interfere. Id. Courts in Tennessee have cited Hawk to protect a parent’s right most often in the context of dependency and neglect proceedings, termination of parental rights proceedings, parentage actions, child custody proceedings, and grandparent visitation proceedings. See, e.g., In re Carrington H., 483 S.W.3d 507 (Tenn.), cert. denied sub nom. Vanessa G. v. Tenn. Dep’t of Children’s Servs., 137 S. Ct. 44, 196 L. Ed. 2d 28 (2016) (involving termination of parental rights); Lovlace v. Copley, 418 S.W.3d 1, 26 (Tenn. 2013) (involving grandparent visitation); In re Adoption of A.M.H., 215 S.W.3d 793, 809 (Tenn. 2007) (involving termination of parental rights); In re Adoption of Female Child, 896 S.W.2d 546, 548 (Tenn. 1995) (involving custody of a child); Broadwell by Broadwell v. Holmes, 871 S.W.2d 471, 476-77 (Tenn. 1994) (limiting parental immunity only “to conduct that constitutes the exercise of parental authority, the performance of parental supervision, and the provision of parental care and custody”); McGarity v. Jerrolds, 429 S.W.3d 562 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) (involving grandparent visitation); State v. Cox, No. M1999-01598-COA-R3-CV, 2001 Tenn. App. LEXIS 496, 2001 WL 799732, at *10 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 17, 2001) (involving dependency and neglect); Matter of Hood, 930 S.W.2d 575, 578 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996) (involving a parentage action). In one case, Hawk was cited as support for a parent’s right to control a child’s access to the telephone and to “consent . . . vicariously to intercepting, recording and disclosing the child’s conversation with [f]ather.” Lawrence v. Lawrence, 360 S.W.3d 416, 421 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2010). In another case, however, this Court held that a parent’s [*51]  fundamental right to rear his or her children was not violated by a Tennessee law allowing physicians to prescribe contraceptives to minors without parental authorization. See Decker v. Carroll Acad., No. 02A01-9709-CV-00242, 1999 Tenn. App. LEXIS 336, 1999 WL 332705, at *13 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 26, 1999).

Additionally, this policy of protecting fundamental parental rights is often reflected in our statutory law. For example, Tennessee Code Annotated section 34-1-102 provides that parents are equally charged with the “care, management and expenditure of [their children’s] estates.” Another statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 37-1-140, states in relevant part:

A custodian to whom legal custody has been given by the court under this part has the right to the physical custody of the child, the right to determine the nature of the care and treatment of the child, including ordinary medical care and the right and duty to provide for the care, protection, training and education, and the physical, mental and moral welfare of the child, subject to the conditions and limitations of the order and to the remaining rights and duties of the child’s parents or guardian.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-140(a).7 Other statutes littered throughout the Tennessee Code also reflect this policy. See, e.g., Tenn. Code Ann. § 33-8-303 (giving a parent authority to submit minor child to convulsive therapy, but only if neither the child nor the child’s [*52]  other parent object to the treatment); Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-106 (giving a parent authority to consent to a minor’s marriage); Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-25-1105 (giving parents the authority to solicit minor child’s name, photograph, or likeness); Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-2-124 (giving a parent authority to submit their minor child to involuntary mental health or socioemotional screening); Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-5-105 (giving parents the authority to consent to the employment of their minor children aged sixteen or seventeen with certain restrictions set by the state); Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-38-305 (giving a parent the authority to consent to a minor’s body piercing, given certain limitations); Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-1-118 (allowing parents to consent to the release of protected health information of their minor children); Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-117-104 (allowing parents to consent to minor’s use of tanning devices).

7 We note that this Court recently held that under the specific language of the trust agreement at issue, it was “without question the trustee has the right under the Trust Agreement to agree to arbitration binding the Minor beneficiary as to claims or demands once they have arisen.” Gladden v. Cumberland Trust & Inv. Co., No. E2015-00941-COA-R9-CV, 2016 Tenn. App. LEXIS 203, 2016 WL 1166341, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 24, 2016), perm. app.granted (Aug. 18, 2016). The Court held however that the trustee had no power to agree to arbitration of unknown future claims. 2016 Tenn. App. LEXIS 203, [WL] at *6. The situation is distinguishable from this cause for three reasons: (1) the case involved a question of a trustee’s authority under a specific trust agreement, rather than a question of a parent’s authority based upon the Tennessee and federal constitutions; (2) the Court held that the language of the agreement, rather than public policy considerations, required it to hold that the trustee had no power to agree to arbitrate unknown disputes; (3) the agreement at issue was an agreement to arbitrate, which limits only the forum in which a claim may be raised, rather than limiting liability. See Buraczynski v. Eyring, 919 S.W.2d 314, 319 (Tenn. 1996) (holding that arbitration agreements “do not limit liability, but instead designate a forum that is alternative to and independent of the judicial forum”). As such, the Gladden Opinion is inapposite to the issues raised in this case. Furthermore, because the Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted permission for appeal of the Gladden case, we await final resolution of the issues decided therein. – 26 –

The fundamental parental rights doctrine, however, is not absolute. See Prince, 321 U.S. at 166 (“Acting to guard the general interest in youth’s well[-]being, the state as parens patriae may restrict the parent’s control by requiring school attendance, regulating or prohibiting the child’s labor, and in many other ways.”) (footnotes omitted). Indeed, as recently as 2011, the Tennessee Supreme [*53]  Court recognized the courts’ power to invalidate certain contracts made by parents on behalf of minors. See Wright ex rel. Wright v. Wright, 337 S.W.3d 166 (Tenn. 2011). In Wright, a minor was seriously injured in an automobile accident, and her father retained the services of an attorney to represent him and the child in a lawsuit to recover for her injuries. Id. at 170. In connection with the representation, the father signed a one-third contingency fee with the attorney. The agreement noted, however, that fees on behalf of the minor would require court approval. The father thereafter filed a complaint on behalf of the child as next friend. Because the child’s parents were divorced, the trial court eventually appointed a guardian ad litem for the child. Ultimately, the parties agreed to settle the case for $425,000 on behalf of the child, as well as courts costs, guardian ad litem fees, and other expenses. The document evincing the agreement also indicated that the parties agreed to the “contractual attorney’s fees.” Id. at 171.

A dispute soon arose between the guardian ad litem and the retained attorney over the amount of attorney’s fees owed to the attorney; while the retained attorney contended he was entitled to one-third of [*54]  the settlement amount, the guardian ad litem asserted that the retained attorney was only entitled to a reasonable fee as set by the court. Id. The trial court eventually entered an order awarding the retained attorney his full fee under the contingency contract. Id. at 172. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a recalculation of the fees. Id. The trial court held a hearing and ultimately awarded $131,000.00 in attorney’s fees. Id. at 175 (citing Wright v. Wright, No. M2007-00378-COA-R3-CV, 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 764, 2007 WL 4340871, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 12, 2007) (hereinafter, “Wright I”)). After the fee was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, the Tennessee Supreme Court granted the guardian ad litem’s application for permission to appeal. Id. at 176.

As is relevant to this case, the Tennessee Supreme Court first reaffirmed “the long-standing” principle in Tennessee that “a next friend representing a minor cannot contract with an attorney for the amount of the attorney’s fee so as to bind the minor[.]” Id. at 179 (citing City of Nashville v. Williams, 169 Tenn. 38, 82 S.W.2d 541, 541 (1935)). In reaching this decision, the Wright Court noted two statutes allowing Tennessee courts the power to approve settlements made on behalf of minors. Wright, 337 S.W.3d at 178. First, Tennessee Code Annotated section 34-1-121 provides, in pertinent part:

In any action, claim, or suit in which a minor or person with a disability is a party [*55]  or in any case of personal injury to a minor or person with a disability caused by the alleged wrongful act of another, the court in which the action, claim, or suit is pending, or the court supervising the fiduciary relationship if a fiduciary has been appointed, has the power to approve and confirm a compromise of the matters in controversy on behalf of the minor or person with a disability. If the court deems the compromise to be in the best interest of the minor or person with a disability, any order or decree approving and confirming the compromise shall be binding on the minor or person with a disability.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-1-121(b); see also Vannucci v. Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological Ass’n, P.C., No. W2005-00725-COA-R3-CV, 2006 Tenn. App. LEXIS 464, 2006 WL 1896379, at *11 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 11, 2006) (holding that where a settlement involves a minor, section 34-1-121 “requir[es]” that the trial court “go beyond its normal role” and approve or disapprove of the proposed settlement). Likewise, Section 29-34-105 requires an in-chambers hearing attended by both the minor and his or her guardian in order to approve a settlement totaling more than $10,000.00. From these statutes, the Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that  [HN15] Tennessee public policy allows courts to “assume a special responsibility to protect a minor’s interests.” [*56]  Wright, 337 S.W.3d at 178. The Wright Court therefore affirmed the ruling that the retained attorney was not entitled to the contractual fee, but merely to a reasonable fee as set by the court. Id. Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s award of $131,000.00 in attorney’s fees. Id. at 188.

