Assumption of the Risk is a defense to negligence and gross negligence claims in this case against a college offering for credit tour abroad study.

Student died swimming in the Pacific Ocean and his parents sued the college for his death. College was dismissed because student was an adult and assumed the risk that killed him.

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals of Georgia

Plaintiff: Elvis Downes and Myrna Lintner (parents of the deceased)

Defendant: Oglethorpe University, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2017

Summary

There are some risks that the courts say you understand and accept the risks because we know of them. Examples are cliffs and water. Here, the family of a student who died on a study abroad trip while swimming in the ocean could not sue because the student assumed the risks of swimming.

What is interesting is the assumption of the risk defense was used to defeat a claim of negligence and Gross Negligence.

Facts

During the 2010-2011 academic year, Oglethorpe offered to their students a 12-day study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. The students were charged a fee for the trip to pay for expenses such as airfare, lodging, and food. The students were also required to pay the ” per credit tuition rate” and were to receive four credits toward their degree for academic work associated with the trip. Oglethorpe retained Horizontes, a Costa Rican tour operator, to coordinate the trip and to provide transportation and an English-speaking guide.

Dr. Jeffrey Collins was then the director of Oglethorpe’s study-abroad program. According to Collins, Oglethorpe tried to follow ” best practices,” which is ” defined as those protocols, procedures that as best and as far as possible ensure[ ] the safety of students.” He acknowledged that students would swim on the trips. Collins was not aware of any potential dangers in Costa Rica and did no investigation to ascertain if there were potential dangers in Costa Rica.

During pre-trip meetings with Downes and the five other students who had registered for the program, Dr. Roark Donnelly and Dr. Cassandra Copeland, the two professors who accompanied the students on the trip, asked the students if everyone was a good swimmer, and the students agreed that they were. The group also discussed swimming in the ocean, including ” that there are going to be currents.” One of the professors told the students that, during a previous study-abroad trip to another location, a student had recognized that he was a weak swimmer and was required to wear a life jacket during all water activities. After hearing this, the students continued to express that they were good swimmers. Before leaving on the trip, the students were required to sign a release agreement which included an exculpatory clause pertaining to Oglethorpe.

The students and professors flew to Costa Rica on December 28, 2010. During the course of the trip, on the afternoon of January 4, 2011, the group arrived at a hotel on the Pacific coast. The six students, two professors, the guide, and the driver got into their bus and drove to a nearby beach, Playa Ventanas, which had been recommended by the hotel. Upon their arrival, there were other people on the beach and in the water. There were no warning signs posted on the beach, nor any lifeguards or safety equipment present.

The students swam in the ocean, staying mostly together, and eventually ventured out into deeper water. After about 20 minutes, Dr. Donnelly yelled for the students to move closer to shore. Shortly thereafter, student Robert Cairns, a former lifeguard, heard a female student screaming. Cairns swam toward the screams, and the student informed him that Downes needed help. Cairns realized that ” some kind of current … had pulled us out.” Cairns swam to within ten feet of Downes and told him to get on his back and try to float. Downes could not get on his back, and Cairns kept telling him he had to try. After some time, Downes was struck by a wave, went under the water, and disappeared from Cairns’s view. Downes’s body was recovered from the ocean three days later.

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

The deceased student signed a release in this case, however the trial court and the appellate court made their decisions based on assumption of the risk.

Under Georgia law, assumption of the risk is a complete bra to a recovery.

The affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovering on a negligence claim if it is established that he[,] without coercion of circumstances, chooses a course of action with full knowledge of its danger and while exercising a free choice as to whether to engage in the act or not.

Absent a showing by the plaintiff of coercion or a lack of free choice assumption of the risk prevents the plaintiff from recovery any damages for negligence from the defendant.

To prove the deceased assumed the risk the college must show:

A defendant asserting an assumption of the risk defense must establish that the plaintiff (i) had knowledge of the danger; (ii) understood and appreciated the risks associated with such danger; and (iii) voluntarily exposed himself to those risks.

