State AED laws may create liability; make sure you understand what your state laws say. Florida, an AED law affecting high schools created liability for the HS.Posted: December 19, 2016
A Florida statute requiring schools to acquire and train all employees on the use of AED’s, created liability when the AED was not used.
State: Florida, Supreme Court of Florida
Plaintiff: Abel Limones, Sr., et al
Defendant: School District of Lee County et al.
Plaintiff Claims: Common Law negligence and breach of a duty required by statute, Florida Statute 1006.165
Defendant Defenses: No duty and Immune under 1006.165 and 768.1325
Holding: for the Plaintiff
The deceased was a 15-year-old boy who played on a high school soccer team. While playing a high school soccer game he collapsed. His coach ran onto the field and started CPR and was assisted by two nurses who were sitting in the stands.
Allegedly, the coach asked several times for an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator). An AED was located in a storage are at the end of the field. However, no one ever retrieved the AED.
Ten minutes later, the fire department arrived and attempted to revive the student with their AED. That did not work. Twenty-six minutes later, an ambulance arrived and with the application of the ambulance AED and the application of drugs, EMS was able to restore the student’s heart rate.
The plaintiff’s expert witness testified that the 26 minutes without the use of the AED, not having a heartbeat, deprived the student of oxygen, which caused brain damage. The student was left in a persistent vegetative state.
The trial court granted the defendants motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed and the Florida Appellate Court upheld the dismal by the trial court. The Florida Supreme Court then heard the appeal and issued this decision.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The Supreme Court of Florida first looked at basic negligence claims pursuant to Florida’s law. Florida’s law applies the same four steps to prove negligence as most other states.
We have long held that to succeed on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish the four elements of duty, breach, proximate causation, and damages. Of these elements, only the existence of a duty is a legal question because duty is the standard to which the jury compares the conduct of the defendant.
A legal question is one that must be answered by the courts. So whether or not a duty existed, in proving negligence, is first reviewed by the trial judge. Factual questions are reviewed by the finder of fact, most commonly called the jury. Looking at the issue of duty, the court found under Florida Law, there were four sources of duty.
Florida law recognizes the following four sources of duty: (1) statutes or regulations; (2) common law interpretations of those statutes or regulations; (3) other sources in the common law; and (4) the general facts of the case.
Rarely do courts define how duties are created. Consequently, reviewing how a duty is created is interesting. The last way, general facts of the case, are how most duties are determined. The plaintiff argues there is a duty because of how others act or fail to act or based on the testimony from expert witnesses. Alternatively, an organization or trade association has published a list of the standards of care, which are then used to prove the duty failed.
The court then must examine if the minimum requirements for a duty have been met.
As in this case, when the source of the duty falls within the first three sources, the factual inquiry necessary to establish a duty is limited. The court must simply determine whether a statute, regulation, or the common law imposes a duty of care upon the defendant. The judicial determination of the existence of a duty is a minimal threshold that merely opens the courthouse doors.
In this case, the parties were relying on a statute; the Florida Statute that put AED’s in schools and required all school employees to be trained on their use, 768.1325. Once the court determines that a duty existed, then the jury must decide all other issues of the case.
Once a court has concluded that a duty exists, Florida law neither requires nor allows the court to further expand its consideration into how a reasonably prudent person would or should act under the circumstances as a matter of law. We have clearly stated that the remaining elements of negligence–breach, proximate causation, and damages–are to be resolved by the fact-finder.
The court then looked into the duty of schools with regard to students. A special relationship exists between a student (and their parents) and schools. A special relationship then takes the duty out from limited if any duty at all to a specific duty of care. Here that relationship creates a duty upon the school to act as a reasonable man would.
As a general principle, a party does not have a duty to take affirmative action to protect or aid another unless a special relationship exists which creates such a duty. When such a relationship exists, the law requires the party to act with reasonable care toward the person in need of protection or aid. As the Second District acknowledged below, Florida courts have recognized a special relationship between schools and their students based upon the fact that a school functions at least partially in the place of parents during the school day and school-sponsored activities.
The duty thus created or established requires a school to reasonably supervise students.
This special relationship requires a school to reasonably supervise its students during all activities that are subject to the control of the school, even if the activities occur beyond the boundaries of the school or involve adult students.
It should be noted, however, when referring to “school” in this manner; the courts are talking about public schools and students under the age of 18. Colleges have very different duties, especially outside of the classroom or off campus.
That supervision duty schools have, has five sub-elements or additional duties when dealing with student athletes.
Lower courts in Florida have recognized that the duty of supervision creates the following specific duties owed to student athletes: (1) schools must adequately instruct student athletes; (2) schools must provide proper equipment; (3) schools must reasonably match participants; (4) schools must adequately supervise athletic events; and (5) schools must take appropriate measures after a student is injured to prevent aggravation of the injury.
Here, several of the specific duties obviously could be applied to the case. Consequently, the court found the school owed a duty to the deceased.
Having determined the duty owed by the school to the deceased the court held that the school had a duty to the deceased that was breached. The use of an AED, required at the school by statute, was a reasonable duty owed to the deceased.
Therefore, we conclude that Respondent owed Abel a duty of supervision and to act with reasonable care under the circumstances; specifically, Respondent owed Abel a duty to take appropriate post-injury efforts to avoid or mitigate further aggravation of his injury. “Reasonable care under the circumstances” is a standard that may fluctuate with time, the student’s age and activity, the extent of the injury, the available responder(s), and other facts. Advancements with technology and equipment available today, such as a portable AED, to treat an injury were most probably unavailable twenty years ago, and may be obsolete twenty years from now.
The plaintiffs also argued there were additional duties owed based on the Florida School AED statute. However, the court declined to review this issue. Meaning, it is undecided and could go either way in the future.
The defendant then argued they were immune from suit based on the Florida AED Good Samaritan Act. The court then looked at the immunity statute set forth in the Florida School AED Statute. The Statute required schools to have AED’s and have to train all employees in the use of the AED. The court found that employees and volunteers could be covered under the Florida AED Good Samaritan Act. If they used the AED’s they would be immune from suit.
The court in reading the Florida AED Good Samaritan Act found two different groups of people were created by the act. However, only one was protected by the act and immune from suit. Those who use or attempt to use an AED are immune. Those that only acquire the AED, are not immune because they did not attempt to use the AED.
Users are clearly “immune from civil liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use” of an AED. § 768.1325(3), Fla. Stat. Additionally, acquirers are immune from “such liability,” meaning the “liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use” referenced in the prior sentence. Thus, acquirers are not immune due to the mere fact that they have purchased and made available an AED which has not been used; rather, they are entitled to immunity from the harm that may result only when an AED is actually used or attempted to be used.
That immunity only applied to the use of the AED. Here there was no use of the AED, so the statute did not provide any immunity.
It is undisputed that no actual or attempted use of an AED occurred in this case until emergency responders arrived. Therefore, we hold that Respondent is not entitled to immunity under section 768.1325 and such section has absolutely no application here.
The court summarized its analysis.
We hold that Respondent owed a common law duty to supervise Abel, and that once injured, Respondent owed a duty to take reasonable measures and come to his aid to prevent aggravation of his injury. It is a matter for the jury to determine under the evidence whether Respondent’s actions breached that duty and resulted in the damage that Abel suffered. We further hold Respondent is not entitled to immunity from suit under section 768.1325, Florida Statutes.
So Now What?
So in Florida, a statute that requires someone, such as a school to have AED’s then requires the school to use the AED’s and if they do not, they breach the common law duty of care to their students.
AED laws are going to become a carnival ride in attempting to understand and use them without creating liability or remaining immune from suit. You probably not only want to be on top of the law that is being passed in your state; you should probably go down and testify so the legislature in an attempt to save a life does not sink your business.
