Cunningham v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 22608

Cunningham v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 22608

Lindy Grace Cunningham; Michael Chad Cunningham, Plaintiffs – Appellants, v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, a Wyoming corporation, Defendant – Appellee.

No. 16-8016

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 22608

December 20, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY:  [*1] (D.C. No. 2:15-CV-00007-NDF). (D. Wyo.).

COUNSEL: For LINDY GRACE CUNNINGHAM, MICHAEL CHAD CUNNINGHAM, Plaintiff – Appellant: Gerard R. Bosch, Mary Alison Floyd, Law Offices of Jerry Bosch, LLC, Wilson, WY.

For JACKSON HOLE MOUNTAIN RESORT CORPORATION, a Wyoming Corporation, Defendant – Appellee: James Kent Lubing, Lubing Law Group, Jackson, WY.

JUDGES: Before KELLY, MATHESON, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: Carolyn B. McHugh

OPINION

ORDER AND JUDGMENT*

* This order and judgment is not binding precedent, except under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, and collateral estoppel. It may be cited, however, for its persuasive value consistent with Fed. R. App. P. 32.1 and 10th Cir. R. 32.1.

Lindy and Chad Cunningham sued Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation (JHMR)1 for injuries Mrs. Cunningham sustained when she collided with a trail sign while skiing. The district court granted summary judgment for JHMR, concluding the Cunninghams’ claims were barred by the terms of a release Mrs. Cunningham signed when she rented ski equipment from JHMR’s ski shop. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

1 Throughout this opinion, we use the acronym JHMR to refer to both the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort property and the corporation that owns the resort, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation.

  1. BACKGROUND

During a January 2013 vacation to Teton Village, Wyoming, Lindy Cunningham rented ski equipment from a JHMR shop located at the base of the resort’s ski area. During the rental process, Mrs. Cunningham signed a rental agreement,2 which included the following language (the release):

I [the signor] further agree to forever release, discharge, waive, [*2]  save and hold harmless, indemnify, and defend JHMR . . . from and against any and all claims, demands, causes of action, liabilities, actions, and any and all medical expenses or other related expenses, including damage to persons and property, asserted by others, by me, or on my behalf, my estate, executors, heirs, or assigns brought under any theory of legal liability, INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE, arising directly or indirectly out of my use of the facilities, ski area or ski lifts at JHMR, or my presence on JHMR premises.

2 The Cunninghams contend there is a genuine dispute of fact regarding whether Mrs. Cunningham actually signed the rental agreement because, in response to requests for admission, Mrs. Cunningham asserted she viewed the agreement on a computer screen and not in the form presented during discovery. But there is no dispute Mrs. Cunningham’s physical signature appears on the rental agreement. And there is no dispute JHMR provides the same agreement to every rental customer on a computer screen before printing a hard copy for the customer’s signature. Moreover, this evidence relates solely to the third factor in our analysis of the release’s enforceability, which requires consideration of “whether the agreement was fairly entered into.” Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057, 1060 (Wyo. 1986). As explained below, Mrs. Cunningham raised arguments only with respect to the fourth factor and therefore waived the arguments for which the signature evidence would be relevant. See Richison v. Ernest Grp., Inc., 634 F.3d 1123, 1128 (10th Cir. 2011). Accordingly, the evidence does not provide a basis to reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment.

On January 14, while skiing at JHMR, Mr. Cunningham followed behind Mrs. Cunningham, filming her on his helmet-mounted GoPro camera. Footage from the camera shows Mrs. Cunningham fall toward the right side of the trail, slide, and then collide with a trail sign. The accident severely injured Mrs. Cunningham’s spine, rendering her a quadriplegic.

The Cunninghams sued JHMR, claiming negligence, premises liability, negligent training and supervision, and loss of consortium. After limited discovery, the district court concluded the Cunninghams’ claims were barred by the release, and it therefore granted summary judgment in JHMR’s favor.

  1. DISCUSSION

[HN1] We review the district [*3]  court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Sapone v. Grand Targhee, Inc., 308 F.3d 1096, 1100 (10th Cir. 2002). “Because this is a diversity case, we apply the substantive law of Wyoming, the forum state.” Id. Specifically, we “must ascertain and apply state law to reach the result the Wyoming Supreme Court would reach if faced with the same question.” Cooperman v. David, 214 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 2000). If “no state cases exist on a point, we turn to other state court decisions, federal decisions, and the general weight and trend of authority.” Grand Targhee, 308 F.3d at 1100 (citation omitted). Here, the district court concluded the release signed by Mrs. Cunningham was valid and enforceable under Wyoming law and encompassed all of the Cunninghams’ claims. In addition, the district court determined JHMR did not act willfully or wantonly.3 We affirm each of the district court’s determinations.

3 JHMR also argued the claims were barred by the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA), Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to -123, because Mrs. Cunningham hit a trail sign, which is an inherent risk of skiing. But the district court denied summary judgment on this basis, and neither party has appealed this determination. Accordingly, we do not address it here.

  1. Enforceability and Scope of the Release

[HN2] Wyoming courts will enforce clauses releasing parties from liability for injury or damages so long as the clause is not contrary to public policy. Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057, 1059 (Wyo. 1986). And as relevant here, “[g]enerally, specific agreements absolving participants and proprietors from negligence liability during hazardous recreational activities are enforceable, subject to willful misconduct limitations.” Id.; see also Fremont Homes, Inc. v. Elmer, 974 P.2d 952, 956 (Wyo. 1999) (“Where willful and wanton [*4]  misconduct is shown, an otherwise valid release is not enforceable.”). To determine the enforceability of a particular exculpatory clause, the Wyoming Supreme Court applies a four-part test:

In reaching its determination a court considers . . . (1) whether a duty to the public exists; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Only exculpatory agreements meeting these requirements are enforceable.

Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060; see also Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 710 (Wyo. 1987) (“An agreement passing scrutiny under these factors is valid, denying the signing party an action in negligence.”). In application, the Wyoming Supreme Court has essentially combined the first two factors, stating that “[a] duty to the public exists if the nature of the business or service affects the public interest and the service performed is considered an essential service.” Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063, 1066 (Wyo. 1988). The third factor has also been discussed in conjunction with the first two. See Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060 (“The service provided by appellees was not a matter of practical necessity for any member of the public. It was not an essential service, so no decisive bargaining advantage existed.”). [*5]

On appeal, the Cunninghams make arguments related to the first three factors by asserting (1) JHMR owes a duty to the public because it operates on United States Forest Service land pursuant to a special use permit and is subject to federal regulation, (2) the release is contrary to public policy as expressed in the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act, and (3) the release unlawfully bars negligence actions arising from essential services such as the provision of emergency medical services at the JHMR clinic. But the Cunninghams did not raise these arguments before the district court. In their opposition to summary judgment, the Cunninghams focused exclusively on the fourth factor: whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. In addition, the Cunninghams failed to present evidence to the district court in support of these new arguments, which is why they ask this court to take judicial notice of the requisite facts.4 Although the Cunninghams maintain they raised the public-duty issue below, the discussion was limited to isolated references in the facts section of their memorandum to the district court, which merely recited the ownership interest of the [*6]  Forest Service and the alleged existence of a special use permit. The Cunninghams did not provide analysis or argument to the district court related to JHMR’s public duty or the other two arguments now raised on appeal. Under these circumstances, the Cunninghams have forfeited these arguments, and we do not consider them for the first time on appeal. See Bancamerica Commercial Corp. v. Mosher Steel of Kan., Inc., 100 F.3d 792, 798 (10th Cir. 1996) (“Vague, arguable references to a point in the district court proceedings do not preserve the issue on appeal.” (alterations, ellipsis, and citation omitted)).