From Wright, we can glean that  [HN16] Tennessee’s public policy includes a well-settled principle requiring courts to act as parens patriae to protect a child’s financial interests. Indeed, Tennessee statutory law, the most salient source of Tennessee public policy, includes several statutes that offer protections for a minor’s financial interests, even if that protection interferes with a parent’s decisions. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-34-105 (requiring court approval of settlements on behalf of minors of more than $10,000.00); Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-1-102(a) (limiting a parent’s use of child’s income to only “so much . . . as may be necessary . . . (without the necessity of court authorization) for the child’s care, maintenance and education”); Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-1-121(b) (giving the court power to approve settlements on behalf of minors where the settlement is in the minor’s best interest); Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-1-122 (authorizing the court to approve or disapprove of “expenditures of income or principal of the property of [*57]  the minor or person with a disability” and providing limits on the type of “gift program[s]” that may be approved). The Tennessee Supreme Court previously characterized these statutes as “plac[ing] the responsibility and burden upon the court to act for the minor.” Busby v. Massey, 686 S.W.2d 60, 63 (Tenn. 1984). When these statutes are implicated, “the trial court is not bound by desires, interests or recommendations of attorneys, parents, guardians or others.” Id. (citing Rafferty v. Rainey, 292 F. Supp. 152 (E.D. Tenn. 1968)); see also Wright I, 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 764, 2007 WL 4340871, at *1 (“By caselaw and by statute the settlement of a case brought by a minor for personal injuries must be approved by the court, and the court must ensure that the settlement itself is in the best interests of the minor.”) (emphasis added).

In addition to statutes on this subject, Tennessee caselaw provides another significant protection for the financial interests of a minor even against his or her parent: a parent may not, by agreement, waive the child’s right to support from the other parent. Huntley v. Huntley, 61 S.W.3d 329, 336 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) (citing Norton v. Norton, No. W1999-02176-COA-R3-CV, 2000 Tenn. App. LEXIS 13, 2000 WL 52819, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan.10, 2000)). As this Court explained: “It is against public policy to allow the custodial parent to waive the child’s right to support[,]” as the child is the beneficiary of the support, not the parent. [*58]  A.B.C. v. A.H., No. E2004-00916-COA-R3-CV, 2005 Tenn. App. LEXIS 18, 2005 WL 74106, at *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 13, 2005) (citing Pera v. Peterson, 1990 Tenn. App. LEXIS 874, 1990 WL 200582 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 1990)); see also Berryhill v. Rhodes, 21 S.W.3d 188, 192, 194 (Tenn. 2000) (holding that private agreements to circumvent child support obligations are against public policy). Such agreements are therefore “void as against public policy as established by the General Assembly.” Witt v. Witt, 929 S.W.2d 360, 363 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996); see also Galloway, 790 N.W.2d at 256-57 (relying on Iowa law preventing parents from entering into agreements waiving child support as a reason for its rule invalidating waivers of liability signed by parents on behalf of minors). The Tennessee Supreme Court has likewise held that parents engaged in a child custody dispute “cannot bind the court with an agreement affecting the best interest of their children.” Tuetken v. Tuetken, 320 S.W.3d 262, 272 (Tenn. 2010). Finally, we note that Rule 17.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure allows a court to appoint a guardian ad litem for a child “at any time after the filing of the complaint” in two instances: (1) when the child has no duly appointed representative; or (2) when “justice requires” the appointment. Thus, Rule 17.03 allows the appointment of a guardian ad litem even when the child is represented by his or her parent in the capacity of next friend. See Gann v. Burton, 511 S.W.2d 244, 246 (Tenn. 1974) (holding that the court’s decision to appoint a guardian ad litem when “justice requires” is discretionary and is determined on a case-by-case basis). [*59]

Tennessee statutory law also contains other protections that arguably interfere with a parent’s right to the custody and control of his or her children, albeit not in a financial context. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-6-307 (granting a parent the right to refuse medical treatment for his or her child, unless the parent’s decision “jeopardize[s] the life, health, or safety of the minor child”); Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-10-303 (granting the parent the right to consent to his or her child’s abortion, but providing that, in the absence of parental consent, consent may be obtained from the court); Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 37-10-401 to -403 (placing on the parent the duty to vaccinate a child, unless certain religious exceptions apply); Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-3001 (requiring parents to enroll their school-aged children in school, unless exempted); Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-3009 (making it a crime for a parent who has control of a child to allow the child to be truant from a remedial institution); Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-3050 (regulating home schooling); Term. Code Ann. § 68-34-107 (allowing a physician to provide a minor with contraceptive if the minor obtains parental consent or simply if the minor “requests and is in need of birth control procedures, supplies or information”). Indeed, one statute specifically invalidates a contract entered into by the biological and adoptive parents if the [*60]  parties agree to visitation post-adoption. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-121(f) (“Any provision in an order of the court or in any written agreement or contract between the parent or guardian of the child and the adoptive parents requiring visitation or otherwise placing any conditions on the adoption shall be void and of no effect whatsoever[.]”).

Because of the statutory and caselaw in Tennessee providing protection for a minor’s financial and other interests, we first note that Tennessee law is clearly distinguishable from many of the cases in which enforcement of liability waivers was held to be appropriate. For example, the Connecticut Superior Court in Saccente v. LaFlamme specifically noted that its decision did not conflict with Connecticut public policy as evidenced by statutes because there was “no Connecticut law, and the [parties have] cited none, which affords such specific protections for minors.” Saccente, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1913, 2003 WL 21716586, at *6-7 (citing Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 45a-631 (allowing parents to settle the claims of their children if the amount recovered is less than $10,000.00)). Likewise in BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, the Maryland Court of Appeals noted that rather than having no statute prohibiting the practice of parental consent to minor settlements without [*61]  court approval, such practice was actually authorized by Maryland statutory law. See Rosen, 80 A.3d at 362 (citing Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 6-405 (allowing parents to settle “any” claims on behalf of minors without court approval)). Clearly, the legal framework in Tennessee differs significantly from these other jurisdictions in this regard.

In addition, unlike in Sharon and Zivich, Sky High has cited to no statutes, nor has our research revealed any, that reflect Tennessee public policy in favor of sheltering from liability owners of land opened for recreational uses or unpaid athletic coaches and sponsors. See Sharon, 769 N.E.2d at 747 (citing Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 21, § 17C; Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 231, § 85V); Zivich, 696 N.E.2d at 204-05 (citing Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 1533.18; 1533.181; 2305.381; 2305.382); Indeed, in Justice Deborah L. Cook’s concurrence in Zivich, she emphasized that her decision to concur was “firmly grounded in the public policy of the General Assembly, as evinced by the legislative enactments cited by the majority,” rather than any constitutional policy regarding parental rights. Zivich, 696 N.E.2d at 208 (Cook, J., concurring). Tennessee law has no such statutes that evince the Tennessee General Assembly’s desire to shield the operators of for-profit trampoline parks from liability.

Based on the foregoing, we conclude that the Colorado Supreme Court’s analysis on [*62]  this issue best aligns with existing Tennessee law. See Cooper, 48 P.3d at 1235 n.11. First, we note that Sky High has cited no law in which the fundamental right to care for and to control children, as recognized by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Hawk, has ever been utilized to uphold financial contracts entered into by the parent on behalf of the child, especially where the child’s right to recover money may be negated by the parents’ agreement. See id. (holding that “[a] parental release of liability on behalf of his child is not a decision that implicates such fundamental parental rights”). Indeed,  [HN17] where a child’s financial interests are threatened by a parent’s contract, it appears to be this State’s longstanding policy to rule in favor of protecting the minor. See Huntley, 61 S.W.3d at 336 (preventing parent from agreeing to waive child support). Moreover, as previously discussed, our General Assembly has enacted a multitude of statutes evincing a policy of protecting children’s finances from improvident decisions on the part of their parents. See, e.g., Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 34-1-102; 34-1-121(b). This policy of allowing courts to “assume a special responsibility to protect a minor’s interests” was reaffirmed by the Tennessee Supreme Court in [*63]  2011, well after the decisions in both Hawk and Troxel. See Wright, 337 S.W.3d at 178. Accordingly,  [HN18] parents in Tennessee, like parents in Colorado, simply do not have plenary power over the claims of their children, regardless of their fundamental parental rights. C.f. Cooper, 48 P.3d at 1235 n.11 (holding that a parent’s right to the custody, care, and control of his or her children is “not absolute”).8

8 Moreover, unlike the Colorado legislature, which enacted new law to overturn the decision in Cooper a mere year after that decision was filed, see Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-22-107 (eff. May 14, 2003), the Tennessee General Assembly has chosen to take no action to overturn the rule adopted in Childress for the last twenty-five years.