It is sad when a young man dies, especially, if he could have been saved. That issue is probably going to trial.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Limones, Sr., et al., v. School District of Lee County et al., 161 So. 3d 384; 2015 Fla. LEXIS 625; 40 Fla. L. Weekly S 182Posted: December 18, 2016
Limones, Sr., et al., v. School District of Lee County et al., 161 So. 3d 384; 2015 Fla. LEXIS 625; 40 Fla. L. Weekly S 182
Abel Limones, Sr., et al., Petitioners, vs. School District of Lee County et al., Respondents.
SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA
161 So. 3d 384; 2015 Fla. LEXIS 625; 40 Fla. L. Weekly S 182
April 2, 2015, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal – Direct Conflict of Decisions. Second District – Case No. 2D11-5191. (Lee County).
Limones v. Sch. Dist. of Lee County, 111 So. 3d 901, 2013 Fla. App. LEXIS 1821 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist., 2013)
COUNSEL: David Charles Rash of David C. Rash, P.A., Weston, Florida, and Elizabeth Koebel Russo of Russo Appellate Firm, P.A., Miami, Florida, for Petitioners.
Traci McKee of Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A., Fort Myers, Florida, and Scott Andrew Beatty of Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A., Bonita Springs, Florida, for Respondents.
Jennifer Suzanne Blohm and Ronald Gustav Meyer of Meyer, Brooks, Demma and Blohm, P.A., Tallahassee, Florida, for Amicus Curiae Florida School Boards Association, Inc.
Leonard E. Ireland, Jr., Gainesville, Florida, for Amicus Curiae Florida High School Athletic Association, Inc.
Mark Miller and Christina Marie Martin, Pacific Legal Foundation, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for Amicus Curiae Pacific Legal Foundation.
JUDGES: LABARGA, C.J., and PARIENTE, QUINCE, and PERRY, JJ., concur. CANADY, J., dissents with an opinion, in which POLSTON, J., concurs.
OPINION BY: LEWIS
[*387] LEWIS, J.
Petitioners Abel Limones, Sr., and Sanjuana Castillo seek review of the decision of the Second District Court of Appeal in Limones v. School District of Lee County, 111 So. 3d 901 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), asserting that it expressly [**2] and directly conflicts with the decision of this Court in McCain v. Florida Power Corp., 593 So. 2d 500 (Fla. 1992), and several other Florida decisions.
At approximately 7:40 p.m. on November 13, 2008, fifteen-year-old Abel Limones, Jr., suddenly collapsed during a high school soccer game. There is no evidence in the record to suggest that Abel collapsed due to a collision with another player. The event involved a soccer game between East Lee County High School, Abel’s school, and Riverdale High School, the host school. Both schools belong to the School District of Lee County. When Abel was unable to rise, Thomas Busatta, the coach for East Lee County High School, immediately ran onto the field to check his player. Abel tried to speak to Busatta, but within three minutes of the collapse, he appeared to stop breathing and lost consciousness. Busatta was unable to detect a pulse. An administrator from Riverdale High School who called 911, and two parents in the stands who were nurses, joined Busatta on the field. Busatta and one nurse began to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Abel. Busatta, who was certified in the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), testified that he yelled for an AED. The AED in the [**3] possession of Riverdale High School was actually at the game facility located at the end of the soccer field, but it was never brought on the field to Busatta to assist in reviving Abel.
Emergency responders from the fire department arrived at approximately 7:50 p.m. and applied their semi-automatic AED to revive Abel, but that was unsuccessful. Next, responders from the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) arrived and utilized a fully automatic AED on Abel and also administered several drugs in an attempt to restore his heartbeat. After application of shocks and drugs, emergency responders revived Abel, but not until approximately 8:06 p.m., which was twenty-six minutes after his initial collapse. Although Abel survived, he suffered a severe brain injury due to a lack of oxygen over the time delay involved. As a result, he now remains in a nearly persistent vegetative state that will require full-time care for the remainder of his life.
Petitioners, Abel’s parents, retained an expert, Dr. David Systrom, M.D., who determined that Abel suffered from a previously undetected underlying heart condition. Dr. Systrom further opined that if shocks from an AED had been administered earlier, oxygen [**4] would have been restored [*388] to Abel’s brain sooner and he would not have suffered the brain injury that left him in the current permanent vegetative state. Petitioners then filed an action against Respondent, the School Board of Lee County.1 They alleged that Respondent breached both a common law duty and a statutory duty as imposed by section 1006.165, Florida Statutes (2008),2 when it failed to apply an AED on Abel after his collapse. The School Board moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted and entered final judgment.
1 Petitioners initially filed an action against the School District of Lee County and the School Board of Lee County. All parties conceded that the only proper respondent in this case is the School Board of Lee County.
2 [HN1] Section 1006.165, Florida Statutes, requires all public schools that participate in the Florida High School Athletic Association to acquire an AED, train personnel in its use, and register its location with the local EMS.
On appeal, the Second District recognized that Respondent owed a duty to supervise its students, which in the context of student athletes included a duty to prevent aggravation of an injury. Limones, 111 So. 3d at 904-05 (citing Rupp v. Bryant, 417 So. 2d 658 (Fla. 1982); Leahy v. Sch. Bd. of Hernando Cnty., 450 So. 2d 883, 885 (Fla. 5th DCA 1984)). However, the Second District proceeded to expand its consideration of the duty owed and enlarged [**5] its consideration into a factual scope, extent, and performance of that duty analysis. Id. at 905 (citing Cerny v. Cedar Bluffs Junior/Senior Pub. Sch., 262 Neb. 66, 628 N.W.2d 697, 703 (Neb. 2001)). In this analysis, the Second District considered and evaluated whether post-injury efforts in connection with satisfying the duty to Abel should have included making available, diagnosing the need for, or using an AED. Id. The Second District relied on the discussion provided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in L.A. Fitness International, LLC v. Mayer, 980 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008), even though that case did not consider the same “duty” and the health club did not have a duty involving students or any similar relationship.
In L.A. Fitness, the Fourth District considered whether a health club breached its duty of reasonable care owed to a customer who was using training equipment when the health club failed to acquire or use an AED on a customer in cardiac distress. Id. at 556-57. After a review of the common law duties owed by a business owner to its invitees, the Fourth District determined that a health club owed no duty to provide or use an AED on a patron in cardiac distress. Id. at 562. The Second District in Limones found no distinction between L.A. Fitness and the present case, even though the differences are extreme, and concluded that reasonably prudent post-injury [**6] efforts did not require Respondent to provide, diagnose the need for, or use an AED. Limones, 111 So. 3d at 906. The Second District also determined that neither the undertaker’s doctrine3 nor section 1006.165, Florida Statutes, imposed a duty to use an AED on Abel. Id. at 906-07. Finally, after it concluded that Respondent was immune from civil liability under section 768.1325(3), Florida Statutes (2008), the Second District affirmed the decision [*389] of the trial court. Id. at 908-09. This review follows.
3 [HN2] The undertaker’s doctrine imposes a duty of reasonable care upon a party that freely or by contract undertakes to perform a service for another party. See, e.g., Clay Elec. Coop., Inc. v. Johnson, 873 So. 2d 1182, 1186 (Fla. 2003) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 (1965)). The undertaker is subject to liability if: (a) he or she fails to exercise reasonable care, which results in increased harm to the beneficiary; or (b) the beneficiary relies upon the undertaker and is harmed as a result. See id.
We first consider whether jurisdiction exists to review this matter. Petitioners assert that the decision below expressly and directly conflicts with the decision of this Court in McCain and other Florida decisions. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const. Specifically, Petitioners claim that the Second District defined the duty in a manner that conflicts with the approach delineated in McCain. We agree.