The plaintiff does not have to know and understand every aspect and facet of the risk. The knowledge can be that there are inherent risks in an activity even if the specifics of those risks are not known.

The knowledge requirement does not refer to a comprehension of general, non-specific risks. Rather, the knowledge that a plaintiff who assumes the risk must subjectively possess is that of the specific, particular risk of harm associated with the activity or condition that proximately causes injury.

Assumption of the risk is usually a jury decision because the jury must weigh whether or not the plaintiff truly understood the risks. However, if the risk is such that there is undisputed evidence that it exists and the plaintiff knew or should have known about it, the court can act.

As a general rule, whether a party assumed the risk of his injury is an issue for the jury that should not be decided by summary judgment unless the defense is conclusively established by plain, palpable and undisputed evidence.

Drowning is a known and understood risk under Georgia law of being in the water.

It is well established under Georgia law that ” [t]he danger of drowning in water is a palpable and manifest peril, the knowledge of which is chargeable to [persons] in the absence of a showing of want of ordinary capacity.

Because the deceased student was a competent adult, meaning over the age of 18 and not mentally informed or hampered, the risk was known to him. “As Downes was a competent adult, he was necessarily aware of the risk of drowning when he voluntarily entered the Pacific Ocean.”

The plaintiff’s argued the college created the risk because they did not investigate the beach, have an emergency preparedness plan, ensure the professors had adequate training and did not supply safety equipment. However, the court did not buy this because there was nothing in the record to show the College created or agreed to these steps to create an additional duty on the colleges part.

Assuming that Oglethorpe, having undertaken a study-abroad program, was under a duty to act with reasonable care, and that there is evidence of record that Oglethorpe failed to do so, assumption of risk is nevertheless a defense to negligence.

The college was under not statutory or common law duty to provide any of the issues the plaintiff argued. Nor did the college create a duty by becoming an insurer of the students.

Appellants do not show, however, that Oglethorpe was under a statutory or common law duty to provide safety equipment to its students during an excursion to the beach, or that the ocean is analogous to a nonresidential swimming pool. Nor can we conclude that Oglethorpe became an insurer for the safety of its students by undertaking a study-abroad program, or that it was responsible for the peril encountered by Downes in that it transported him to the beach.

Even then the assumption of the risk defense would apply because assuming the risk relieves the defendant of any negligence.

Even if a defendant is negligent, a determination that a plaintiff assumed the risk or failed to exercise ordinary care for [his] own safety bars recovery for the resulting injury suffered by the plaintiff, unless the injury was wilfully and wantonly inflicted.

The defendant was not liable because the student, as an adult would have appreciated the risks of drowning in the Pacific Ocean.

Because he was a competent adult, Downes would have appreciated the specific risk of drowning posed by entering a body of water so inherently dangerous as the Pacific Ocean. As Downes voluntarily did so, Oglethorpe established that he assumed that risk. Although Downes’s death was undeniably tragic, we are constrained to conclude that the trial court correctly granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

So Now What?

There are two important points in this decision.

First, although not discussed, the court allowed assumption of the risk to stop a claim for gross negligence. Normally, like assumption of the risk, whether or not a defendant was grossly negligent requires a review by the jury to determine if the facts alleged meet the definition of gross negligence in the state.

Second is the issue that the less you do the less liability you create. In the pre-trip briefing with the students the risks of swimming in the ocean were discussed. The students all stated they were strong swimmers and nothing more was done.

If the college had made them take a swim test, further questioned their swimming skills by requiring more information or making sure a professor who was a lifeguard was on the trip, the college would have created an additional duty owed to the students.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

802 S.E.2d 437

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc

A17A0246

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 30, 2017

Assumption of the risk. DeKalb State Court. Before Judge Polk, pro hac vice.

Katherine L. McArthur, Caleb F. Walker, for appellants.

Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, David M. Atkinson, for appellee.

OPINION

[802 S.E.2d 438]

Ellington, Presiding Judge.