4 Because the Cunninghams’ proffered evidence relates only to arguments not preserved for appeal, we deny the motion for judicial notice.

We therefore limit our review to  [HN3] the fourth factor, which “requires us to determine whether the release agreement evidences the parties’ intent to abrogate negligence liability in clear and unambiguous language.” Boehm, 748 P.2d at 711. To make this determination, we must “closely scrutinize” the exculpatory clause. Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060. In doing so, we must interpret the clause “using traditional contract principles and considering the meaning of the document as a whole.” Massengill v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Med. Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132, 1135 (Wyo. 2000). In addition, “the nature of the service and the purpose of the release must be considered.” Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1062. Applying these principles, the district court concluded the rental agreement clearly and unambiguously released JHMR from liability for all of the Cunninghams’ [*7]  claims. We agree.

When Mrs. Cunningham signed the rental agreement, she released JHMR

from and against any and all claims, demands, causes of action, liabilities, actions, and any and all medical expenses or other related expenses, including damage to persons and property, asserted by others, by me, or on my behalf, my estate, executors, heirs, or assigns brought under any theory of legal liability, INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE, arising directly or indirectly out of my use of the facilities, ski area or ski lifts at JHMR, or my presence on JHMR premises.

.See Street v. Darwin Ranch, Inc., 75 F. Supp. 2d 1296, 1302 (D. Wyo. 1999) (“The Release blatantly and unambiguously [*8]  specifies that Plaintiff waived negligence claims against Defendant for all injuries resulting from participation in the recreational activity, making it even more clear than the exculpatory clauses found valid in Schutkowski and Milligan.” (internal cross-reference omitted)).

Nonetheless, the Cunninghams contend the release is unclear and/or ambiguous because the exculpatory language is “hidden,” the release is internally conflicted, and the release is overly broad. The Cunninghams also contend that, even if the release is clear and unambiguous, the parties mutually misunderstood the release to cover only rental-equipment-related injuries and that, by its terms, the release applies only to injuries arising from inherent hazards of skiing. We address each of these arguments in turn.

  1. “Hidden” Exculpatory Language

The Cunninghams first assert the exculpatory clause was too inconspicuous to be “clear and unambiguous.” We have found no case imposing a “conspicuousness” requirement to exculpatory clauses under Wyoming law.5 But even assuming enforcement of a sufficiently inconspicuous clause could offend public policy, the release here is not inconspicuous.

5 The only case the Cunninghams cite that identified such a requirement in the context of a liability waiver for recreational activity is  [*9] Kolosnitsyn v. Crystal Mountain, Inc., No. C08-05035-RBL, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79111, 2009 WL 2855491 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 28, 2009). There, the district court considered whether Crystal Mountain’s liability release was conspicuous, but it did so under Washington state law, which deems exculpatory clauses “enforceable unless they violate public policy, are inconspicuous, or the negligence falls below standards established by law.” 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79111, [WL] at *3 (citing Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6, 10 (Wash. 1992)). Unlike Washington, Wyoming deems exculpatory clauses enforceable unless they violate public policy; it does not consider the two additional exceptions to enforceability that Washington recognizes. See, e.g., Massengill v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Med. Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132, 1136 (Wyo. 2000).

The Cunninghams maintain the exculpatory language is buried in a long block of text, written in small typeface, and presented in the rental agreement under circumstances which make it appear as though the whole agreement pertains only to equipment rental. But the district court correctly explained, “While the Release is part of the Rental Agreement, it makes up the bulk of the agreement.” The entire rental agreement fills one side of one piece of paper, with the release provision placed front and center. The release is presented under a heading that states “RENTAL WARNING, RELEASE OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT — PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING.” Assumption of risk and waiver of liability are addressed in the first two paragraphs of the release, and they are clearly set apart from one another. Moreover, the first sentence of the release signals that its scope is broader than the rental of equipment, as it discusses the dangers of skiing in general. The exculpatory provision also stands out because the phrase “INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE” is written in all caps. Furthermore, the last paragraph of the release states in part, “I HAVE CAREFULLY READ THIS RELEASE, UNDERSTAND [*10]  ITS CONTENTS, AND UNDERSTAND THAT THE TERMS OF THIS DOCUMENT ARE CONTRACTUAL . . . . I AM AWARE THAT I AM RELEASING CERTAIN LEGAL RIGHTS THAT I OTHERWISE MAY HAVE . . . .” While the print is necessarily small, it is readable even in the further-shrunken form presented in the record on appeal. And as the district court observed, “there is nothing to suggest that [Mrs.] Cunningham requested larger print or indicated that she could not read the release.” For these reasons, even if conspicuousness is a requirement under Wyoming law, the release here was conspicuous.

  1. Internal Conflict

The Cunninghams next cite Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F. Supp. 2d 889, 899-900 (D. Colo. 1998), and argue the release is ambiguous because it is both consistent and inconsistent with the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA). But the Cunninghams’ reliance on Rowan is misplaced. There, the court found a release ambiguous in part because it specifically released the resort of liability for all risks, including the use of ski lifts. Id. at 899. The release then stated the plaintiff assumed the inherent risks of skiing as set forth in Colorado’s Ski Safety Act, a statute that explicitly states that use of ski lifts does not qualify as an “inherent risk.” Id. Thus, the release conflicted [*11]  with the relevant statutory language.

Here, by contrast, there is no conflict between the WRSA and the types of risks or injuries JHMR listed in the release.  [HN4] The WRSA does not exempt or identify specific inherent risks; it generally defines “inherent risks” as “those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-122(a)(i). And the release here, unlike the release in Rowan, does not incorporate by reference the WRSA. In light of these significant differences, Rowan does not support a finding of ambiguity here.

  1. Overbreadth

Next, the Cunninghams make multiple arguments related to the alleged overbreadth of the release. First, the Cunninghams argue the release is ambiguous because “it relates to all ‘activities’ and all ‘facilities’ and all ‘premises’ on ‘each and every day’ against a wide array of entities and individuals.” Because the exculpatory clause includes broad language covering all facilities and activities at the resort at any time of year, the Cunninghams conclude “[t]here is no way possible for a person to understand what this clause actually encompasses.”