We have long [**7] held that [HN3] to succeed on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish the four elements of duty, breach, proximate causation, and damages. See, e.g., U.S. v. Stevens, 994 So. 2d 1062, 1065-66 (Fla. 2008). Of these elements, only the existence of a duty is a legal question because duty is the standard to which the jury compares the conduct of the defendant. McCain, 593 So. 2d at 503. Florida law recognizes the following four sources of duty: (1) statutes or regulations; (2) common law interpretations of those statutes or regulations; (3) other sources in the common law; and (4) the general facts of the case. Id. at 503 n.2. As in this case, when the source of the duty falls within the first three sources, the factual inquiry necessary to establish a duty is limited.4 The court must simply determine whether a statute, regulation, or the common law imposes a duty of care upon the defendant. The judicial determination of the existence of a duty is a minimal threshold that merely opens the courthouse doors. Id. at 502. Once a court has concluded that a duty exists, Florida law neither requires nor allows the court to further expand its consideration into how a reasonably prudent person would or should act under the circumstances as a matter of law.5 We have clearly stated that the [**8] remaining elements of negligence–breach, proximate causation, and damages–are to be resolved by the fact-finder. See Dorsey v. Reider, 139 So. 3d 860, 866 (Fla. 2014); Williams v. Davis, 974 So. 2d 1052, 1056 n.2 (Fla. 2007) (citing McCain, 593 So. 2d at 504); see also Orlando Exec. Park, Inc. v. Robbins, 433 So. 2d 491, 493 (Fla. 1983) (“[I]t is peculiarly a jury function to determine what precautions are reasonably required in the exercise of a particular duty of due care.” (citation omitted)), receded from on other grounds by Mobil Oil Corp. v. Bransford, 648 So. 2d 119, 121 (Fla. 1995).
4 [HN4] Even when the duty is rooted in the fourth prong, factual inquiry into the existence of a duty is limited to whether the “defendant’s conduct foreseeably created a broader ‘zone of risk’ that poses a general threat of harm to others.” McCain, 593 So. 2d at 502.
5 Of course, as McCain acknowledges, [HN5] some facts must be established to determine whether a duty exists, such as the identity of the parties, their relationship, and whether that relationship qualifies as a special relationship recognized by tort law and subject to heightened duties. See 593 So. 2d at 503-04. However, further factual inquiry risks invasion of the province of the jury.
The Second District determined that a clearly recognized common law duty existed under both Rupp and Leahy. Rupp established that [HN6] school employees must reasonably supervise students during activities that are subject to the control of the school. 417 So. 2d at 666; see also Leahy, 450 So. 2d at 885 (explaining [**9] that the duty of supervision owed by a school to its students included a duty to prevent aggravation of an injury). [HN7] However, the Second District incorrectly expanded Florida law and invaded the province of the [*390] jury when it further considered whether post-injury efforts required Respondent to make available, diagnose the need for, or use the AED on Abel. Limones, 111 So. 3d at 905. This detailed analysis exceeded the threshold requirement that this Court established in McCain. Therefore, conflict jurisdiction exists to consider the merits of this case and we choose to exercise our discretion to resolve this conflict. [HN8] We review de novo rulings on summary judgment with respect to purely legal questions. See, e.g., Clay Elec. Coop., Inc. v. Johnson, 873 So. 2d 1182, 1185 (Fla. 2003).
Common Law Duty
[HN9] As a general principle, a party does not have a duty to take affirmative action to protect or aid another unless a special relationship exists which creates such a duty. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314 cmt. a (1965). When such a relationship exists, the law requires the party to act with reasonable care toward the person in need of protection or aid. See id. § 314A cmt. e. As the Second District acknowledged below, Florida courts have recognized a special relationship between schools and their students based upon the fact that [**10] a school functions at least partially in the place of parents during the school day and school-sponsored activities. See, e.g., Nova Se. Univ., Inc. v. Gross, 758 So. 2d 86, 88-89 (Fla. 2000) (citing Rupp, 417 So. 2d at 666). Mandatory education of children also supports this relationship. Rupp, 417 So. 2d at 666.
[HN10] This special relationship requires a school to reasonably supervise its students during all activities that are subject to the control of the school, even if the activities occur beyond the boundaries of the school or involve adult students. See Nova Se. Univ., 758 So. 2d at 88-89 (applying the in loco parentis doctrine to a relationship between an adult student and a university when the university mandated participation by the student in an off-campus internship); Rupp, 417 So. 2d at 666-67 (concluding that a duty of supervision existed during an unsanctioned off-campus hazing event by a school-sponsored club); cf. Kazanjian v. Sch. Bd. of Palm Beach Cnty., 967 So. 2d 259, 268 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (finding that the duty of supervision did not extend to a student who was injured when she left school premises without authorization). This duty to supervise requires teachers and other applicable school employees to act with reasonable care under the circumstances. Wyke v. Polk Cnty. Sch. Bd., 129 F.3d 560, 571 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Florida law); see also Nova Se. Univ., 758 So. 2d at 90 (noting that the university had a duty to use reasonable care when it assigned students to off-campus internships). Thereafter, it [**11] is for the jury to determine whether, under the relevant circumstances, the school employee has acted unreasonably and, therefore, breached the duty owed. See La Petite Acad., Inc. v. Nassef ex rel. Knippel, 674 So. 2d 181, 182 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996) (citing Benton v. Sch. Bd. of Broward Cnty., 386 So. 2d 831, 834 (Fla. 4th DCA 1980)); see also Zalkin v. Am. Learning Sys., 639 So. 2d 1020, 1021 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994) (concluding that whether alleged negligent supervision by school employees resulted in injury to a student was a jury issue).
[HN11] Lower courts in Florida have recognized that the duty of supervision creates the following specific duties owed to student athletes: (1) schools must adequately instruct student athletes; (2) schools must provide proper equipment; (3) schools must reasonably match participants; (4) schools must adequately supervise athletic events; and (5) schools must take appropriate measures after a student is injured to prevent aggravation of the injury. See [*391] Limones, 111 So. 3d at 904 (citing Leahy, 450 So. 2d at 885); see also Zalkin, 639 So. 2d at 1021. Other jurisdictions have acknowledged similar duties owed to student athletes. See Avila v. Citrus Cmty. Coll. Dist., 38 Cal. 4th 148, 41 Cal. Rptr. 3d 299, 131 P.3d 383, 392 (Cal. 2006) (“[I]n interscholastic and intercollegiate competition, the host school and its agents owe a duty to home and visiting players alike to, at a minimum, not increase the risks inherent in the sport.”); Kleinknecht v. Gettysburg Coll., 989 F.2d 1360, 1370 (3d Cir. 1993) (college owed duty to recruited athlete to take reasonable safety precautions against the risk of death); see also Jarreau v. Orleans Parish School Bd., 600 So. 2d 1389, 1393 (La. Ct. App. 1992) (school board owed duty to [**12] injured high school athlete to provide access to medical treatment); Stineman v. Fontbonne Coll., 664 F.2d 1082, 1086 (8th Cir. 1981) (college owed duty to provide medical assistance to injured student athlete).
In this case, Abel was a student who was injured while he participated in a school-sponsored soccer game under the supervision of school officials. Therefore, we conclude that Respondent owed Abel a duty of supervision and to act with reasonable care under the circumstances; specifically, Respondent owed Abel a duty to take appropriate post-injury efforts to avoid or mitigate further aggravation of his injury. See Rupp, 417 So. 2d at 666; Leahy, 450 So. 2d at 885. “Reasonable care under the circumstances” is a standard that may fluctuate with time, the student’s age and activity, the extent of the injury, the available responder(s), and other facts. Advancements with technology and equipment available today, such as a portable AED, to treat an injury were most probably unavailable twenty years ago, and may be obsolete twenty years from now. We therefore leave it to the jury to determine, under the evidence presented, whether the particular actions of Respondent’s employees satisfied or breached the duty of reasonable care owed.