Erik Downes, then a 20-year-old college student, drowned in the Pacific Ocean on January 4, 2011, while he was in Costa Rica attending a study-abroad program organized by Oglethorpe University, Inc. Elvis Downes and Myrna Lintner (the ” Appellants” ), as Downes’s parents and next of kin, and in their capacity as administrators of Downes’s estate, brought this wrongful death action alleging that Oglethorpe’s negligence and gross negligence were the proximate cause of Downes’s drowning. The trial court granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment, and the Appellants appeal. We affirm because, as a matter of law, Downes assumed [802 S.E.2d 439] the risk of drowning when he chose to swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Under OCGA § 9-11-56 (c), [s]ummary judgment is warranted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. We review the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment de novo, and we view the evidence, and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in a light most favorable to the nonmovant. (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Assaf v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 327 Ga.App. 475, 475-476 (759 S.E.2d 557) (2014). See also Johnson v. Omondi, 294 Ga. 74, 75-76 (751 S.E.2d 288) (2013) (accord).

So viewed, the evidence shows the following. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Oglethorpe offered to their students a 12-day study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. The students were charged a fee for the trip to pay for expenses such as airfare, lodging, and food. The students were also required to pay the ” per credit tuition rate” and were to receive four credits toward their degree for academic work associated with the trip. Oglethorpe retained Horizontes, a Costa Rican tour operator, to coordinate the trip and to provide transportation and an English-speaking guide.

Dr. Jeffrey Collins was then the director of Oglethorpe’s study-abroad program. According to Collins, Oglethorpe tried to follow ” best practices,” which is ” defined as those protocols, procedures that as best and as far as possible ensure[ ] the safety of students.” He acknowledged that students would swim on the trips. Collins was not aware of any potential dangers in Costa Rica and did no investigation to ascertain if there were potential dangers in Costa Rica.

During pre-trip meetings with Downes and the five other students who had registered for the program, Dr. Roark Donnelly and Dr. Cassandra Copeland, the two professors who accompanied the students on the trip, asked the students if everyone was a good swimmer, and the students agreed that they were. The group also discussed swimming in the ocean, including ” that there are going to be currents.” One of the professors told the students that, during a previous study-abroad trip to another location, a student had recognized that he was a weak swimmer and was required to wear a life jacket during all water activities. After hearing this, the students continued to express that they were good swimmers. Before leaving on the trip, the students were required to sign a release agreement which included an exculpatory clause pertaining to Oglethorpe.

The students and professors flew to Costa Rica on December 28, 2010. During the course of the trip, on the afternoon of January 4, 2011, the group arrived at a hotel on the Pacific coast. The six students, two professors, the guide, and the driver got into their bus and drove to a nearby beach, Playa Ventanas, which had been recommended by the hotel. Upon their arrival, there were other people on the beach and in the water. There were no warning signs posted on the beach, nor any lifeguards or safety equipment present.

The students swam in the ocean, staying mostly together, and eventually ventured out into deeper water. After about 20 minutes, Dr. Donnelly yelled for the students to move closer to shore. Shortly thereafter, student Robert Cairns, a former lifeguard, heard a female student screaming. Cairns swam toward the screams, and the student informed him that Downes needed help. Cairns realized that ” some kind of current … had pulled us out.” Cairns swam to within ten feet of Downes and told him to get on his back and try to float. Downes could not get on his back, and Cairns kept telling him he had to try. After some time, Downes was struck by a wave, went under the water, and disappeared from Cairns’s view. Downes’s body was recovered from the ocean three days later.