At the outset, we question whether the Cunninghams adequately [*12]  preserved this argument. The Cunninghams’ opposition to summary judgment contains only a passing reference to the issue:

The []release language appears to apply to the signator’s “presence on JHMR premises.” Theoretically, if someone left the ski hill and came back for dinner at the resort and was injured as a result of [JHMR]’s negligence this release would apply. This is not clear or unambiguous or within [the] scope of renting skis.

And the Cunninghams presented no evidence in the district court of JHMR’s ownership or operation of other facilities and activities at the resort. The Cunninghams instead attempt to introduce such evidence on appeal through their motion for judicial notice.

But even if we consider this issue, the Cunninghams’ arguments fail on the merits. The release explicitly limits JHMR’s liability for “any and all claims, demands, causes of action, liabilities, actions . . . arising directly or indirectly out of my use of the facilities, ski area or ski lifts at JHMR.” Although this language is broad, there is nothing ambiguous about it. Indeed, the Wyoming Supreme Court rejected an analogous argument when it held that a release from liability for “legal claims or legal [*13]  liability of any kind whether foreseen or unforeseen” meant precisely what it said and thus clearly barred a plaintiff’s negligence claims. Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1068.

The Cunninghams also argue the release should be deemed void because it covers a broad range of potential injuries but is presented in a rental agreement, thus leading renters to believe they are releasing only claims for injuries caused by the rental equipment, while in fact, the release covers all injuries, including those unrelated to equipment. In support of their argument, the Cunninghams cite Kolosnitsyn v. Crystal Mountain, Inc., in which the court expressed concern about a person “unwittingly” signing away his rights because the rental-agreement release might have applied to injuries related to the rental equipment alone or to injuries related to use of the ski area. No. C08-05035-RBL, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79111, 2009 WL 2855491, at *4 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 28, 2009) (unpublished).

But the decision in Kolosnitsyn was based on facts not present here. In Kolosnitsyn, the plaintiff rented equipment from a ski shop and while skiing at an adjoining resort suffered injuries not caused by his equipment. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79111, [WL] at *1. When he sued the resort, it invoked a release the plaintiff had signed when renting his equipment, based on the resort’s ownership [*14]  of the ski shop and the release’s waiver of claims against “the ski/snowboard shop, its employees, [and its] owners.” 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79111, [WL] at *1-2 (emphasis added). The court found the release unenforceable because it did not clearly identify the adjoining resort as the ski shop’s “owner.” 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79111, [WL] at *4. Thus, the plaintiff would not have known from the release itself that he was waiving claims against the resort, including for the resort’s own negligence. Id.

Here, by contrast, the release expressly waives claims against JHMR itself–it bars “any and all claims,” including those “arising directly or indirectly” from “use of the facilities, ski area or ski lifts at JHMR.” Thus, Kolosnitsyn does not support the Cunninghams’ position. Moreover, although neither we nor Wyoming courts have addressed this precise issue, we have concluded that an exculpatory release signed in conjunction with the rental of sporting equipment can bar claims for injuries arising out of participation in the sport but unrelated to the equipment. See Mincin v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 308 F.3d 1105, 1108, 1109, 1112-13 (10th Cir. 2002) (applying Colorado’s four-factor test that Wyoming has since adopted and concluding a release signed in connection with a mountain-bike rental barred negligence claims against resort for biker’s injuries [*15]  unrelated to the bike or other rented equipment).

The Cunninghams also argue the release should be held invalid because it applies to skiers who rent equipment, but not to skiers who bring their own. Although this argument finds some support in the Kolosnitsyn decision, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79111, 2009 WL 2855491, at *4, it does not fit squarely within the four-factor framework established by Wyoming law. Rather, it seems to be a general appeal to public policy. While the Wyoming Supreme Court does not enforce contracts that are contrary to public policy, it also “will not invalidate a contract entered into freely by competent parties on the basis of public policy unless that policy is well settled.” Andrau v. Mich. Wis. Pipe Line Co., 712 P.2d 372, 376 (Wyo. 1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Cunninghams have not shown a settled public policy in Wyoming that discourages releases like JHMR’s. Moreover, the evidence shows JHMR requires its season-pass holders to sign releases identical or similar to the one signed by Mrs. Cunningham. We therefore reject this argument.

  1. Mutual Mistake and Inherent Hazards

The Cunninghams next argue that even if the release is unambiguous, it does not bar their claims for two reasons. First, the Cunninghams maintain both they and JHMR believed the release [*16]  applied only to injuries related to rental equipment and therefore the parties were mutually mistaken as to the release’s scope. But the Cunninghams also concede they did not raise this argument before the district court. We therefore decline to address the argument because it has been forfeited and the Cunninghams did not argue plain-error review. See Richison v. Ernest Grp., Inc., 634 F.3d 1123, 1128 (10th Cir. 2011).

Second, the Cunninghams briefly argue that, based on the reasoning of a Wyoming state district court in Beckwith v. Weber, Civ. Action No. 14726, the exculpatory language in the second paragraph of the release must be read to apply only to injuries arising from the “inherent hazards” discussed in the first paragraph of the release. But, as the district court concluded, Beckwith is distinguishable because the release there contained only a single sentence that did not mention a release of liability for negligence. By contrast, the release here clearly and unambiguously bars negligence claims against JHMR, not just claims arising out of the inherent risks of skiing. And even if the release could be limited to the inherent risks identified in the first paragraph of the release, such risks include “collisions with . . . man-made objects [*17]  and features.” Because Mrs. Cunningham collided with a man-made trail sign, she cannot succeed on this argument, even if the release could be read to apply only to the identified inherent risks.

In sum, we agree with the district court that the release clearly and unambiguously bars the Cunninghams’ claims. And because the ambiguity of the release was the only issue preserved for our review, we conclude the release is valid and enforceable under Wyoming law.

  1. Willful and Wanton Conduct

Finally, the Cunninghams argue the release is unenforceable because JHMR engaged in willful and wanton misconduct. See Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063, 1068 (Wyo. 1988) ( [HN5] “Where willful and wanton misconduct is shown, an otherwise valid release is unenforceable.”). Wyoming sets a high bar for establishing willful and wanton misconduct.

Willful and wanton misconduct is the intentional doing of an act, or an intentional failure to do an act, in reckless disregard of the consequences and under circumstances and conditions that a reasonable person would know, or have reason to know that such conduct would, in a high degree of probability, result in harm to another.

Hannifan v. Am. Nat’l Bank of Cheyenne, 2008 WY 65, 185 P.3d 679, 683 (Wyo. 2008) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Weaver v. Mitchell, 715 P.2d 1361, 1370 (Wyo. 1986)). It is “more aggravated than gross negligence.” Danculovich v. Brown, 593 P.2d 187, 191 (Wyo. 1979). “In order to [*18]  prove that an actor has engaged in willful misconduct, one must demonstrate that he acted with a state of mind that approaches intent to do harm.” Cramer v. Powder River Coal, LLC, 2009 WY 45, 204 P.3d 974, 979 (Wyo. 2009) (citation omitted).