We are cognizant that the above statutes as well as the Wright decision concern only the parent’s ability to settle a claim after an injury has occurred. See Wright, 337 S.W.3d at 178. At least two courts have held that similar rules have no application to a pre-injury waiver. See Sharon, 769 N.E.2d at 747 n.10 (citing Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 231, § 140C1/2) (providing that a court may approve a settlement on behalf of a minor when approval is requested by a party); Zivich, 696 N.E.2d at 201. As the Sharon Court explained:

[T]he policy considerations underlying [a post-injury release] are distinct from those at issue in the preinjury context. A parent asked to sign a preinjury release has no financial motivation to comply and is not subject to the types of conflicts and financial pressures that may arise in the postinjury settlement context, when simultaneously coping with an injured child. Such pressure can create the [*64]  potential for parental action contrary to the child’s ultimate best interests. In short, in the preinjury context, there is little risk that a parent will mismanage or misappropriate his child’s property.

Sharon, 769 N.E.2d at 747 n.10 (citing Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201). This Court previously rejected a similar argument in Childress, stating:

Indemnification agreements executed by a parent or guardian in favor of tort feasors, actual or potential, committing torts against an infant or incompetent, are invalid as they place the interests of the child or incompetent against those of the parent or guardian. . . . Th[e] fact [that] the agreements at issue were executed pre-injury] does not change the rule, and indemnity provisions executed by the parent prior to a cause of action in favor of a child cannot be given effect. Were the rule otherwise, it would circumvent the rule regarding exculpatory clauses and the policy of affording protection in the law to the rights of those who are unable effectively to protect those rights themselves.

Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 7 (citing Valdimer, 172 N.E.2d at 285 (“Clearly, a parent who has placed himself in the position of indemnitor will be a dubious champion of his infant child’s rights.”)).

Nothing in Hawk or otherwise cited to this Court leads us to believe [*65]  that the decision in Childress on this particular issue was in error at the outset or has been changed by the fundamental parental rights doctrine. An agreement to waive all future claims arising out of an incident and to hold a third party harmless even from the third party’s negligence clearly has the potential to place the parent’s interest in conflict with the child’s interest. As the New Jersey Superior Court explained: “If such an agreement could be enforced it would be for the benefit of the [parent] to prevent the bringing of any suit on the claim of the infant no matter how advantageous such suit might be for the infant.” Fitzgerald, 267 A.2d at 559. The Oregon Supreme Court came to a similar conclusion:

As parent-guardian he owes a duty to act for the benefit of his child. That duty is not fully discharged where the parent enters into a bargain which gives rise to conflicting interests. The conflict may arise at the time of settlement when the parent has the opportunity to receive a sum of money in his own right as a part of the settlement in consideration for which he agrees to indemnity the defendant, and it may arise later when it is found advisable that his child bring action against the defendant [*66]  for injuries which had not been known at the settlement date. On either of these occasions there is a real danger that the child’s interest will be put in jeopardy because of the parent’s concern over his or her own economic interests. Certainly a parent who is called upon to decide whether his child should bring an action for injuries not known at the time of settlement is not likely to proceed with such an action in the face of knowledge that any recovery eventually will result in his own liability under an indemnity agreement.

Mallison, 354 P.2d at 802. The parent-child relationship has likewise been described as fiduciary by Tennessee courts in some situations. See Bayliss v. Williams, 46 Tenn. 440, 442 (1869) (“The relation may be of any kind which implies confidence, as trustee and beneficiary, attorney and client, parent and child, guardian and ward, physician and patient, nurse and invalid, confidential friend and adviser, indeed, any relation of confidence between persons which give one dominion or influence over the other[.]”); see also Robinson v. Robinson, 517 S.W.2d 202, 206 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1974) (noting that while the parent-child relationship may give rise to a fiduciary duty, that does not necessarily mean that the relationship is confidential for purposes of [*67]  undue influence or other legal questions). Accordingly, we agree with the courts in New Jersey, New York, and Oregon that  [HN19] the conflict requiring court approval of post-injury settlements involving minors is largely equal to the conflict created by a parent’s decision to sign a preinjury waiver on behalf of a minor.

Furthermore, in our view, a pre-injury waiver is largely analogous to a contract containing a contingency fee. In the context of a pre-injury waiver, the parent must weigh the benefit of the activity with potential injury that may occur, but the injury is merely hypothetical at that time. Likewise, when a parent signs a contingency fee agreement, the parent must weigh the benefits of the representation against the attorney’s fees that will be owed from the child’s recovery. At the time of the signing of the agreement, however, such recovery is merely hypothetical. Accordingly, similar interests and conflicts are inherent in both transactions.  [HN20] Because the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that contingency fee agreements signed by parents are invalid, despite the fact that no statute expressly prohibits such action, see Wright, 337 S.W.3d at 178, we likewise conclude that pre-injury waivers of [*68]  liability and indemnification agreements are unenforceable under Tennessee law.

Finally, we cannot discount the fact that Tennessee’s public policy may also be determined from our case law. See Baby, 447 S.W.3d at 823. As previously discussed, this Court determined in 1989 that contracts such as the one at issue in this case were unenforceable under Tennessee law. See Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 6. This Court has previously grappled with the question of whether our Opinions, published in the official reporter and denied permission to appeal by the Tennessee Supreme Court, are entitled to stare decisis effect. Compare Evans v. Steelman, No. 01-A-01-9511-JV00508, 1996 Tenn. App. LEXIS 625, 1996 WL 557844, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 2, 1996), aff’d, 970 S.W.2d 431 (Tenn. 1998) (holding that where only one issue was decided by the Court of Appeals, the denial of permission to appeal by the Tennessee Supreme Court should be read as approval of the Court of Appeals’s holding until the Tennessee Supreme Court “change[s] its mind”); with Evans, 1996 Tenn. App. LEXIS 625, 1996 WL 557844, at *8 (Koch, J., dissenting) (citing Swift v. Kirby, 737 S.W.2d 271, 277 (Tenn. 1987)) (“The doctrine of stare decisis does not apply with full force to principles that have not been directly adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court.”); see also Hardy v. Tournament Players Club at Southwind, Inc., No. W2014-02286-COA-R9-CV, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 524, 2015 WL 4042490, at *16 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 2, 2015) (Gibson, J., dissenting), perm. app. [*69]  granted (Tenn. Dec. 9, 2015) (noting the “the oddity of a Court of Appeals judge asserting that our own opinions may not have stare decisis effect[,]” in the context of an unpublished opinion of the Court of Appeals). If entitled to consideration under the stare decisis doctrine, we are “require[d] . . . to uphold our prior precedents to promote consistency in the law and to promote confidence in this Court’s decisions . . . [unless there is] an error in the precedent, when the precedent is obsolete, when adhering to the precedent would cause greater harm to the community than disregarding stare decisis, or when the prior precedent conflicts with a constitutional provision.” Cooper v. Logistics Insight Corp., 395 S.W.3d 632, 639 (Tenn. 2013).

It appears that the issue was settled, however, by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s 1999 amendment to Rule 4 of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court. See In re Amendment to Supreme Court Rule 4 (Tenn. Nov. 10, 1999), https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/sc_rule_4_amd_publ_opin.pdf (deleting the prior rule and adopting a new rule). Under Rule 4 of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court, “[o]pinions reported in the official reporter . . . shall be considered controlling authority for all purposes unless and until such opinion is reversed or modified by a court of competent jurisdiction.” Accordingly, regardless of whether stare decisis applies in this case, it remains controlling authority in this case until overturned. As such, we will not [*70]  overrule the Childress decision lightly, especially given the over twenty-five years that it has operated as the law in Tennessee.