For several reasons, we reject the decision of the Second [**13] District to narrowly frame the issue as whether Respondent had a specified duty to diagnose the need for or use an AED on Abel. First, as stated above, reasonable care under the circumstances is not and should not be a fixed concept. Such a narrow definition of duty, a purely legal question, slides too easily into breach, a factual matter for the jury. See McCain, 593 So. 2d at 502-04. We reject the attempt below to specifically define each element in the scope of the duty as a matter of law, as this case attempted to remove all factual elements from the law and digitalize every aspect of human conduct. We are also cognizant of the concern raised by Respondent and its amici that if a defined duty could require every high school to provide an AED at every athletic practice and contest, the result could be great expense. Instead, the flexible nature of reasonable care delineated here can be evaluated on a case by case basis. The duty does not change with regard to using reasonable care to supervise and assist students, but the methods and means of fulfilling that duty will depend on the circumstances.
Additionally, we reject the position of the Second District and Respondent that L.A. Fitness governs this case. [**14] The Fourth District in L.A. Fitness determined that the duty owed by a commercial health club to an adult customer only required employees of the club to reasonably summon emergency responders for a patron in cardiac distress. 980 So. 2d at 562; see also De La Flor v. Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., 930 F. Supp. 2d 1325, 1330 (S.D. Fla. 2013) (citing L.A. Fitness, 980 So. 2d at 562). [*392] The adult customer and the health club stand in a far different relationship than a student involved in school activities with school board officials. Although some courts in other jurisdictions have determined that fitness clubs and other commercial entities do not owe a legal duty to provide AEDs to adult customers,6 the commercial context and relationship of parties in these cases is a critical distinction from the case before us. Despite the fact the business proprietor-customer and school district-student relationships are both recognized as relationships, these relationships are markedly different. We initially note that the proprietor-customer relationship most frequently involves two adult parties, whereas the school-student relationship usually involves a minor. Furthermore, the business invitee freely enters into a commercial relationship with the proprietor.
6 See, e.g., Verdugo v. Target Corp., 59 Cal. 4th 312, 173 Cal. Rptr. 3d 662, 327 P.3d 774, 792 (Cal. 2014) (holding that a retailer did not owe a common law duty to [**15] acquire and make available an AED to a patron); Miglino v. Bally Total Fitness of Greater N.Y., Inc., 20 N.Y.3d 342, 985 N.E.2d 128, 132, 961 N.Y.S.2d 364 (N.Y. 2013) (statute that required large health clubs to acquire an AED did not impose duty to use it); Rotolo v. San Jose Sports & Entm’t, LLC, 151 Cal. App. 4th 307, 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 770, 774-75 (Cal. Ct. App. 2007) (refusing to impose a duty on owners of a sports facility to notify patrons of the existence and location of an AED), modified on other grounds by Verdugo, 327 P.3d at 784; Salte v. YMCA of Metro. Chi. Found., 351 Ill. App. 3d 524, 814 N.E.2d 610, 615, 286 Ill. Dec. 622 (Ill. App. Ct. 2004) (holding that a health club’s duty of reasonable care to its guests did not require it to obtain and use an AED on a guest).
By contrast, [HN12] Florida, along with the rest of the country, has mandated education of our minor children. § 1003.21, Fla. Stat. (2014). Compulsory schooling creates a unique relationship, a fact that has been recognized both by Florida courts and the Florida Legislature. Florida common law recognizes a specific duty of supervision owed to students and a duty to aid students that is not otherwise owed to the business customer. See Rupp, 417 So. 2d at 666-67. Furthermore, the Florida Legislature has specifically mandated that high schools that participate in interscholastic athletics acquire an AED and train appropriate personnel in its use. § 1006.165(1)-(2), Fla. Stat. Notably, the Legislature has not so regulated health clubs or other commercial facilities, even though the foreseeability for the need to use an AED may be similar in both contexts. See [**16] L.A. Fitness, 980 So. 2d at 561. The relationship between a commercial entity and its patron quite simply cannot be compared to that between a school and its students. We therefore conclude that the facts of this case are not comparable to those in L.A. Fitness.
Other Sources of Duty
Although Petitioners alleged in their pleadings that Respondent owed a statutory duty under section 1006.165, Florida Statutes, Petitioners did not clearly articulate before this Court the basis for such a duty. We therefore do not address it here. See, e.g., Chamberlain v. State, 881 So. 2d 1087, 1103 (Fla. 2004). Moreover, because we decide as a dispositive issue that Respondent’s motion for summary judgment was improperly granted because Respondent owed a common law duty to Abel, we decline to address Petitioners’ claim under the undertaker’s doctrine.
Because we conclude that Respondent owed a common law duty to Abel, we must now consider whether Respondent is immune from suit under sections 1006.165 and 768.1325, Florida Statutes. [*393] See Wallace v. Dean, 3 So. 3d 1035, 1044 (Fla. 2009) (emphasizing that the existence of a duty is “conceptually distinct” from the determination of whether a party is entitled to immunity). Respondent claims that these statutory provisions grant it immunity. [HN13] The question of statutory immunity is a legal question that we review de novo. See, e.g., Found. Health v. Westside EKG Assocs., 944 So. 2d 188, 193-94 (Fla. 2006).
[HN14] Section 1006.165 requires all public schools [**17] that are members of the Florida High School Athletic Association to have an operational AED on school property and to train “all employees or volunteers who are reasonably expected to use the device” in its application. § 1006.165(1)-(2), Fla. Stat. Further, “[t]he use of [AEDs] by employees and volunteers is covered under [sections] 768.13 and 768.1325,” which generally regulate immunity under Florida’s Good Samaritan Act and the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act. § 1006.165(4).7 Subsection (3) of the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act states:
[HN15] Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, and except as provided in subsection (4), any person who uses or attempts to use an [AED] on a victim of a perceived medical emergency, without objection of the victim of the perceived medical emergency, is immune from civil liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use of such device. In addition, notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, and except as provided in subsection (4), any person who acquired the device and makes it available for use, including, but not limited to, a community organization . . . is immune from such liability . . . .
§ 768.1325(3), Fla. Stat. (emphasis supplied). There is no immunity for criminal misuse, gross negligence, or similarly egregious misuse of an AED. § 768.1325(4)(a).
7 Although section 1006.165 references [**18] both the Good Samaritan Act, section 768.13, and the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, section 768.1325, Respondent seeks immunity only under the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act. We therefore do not consider whether the Good Samaritan Act provides immunity under these circumstances. See, e.g., Chamberlain, 881 So. 2d at 1103.
[HN16] Under a plain reading of the statute, this subsection creates two classes of parties that may be immune from liability arising from the misuse of AEDs: users (actual or attempted), and acquirers. Users are clearly “immune from civil liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use” of an AED. § 768.1325(3), Fla. Stat. Additionally, acquirers are immune from “such liability,” meaning the “liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use” referenced in the prior sentence. Id. (emphasis supplied). Thus, acquirers are not immune due to the mere fact that they have purchased and made available an AED which has not been used; rather, they are entitled to immunity from the harm that may result only when an AED is actually used or attempted to be used. It is undisputed that no actual or attempted use of an AED occurred in this case until emergency responders arrived. Therefore, we hold that Respondent is not entitled to immunity under [**19] section 768.1325 and such section has absolutely no application here.
Despite the protests of Respondent and its amici, we do not believe that this straightforward reading of the statute defeats the legislative intent. The passage of section 1006.165 demonstrates that the Legislature was clearly concerned about the risk of cardiac arrest among high school athletes. The Legislature also explicitly [*394] linked this statute to the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, which grants immunity for the use–actual or attempted–of an AED. The emphasis on the use or attempted use of an AED in the statute underscores the intent of the Legislature to encourage bystanders to use a potentially life-saving AED when appropriate. Without this grant of immunity, bystanders would arguably be more likely to hesitate to use an AED for fear of potential liability. To extend the shield of immunity to those who make no attempt to use an AED would defeat the intended purpose of the statute and discourage the use of AEDs in emergency situations. The argument that immunity applies when an AED is not used is spurious. The immunity is with regard to harm caused by the use of an AED, not a failure to otherwise use reasonable care.