Here, there is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude JHMR acted willfully or wantonly when it placed the trail sign with which Mrs. Cunningham collided. It is undisputed that the sign has been in the same spot in substantially the same form for over thirty years. Yet there was no evidence presented that anyone other than Mrs. Cunningham has collided with the sign in that time. Although the Cunninghams’ experts criticized JHMR’s choices in placing and constructing the sign, as the district court concluded, “[a]t best, the alleged failings related to the placement and construction of the sign are negligent, not willful and wanton behavior.”

Moreover, the only case to which the Cunninghams draw an analogy–Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F. Supp. 2d 889 (D. Colo. 1998)–is clearly inapposite. Rowan involved a skier who died after colliding with a picnic deck (1) that was at the bottom of a race course on which skiers “attained speeds in excess of 120 kilometers per hour,” id. at 892; (2) that was positioned such that skiers had “to make a hard left turn at the end of the course to avoid [*19]  the deck,” id. at 893-94; (3) that was unpadded, despite having been previously padded and despite available padding that easily could have been attached, id. at 893, 900; and (4) with which there had been several “close calls” and an actual injury on the same day the skier was killed and in the two days prior, id. at 900. In addition, the resort made the decedent and other skiers sign the release in the middle of the third day of their test runs, doing so only after receiving notice of multiple close calls and an actual injury, and claiming it routinely required releases but without producing evidence to support this claim. Id. at 898, 900. The present circumstances bear no similarity to the facts in Rowan. Where the trail sign here had been in place without known incident for over thirty years prior to Mrs. Cunningham’s accident, no reasonable jury could conclude JHMR engaged in willful and wanton misconduct by placing it there. Accordingly, the release is enforceable and bars the Cunninghams’ claims.6

6 Because Mr. Cunningham’s claim for loss of consortium is derivative of Mrs. Cunningham’s claims related to her injuries, his claim also fails. Massengill, 996 P.2d at 1137; Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 710 (Wyo. 1987).

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of JHMR. And we DENY the Cunninghams’ motion for judicial notice.

Entered for the Court

Carolyn B. McHugh

Circuit Judge

 


The dissent in this case argues because the release was not presented to the plaintiff until he had traveled to the resort it should be void.

Case was moved from plaintiff’s town to the ski area home town based on the venue selection clause in equipment rental release. However the dissent would void venue selection clause because it was only presented to the plaintiff after the plaintiff traveled to the skis area. The dissenting judge had federal decisions that supported him.

Karlsberg v Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, Inc., 131 A.D.3d 1121; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6806; 2015 NY Slip Op 06890; 16 N.Y.S.3d 746

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

Plaintiff: David Karlsberg

Defendant: Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, Inc., doing business as Hunter Mountain

Plaintiff Claims: failed to provide him with proper instruction, causing him to sustain injuries while snowboarding at the defendant’s facility

Defendant Defenses: Release changes the venue

Holding: For the Defendant, venue changed

Year: 2015

This is a simple case. The plaintiff traveled to Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, in upper New York. Upon arrival the plaintiff signed an equipment release. He rented a snowboard and took a snowboarding lesson. How he was injured was not in the decision.

The plaintiff filed suit in Suffolk County New York (Long Island). The equipment release the plaintiff signed had a jurisdiction clause that stated any lawsuits had to “be litigated exclusively in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Greene, or in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.”

The trial court transferred the case and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The decision, a New York Appellate court decision was short. It simply said the trial court was correct. The decision reviewed the claims of the plaintiff for the reasons why the release should be voided.

Contrary to the plaintiff’s contentions, the “Equipment Rental Form and Release of Liability” was not an unenforceable contract of adhesion, and enforcement of the forum selection clause contained therein does not contravene public policy  Contrary to the plaintiff’s additional contention, the defendant’s motion was timely, inasmuch as it was made within a reasonable time after the commencement of the action

However, no reasons were given why the claims were denied.

The dissenting opinion was longer. The dissent basically argued “the better rule is one where forum selection clauses are not to be enforced if they are shown to consumers for the first time upon their arrival at a resort.”

The dissent then went through New York Law and case law from the federal courts in New York. The federal courts have upheld claims like the plaintiff’s that the release should be void because it was presented after the plaintiff had traveled and arrived at the destination.

However there was one prior case, almost identical to this one where the release was upheld even through claims of voiding the release because the plaintiff had traveled without knowing he or she would sign a jurisdiction and venue clause were denied. As such, the decisions from the state courts were controlling and basically “overruled” the federal court decisions because the decisions involved an interpretation of state law.

So Now What?

Avoid making the courts wonder about your relationship with the plaintiff and whether you attempted to hide information from the plaintiff or mislead the plaintiff. On your website and in your brochure tell prospective clients that they have to sign a release when they arrive.

Better, please the release online so they can review the release and see what they are signing. Releases are signed every day for all sorts of activities should it should be no shock that your clients will be signing one. Consequently don’t be afraid to be honest and tell them in advance.

If, upon arrival, a guest decides they don’t want to sign your release what are you going to do? The guest will have a valid claim for you to repay all of their money for the travel they incurred. Are you prepared to refund all of the money the guest spent with you and possibly repay what the guest spent to get to your destination?

Easier to post your release online and tell your clients in advance they have to sign it then to write a check when they find out and are upset about it.

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Karlsberg v Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, Inc., 131 A.D.3d 1121; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6806; 2015 NY Slip Op 06890; 16 N.Y.S.3d 746

Karlsberg v Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, Inc., 131 A.D.3d 1121; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6806; 2015 NY Slip Op 06890; 16 N.Y.S.3d 746

David Karlsberg, appellant, v Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, Inc., doing business as Hunter Mountain, respondent. (Index No. 38816/11)

2014-05431

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

131 A.D.3d 1121; 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6806; 2015 NY Slip Op 06890; 16 N.Y.S.3d 746

September 23, 2015, Decided

COUNSEL: [*1] The Berkman Law Office, LLC, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Robert J. Tolchin and Meir Katz of counsel), for appellant.

Carol A. Schrager, New York, N.Y. (Beth A. Willensky of counsel), for respondent.

JUDGES: JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, J.P., THOMAS A. DICKERSON, SHERI S. ROMAN, SYLVIA O. HINDS-RADIX, JJ. LEVENTHAL, J.P., ROMAN, and HINDS-RADIX, JJ., concur.

OPINION

[***746] DECISION & ORDER

In an action to recover damages for personal injuries, the plaintiff appeals, as limited by his brief, from so much of an order of the Supreme Court, Suffolk County (Pastoressa, J.), entered March 24, 2014, as, upon reargument, adhered to a prior determination in an order of the same court dated December 3, 2012, granting that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 501 and 511 to change the venue of the action from Suffolk County to Greene County.

ORDERED that the order entered March 24, 2014, is affirmed insofar as appealed from, with costs.