A similar issue was raised in Woodman ex rel. Woodman v. Kera LLC, 486 Mich. 228, 785 N.W.2d 1 (Mich. 2010). As previously discussed, the Michigan Supreme Court first recognized the well-settled rule that “a parent has no authority to waive, release, or compromise claims by or against a child[.]” Id. at 8. The Woodman Court therefore framed the issue as whether that well-settled rule should be altered due to changing policy considerations. The Michigan Supreme Court declined the invitation, holding that such a dramatic shift in public policy was best left to the state legislature:

There is no question that, if this Court were inclined to alter the common law, we would be creating public policy for this state. Just as “legislative amendment of the common law is not lightly presumed,” this Court does not lightly exercise its authority to change the common law. Indeed, this Court has acknowledged the prudential principle that we must “exercise caution and . . . defer to the Legislature when called upon to make a new and potentially societally dislocating change to the common law.”

Woodman, 785 N.W.2d at 9 (footnotes omitted) (quoting Wold Architects & Engineers v. Strat, 474 Mich. 223, 233, 713 N.W.2d 750 (Mich. 2006); Henry v. Dow Chem. Co., 473 Mich. 63, 89, 701 N.W.2d 684 (Mich. 2005)) (citing Bott v. Commission of Natural Resources, 415 Mich. 45, 327 N.W.2d 838 (Mich. 1982)).

The same is true in [*71]  this case. As previously discussed, the Childress Opinion was decided over twenty-five years ago. Since that time, both the Tennessee Supreme Court and the Tennessee General Assembly have had ample opportunity to affirmatively act to change the rule established in Childress. See Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 1 (noting that permission to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court was denied); Rogers v, 807 S.W.2d at 242 (same). Indeed, the Childress Opinion specifically invited both the Tennessee Supreme Court and the Tennessee General Assembly to scrutinize its holding. See Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 8. Despite this fact, the Childress rule has remained unaltered for more than two decades.

Other courts have questioned the danger presented to recreational activities participated in by minors in refusing to enforce liability waivers or exculpatory agreements. See, e.g., Sharon, 769 N.E.2d at 747 (holding that declining to enforce these waivers would “inevitably [be] destructive to school-sponsored programs”); Zivich, Inc., 696 N.E.2d at 205 (noting the threat that recreational activities will not be available to children without the enforcement of waivers). Indeed, even the Childress Court noted that possible threat posed by its ruling. See Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 7-8 (discussing whether its rule will have a chilling [*72]  effect on recreational activities for children). Given the twenty-five years under which Tennessee has been applying the rule adopted in Childress, however, we need not speculate as to the dire consequences that may result to children’s recreational opportunities. Indeed, Tennessee law is replete with instances of children participating in, and becoming injured by, recreational activities. See, e.g., Neale v. United Way of Greater Kingsport, No. E2014-01334-COA-R3-CV, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 607, 2015 WL 4537119, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2015) (involving a child injured in a woodworking shop operated by the Boys and Girls Club); Pruitt v. City of Memphis, No. W2005-02796-COA-R3-CV, 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 24, 2007 WL 120040, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 18, 2007) (involving a child injured at a public swimming pool); Tompkins v. Annie’s Nannies, Inc., 59 S.W.3d 669 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) (involving a child injured in a downhill race organized by her day care center); Livingston, as Parent, Next Friend of Livingston v. Upper Cumberland Human Res. Agency, No. 01A01-9609-CV-00391, 1997 Tenn. App. LEXIS 163, 1997 WL 107059, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 12, 1997) (involving a child injured at a church retreat); Cave v. Davey Crockett Stables, No. 03A01-9504CV00131, 1995 Tenn. App. LEXIS 560, 1995 WL 507760, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 1995) (involving a child injured at summer camp).9 In fact, Sky High has provided this Court with no evidence that recreational activities open to minors have in any way been hindered by the Childress rule. Accordingly, we can easily dismiss any claim that refusing to enforce waivers of liability against children will in any way limit the recreational opportunities open to children in Tennessee.

9 In Cave, the child’s parent signed “a consent [form] for the child to participate in the activity and . . . a release releasing [one of the defendants] from any liability for personal injuries received by the child.” 1995 Tenn. App. LEXIS 560, [WL] at *1. The Court never reached the issue, however, because of a statute that precluded liability for certain equine activities. Id. (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-20-103).

Based [*73]  on the foregoing, we conclude that there is no basis to depart from this Court’s well-reasoned decision in Childress. Because the law in Tennessee states that parents may not bind their minor children to pre-injury waivers of liability, releases, or indemnity agreements, the trial court did not err in refusing to enforce the waiver of liability and indemnity provisions of the release signed by Mother on behalf of Son.

IV.

Appellants next argue that the trial court erred in denying their request to amend their complaint to include a request for pre-majority medical expenses incurred on behalf of the child. Here, the trial court specifically found that “for a minor’s injuries[,] the claim for medical expenses [is] a separate and distinct claim of the parent[.]” According to the trial court, because Mother waived her right to recover from Sky High, Mother “could not effectively assign them or waive them to her son to allow him to pursue them.” The trial court therefore partially denied Appellants’ motion to amend their complaint.

As previously discussed,  [HN21] a trial court’s decision on a motion to amend a pleading is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Fann v. City of Fairview, 905 S.W.2d 167, 175 (Tenn.Ct.App.1994). Rule 15.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure provides that leave of court [*74]  to amend pleadings “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” The Tennessee Supreme Court has recognized that the language of Rule 15.01 “substantially lessens the exercise of pre-trial discretion on the part of a trial judge.” Branch v. Warren, 527 S.W.2d 89, 91 (Tenn. 1975); see also Hardcastle v. Harris, 170 S.W.3d 67, 80-81 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004). In considering a motion to amend, a trial court is to consider several factors, including: “undue delay in filing the amendment, lack of notice to the opposing party, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and the futility of the amendment.” Gardiner v. Word, 731 S.W.2d 889, 891-92 (Tenn. 1987).

Although not termed as such by the trial court, it appears to this Court that the trial court denied Appellants’ motion to alter or amend on the basis of futility–that is, because Son could not recover pre-majority medical expenses even if requested in the complaint, the amendment served no purpose.10 Sky High argues that the trial court was correct in its decision, citing the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Dudley v. Phillips, 218 Tenn. 648, 651, 405 S.W.2d 468 (Tenn. 1966).  [HN22] In Dudley, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that when a child is injured, two “separate and distinct causes of action” are created: (1) a cause of action on behalf of the parent for “loss [*75]  of services [and] medical expenses to which [the parent] will be put”; and (2) “another and distinct cause of action arises in favor of the child for the elements of damage to him, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, etc.” Id. at 469 (quoting 42 A.L.R. 717 (originally published in 1926)). The rule expressed in Dudley has been reaffirmed by Tennessee courts on multiple occasions. See Vandergriff v. ParkRidge E. Hosp., 482 S.W.3d 545, 549 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015); Neale v. United Way of Greater Kingsport, No. E2014-01334-COA-R3-CV, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 607, 2015 WL 4537119, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2015); Luther, Anderson, Cleary & Ruth, P.C. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 03A01-9601-CV-00015, 1996 Tenn. App. LEXIS 244, 1996 WL 198233, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 25, 1996); Rogers v. Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce, 807 S.W.2d 242, 247 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990)). Indeed, the rule has been codified into Tennessee’s statutory law at Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-105, which provides, in relevant part: “The father and mother of a minor child have equal rights to maintain an action for the expenses and the actual loss of service resulting from an injury to a minor child in the parents’ service or living in the family . . . .” Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-105(a).

10 We note that this Court has previously held:

The court . . . should not deny a plaintiff’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 15 Motion to Amend based on an examination of whether it states a claim on which relief can be granted. As the United States Supreme Court explained, “[i]f underlying facts or circumstances relied on by plaintiff may be proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded opportunity to test his claim on merits and therefore should be permitted to amend [*76]  complaint.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S. Ct. 227, 230, 9 L. Ed. 2d 222 (1962). If the legal sufficiency of the proposed Complaint is at issue–instead of delay, prejudice, bad faith or futility–the better protocol is to grant the motion to amend the pleading, which will afford the adversary the opportunity to test the legal sufficiency of the amended pleading by way of a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) Motion to Dismiss. See McBurney v. Aldrich, 816 S.W.2d 30, 33 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1991).