We hold that Respondent [**20] owed a common law duty to supervise Abel, and that once injured, Respondent owed a duty to take reasonable measures and come to his aid to prevent aggravation of his injury. It is a matter for the jury to determine under the evidence whether Respondent’s actions breached that duty and resulted in the damage that Abel suffered. We further hold Respondent is not entitled to immunity from suit under section 768.1325, Florida Statutes. We therefore quash the decision below and remand this case for trial.
It is so ordered.
LABARGA, C.J., and PARIENTE, QUINCE, and PERRY, JJ., concur.
CANADY, J., dissents with an opinion, in which POLSTON, J., concurs.
DISSENT BY: CANADY
CANADY, J., dissenting.
Because I conclude that the decision of the district court of appeal, Limones v. School District of Lee County, 111 So. 3d 901 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), does not expressly and directly conflict with McCain v. Florida Power Corp., 593 So. 2d 500 (Fla. 1992), I would dismiss review of this case for lack of jurisdiction under article V, section 3(b)(3), of the Florida Constitution. I therefore dissent.
In McCain, the plaintiff was injured when the blade of a trencher he was operating made contact with an underground electrical cable owned by Florida Power Corporation. The Court held that because cables transmitting electricity had “unquestioned power to kill or maim,” the defendant had created a “foreseeable zone of risk” and therefore, as a matter [**21] of law, had a duty to take reasonable precautions to prevent injury to others. McCain, 593 So. 2d at 503-04. In Limones, the district court of appeal held as a matter of law that a school district “had no common law duty to make available, diagnose the need for, or use” an automated external defibrillator on a student athlete who “collapsed on the field . . . stopped breathing and had no discernible pulse” during a high school soccer match. Limones, 111 So. 3d at 903, 906. The two decisions are clearly distinguishable based on their totally different facts. Therefore, there is no express and direct conflict and we lack jurisdiction to review the district court’s decision. POLSTON, J., concurs.
Harris v Five Point Mission–Camp Olmstedt, 73 A.D.3d 1127; 901 N.Y.S.2d 678; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4526; 2010 NY Slip Op 4547
Both defendants and plaintiff’s need to understand the standard of care, the limit of liability the defendant will be held accountable too.
In this case from New York, a 13-year-old, called an infant by the court, sued a summer camp for an injury to his leg. While attempting to kick the ball, he and another camper collided and the other camper fell on the plaintiff’s leg. The plaintiff sued the camp for the injury. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied. The defendant appealed the motion and the appellate court overturned the lower court and dismissed the case.
An infant from a legal perspective is not a baby. An infant is anyone under the age of 18, not an adult.
The sole issue was the standard of care, the level of supervision the camp owed to the plaintiff. The court held the standard of care a camp or school owed was not an insurer of the safety of the camper but only liable for foreseeable injuries. Even then those foreseeable injuries must be caused by an absence of adequate supervision.
Schools or camps are not insurers of the safety of their students or campers, as they “cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of their movements and activities” Rather, schools and camps owe a duty to supervise their charges and will only be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately caused by the absence of adequate supervision.
The lack of adequate supervision must relate to the injury. A failure to supervise, which created the foreseeable injury must be the cause of the accident. Additionally, that accident must be one that can be supervised. If the accident occurs in such a manner that supervision could not intervene, then there can be no liability.
Moreover, even if an issue of fact exists as to negligent supervision, liability does not lie absent a showing that such negligence proximately caused the injuries sustained “Where an accident occurs in so short a span of time that even the most intense supervision could not have prevented it, any lack of supervision is not the proximate cause of the injury and summary judgment in favor of the … defendant is warranted”
There was also an issue that the expert witness did not discuss all the issues necessary to prove the camp was liable for the injury. The expert report stated the camp should have provided shin guards, and that shin guards were required. However, the expert did not state that the type of game being played by the plaintiff, an informal summer camp game was held to the same rules as high school games.
The plaintiff’s complaint did not seem to contemplate the level of supervision required from a camp. Like schools, camps are not required to keep kids safe. They are required to do the following.
· Keep kids safe from foreseeable risks
· Adequately supervise kids.
The first is the hardest. Kids can get hurt any and always. Consequently, foreseeable is very hard. However, the easiest way to see foreseeable and for the plaintiff to prove foreseeable is if the accident had occurred previously at your camp or any camp. If you keep track of injuries and accidents, you better do something about each and every one of the reports. A report is proof of foreseeability of a risk.
That is a great reason to attend your trade association meeting or conference. You can learn from other members of your industry or your insurance carrier of the accidents they have had. If you have a similar program, you have been given a gift, you have identified foreseeable before a plaintiff has.
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Harris v Five Point Mission–Camp Olmstedt, 73 A.D.3d 1127; 901 N.Y.S.2d 678; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4526; 2010 NY Slip Op 4547Posted: July 16, 2012
Harris v Five Point Mission–Camp Olmstedt, 73 A.D.3d 1127; 901 N.Y.S.2d 678; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4526; 2010 NY Slip Op 4547
Nikki Harris, Respondent, v Five Point Mission–Camp Olmstedt, Appellant. (Index No. 38156/07)
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT
73 A.D.3d 1127; 901 N.Y.S.2d 678; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4526; 2010 NY Slip Op 4547
May 25, 2010, Decided
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: As Amended June 21, 2010.
Negligence–What Constitutes.–Defendant was not liable for injuries sustained by infant while playing soccer at sleepaway summer camp operated by defendant; defendant established that it did not negligently supervise infant during soccer game in which he was injured and that it did not negligently maintain soccer field where accident occurred.
COUNSEL: [***1] Molod Spitz & DeSantis, P.C., New York, N.Y. (Salvatore J. DeSantis and Marcy Sonneborn of counsel), for appellant.
Kenneth J. Ready, Mineola, N.Y. (Steven T. Lane of counsel), for respondent.
JUDGES: REINALDO E. RIVERA, J.P., ANITA R. FLORIO, DANIEL D. ANGIOLILLO, PLUMMER E. LOTT, JJ. RIVERA, J.P., FLORIO, ANGIOLILLO and LOTT, JJ., concur.
[*1127] [**679] In an action to recover damages for personal injuries, etc., the defendant appeals from an order of the Supreme Court, Kings County (Schack, J.), dated July 17, 2009, which denied its motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.
Ordered that the order is reversed, on the law, with costs, and the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint is granted.
On the morning of July 29, 2006, the then 13 1/2-year-old infant, Devante Harris (hereinafter Devante), allegedly was injured while playing soccer at the sleepaway summer camp operated by the defendant, Five Point Mission–Camp Olmstedt. According to Devante’s deposition testimony, the accident happened over a 15-second period of time. After Devante fell while attempting to kick a soccer ball, another camper, attempting to kick the same ball, made contact with Devante’s [***2] leg and then fell on Devante’s leg. At the time of the accident, there were two counselors supervising the soccer game, while acting as opposing goalies, one of whom was only 12 feet away from Devante when the accident occurred. Furthermore, during the hour before the accident occurred, neither Devante nor anyone else [*1128] fell during the game. According to the deposition testimony of the camp director, Nolan Walker, the camp hired a private landscaping company to maintain the field. Additionally, in the two weeks leading up to the date of the accident, he did not observe any defects in the field.