On March 19, 2011, the plaintiff sought beginner snowboarding lessons at the defendant’s facility, and signed an “Equipment Rental Form and Release of Liability” that provided, among other things, that

“all disputes arising under this contract and/or the use of this equipment and/or the use of the facilities [*2] at Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, shall be litigated exclusively in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Greene, or in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.”

In December 2011, the plaintiff commenced this action in the Supreme Court, Suffolk County, alleging that an instructor employed by the defendant failed to provide him with proper instruction, causing him to sustain injuries while snowboarding at the defendant’s facility. In September 2012, the defendant moved, inter alia, pursuant to CPLR 501 and 511 to change the venue of the action from Suffolk County to Greene County.

Upon reargument, the Supreme Court properly adhered to its original determination [***747] granting that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 501 and 511 to change the venue of the action from Suffolk County to Greene County. Contrary to the plaintiff’s contentions, the “Equipment Rental Form and Release of Liability” was not an unenforceable contract of adhesion, and enforcement of the forum selection clause contained therein does not [**2] contravene public policy (see Molino v Sagamore, 105 AD3d 922, 923, 963 N.Y.S.2d 355; KMK Safety Consulting, LLC v Jeffrey M. Brown Assoc., Inc., 72 AD3d 650, 651, 897 N.Y.S.2d 649; LSPA Enter., Inc. v Jani-King of N.Y., Inc., 31 AD3d 394, 395, 817 N.Y.S.2d 657). Contrary to the plaintiff’s additional contention, the defendant’s motion was timely, inasmuch as it was [*3] made within a reasonable time after the commencement of the action (see CPLR 511[a]; Medina v Gold Crest Care Ctr., Inc., 117 AD3d 633, 634, 988 N.Y.S.2d 578; Bonilla v Tishman Interiors Corp., 100 AD3d 673, 953 N.Y.S.2d 870).

LEVENTHAL, J.P., ROMAN, and HINDS-RADIX, JJ., concur.

CONCUR BY: DICKERSON

CONCUR

DICKERSON, J., concurs in the result, on constraint of Molino v Sagamore (105 AD3d 922, 963 N.Y.S.2d 355), with the following memorandum:

I vote with the majority on constraint of this Court’s precedent, but I write separately to express my view that the better rule is one where forum selection clauses are not to be enforced if they are shown to consumers for the first time upon their arrival at a resort.

In Molino, the injured plaintiff made a reservation to stay as a guest at a resort in Warren County (see id.). Upon arrival, and while registering for the stay, the injured plaintiff signed a document, entitled “Rental Agreement,” containing a provision stating that “if there is a claim or dispute that arises out of the use of the facilities that results in legal action, all issues will be settled by the courts of the State of New York, Warren County” (id.). After the injured plaintiff allegedly tripped and fell on the resort’s property, she, and her husband suing derivatively, commenced an action against the resort in the Supreme Court, Queens County (see id.). This Court held that the Supreme [*4] Court should have granted the defendant’s motion pursuant to CPLR 501 and 511 to change the venue of the action from Queens County to Warren County, concluding that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that: (1) enforcement of the forum selection clause would be unreasonable, unjust, or would contravene public policy; (2) the clause was invalid because of fraud or overreaching; or (3) a trial in the selected forum of Warren County would, for all practical purposes, deprive them of their day in court (see id. at 923).

In so holding, the Molino Court cited Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v Shute (499 U.S. 585, 111 S. Ct. 1522, 113 L. Ed. 2d 622) for the proposition that “the fact that the Rental Agreement containing the forum selection clause was presented to the plaintiffs at registration and was not the product of negotiation does not render it unenforceable” (Molino v Sagamore, 105 AD3d at 923). In Carnival Cruise Lines, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit erred in refusing to enforce a forum selection clause contained on the face of cruise tickets issued to the plaintiffs in that case. However, the United States Supreme Court noted that it did not “address the question of whether [the plaintiffs] [***748] had sufficient notice of the forum selection clause before [*5] entering the contract for passage” (Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v Shute, 499 US at 590) because the plaintiffs had essentially conceded that they had notice of the forum selection provision and the Ninth Circuit had evaluated the enforceability of the forum clause under the assumption, although ” doubtful,'” that the passengers could be deemed to have knowledge of the clause (id., quoting Shute v Carnival Cruise Lines, 897 F2d 377, 389 n 11 [9th Cir]).

In Sun Trust Bank v Sun Intl. Hotels Ltd. (184 F Supp 2d 1246 [SD Fla]) and Foster v Sun Intl. Hotels, Ltd. (2002 WL 34576251, 2002 US Dist LEXIS 28475 [SD Fla, No. 01-1290-CIV]), the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida concluded that forum selection clauses set forth in reservation forms that were not shown to consumers until they arrived at a resort were unenforceable because the consumers were not given an adequate opportunity to consider the clause and reject their contracts with the resort (see Foster v Sun Intl. Hotels Ltd., 2002 WL 34576251, *1, 2002 US Dist LEXIS 28475 *3-4; Sun Trust Bank v Sun Intl. Hotels Ltd., 184 F Supp 2d at 1261-1262). Similarly, in Ward v Cross Sound Ferry (273 F3d 520 [2d Cir]), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a contractual statute of limitations clause set forth in a ticket issued to a cruise passenger just minutes before she boarded a ship, and then collected at boarding, was not enforceable because the circumstances did not permit the passenger to become meaningfully informed of the contractual terms at stake (see id. at 523-526). By contrast, where forum selection clauses have been sent [*6] to consumers or travel agents prior to the [**3] consumer’s arrival at the subject resort, or where consumers had visited the subject resort on previous occasions and signed forms containing similar forum selection clauses, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has found that the clauses were reasonably communicated to the consumers and, thus, enforceable (see McArthur v Kerzner Intl. Bahamas Ltd., 607 Fed. Appx. 845, 2015 WL 1404409, *1-2, 2015 US App LEXIS 5058, *6-7 [11th Cir, No. 14-138897]; Pappas v Kerzner Intl. Bahamas Ltd., 585 Fed Appx 962, 965-966 [11th Cir]; Estate of Myhra v Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 695 F3d 1233, 1246 [11th Cir]; Krenkel v Kerzner Intl. Hotels Ltd., 579 F3d 1279, 1282 [11th Cir]).

While I believe that the federal cases discussed above set forth the better rule, the doctrine of stare decisis dictates that we follow our prior decision in Molino, which is factually indistinguishable from this case in all relevant respects (see Matter of State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v Fitzgerald, 25 NY3d 799, 2015 NY Slip Op 05626 [2015]; Eastern Consol. Props. v Adelaide Realty Corp., 95 NY2d 785, 788, 732 N.E.2d 948, 710 N.Y.S.2d 840). Accordingly, I agree with the majority that the subject forum selection clause was enforceable, notwithstanding the fact that it was shown to the plaintiff for the first time upon his arrival at the defendant’s facility. I also agree with the majority’s other conclusions, and that, upon reargument, the Supreme Court properly adhered to its prior determination granting that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 501 and 511 to change the venue of the action from Suffolk County to Greene County.