Conley v. Life Care Centers of Am., Inc., 236 S.W.3d 713, 724 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007). Here, it does appear that the trial court judged the merits of Son’s claim for pre-majority expenses in denying Appellants’ motion to alter or amend. If we were to remand to the trial court with directions to grant the amendment, it is likely that the trial court would later grant a motion to dismiss this claim on the same basis that it denied the motion to amend. Consequently, we cannot discern how judicial economy would be furthered by requiring the above procedure. Furthermore, this Court in its order granting the interlocutory appeal specifically indicated that the question of “whether the minor child can recover medical expenses on his own behalf” was “appropriate” for interlocutory review. Accordingly, we proceed to consider the merits of this issue.

Sky High argues that because Mother’s claims were extinguished by her valid and undisputed execution of the waiver and indemnification language in the release, any claim for pre-majority medical expenses is likewise barred. Appellants agree that Mother has waived “her individual right to recover medical expenses incurred by her son.” Indeed, all of Mother’s individual claims were voluntarily dismissed in the trial court. Appellants also do not dispute the general rule that  [HN23] children may not claim pre-majority medical expenses as a measure of damages in the child’s lawsuit because those damages are owed solely to the parents. See Dudley, 405 S.W.2d at 469; see also Burke v. Ellis, 105 Tenn. 702, 58 S.W. 855, 857 (Tenn. 1900) (“It is not alleged or shown that the boy incurred any expense for medical services. It is alleged these were incurred by the father. Such an element was not proper in estimating the [*77]  damages in a case brought like this, by next friend, for the minor[.]”). Instead, Appellants argue that because Mother waived her claims by signing the release, the child is permitted to claim the medical expenses on his own behalf, with Mother acting in her capacity as next friend.

In support of their argument, Appellants cite the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Wolfe v. Vaughn, 177 Tenn. 678, 152 S.W.2d 631 (Tenn. 1941). In Wolfe, the minor was injured in an automobile accident. Because her mother was deceased and her father incompetent, the minor filed suit with her grand uncle acting as next friend. Id. at 633. The jury eventually awarded the minor plaintiff damages, including pre-majority medical expenses. Id. at 632. On appeal, the defendants argued that the minor could not recover those expenses “the insistence being that the law confers no cause of action upon an infant for such expenses.” Id. at 633. The Tennessee Supreme Court agreed with the defendant’s contention generally, noting:

 [HN24] “Since the parent is entitled to the services and earnings of the child so long as the latter is legally under his custody or control, ordinarily an infant suing for personal injuries cannot recover for the impairment of his earning capacity during infancy, or for loss of time, [*78]  or for expenses in curing his injuries, when, and only when, he is under the control of his parents; after emancipation he may do so. However, he may recover for his mental or physical pain and sufferings, his permanent injuries, and for the impairment of his power to earn money after arriving at majority.”

Id. at 634 (quoting 31 C. J. 1114, 1115). The Wolfe Court held, however, that an exception to the rule should be present “where a child has no parent who can sue for such expenses that she can sue for and recover the same.” Wolfe, 152 S.W.2d at 634. Accordingly, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted the following rule:

 [HN25] “A parent may waive or be estopped to assert his right to recover for loss of services, etc., by reason of injury to his minor child, and permit the child to recover the full amount to which both would be entitled, as where the parent as next friend brings an action on behalf of the child for the entire injury, or permits the case to proceed on the theory of the child’s right to recover for loss of services and earning capacity during minority. In such case the parent treats the child as emancipated in so far as recovery for such damages is concerned, and cannot thereafter be permitted to claim that he, [*79]  and not the child, was entitled to recover therefor.”

Id. at 633-34 (quoting 46 C. J. 1301, 1302).

This Court has considered the rule set down in Wolfe on a number of occasions. See Neale v. United Way of Greater Kingsport, No. E2014-01334-COA-R3-CV, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 607, 2015 WL 4537119, at *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2015); Palanki ex rel. Palanki v. Vanderbilt Univ., 215 S.W.3d 380 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006); Smith v. King, No. CIV.A. 958, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 21, 1984). In Smith, the child, with his parent acting in the capacity of next friend, filed suit to recover for her injuries incurred when she was struck by a car. Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817, at *1. Because the parent’s claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the child sought to recover not only the damages owed to him, but also for pre-majority medical expenses. Id. In Smith, we held that based upon a theory of waiver, as set down in Wolfe, “under circumstances where the parent has acted as next friend,” the child “may maintain an action for his medical expenses provided that he has paid them, as suggested in Burke, or is legally obligated to pay them.” Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817, at *2 (citing Burke, 58 S.W. at 857 (holding that it was error for the trial court to allow evidence of pre-majority medical expenses that were paid by the child’s parent)). The Smith court therefore remanded to determine “whether the child could bring herself within the exception to the general rule[.]” Id. The Smith Court, however, was not abundantly [*80]  clear as to who was actually required to have paid the expenses, the child or the parent, in order for the child to recover those damages in his or her suit.

The question was answered by this Court in Palanki ex rel. Palanki v. Vanderbilt Univ., 215 S.W.3d 380 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006), no perm. app. filed. Like the child in Smith, the child in Palanki filed suit through his next friend. Although the parents’ claim was not barred by the statute of limitations, the child in Palanki nevertheless requested medical expenses incurred while he was a minor. Id. at 384. This Court held that the child “could properly maintain his own action for pre-majority medical expenses incurred or likely to be incurred by [the child’s mother] on his behalf[.]” Id. at 394. In reaching this result, this Court in Palanki characterized the rule “adopted” in Smith as allowing “a child under circumstances where the parent has acted as next friend [to] maintain an action for his medical expenses provided that [the parent] has paid for them . . . or is legally obligated to pay them.” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817, at *2).11 This Court therefore held that evidence regarding the child’s pre-majority medical expenses was properly admitted and considered by the jury. Id. at 394.

11 The Palanki Court inexplicably states that this rule was adopted in Smith with no citation of any kind to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Wolfe, upon which the Smith Court bases its analysis.

Recently, the United States District [*81]  Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee called into question the holding in Palanki. See Grant v. Kia Motors Corp., No. 4:14-CV-79, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319 (E.D. Tenn. May 10, 2016).12 In Grant, the minor children were injured in an automobile accident, and the children’s mother filed suit in her capacity as next friend. 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, [WL] at *1. The district court, relying on Dudley, first ruled that any claims brought by the mother individually were not tolled due to the children’s minority. 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, [WL] at *8 (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-103(a)) (containing an express tolling provision applicable to minors). Because the mother filed her action after the expiration of the statute of repose, her claims were barred. Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *9.

12 Although federal interpretations of Tennessee law are not controlling on this Court, we may consider their analysis helpful in appropriate circumstances. See State v. Hunt, 302 S.W.3d 859, 863-64 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2009) (“[A] federal court’s interpretation of Tennessee law is not binding on the courts of this state.”).

The mother argued, however, that given that her individual claims were barred, her children were able to pursue pre-majority medical expenses under the theory of waiver espoused in Palanki. Id. The district court noted that under the interpretation of the waiver rule adopted in Palanki, Tennessee’s intermediate courts “would likely permit the minor Plaintiffs in this action to bring claims for their pre-majority medical expenses through their mother . . . as next friend.” Id. Under well-settled rules regarding federal courts sitting in diversity, the Grant court noted [*82]  that it “must follow state law as announced by the Supreme Court of Tennessee[,]” and “[w]here, as here, ‘a state appellate court has resolved an issue to which the high court has not spoken, we will normally treat [those] decisions . . . as authoritative absent a strong showing that the state’s highest court would decide the issue differently.'” Id. (quoting Kirk v. Hanes Corp. of North Carolina, 16 F.3d 705, 707 (6th Cir. 1994) (emphasis in original)). Based upon its reading of Wolfe and Smith, however, the district court stated that it was “convinced that the Supreme Court of Tennessee would not apply the waiver rule as announced in Palanki to the case at bar.” Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *9. Specifically, the Grant court concluded that the Palanki Court wrongly interpreted the ambiguous language in Smith to allow a child to sue for expenses paid by the child’s parent when the opposite rule was intended by the Smith Court. 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, [WL] at *10 (citing Palanki, 215 S.W.3d at 394 (citing Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817, at *2)).