[HN1] Schools or camps are not insurers of the safety of their students or campers, as they “cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of their movements and activities” (Cohn v Board of Educ. of Three Vil. Cent. School. Dist., 70 AD3d 622, 623, 892 NYS2d 882 ; see Mirand v City of New York, 84 NY2d 44, 49, 637 NE2d 263, 614 NYS2d 372 ). Rather, schools and camps owe a duty to supervise their charges and will only be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately caused by the absence of adequate supervision (see Mirand v City of New York, 84 NY2d at 49; Doe v Department of Educ. of City of New York, 54 AD3d 352, 353, 862 NYS2d 598 ; [***3] Paca v City of New York, 51 AD3d 991, 992, 858 NYS2d 772 ). Moreover, even if an issue of fact exists as to negligent supervision, liability does not lie absent a showing that such negligence proximately caused the injuries sustained (see Odekirk v Bellmore-Merrick Cent. School Dist., 70 AD3d 910, 895 NYS2d 184 ; Siegell v Herricks Union Free School Dist., 7 AD3d 607, 777 NYS2d 148 ). “Where an accident occurs in so short a span of time that even the most intense supervision could not have prevented it, any lack of supervision is not the proximate cause of the injury and summary judgment in favor of the … defendant is warranted” (Convey v City of Rye School Dist., 271 AD2d 154, 160, 710 NYS2d 641 ; see Odekirk v Bellmore-Merrick Cent. School Dist., 70 AD3d 910, 895 NYS2d 184 ; Paca v City of New York, 51 AD3d at 993; Capotosto v Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Ctr., 2 AD3d 384, 385-386, 767 NYS2d 857 ).
The defendant made a prima facie showing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. It established, by way of Devante’s deposition testimony, that it did not negligently supervise him during the soccer game in which he was injured (see Mirand v City of New York, 84 NY2d at 49; Calcagno v John F. Kennedy Intermediate School, 61 AD3d 911, 912, 877 NYS2d [**680] 455 ). It also established [***4] that it did not negligently maintain the soccer field where the accident occurred (see Lopez v Freeport Union Free School Dist., 288 AD2d 355, 356, 734 NYS2d 97 ).
In response, the plaintiff failed to show the existence of a triable issue of fact. Devante’s affidavit submitted in opposition to the motion merely raised a feigned issue of fact designed to avoid the consequences of his earlier deposition testimony, and thus was insufficient to defeat the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint (see Denicola v [*1129] Costello, 44 AD3d 990, 844 NYS2d 438 ). The affidavit of Devante’s mother, the plaintiff, Nikki Harris, also was insufficient to defeat the defendant’s motion, as she did not have personal knowledge of the facts underlying the claim and relied upon inadmissible hearsay in her averments (see New S. Ins. Co. v Dobbins, 71 AD3d 652, 894 NYS2d 912 ).
The plaintiff’s expert’s affidavit also was insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant’s failure to provide Devante with shin guards constituted negligence. The affidavit improperly relies on the version of the events set forth in Devante’s affidavit in opposition to the motion and not upon his deposition testimony. Furthermore, in [***5] concluding that the defendant summer camp was negligent in failing to provide Devante with shin guards during the soccer game, the expert failed to allege that sleepaway summer camps generally provide shin guards to campers during informal soccer games like the one at issue (see Diaz v New York Downtown Hosp., 99 NY2d 542, 545, 784 NE2d 68, 754 NYS2d 195 ; Walker v Commack School Dist., 31 AD3d 752, 820 NYS2d 287 ). Nor does he allege, based upon his personal knowledge or experience, that the rules of college, high school, or youth soccer leagues, which he contends require the use of shin guards, have been implemented by or are the generally accepted practice in informal summer camp soccer games such as the one in which Devante was injured (see Diaz v New York Downtown Hosp., 99 NY2d at 545; Walker v Commack School Dist., 31 AD3d 752, 820 NYS2d 287 ).
Accordingly, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint should have been granted (see generally Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324-325, 501 NE2d 572, 508 NYS2d 923 ). Rivera, J.P., Florio, Angiolillo and Lott, JJ., concur.
Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998)
696 N.E.2d 201
ZIVICH ET AL., APPELLANTS, v. MENTOR SOCCER CLUB, INC., APPELLEE, ET AL.
Submitted April 21, 1998 –
Decided June 29, 1998.
APPEAL from the Court of Appeals for Lake County, No. 95-L-184.
In May 1993, appellant Pamela Zivich registered her seven-year-old son, appellant Bryan Zivich, for soccer with Mentor Soccer Club, Inc. (“Club”), appellee, for the 1993-1994 season. The Club is a nonprofit organization that provides children in the greater Mentor area with the opportunity to learn and play soccer. The Club is primarily composed of parents and other volunteers who provide their time and talents to help fulfill the Club’s mission. The Club’s registration form, signed by Mrs. Zivich, contained the following language:
“Recognizing the possibility of physical injury associated with soccer and for the Mentor Soccer Club, and the USYSA [United States Youth Soccer Association] accepting the registrant for its soccer programs and activities, I hereby release, discharge and/or otherwise indemnify the Mentor Soccer Club and the USYSA, its affiliated organizations and sponsors, their employees, and associated personnel, including the owners of the fields and facilities utilized by the Soccer Club, against any claim by or on behalf of the registrant as a result of the registrant’s participation in the Soccer Club * * *.”
On October 7, 1993, Bryan attended soccer practice. During practice, the boys participated in an intrasquad scrimmage. Bryan’s team won. After the scrimmage, Bryan ran to his father, who was standing on the sidelines and talking with the coach. Excited about the win, Bryan, unsupervised, jumped on the goal and swung back and forth on it. The goal, which was not anchored down, tipped backward. Bryan fell, and the goal came down on his chest, breaking three of his ribs and collarbone, and severely bruising his lungs.
In January 1995, Bryan’s parents, Philip and Pamela Zivich, appellants, sued the Club[fn1] for injuries sustained by Bryan. The complaint alleged negligence and reckless misconduct.[fn2] The Club moved for summary judgment on the ground that the release executed by Bryan’s mother barred the claims. The trial court agreed and granted the Club’s summary judgment motion.
The court of appeals affirmed, albeit partly on different grounds. In Judge Nader’s majority opinion, in which Judge Christley “reluctantly” joined, he said that the exculpatory agreement was effective against Mr. and Mrs. Zivich, but not against Bryan. Thus, while the trial court was correct to grant summary judgment, Bryan still had a cause of action which a guardian could bring on his behalf or which he could assert once he gained the age of majority. Judge Nader acknowledged the public policy in favor of enforcing the agreement against Bryan, but found that that decision was best left to the General Assembly or this court. Additionally, Judge Nader’s majority opinion found no evidence to support the willful and wanton misconduct claim. Concurring in the result only, Judge Ford opined that the public policy of Ohio favors enforcement of the agreement against Bryan as well as his parents. Judge Christley “wholehearted[ly] endorse[d]” the policy advocated by Judge Ford, but agreed with Judge Nader that the issue should be resolved by the General Assembly or this court.
The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a discretionary appeal.
[fn1] Appellants also sued the city of Mentor, which owned the park where practice was held. The city settled with appellants, and this court dismissed it from the lawsuit in December 1997. 80 Ohio St.3d 1474, 687 N.E.2d 471.
[fn2] Other claims were asserted, but they are not at issue here.
Svete, McGee & Carrabine Co., L.P.A., and James W. Reardon, for appellants.
Reminger & Reminger Co., L.P.A., George S. Coakley, Laura M. Sullivan and Brian D. Sullivan, for appellee.
FRANCIS E. SWEENEY, SR., J.
We are asked to decide whether the exculpatory agreement[fn3] executed by Mrs. Zivich on behalf of her minor son released the Club from liability for the minor child’s claims and the parents’ claims as a matter of law. We find that the exculpatory agreement is valid as to all claims. Summary judgment was appropriately entered in the Club’s favor. The judgment of the court of appeals is affirmed.
Pursuant to Civ.R. 56, summary judgment is appropriate when (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact, (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and (3) reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse to the nonmoving party, said party being entitled to have the evidence construed most strongly in his favor. Horton v. Harwick Chem. Corp. (1995), 73 Ohio St.3d 679, 653 N.E.2d 1196, paragraph three of the syllabus. The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Dresher v. Burt (1996), 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 292-293, 662 N.E.2d 264, 273-274.