More than allegations and plaintiff’s testimony to sustain a motion for summary judgment for a binding defect in West Virginia

Failure of the plaintiff to keep the broken binding or have any other proof the binding broke would have changed the outcome of the case.

Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

State: West Virginia

Plaintiff: Daniel Mrotek

Defendant: Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., d/b/a Elk River Outfitters, d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Appellees, and Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., v. Skis Dynastar, Inc., d/b/a Dynastar and Adidas America Incorporated, d/b/a Salomon North American, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and product liability

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff did not produce any evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant. Alternatively, the court found that plaintiff signed a valid release.

Year: 2003

Holding: for the defendant

The plaintiff from Florida with a group of friends went to Snowshoe Ski Area in West Virginia for four days of skiing. He first rented skis from the defendant. While renting he signed a release.

While skiing he fell. He claimed the toe piece of one of the bindings came off. Both the plaintiff and one of his friends testified they through the toe piece away.

The plaintiff exchanged the skis for another pair with the defendant. The defendant testified the skis were in good condition and rented out the next day. The plaintiff did not report the ski binding failed nor did he report an accident to anyone.

Upon the plaintiff’s return to Florida, he was suffering head aches and blurred vision. He eventually needed four surgeries and had a permanent shunt placed in his head.

The plaintiff sued the defendant rental business. The rental business filed claims against the ski and binding manufacturer as third party defendants. The trial court, called a Circuit Court in West Virginia dismissed the claims of the plaintiff against the defendant. By doing so the third party claims are also dismissed against the third party defendants. The plaintiff appealed.

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

The basis of the court’s ruling in favor of the defendant was the plaintiff “failed to identify any act or omission allegedly committed by EMO, which in any way caused or contributed to the alleged skiing accident.” In a negligence claim, the negligence must be proved, it cannot be imputed or presumed.  

Self-serving assertions without factual support in the record will not defeat a motion for summary judgment.”

After examining all the evidence the court found” The only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence is that Mr. Mrotek fell while skiing.”

The defendant had no evidence of a broken ski or binding. The plaintiff had not told the defendant the binding was broken and had not registered a claim. No third party saw the broken binding other than the friend who testified it had been thrown away.

The party opposing summary judgment must satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere ‘scintilla of evidence,’ and must produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving party’s favor.

In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence in West Virginia, it must be shown that the defendant has been guilty of some act or omission[.]”). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate under the facts of this case.

So Now What?

This case would have been totally different if the plaintiff had kept the toe piece, photographed it or pointed out the problem to a third party or the defendant; anything to support his claim other than his statements.

The main reason for this statement is releases in West Virginia have been disfavored whenever they reach the West Virginia Supreme Court. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.)

The defendant did the correct thing by following the protocol set up by the ski rental industry. The ski was examined, and nothing was found to be defective so the ski and binding were rented out the next day. If necessary, the defendant could have brought in the rental receipts showing the ski and bindings had been rented and how often after the plaintiff’s incident.

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Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

Daniel Mrotek, an Individual, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., d/b/a Elk River Outfitters, d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Defendants below, Appellees, and Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., A Corporation, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Below, Appellees, v. Skis Dynastar, Inc., d/b/a Dynastar and Adidas America Incorporated, d/b/a Salomon North American, Inc., Third-Party Defendants Below, Appellees.

No. 31395

SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA

214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

November 18, 2003, Submitted

December 3, 2003, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County. Honorable James J. Rowe, Judge. Civil Action No. 99-C-37.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syllabus point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

2. “Summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.” Syllabus point 4, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

COUNSEL: Larry E. Losch, William A. McCourt, Jr., Summersville, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellant.

William J. Hanna, Robert P. Lorea, Flaherty, Sensabaugh & Bonasso, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellee, Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc.

Rob J. Aliff, Jackson & Kelly, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellee, Skis Dynastar.

Robert M. Steptoe, Jr. [***2] , Steptoe & Johnson, Clarksburg, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellee, Adidas American, Inc.

M. Hance Price, Steptoe & Johnson, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Attorney for Adidas American, Inc.

OPINION

[*491] [**684] Per Curiam:

This appeal was filed by Daniel Mrotek, appellant/plaintiff below (hereinafter referred to as “Mr. Mrotek”), from an order of the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County granting summary judgment in favor of Coal River Canoe, Ltd., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as “EMO”), appellee/defendant below. Mr. Mrotek filed an action against EMO alleging that he sustained injuries as a result of his use of an allegedly defective ski that he rented from EMO. The circuit court granted summary judgment on two alternative grounds. The circuit court found that Mr. Mrotek did not produce any evidence of negligence on the part of EMO. Alternatively, the court found that Mr. Mrotek signed a valid release of his right to sue EMO for any injury caused by its equipment. In this appeal, Mr. Mrotek contends that genuine issues of material fact are in dispute as to whether EMO supplied him with a defective ski and that the release from liability he signed was unenforceable. [***3] Upon review of the briefs and record in this case, we affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Mrotek is a resident of Florida. On December 28, 1997, Mr. Mrotek and a group of seven friends came to Snowshoe, West Virginia, for a four day skiing vacation. Upon their arrival, Mr. Mrotek and some of his companions rented skiing equipment from EMO. As part of the rental transaction, EMO required all customers to read and execute a document releasing EMO from any harm caused by its equipment. Mr. Mrotek signed the release.

Shortly after renting the ski equipment, Mr. Mrotek and his companions ventured off to engage in night skiing. During the first run of the evening Mr. Mrotek fell and apparently hit his head. A skiing companion, Herman Serpa, saw Mr. Mrotek fall and came to his aid. Mr. Serpa states that he noticed that a toe binding on Mr. Mrotek’s right ski was missing. Mr. Serpa states that he found the toe binding with three rusty screws protruding from it. The toe binding was allegedly thrown away by either Mr. Serpa or Mr. Mrotek. However, neither man appears to have recalled who threw away the toe binding.

Mr. Serpa allegedly returned the defective ski and received [***4] a replacement. Mr. Mrotek did not report the incident to EMO even though, as a result of the fall, he allegedly “became very dizzy, sick at his stomach with vomiting along with severe headaches.”

Upon returning to Florida, Mr. Mrotek sought medical treatment for blurred vision, nausea and exhaustion. A medical examination revealed Mr. Mrotek suffered from Papilledema, i.e., fluid on the brain caused by a damaged ventricle. On February 16, 1998, Mr. Mrotek underwent surgery to place a shunt in his skull to drain the excess fluid. Due to complications, Mr. Mrotek eventually underwent three more surgeries. Although Mr. Mrotek has recovered from the problems caused by the excess fluid, he must permanently have “a small tube running underneath his skin from his brain down his neck and into his heart to maintain the pressure and stability inside his skull.”