In reaching this conclusion, the district court first referenced the Tennessee Supreme Court’s ruling in Wolfe, noting that “the Wolfe court clearly addressed a situation in which the parents neither paid for nor were legally responsible for the child’s medical expenses.” Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *10. The court in Grant likewise concluded that the Court of Appeals in Smith was concerned [*83]  only with those expenses paid by the minor himself. 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, [WL] at 11. In support, the district court noted that the proviso in the Smith Court’s holding that a claim for pre-majority medical expenses may stand “provided he has paid them,” cites the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Burke v. Ellis. Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *11 (citing Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 at *2 (citing Burke, 58 S.W. at 857)). In Burke, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the trial court erred in allowing evidence of pre-majority medical expenses in a case brought by the minor through his next friend. Burke, 58 S.W. at 857. Indeed, the Burke Court mentioned that there was no proof that the child was required to pay his own medical expenses. Id. (“[W]hile there is no proof that the child paid any expenses for medical treatment, there is a statement that such expenses were incurred and paid by the father[.]”). As such, the Grant court concluded that:

 [HN26] Burke unmistakably stands for the proposition that it is improper for a jury to consider medical expenses as relevant to damages where, as here, a minor brings claims by next friend. Moreover, by explicitly mentioning twice that there is no proof that the child paid any expenses for medical treatment, the court implies that the outcome may be different if such proof were presented. Accordingly, where [*84]  the Smith court says that the waiver rule applies to permit a child to recover medical expenses “provided that he has paid them, as suggested in Burke,” Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 at *2, it is clear that the “he” to which the Smith court referred was intended to be “the child.”

Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *11.

The Grant court also noted other portions of the ruling in Smith that supported its interpretation. For example, the Smith court cited two cases regarding the question of when a child is liable for necessaries furnished to him. Id. (citing Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 at *2 (citing Gardner v. Flowers, 529 S.W.2d 708 (Tenn. 1975); Foster v. Adcock, 161 Tenn. 217, 30 S.W.2d 239 (Tenn. 1930)). In both of these cases, however, the dispute involved whether a child, not the child’s parent, was liable on a debt. See Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *11 (citing Gardner, 529 S.W.2d at 711; Foster, 30 S.W.2d at 240). Additionally, the Grant court noted that the remand order in Smith indicates that the only pre-majority medical expenses that may be raised by the child are those that were paid by him or her. See Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *12 (“It is clear . . . that the court remanded the case so that the minor plaintiff could present evidence that she, the child, had paid the medical expenses or was legally obligated to pay same.”). Indeed, the Smith Court remanded to the trial court to determine “whether the child could bring herself within the exception to the general rule[,]” despite the [*85]  fact that the record contained evidence that the father was billed for the child’s medical expenses. Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 at *2. Were the rule in Smith that the child could bring a claim for pre-majority medical expenses paid by him or his parent, a remand would not have been necessary to ascertain whether the child could “bring herself within the [waiver] rule.” See id.

Finally, the Grant court noted two other considerations that required it to depart from this Court’s holding in Palanki: (1) the purpose of the waiver rule was allow a claim where there was no threat of double recovery; and (2) accepting the Palanki interpretation of the waiver rule would “allow a parent to collect as damages his/her child’s pre-majority medical expenses notwithstanding the fact that the parent’s individual claims are barred.” Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *12. The Grant court concluded that such a result was untenable because it blurred the demarcation between the parent’s claims and the child’s claims and permitted the parent to evade the fact that his or her own claim was barred. Id.

Although it is certainly unusual for this Court to depart from the most recent reported Tennessee case on this subject in favor of an interpretation offered by a federal district [*86]  court, we must agree with the Court in Grant that the child in this case should not be able to claim pre-majority expenses paid by his parents in an effort to circumvent Mother’s execution of the release, including its waiver and indemnity provision. First, we note that although the Palanki decision is reported in the official reporter and therefore “controlling for all purposes,” Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. 4(G)(2), Palanki was published pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, where no application for permission to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court was filed. See Palanki, 215 S.W.3d at 380; see also Tenn. R. Ct. App. 11. As previously discussed, there is some question as to whether opinions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals which have been denied permission to appeal by the Tennessee Supreme Court are entitled to stare decisis effect. See generally Evans v. Steelman, No. 01-A-01-9511-JV00508, 1996 Tenn. App. LEXIS 625, 1996 WL 557844, at *2, *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 2, 1996). But see Tenn. R. Sup. Ct 4(G)(2). Regardless, the Tennessee Supreme Court has specifically held that:R3-CV, 2009 Tenn. App. LEXIS 874, 2009 WL 4931324, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2009) (quoting Davis v. Davis, No. M2003-02312-COA-R3-CV, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 664, 2004 WL 2296507, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 12, 2004) (“Once the Tennessee Supreme Court has addressed an issue, its decision regarding that issue is binding on the lower courts.”)); Thompson v. State, 958 S.W.2d 156, 173 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1997) (quoting State v. Irick, 906 S.W.2d 440, 443 (Tenn. 1995) (“[I]t is a controlling principle that inferior courts [*87]  must abide the orders, decrees and precedents of higher courts. The slightest deviation from this rigid rule would disrupt and destroy the sanctity of the judicial process.”)); Levitan v. Banniza, 34 Tenn. App. 176, 185, 236 S.W.2d 90, 95 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1950) (“This court is bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court.”). Accordingly, to the extent that the decision in Palanki conflicts with either Wolfe or Burke, we are required to disregard it.

 [HN27] [W]hen no application for review of an opinion of the intermediate courts is sought, it has no stare decisis effect, and such an opinion cannot serve to modify or change existing law. The doctrine of sta[r]e decisis, especially as respects rules of property, does not apply with full force until the question has been determined by a court of last resort.

Swift v. Kirby, 737 S.W.2d 271, 277 (Tenn. 1987). As such, the decision in Palanki simply cannot serve to alter or change the decisions by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Wolfe and Burke. See also Bloodworth v. Stuart, 221 Tenn. 567, 572, 428 S.W.2d 786, 789 (Tenn. 1968) (citing City of Memphis v. Overton, 54 Tenn. App., 419, 392 S.W.2d 86 (Tenn.1964) (“The Court of Appeals has no authority to overrule or modify [the Tennessee] Supreme Court’s opinions.”)). Morris v. Grusin, No. W2009-00033-COA-R3-CV, 2009 Tenn. App. LEXIS 874

Furthermore, we agree with the Grant court’s comment that in both Smith and Wolfe, the Court was concerned with the situation wherein the child himself paid the medical [*88]  expenses. See Grant, 2016 Tenn. LEXIS 816, 2016 WL 6247319, at *11-12 (citing Wolfe, 152 S.W.2d at 634; Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 at *2). Indeed, in Wolfe, the child’s parents were not at all involved in her life. Wolfe, 152 S.W.2d at 634. Accordingly to deprive her of the pre-majority medical expenses which she herself paid simply due to a legal fiction that all parents must pay for the pre-majority medical expenses of their children would have been fundamentally unfair. The Smith Court, likewise, indicated that the child, rather than the parent, must have paid the medical expenses and specifically cited the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Burke in announcing its rule. Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 at *2. Again, Burke unequivocally held that the child could not present proof of pre-majority medical expenses paid by his parent. Burke, 58 S.W. at 857.

Interpreting the Wolfe waiver rule in this fashion best comports with Tennessee law. First, allowing the minor child to recover those expenses he himself has paid harmonizes with Tennessee’s public policy of protecting the financial interests of minors. See discussion, supra. To hold otherwise would prevent the child from being fully compensated for the damages that he actually incurred based upon an arbitrary determination that those expenses were paid by the child’s parent, even in the face of proof to the contrary. [*89]  Furthermore, to allow the child in this case to claim Mother’s damages despite the fact that she executed a valid release and indemnity agreement would be to frustrate this state’s public policy of enforcing clear and unambiguous exculpatory agreements entered into freely by adults. See Moss v. Fortune, 207 Tenn. 426, 429, 340 S.W.2d 902, 903-04 (Tenn. 1960). Indeed, the Smith Court specifically confined the rule to only those claims that the parent “might have[.]” Smith, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 3174, 1984 WL 586817 at *2. In this case, however, Mother’s claims have been extinguished by her execution of the release. Accordingly, she has no claim that she may waive in favor of the child.

A recent Tennessee Supreme Court case supports our analysis. In Calaway ex rel. Calaway v. Schucker, 193 S.W.3d 509 (Tenn. 2005), as amended on reh’g in part (Feb. 21, 2006), the child’s mother filed a medical malpractice action in federal district court as next friend of her minor child. Id. at 512. There was no dispute that the mother’s claims were barred by the applicable statute of repose. The dispute in the case concerned whether the child’s claim was likewise barred by the statute of repose or whether the statutory time limit was tolled during the child’s minority. Id. Because the dispute involved Tennessee law, the Tennessee Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from [*90]  the federal court. Id. The Tennessee Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the medical malpractice statute of repose was not tolled by a child’s minority but held that the rule would only be applied prospectively. Id. at 517-18. The Calaway Court thereafter answered the following certified question:

Question 1: Does a minor child have a personal claim for medical expenses arising from an injury caused by the fault of another when the claim of the child’s parent for such medical expenses is barred by a statute of limitation or repose?