Appellants argue that since practice had concluded, the injury occurred outside the scope of the exculpatory agreement. We find this contention meritless. We quote, with approval, Judge Nader’s majority opinion rejecting this argument: “It should not come as any great surprise for a parent to learn that, during a period of inactivity at a soccer practice, his or her child fiddled with loose equipment, climbed on nearby bleachers, or scaled the goal. It should be equally clear that coaches supervising the practices will not be able to completely prevent such unauthorized activity, as some degree of bedlam is unavoidable, when children of tender years are brought together to play a game, and when their emotions are aroused. The risk of a seven[-]year[-]old child climbing on a goal shortly after winning an intrasquad scrimmage is, therefore, a natural incident of his participation in soccer practice. Thus, Bryan’s injuries fall within the ambit of the release.”
We next consider whether the release is valid. With respect to adult participants, the general rule is that releases from liability for injuries caused by negligent acts arising in the context of recreational activities are enforceable. Bowen v. Kil-Kare, Inc. (1992), 63 Ohio St.3d 84, 90, 585 N.E.2d 384, 390; Simmons v. Am. Motorcyclist Assn., Inc. (1990), 69 Ohio App.3d 844, 846, 591 N.E.2d 1322, 1324; Cain v. Cleveland Parachute Training Ctr. (1983), 9 Ohio App.3d 27, 9 OBR 28, 457 N.E.2d 1185. These holdings recognize the importance of individual autonomy and freedom of contract. Here, however, the exculpatory agreement was executed by a parent on behalf of the minor child.
Appellants contend that the release is invalid on public policy grounds. In support of their argument, they refer to the general principle that contracts entered into by a minor, unless for “necessaries,” are voidable by the minor, once the age of majority is reached, or shortly thereafter. Restatement of the Law 2d, Contracts (1979), Sections 7, 12, and 14, and Comment f to Section 12. Appellants urge us to apply the seminal case of Wagenblast v. Odessa School Dist. No. 105-157-166J (1988), 110 Wn.2d 845, 851-852, 758 P.2d 968, 971, where the Washington Supreme Court relied upon Tunkl v. Regents of Univ. of California (1963), 60 Cal.2d 92, 32 Cal.Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, and set forth a six-part test to determine whether a particular release violates public policy. The Club, however, argues that the proper focus is not whether the release violates public policy but rather that public policy itself justifies the enforcement of this agreement. This is also the position advocated by Judge Ford in his concurring opinion. We agree with the Club and Judge Ford.[fn4]
The General Assembly has enacted statutes designed to encourage landowners to open their land to public use for recreational activities without fear of liability. Moss v. Dept. of Natural Resources (1980), 62 Ohio St.2d 138, 142, 16 O.O.3d 161, 164, 404 N.E.2d 742, 745. See R.C. 1533.18 and 1533.181, which together provide that private entities that hold land open for recreational use without charge are immune from tort liability for any injury caused by a recreational user. Then, in 1996, R.C. 2305.381 and 2305.382[fn5] were enacted, effective January 27, 1997. Together, these statutes accord qualified immunity to unpaid athletic coaches and sponsors of athletic events. Hence, the General Assembly has articulated its intent of encouraging the sponsorship of sports activities and protecting volunteers. However, R.C. 2305.381 and 2305.382 were enacted after this cause of action arose. Thus, our role is to render a decision that fills the gap left open before the effective date of the statutory enactments.
It cannot be disputed that volunteers in community recreational activities serve an important function. 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 activities at minimal cost. In fact, the American Youth Soccer Organization pays only nineteen of its four hundred thousand staff members. The Little League pays only seventy of its 2.5 million members. See King, Exculpatory Agreements for Volunteers in Youth Activities – The Alternative to “Nerf” Tiddlywinks (1992), 53 Ohio St.L.J. 683, 759, fns. 208 and 209. 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. See Developments, supra, 105 Harv.L.Rev. at 1692.
Therefore, faced with the very real threat of a lawsuit, and the potential for substantial damage awards, nonprofit organizations and their volunteers could very well decide that the risks are not worth the effort. Hence, invalidation of exculpatory agreements would reduce the number of activities made possible through the uncompensated services of volunteers and their sponsoring organizations.
Therefore, we conclude that although Bryan, like many children before him, gave up his right to sue for the negligent acts of others, the public as a whole received the benefit of these exculpatory agreements. Because of this agreement, the Club was able to offer affordable recreation and to continue to do so without the risks and overwhelming costs of litigation. Bryan’s parents agreed to shoulder the risk. Public policy does not forbid such an agreement. In fact, public policy supports it. See Hohe v. San Diego Unified School Dist. (1990), 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 1564, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647, 649. Accordingly, we believe that public policy justifies giving parents authority to enter into these types of binding agreements on behalf of their minor children. We also believe that the enforcement of these agreements may well promote more active involvement by participants and their families, which, in turn, promotes the overall quality and safety of these activities. See King, supra, 53 Ohio St. L.J. at 709.
Another related concern is the importance of parental authority. Judge Ford’s concurring opinion also embraces this notion. Citing In re Perales (1977), 52 Ohio St.2d 89, 96, 6 O.O.3d 293, 296-297, 369 N.E.2d 1047, 1051, fn. 9; In re Murray (1990), 52 Ohio St.3d 155, 157, 556 N.E.2d 1169, 1171; and State ex rel. Heller v. Miller (1980), 61 Ohio St.2d 6, 8, 15 O.O.3d 3, 4-5, 399 N.E.2d 66, 67, Judge Ford found that the right of a parent to raise his or her child is a natural right subject to the protections of due process. Additionally, parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of their offspring. Further, the existence of a fundamental, privacy-oriented right of personal choice in family matters has been recognized under the Due Process Clause by the United States Supreme Court. See Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), 262 U.S. 390, 43 S.Ct. 625, 67 L.Ed. 1042; Santosky v. Kramer (1982), 455 U.S. 745, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599.
Based upon these protections, Judge Ford believes that many decisions made by parents “fall within the penumbra of parental authority, e.g., the school that the child will attend, the religion that the child will practice, the medical care that the child will receive, and the manner in which the child will be disciplined.” He found it notable that the law empowers a parent to consent to medical procedures for a minor child (R.C. 2317.54[C]), gives a parent the general authority to decide to decline medical treatment for the child, and destroys the child’s cause of action for battery when consent is given. See Lacey v. Laird (1956), 166 Ohio St. 12, 19, 1 O.O.2d 158, 161, 139 N.E.2d 25, 30 (Hart, J., concurring). Thus, Judge Ford believes that invalidating the release as to the minor’s claim is inconsistent with conferring other powers on parents to make important life choices for their children.
Nor is it appropriate to equate a preinjury release with a postinjury release. As one commentator aptly explains:
“The concerns underlying the judiciary’s reluctance to allow parents to dispose of a child’s existing claim do not arise in the situation where a parent waives a child’s future claim. A parent dealing with an existing claim is simultaneously coping with an injured child; such a situation creates a potential for parental action contrary to that child’s ultimate best interests.
“A parent who signs a release before her child participates in a recreational activity, however, faces an entirely different situation. First, such a parent has no financial motivation to sign the release. To the contrary, because a parent must pay for medical care, she risks her financial interests by signing away the right to recover damages. Thus, the parent would better serve her financial interests by refusing to sign the release.
“A parent who dishonestly or maliciously signs a preinjury release in deliberate derogation of his child’s best interests also seems unlikely. Presumably parents sign future releases to enable their children to participate in activities that the parents and children believe will be fun or educational. Common sense suggests that while a parent might misjudge or act carelessly in signing a release, he would have no reason to sign with malice aforethought.
“Moreover, parents are less vulnerable to coercion and fraud in a preinjury setting. A parent who contemplates signing a release as a prerequisite to her child’s participation in some activity faces none of the emotional trauma and financial pressures that may arise with an existing claim. That parent has time to examine the release, consider its terms, and explore possible alternatives. A parent signing a future release is thus more able to reasonably assess the possible consequences of waiving the right to sue.” Purdy, Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort: Erroneously Invalidating Parental Releases of a Minor’s Future Claim (1993), 68 Wn.L.Rev. 457, 474.