Mr. Mrotek filed this action against EMO [**685] [*492] in 1999, 1 alleging EMO supplied him with a defective ski which caused him to fall and sustain a head injury. 2 After a period of discovery, EMO moved for summary judgment. By order entered June 17, 2002, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of EMO. 3 This appeal is a result [***5] of the circuit court’s ruling.

1 The record submitted on appeal is extremely sparse and does not contain the pleadings.

2 EMO filed a third-party complaint against the suppliers of the ski, Skis Dynastar, Inc. and Salomon North American, Inc., for indemnity or contribution.

3 The circuit court’s order also dismissed EMO’s third-party complaint.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard for our review of an order granting summary judgment is well established. [HN1] “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). Insofar as “‘appellate review of an entry of summary judgment is plenary, this Court, like the circuit court, must view the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.'” Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Bennett, 199 W. Va. 236, 238, 483 S.E.2d 819, 821 (1997) (quoting [***6] Asaad v. Res-Care, Inc., 197 W. Va. 684, 687, 478 S.E.2d 357, 360 (1996)). We have made clear that [HN2] “summary judgment is appropriate [only] if ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Pritt v. Republican Nat’l Comm., 210 W. Va. 446, 452, 557 S.E.2d 853, 859 (2001) (quoting W. Va.R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Further, [HN3] “summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.” Syl. pt. 4, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). With these standards as our guide, we now address the issues asserted on appeal.

III.

DISCUSSION

The dispositive issue in this case is the determination by the circuit court that Mr. Mrotek “failed to identify any act or omission allegedly committed by EMO which in any way caused or contributed to the alleged skiing accident.” [HN4] This Court has observed that “it is an elementary principle [***7] of law that negligence will not be imputed or presumed. The bare fact of an injury standing alone, without supporting evidence, is not sufficient to justify an inference of negligence.” Walton v. Given, 158 W. Va. 897, 902, 215 S.E.2d 647, 651 (1975). 4 Moreover, [HN5] “negligence . . . is a jury question when the evidence is conflicting or the facts are such that reasonable men may draw different conclusions from them.” Burgess v. Jefferson, 162 W. Va. 1, 3, 245 S.E.2d 626, 628 (1978).

4 Mr. Mrotek contends that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should be applied to the facts of this case to overcome summary judgment. [HN6] “Pursuant to the evidentiary rule of res ipsa loquitur, it may be inferred that harm suffered by the plaintiff is caused by negligence of the defendant when (a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; (b) other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence; and (c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.” Syl. pt. 4, Foster v. City of Keyser, 202 W.Va. 1, 501 S.E.2d 165 (1997). Clearly, under the Foster formulation of [HN7] res ipsa loquitur, the doctrine simply has no application to falling while skiing–which is an extremely frequent incident that can occur without any negligence. See Syl. pt. 2, Farley v. Meadows, 185 W.Va. 48, 404 S.E.2d 537 (1991) [HN8] (“The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur cannot be invoked where the existence of negligence is wholly a matter of conjecture and the circumstances are not proved, but must themselves be presumed, or when it may be inferred that there was no negligence on the part of the defendant. The doctrine applies only in cases where defendant’s negligence is the only inference that can reasonably and legitimately be drawn from the circumstances.”).

[***8] The primary evidence relied upon by Mr. Mrotek was the deposition [**686] testimony of Mr. Serpa. Mr. Mrotek presented the deposition [*493] testimony of Mr. Serpa to show that the toe binding on the right ski came loose. Mr. Serpa testified that he found a piece of the binding with three rusty screws protruding from it. There was also testimony by Mr. Serpa that he returned the defective ski to EMO and was given a replacement. There was also evidence to show that the skis rented by Mr. Mrotek were not tested for weakness by EMO prior to 1997-98 ski season.

EMO took the position that nothing happened to the skis that were rented to Mr. Mrotek. According to EMO’s records the skis rented to Mr. Mrotek were returned in good condition and were rented out again the day after Mr. Mrotek returned them. EMO presented an affidavit from its management employee, Charlie McDaniels. Mr. McDaniels indicated that the bindings used on the skis rented by EMO were made of aluminum or were galvanized and would not rust.

In looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Mrotek, we do not find a material issue of fact in dispute. EMO presented evidence to establish that no defect existed in the skis rented [***9] to Mr. Mrotek. In fact, there was evidence that Mr. Mrotek examined the skis before renting them and found nothing wrong. EMO also established that they had no record to show that Mr. Serpa or Mr. Mrotek turned in a broken ski. Mr. Mrotek presented bare testimonial evidence to show that a toe binding broke loose from the right ski. No actual evidence was introduced showing the defective ski or the parts that were allegedly broken from the ski. See Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W. Va. 52, 61 n.14, 459 S.E.2d 329, 338 n.14 (1995) [HN9] (“Self-serving assertions without factual support in the record will not defeat a motion for summary judgment.”). The only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence is that Mr. Mrotek fell while skiing. [HN10] The mere fact of falling while skiing is not actionable negligence. See Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 192-93, 451 S.E.2d 755, 758-59 (1994) [HN11] (“The party opposing summary judgment must satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere ‘scintilla of evidence,’ and must produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving party’s favor.”); Syl. pt.1, in part, Parsley v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 167 W. Va. 866, 280 S.E.2d 703 (1981) [***10] [HN12] (“In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence in West Virginia, it must be shown that the defendant has been guilty of some act or omission[.]”). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate under the facts of this case. 5

5 Because we affirm the circuit court’s initial reason for granting summary judgment, we need not address the issue involving the release signed by Mr. Mrotek.

IV.

CONCLUSION

In view of the foregoing, the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of EMO is affirmed.

Affirmed.


Georgia does not have a lot of skiing, but you can rent skis there.

Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

Release for renting skis stops litigation over failing of the binding to release.

In this case, the plaintiff rented skis from the defendant in Georgia. The plaintiff completed the rental agreement which included a fairly well written release. The rental company from the decision, asked the proper questions to calculate the DIN setting which in this case was 5 ½.

The plaintiff took the rented equipment on a ski trip. He made several runs, falling “uneventfully” the first day. None of those falls released the plaintiff from the bindings. On the last run while attempting to stop he fell releasing one binding but not the other. The leg in binding that failed to release suffered the classic skiing injury, torn ligaments in the plaintiff’s knee.

After the injury, the ski rental shop tested the binding which the test showed the binding passed.

The plaintiff sued for “breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence” and the plaintiff’s spouse sued for loss of a consortium. The defendant used the defense of release, and the trial court granted the defense motion for summary judgment.

Summary of the case

The first area of the law the court spoke to was the fact the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant were bailor-bailee. Normally, this term is applied to someone in possession of another’s property. A valet is the bailee of your car when you hand over the keys. You are the bailor, the legal owner who has given temporary possession to another.