Answer: No.

Id. at 519. We acknowledge that this rule is offered with no elaboration and only expressly addresses the situation wherein a parent’s claim is barred by a statute of limitation or repose. Id. Regardless, we find it highly persuasive that  [HN28] the Tennessee Supreme Court does not intend to allow a child to raise claims belonging to his parent simply because the parent cannot maintain his or her action, either because of the expiration of a statute of limitation or repose or the waiver of that claim through an exculpatory agreement.

Based on the foregoing, we conclude that Son cannot maintain an action for pre-majority medical expenses that were paid or will be paid by his [*91]  parents. Rather, under the rule in Wolfe and Smith, Son may only maintain an action for those medical expenses that he paid or is obligated to pay. Here, the motion to amend Appellants’ complaint does not conclusively illustrate whether the requested damages constitute medical expenses paid by Son’s parents or medical expenses paid by Son. Like the Smith Court, we are reluctant to hinder Son’s ability to fully recover for his injuries. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s ruling denying the motion to amend the complaint only so as to allow Appellants to raise a claim for those pre-majority medical expenses paid by Son or for which Son is obligated to pay. With regard to any pre-majority medical expenses paid by Son’s parents, we affirm the trial court’s order denying the motion to amend the complaint.

Conclusion

The judgment of the Davidson County Circuit Court is reversed as to the motion to amend the complaint only to the extent of allowing Son to raise a claim for those pre-majority medical expenses paid by Son or for which Son is obligated to pay. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in all other respects. Costs of this appeal are taxed one-half to Appellants Crystal [*92]  Blackwell as next friend to Jacob Blackwell, and their surety, and one-half to Appellee Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC, for all of which execution may issue if necessary.

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE

 


Neither a release nor the Pennsylvania Equine Liability Act protects a stable for injuries when the stirrup broke.

Between a poorly written release, an Equine statute that requires proof the rider assumed the risk and the “cavalier” attitude of the defendant; the plaintiff will proceed to trial.

Melendez v. Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131576

State: Pennsylvania, United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Wilberto Melendez

Defendant: Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Recklessness

Defendant Defenses: Release and Pennsylvania Equine Liability Protection Act

Holding: For the plaintiff

Year: 2016

The plaintiff was part of a group ride. Upon arrival he was told, he had to sign a release which he did. At the office where the plaintiff signed, the release signs were posed as required by the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act. During the ride, the plaintiff asked the guides if he could gallop the horse and was told no several times. Eventually at the end of the ride, the plaintiff was allowed to gallop his horse.

Plaintiff then mounted the horse and participated in a guided group horseback ride for the next forty-five minutes without incident. On several occasions during the ride, Plaintiff requested permission from the guide to gallop the horse. Plaintiff was told it was too dangerous to do on the trail. At the end of the ride, one of the guides brought Plaintiff away from the group so that Plaintiff could canter the horse. Plaintiff then put the horse into a gallop and, while rounding a turn, a stirrup broke and Plaintiff fell from the animal.

While galloping the horse, the stirrup broke causing the plaintiff to fall incurring injuries.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release signed by the plaintiff and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act. The court denied the motion because the issue of the stirrup breaking could be considered reckless under Pennsylvania law.

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

The decision first looks at releases or exculpatory agreements under Pennsylvania law.

An exculpatory clause is valid if (1) the clause does “not contravene public policy”; (2) the contract is “between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs”; and (3) each party is “a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.

Under Pennsylvania, the language of the release must be clear in relieving notifying the possible plaintiff, he or she is releasing the defendant of negligence. “However, a valid exculpatory clause will nevertheless, be unenforceable “unless the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence.”

As in most states, releases are not favored and must conform to contract law. However, the term “not favored” is a term of art rather than a term used to determine if the release will be valid.

Contracts immunizing a party against liability for negligence are not favored by law and therefore established standards must be “met before an exculpatory provision will be interpreted and construed to relieve a person of liability for his own or his servants’ acts of negligence.”

In that regard Pennsylvania, courts have set up standards on how releases will be governed.

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 ex-press 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 immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.

As in most other states, Pennsylvania does not allow a release to relieve a defendant for intentional or reckless acts. “Further, exculpatory clauses may not immunize a party for intentional or reckless behavior.

The plaintiff did not argue that the release was not valid. The court reviewed the release on its own and find it valid.

First, the agreement does not violate any public policy of Pennsylvania. In light of the Equine Activities Immunity Act–discussed in the next section–and similar statutes addressing other recreational activities, it is the policy of the state to encourage participation in those activities, despite their inherent danger, and assign the risk of loss to those who choose to participate in them.

Second, the agreement was between two private parties, Happy Trails and Mr. Melendez, concerning the purely private matter of renting a horse for recreational purposes. Finally, this is not a contract of adhesion. (“The signer I 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.”). Thus, the agreement is facially valid.

The court also found Pennsylvania law allowed the use of releases for inherently dangerous activities. Horseback riding in Pennsylvania is an inherently dangerous activity.

The plaintiff’s argument centered on the inherent risks of horseback riding. Inherent, a limiting word, defines the risks that are part of horseback riding no matter what. Inherent risks are part of horseback riding and can rarely be reduced or modified by someone because of the horse. However, there are more than just inherent risks in any activity and the plaintiff argued that a stirrup breaking was not an inherent risk and not covered by the release or the statute.

How the bridle or saddle is attached to the horse is under the control of the stable, thus not an inherent risk of horseback riding in must states. How the horse responds; maneuvers or acts is an inherent risk of riding a horse.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant has failed to meet its burden to show either that defective equipment is an inherent risk of horseback riding, or that the language of the agreement shows that Plaintiff expressly assumed the risk of defective equipment.

Plaintiff points out that the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk. (Id.). Further, Plaintiff argues that a broken stirrup is not an inherent risk of horseback riding as demonstrated by the testimony of both Happy Trails’ owner and a Happy Trails’ employee who both stated they had never seen a stirrup break before. Thus, Plaintiff argues, because the risk was not foreseeable and was not expressly in the agreement, Plaintiff could not appreciate the risk and could therefore not assume it.

(For other articles on the use of “inherent” in a release see: Here is another reason to write releases carefully. Release used the term inherent to describe the risks which the court concluded made the risk inherently dangerous and voids the release and 2015 SLRA – Inherent Risk: Should the Phrase be in your Release?)

The court looked at the issue and rephrased it to a contract analogy. A contract must state the intention of the parties. A release is a contract.

…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”–is not met in this case because the agreement did not specifically enumerate the risk of defective equipment. Pennsylvania courts, however, have rejected this argument before.

The court then looked at the issue and found that defective equipment was not an inherent risk of horseback riding. This means if you use the term “inherent risk” in your release to describe all of the risks, claims based defective equipment would not be covered by your release in Pennsylvania. However, the release in this case was written broadly so it was not an issue.

Concerning the case at hand, while this Court agrees with Plaintiff that the provision of defective equipment is not an inherent risk in the sport of horseback riding, this point is not dispositive. As one Pennsylvania court explained, “the assumption of the risk doctrine bars a plaintiff from recovering in tort for risks inherent to a certain activity. In contrast, the explicit, broad, and valid language of the exculpatory clause bars all claims, regardless of whether they arise from an inherent risk.”

Pennsylvania courts have held that a release protects against claims for inherent as well as non-inherent risks if written to include those risks, and this release was written broadly.

The plaintiff argued the release should be read narrowly because the release did not identify defective equipment as a risk to be covered. However, the court found that every risk needs not be reviewed or identified in a release.

Plaintiff advances a more narrow reading of the agreement and argues that because the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk, he did not expressly assume it. The Chepkevich Court, however, was clear that no illustrations or examples are required to give common terms effect in an exculpatory agreement. “All claims” and “negligence” are commonly used terms and Pennsylvania law does not require drafters of exculpatory clauses to enumerate every possible contingency that is included in broader language they choose to use.

The next point the plaintiff argued was the actions of the defendant amounted to recklessness and as such voided the release. The court defined recklessness under Pennsylvania law as:

Recklessness is distinguishable from negligence on the basis that recklessness requires conscious action or inaction which creates a substantial risk of harm to others, whereas negligence suggests unconscious inadvertence.”