These comments were made in a law review article criticizing the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in Scott v. Pacific W. Mountain Resort (1992), 119 Wn.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6. In that case, the court found that a release, signed by the mother so that her son could take ski-racing lessons, was invalid as to the minor’s claim. In Scott, the court had reasoned that it made no sense to treat a child’s preinjury and postinjury property rights differently. Id. at 494, 834 P.2d at 11-12. The article criticized this decision, noting that when the mother signed the release, she gave her son the opportunity to ski. She gained no financial advantage for herself, nor did she suffer from fraud or collusion. She was under no financial or emotional pressure when she signed. The article states that “while she may have misjudged the risk to her son, Mrs. Scott did not mismanage or misappropriate Justin’s property. She did her best to protect Justin’s interests, and the court need not step in to do so.” Id., 68 Wn.L.Rev. at 474-475.
We agree with Judge Ford’s concurring opinion and the reasoning contained in the foregoing law review article. When Mrs. Zivich signed the release she did so because she wanted Bryan to play soccer. She made an important family decision and she assumed the risk of physical injury on behalf of her child and the financial risk on behalf of the family as a whole. Thus, her decision to release a volunteer on behalf of her child simply shifted the cost of injury to the parents. Apparently, she made a decision that the benefits to her child outweighed the risk of physical injury. Mrs. Zivich did her best to protect Bryan’s interests and we will not disturb her judgment. In fact, the situation is more analogous to Ohio’s informed consent law than to the law governing children’s property rights. See R.C. 2317.54(C), which gives parents the authority to consent to medical procedures on a child’s behalf. In both cases, the parent weighs the risks of physical injury to the child and the attendant costs to herself against the benefits of a particular activity.
Therefore, we hold that parents have the authority to bind their minor children to exculpatory agreements in favor of volunteers and sponsors of nonprofit sport activities where the cause of action sounds in negligence. These agreements may not be disaffirmed by the child on whose behalf they were executed.
Having upheld the release agreement against Bryan’s claims, we find it also valid as to Mr. and Mrs. Zivich’s claims for loss of consortium. Mrs. Zivich, the signatory on the agreement, acknowledged that she had read its contents and did not ask any questions about them. Parents may release their own claims growing out of injury to their minor children. See, e.g., Simmons v. Parkette Natl. Gymnastic Training Ctr. (E.D.Pa. 1987), 670 F. Supp. 140, 142; Childress v. Madison Cty. (Tenn.App. 1989), 777 S.W.2d 1, 6; Scott, supra, 119 Wn.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6. We adopt this rule of law, finding it consistent with principles of freedom of contract. Thus, we hold that parents may release their own claims arising out of the injury to their minor children. Accordingly, we find that Mrs. Zivich is barred from recovery as to her claims.
We further find that Philip Zivich’s[fn6] loss of consortium claim is also barred as a matter of law. Although Mr. Zivich did not personally sign the release agreement, he accepted and enjoyed the benefits of the contract. In fact, when the injury occurred, Mr. Zivich was the parent who was at the practice field that evening. Thus, Mr. Zivich’s conduct conveys an intention to enjoy the benefits of his wife’s agreement and be bound by it. Under the doctrine of estoppel by acquiescence, Mr. Zivich may not assert his rights against the Club. Natl. Football League v. Rondor, Inc. (N.D.Ohio 1993), 840 F. Supp. 1160, 1167.
As a separate ground for recovery, appellants also contend that the injury was caused by the Club’s willful and wanton misconduct. In McKinney v. Hartz & Restle Realtors, Inc. (1987), 31 Ohio St.3d 244, 246, 31 OBR 449, 451, 510 N.E.2d 386, 388-389, this court defined “willful” misconduct as conduct involving “`an intent, purpose or design to injure.'” Id., quoting Denzer v. Terpstra (1934), 129 Ohio St. 1, 1 O.O. 303, 193 N.E. 647, paragraph two of the syllabus. “Wanton” misconduct was defined as conduct where one “`fails to exercise any care whatsoever toward those to whom he owes a duty of care, and [t]his failure occurs under circumstances in which there is a great probability that harm will result.'” McKinney, 31 Ohio St.3d at 246, 31 OBR at 451, 510 N.E.2d at 388-389, quoting Hawkins v. Ivy (1977), 50 Ohio St.2d 114, 4 O.O.3d 243, 363 N.E.2d 367, syllabus. We have held that while a participant in recreational activities can contract with the proprietor to relieve the proprietor from any damages or injuries he may negligently cause, the release is invalid as to willful and wanton misconduct. Bowen, supra, 63 Ohio St. 3d at 90, 585 N.E.2d at 390.
To support this claim, appellants assert that the Club’s former president, David Bolsen, attended a seminar just before his term of office ended. It was at the seminar that he learned of the need to anchor the goals and to post warning labels on them. Bolsen testified that because his term expired two weeks later, he had time to relay the information only to a few persons. However, no action was taken to secure the goals.
Appellants argue that Bolsen’s failure to take more affirmative steps to ensure that the Club and the city implemented the safety recommendations amounts to willful and wanton misconduct. Like the court of appeals, we reject this argument.
There is no evidence that the former president intended that Bryan should be injured. Nor did the former president utterly fail to exercise any care whatsoever. Even accepting as true the appellants’ claim that club officials knew about the safety problems but failed to act, this action does not amount to willful and wanton misconduct. As noted by the appellate court, “Park officials testified that the City never had anchored the goals in the past, and, apparently, of the thousands of young boys and girls playing soccer in the youth league throughout the years, no other child had been injured in this manner.” Thus, reasonable minds could not conclude that the risk posed by the unanchored goal was so great as to require immediate remedial action.
Moreover, the evidence established that the city, not the Club, was responsible for the upkeep of the soccer fields and the purchase, storage, maintenance, and placement of the soccer goals.
We find that appellants failed to produce sufficient evidence to present a jury question on the claim of willful and wanton misconduct.
Accordingly, we affirm the court of appeals’ judgment, albeit on somewhat different grounds. We uphold its decision that the release is valid as to the parents’ claims. However, we hold that the release is also valid as to the minor child’s claim.
MOYER, C.J., RESNICK, COOK and LUNDBERG STRATTON, JJ., concur.
DOUGLAS and PFEIFER, JJ., concur in judgment only.
[fn3] The words “release,” “waiver” and “exculpatory agreement” have been used interchangeably by the courts. These defenses are based on contract principles. “Exculpatory agreements, also called `releases’ or `waivers,’ are basically written documents in which one party agrees to release, or `exculpate,’ another from potential tort liability for future conduct covered in the agreement.” King, Exculpatory Agreements for Volunteers in Youth Activities – The Alternative to “Nerf” Tiddlywinks (1992), 53 Ohio St. L.J. 683.
[fn4] The majority opinion stated that an intermediate appellate court was not the appropriate forum to decide public policy. However, in a common-law system, a judicial decision declaring the rights of the parties can be based on several grounds, one of which is public policy. Hopkins, Public Policy and the Formation of a Rule of Law (1971), 37 Brooklyn L.Rev. 323, 330. Therefore, public policy is an appropriate device to be used by an appellate court to decide a case.
[fn5] Am.Sub.H.B. No. 350, 146 Ohio Laws, Part II, 3867, 3931. Our statutory law is in line with the many “volunteer statutes” passed by other states. See McCaskey and Biedzynski, A Guide to the Legal Liability of Coaches for a Sports Participant’s Injuries (1996), 6 Seton Hall J. of Sport L. 7, 62-63 (citing statutes).
[fn6] In the court of appeals, Mr. Zivich also argued that summary judgment was improper as to his claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, he does not raise this claim here. Accordingly, we do not address this issue.
COOK, J., concurring.
I join in the well-reasoned majority opinion. I write separately only to point out that today’s decision is firmly grounded in the public policy of the General Assembly, as evinced by the legislative enactments cited by the majority.