Once the court determined the relationship between the parties, then the court could conclude that the relationship was governed by the rental agreement.

The court then found that the plaintiff had failed to produce any evidence of negligence upon the part of the defendant. Then in a footnote, the court found that if the plaintiff had found evidence of negligence, the plaintiff still would have been bound by assumption of the risk. The court then went back to release and stated that even if negligence had been shown, the release would have prevented the suit.

“…in Georgia, the general rule is that a party may exempt himself by contract from liability to the other party for injuries caused by his negligence, and the agreement is not void for contravening public policy.”

The court then concluded the release did just that.

The remaining claims of the plaintiff were dismissed based on the analysis or the release.

The court finished with this line.

It is difficult to envision how the waiver language here could have been any clearer.

So Now What?

Get a good release written. Have your clients sign the release. Make sure your equipment meets the standards of the industry and maybe if you are faced with this issue, you will see this short and sweat answer to any litigation.

 

Plaintiff: Mr. and Mrs. Benford, no first name was ever given

 

Defendant: RDL, Inc. d/b/a Rocky Mountain Ski Shop

 

Plaintiff Claims: breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence and Mrs. Benford’s claim of loss of consortium

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

Holding: For the defendant on the release

 

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Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc.

A96A1458.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

December 4, 1996, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Certiorari Applied For.

PRIOR HISTORY: Bailment; release. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Cook.

DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: James B. Gurley, for appellants.

Long, Weinberg, Ansley & Wheeler, Kenneth M. Barre, for appellee.

JUDGES: ANDREWS, Judge. Pope, P. J., and Smith, J., concur.

OPINION BY: ANDREWS

OPINION

[**111] [*800] ANDREWS, Judge.

Mr. Benford and his wife appeal from the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to RDL, Inc. d/b/a Rocky Mountain Ski Shop in Mr. Benford’s suit alleging breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence and Mrs. Benford’s claim of loss of consortium.

1. Viewed under the standard of Lau’s Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491 (405 S.E.2d 474) (1991), the evidence on summary judgment was that Mr. Benford went to the ski shop on December 12, 1992 to rent skis and boots for an upcoming ski trip. He was assisted by Cooper, [*801] who asked Benford to pick out a pair of boots and to complete and sign a Rental Agreement and Release of Liability. Benford acknowledged reading, initialling, and signing the document which states that:

“I accept for use as is the equipment listed on this form and accept full responsibility for the care of this equipment. I have made no misrepresentations to this [***2] ski shop regarding my height, weight, age or skiing ability.

“I understand and am aware that skiing is a HAZARDOUS activity. I understand that the sport of skiing and the use of this ski equipment involve a risk of injury to any and all parts of my body. I hereby agree to freely and expressly assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death to the user of this equipment while skiing.

“I understand that the ski equipment being furnished forms a part or all of a ski-boot-binding system which will NOT RELEASE at all times or under all circumstances, and that it is not possible to predict every situation in which it will or will not release, and that its use cannot guarantee my safety or freedom from injury while skiing. I further agree and understand that this ski-boot- binding system may reduce but NOT eliminate the risk of injuries to the lower portion of my leg. However, I agree and understand that this ski-boot-binding system does NOT reduce the risk of injuries to my knees or any other parts of my body.

“I agree that I will release this ski shop from any and all responsibility or liability for injuries or damages to the user of the equipment listed on this form, or to any [***3] other person. I agree NOT to make a claim against or sue this ski shop for injuries or damages relating to skiing and/or the use of this equipment. (Please initial ) [Benford’s initials].

“In consideration for being able to rent this ski equipment, I hereby agree to accept the terms and conditions of this contract. This document constitutes the final and entire agreement between this ski shop and the undersigned. There are NO WARRANTIES, express or implied, which extend beyond the description of the ski equipment listed on this form.

“I have carefully read this agreement and release of liability and fully understand its contents. I am aware that this is a release of liability and a contract between myself and this ski shop and I sign it of my own free will.”

Pursuant to the height, weight, and skill level information provided by Benford, Cooper set the bindings of the skis at 5 1/2. This setting was based on a chart used in the business which the person doing the settings consults and then makes adjustments to the bindings, toes and heels of the boots.

[**112] Benford picked the skis up on December 26 and left with his wife [*802] and some friends on a ski trip. On the first day of the [***4] trip, Benford had made six or seven ski runs and had fallen uneventfully a couple of times. These falls did not cause the bindings to release. On his last run, Benford was in the process of coming to a stop to assist his wife who had fallen. Because of a change in the slope where he stopped, his center of gravity got out over his skis and he fell. While the right ski did release, the left one did not and he tore ligaments in his left knee. When he returned the skis to the shop, he was given a free week ski rental, good any time.

Because Benford was injured and contended the skis did not release, Jackson, the store manager, had the bindings tested with the Vermont Calibrator, a device used to measure the torque it takes to remove a boot from its binding, and the skis rented by Benford passed the test. All skis rented by the ski shop were tested on this device once a year, and randomly selected sets were tested periodically.

2. Benford acknowledges that these facts establish the relationship of bailor-bailee, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 44-12-60. Therefore, the relationship between them is governed by the terms of the Rental Agreement and the statutory obligations of a bailor under O.C.G.A. § [***5] 44-12-63. Mark Singleton Buick v. Taylor, 194 Ga. App. 630, 632 (1) (391 S.E.2d 435) (1990); Hall v. Skate Escape, Ltd., 171 Ga. App. 178 (319 S.E.2d 67) (1984).

3. Benford has failed totally to come forward with evidence concerning negligence by the ski shop. Lau’s Corp., supra; Prince v. Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 210 Ga. App. 108, 109 (1) (435 S.E.2d 482) (1993). 1

1 Even had he been able to do so, this is one of those rare cases where, as a matter of law, it can be said that Benford assumed the risk of exactly what happened to him. Beringause v. Fogleman Truck Lines, 200 Ga. App. 822, 823 (409 S.E.2d 524) (1991).

Also, even assuming some negligence had been shown, [HN1] “in Georgia, the general rule is that a party may exempt himself by contract from liability to the other party for injuries caused by his negligence, and the agreement is not void for contravening public policy. [Cits.]” Hall, supra at 179. Here, the agreement clearly and prominently did just that. Mercedes-Benz [***6] Credit Corp. v. Shields, 199 Ga. App. 89, 91 (403 S.E.2d 891) (1991).

4. Benford’s claims of breach of warranty and contract suffer the same fate. There is no showing by Benford of any latent defect in the skis or bindings, such as that in Hall, supra. Therefore, the covenant not to sue is not in contravention of O.C.G.A. § 44-12-63 (3). Mercedes-Benz, supra; Citicorp Indus. Credit v. Rountree, 185 Ga. App. 417, 422 (2) (364 S.E.2d 65) (1987). It is difficult to envision how the waiver language here could have been any clearer.

[*803] Judgment affirmed. Pope, P. J., and Smith, J., concur.

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