Pennsylvania uses the term recklessness to define acts of the defendant that exceed the scope of a release. The majority but not all states use the term gross negligence.

This argument the court did accept. The court found that it was the defendant’s responsibility to inspect the equipment, and the defendant could not provide any evidence of any inspection.

Defendant’s bare assertion that its actions do not rise to the level of recklessness does not satisfy its burden to show that there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact. The record shows that Happy Trails provided a saddle for Plaintiffs ride, that a stirrup on that saddle broke during the ride, and that Plaintiff fell from a horse when the stirrup broke. It was the responsibility of Happy Trails, not the customer, to inspect the equipment, but no records of inspections or repairs were kept, nor was the Happy Trails’ owner able to say if any inspection of the specific stirrup occurred on the day of the accident.

The court on this same topic went on looking at the facts to determine other reckless acts of the defendant. In that review, the court added a comment about the attitude of the defendant/owner of Happy Trails and described his attitude as “cavalier.”

He was unable to say where he procured the saddle in question, how long he had had it, or how old it was. Additionally, Happy Trails’ owner displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards safety, asserting that customers assume all risks associated with the activity, including equipment breaking, staff failing to put equipment on the horses correctly, and even staff failing to provide basic equipment like stirrups or a bridal. Viewing the record in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, a question of fact therefore remains as to whether Defendant’s action rose to the level of recklessness

Finding a lack of knowledge about the age or condition of the defendant’s equipment, no record of inspecting or maintaining the equipment and the attitude of the defendant allowed the court to reach a conclusion that the actions of the defendant would be found by a jury to be reckless. As such, a motion for summary judgment could not be granted if there were “genuine dispute as to any material fact.”

The next issue was the application of the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act to the case. The court could find no other case law in Pennsylvania that looked at the application of the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act to defective equipment. Consequently, the court had to interpret the statute to see if the language of the statute covered defective equipment.

The Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act like most equine liability protection acts provides immunity to horse owners, stables, etc., for the actions of the animals. (Since Equine Acts have been created, they have been 100% effective. No horses have been sued. Lawsuits against horse owners have increased.) However, the Pennsylvania statute places a burden on the stable or horse owner to prove knowledge of the risk for the immunity to apply.

Most equine protection acts are written to say that when on a horse, or at places where horses, llamas, mules, etc., are, you assume the risk of the actions of the animal. By assuming the risk, the defendant owner is immune from liability for the plaintiff’s injuries. The Pennsylvania statute is different. The Pennsylvania statute states “liability for negligence shall only be barred where the doctrine of knowing voluntary assumption of risk is proven.”

This requirement puts a burden upon the horse owner to provide additional education to the rider.

The court looked at the definition of assumption of risk as defined in the Restatement of Torts, which found four different definitions or as the Restatement defines them doctrines of assumption of the risk.

The Restatement outlines four varieties of the doctrine, the first two of which are of interest in this case. The first, express assumption of risk occurs when lithe plaintiff has given his express consent to relieve the defendant of an obligation to exercise care for his protection, and agrees to take his chances as to injury from a known or possible risk.” Id. (emphasis added). This is the type of assumption of risk examined above in respect to the agreement signed by Plaintiff. The second, implied assumption of risk, occurs when lithe plaintiff has entered voluntarily into some relation with the defendant which he knows to involve the risk, and so is regarded as tacitly or impliedly agreeing to relieve the defendant of responsibility, and to take his own chances.”

The first type of assumption of risk the court found that applied here was express assumption of risk. Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff has consented to the risk. Usually, this consent is given by writing, if written property as part of a release.

The second type applicable in this case was implied assumption of the risk. Implied assumption of the risk has no exactness to the risk assumed. The plaintiff knows there is risk, and the defendant hopes the plaintiff knows of the explicit risk that may injure the plaintiff or that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. If the plaintiff had no knowledge of the risk, then the plaintiff cannot assume the risk.

It is self-evident that a person “cannot be found to have implicitly assumed a risk of which he had no knowledge.” (plurality opinion). As such, lithe defense of assumption of the risk requires that the defendant show that the plaintiff was subjectively aware of the facts which created the danger and…must have appreciated the danger itself and the nature, character and extent which made it unreasonable.”

In this case, there was no evidence that the plaintiff knew of the risk. That risk was of equipment failure that the stirrup would break. Consequently, the plaintiff could not assume the risk.

Thus, for a defendant to prevail on a summary judgment motion based on the assumption of risk defense, it must be “beyond question that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly proceeded in the face of an obvious and dangerous condition.”

In short, to preclude Plaintiffs negligence action under the EAIA, Defendant must show that Plaintiff knew that the equipment he was provided with might break and voluntarily continued with the horseback ride in spite of that knowledge.

Because the risk that injured the plaintiff was outside of the risks assumed by the plaintiff, the defense of assumption of the risk did not apply. As such, the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act did not provide the defendant with any protection.

With the release not valid and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act not providing any protection both defenses of the defendant failed. The defendant’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

So Now What?

This case would not have meant anything if the plaintiff had simply fallen off the horse. Both the release and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act would have prevented recovery if a claim had even been made.

But broken equipment always creates a different issue. Here it created an issue of whether the actions of the defendant were reckless and proved the plaintiff did not assume the risk.

Another important issue is courts put into their decision the facts they find persuasive or at least interesting.  There were several facts in the decision that did not alter or affect the decision on its face, but important enough for the court to identify them anyway. I always find these facts as instructional and a good indication of something that was not enough for the judge to argue but important anyway.

I also believe that they may not have any legal value, but if written into the decision by the judge, they had to have an impact on the judge’s thinking, and consequently, those issues did affect the outcome of the case.

In this decision those facts included:

After his group arrived, Plaintiff went into the stable’s office to register. Plaintiff was presented with a form (the “agreement”), which stated, in pertinent part….

Combined with the next sentence:

An employee of Happy Trails informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff must sign the agreement in order to go horseback riding. Plaintiff signed the agreement.

Meaning, the plaintiff was not told in advance he was going to be required to sign a release.

Another one was the plaintiff being told galloping was too dangerous yet he was eventually allowed to gallop his horse.

On several occasions during the ride, Plaintiff requested permission from the guide to gallop the horse. Plaintiff was told it was too dangerous to do on the trail.

Plaintiff then put the horse into a gallop and, while rounding a turn, a stirrup broke and Plaintiff fell from the animal.

If galloping the horse was too dangerous earlier, what changed? More importantly, galloping the horse led to the broken stirrup which led to the injury.

And then there are the straight out in your face statements a court rarely makes.

Additionally, Happy Trails’ owner displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards safety, asserting that customers assume all risks associated with the activity, including equipment breaking, staff failing to put equipment on the horses correctly, and even staff failing to provide basic equipment like stirrups or a bridal.

If this statement or something like it has been at the beginning, you would have known immediately that the defendant was going to lose. Never walk into a courtroom looking like the bad guy and never give the court proof, such as this, that you are.

For other Equine Liability Act articles see:

$1.2 M award in horseback riding fatality in Wyoming                                     http://rec-law.us/1fE4ncB

$2.36 M awarded to boy kicked by horse during inner-city youth program   http://rec-law.us/1lk7cTP

A specific statute, a badly written release and an equine liability statute sink instructors and business in horse riding accident.                                                                                             http://rec-law.us/SJZCkU

Decisive Supreme Court Decision on the Validity of Releases in Oklahoma                      http://rec-law.us/19gxvkT

Equine laws stop suit against horse, outfitter still sued                                    http://rec-law.us/XjgJvw

Good News ASI was dismissed from the lawsuit                                               http://rec-law.us/131HKWH

Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release         http://rec-law.us/1nvfCV5

Hawaii’s deceptive trade practices act sends this case and release back to the trial court                                                                                                                                                http://rec-law.us/Z3HdQj

Indiana Equine Liability Statute used to stop litigation                                     http://rec-law.us/12UFp1N

Lying in a release can get your release thrown out by the court.                   http://rec-law.us/11ysy4w

Michigan Equine helped the plaintiff more than the stable and helped prove there may be gross negligence on the part of the defendant                                                             http://rec-law.us/1ZicaQs

Parental control: should you, are you accepting responsibility for kids and when you should or can you not.                                                                                                                             http://rec-law.us/1fteMth

Release saves riding school, even after defendant tried to show plaintiff how to win the case.  http://rec-law.us/14DC7Ad

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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

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