The Appellants filed this wrongful death action claiming that Downes’s death was the proximate result of Oglethorpe’s negligence and gross negligence. Evidence adduced during discovery included the testimony of Dr. John Fletemeyer, the Appellants’ expert in [802 S.E.2d 440] coastal sciences, that Downes had been caught in a ” rip current” [1] when he became distressed and ultimately drowned. Dr. Fletemeyer opined that some beaches on the western coast of Costa Rica are particularly dangerous ” mainly [because of] the lack of lifeguards,” but also because of physical conditions such as ” high wave energy force” and ” pocket beaches,” and that Playa Ventanas was a pocket beach.[2] He also testified that, in the context of the ocean, ” every beach you go to is extremely dangerous.” Other testimony showed that a continuing problem with drownings on beaches along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica was well publicized in Costa Rica, and that the United States Consular Authority in Costa Rica had ” published statistics about the danger of swimming on Costa Rica’s beaches and identified specifically the west coast beaches as being the most dangerous.” [3]

Following discovery, Oglethorpe moved for summary judgment and argued that (i) Oglethorpe owed no legal duty to Downes; (ii) the Appellants’ negligence claims are barred by Downes’s written waiver of liability and there is a lack of evidence that Oglethorpe was grossly negligent; and (iii) Downes assumed the risk of swimming in the ocean. The trial court granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

1. The Appellants contend that Oglethorpe was not entitled to summary judgment on the ground that Downes, as a matter of law, assumed the risk of drowning when he swam in the ocean.[4]

The affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovering on a negligence claim if it is established that he[,] without coercion of circumstances, chooses a course of action with full knowledge of its danger and while exercising a free choice as to whether to engage in the act or not. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Vaughn v. Pleasent, 266 Ga. 862, 864 (1) (471 S.E.2d 866) (1996).

A defendant asserting an assumption of the risk defense must establish that the plaintiff (i) had knowledge of the danger; (ii) understood and appreciated the risks associated with such danger; and (iii) voluntarily exposed himself to those risks. The knowledge requirement does not refer to a comprehension of general, non-specific risks. Rather, the knowledge that a plaintiff who assumes the risk must subjectively possess is that of the specific, particular risk of harm associated with the activity or condition that proximately causes injury.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Gilreath v. Smith, 340 Ga.App. 265, 268 (1) (797 S.E.2d 177) (2017). ” As a general rule, whether a party assumed the risk of his injury is an issue for the jury that should not be decided by summary judgment unless the defense is conclusively established by plain, palpable and undisputed evidence.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Findley v. Griffin, 292 Ga.App. 807, 809 (2) (666 S.E.2d 79) (2008).

[342 Ga.App. 254] It is well established under Georgia law that ” [t]he danger of drowning in water is a palpable and manifest peril, the knowledge of which is chargeable to [persons] in the absence of a showing of want of ordinary capacity.” Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. 67, 69 (2) (166 S.E.2d 89) (1969). See, e.g., White v.

[802 S.E.2d 441]Ga. Power Co., 265 Ga.App. 664, 666 (1) (595 S.E.2d 353) (2004) (the ” [p]erils of deep water are instinctively known” ). The record does not show that Downes was aware of the presence of rip currents in the waters off the beach; however, ” [i]t is the body of water per se that presents an obvious risk of drowning, not its attendant conditions such as a strong unseen current or a deep unknown hole.” Id. at 667 (1). As Downes was a competent adult, he was necessarily aware of the risk of drowning when he voluntarily entered the Pacific Ocean.

The Appellants contend that Oglethorpe had a duty to exercise ordinary care in the planning and implementing of its study-abroad program to avoid exposing the students to a risk of drowning. Because Oglethorpe owed this duty, they contend, the fact that Downes entered the water voluntarily does not establish as a matter of law that he assumed the risk of drowning. Rather, they contend, Oglethorpe created the dangerous situation by taking Downes to the beach without investigating its dangers, adopting an emergency preparedness plan, ensuring the professors in charge had adequate training and procedures for supervising swimming students, and supplying safety equipment.

Assuming that Oglethorpe, having undertaken a study-abroad program, was under a duty to act with reasonable care, and that there is evidence of record that Oglethorpe failed to do so, assumption of risk is nevertheless a defense to negligence. ” Even if a defendant is negligent, a determination that a plaintiff assumed the risk or failed to exercise ordinary care for [his] own safety bars recovery for the resulting injury suffered by the plaintiff, unless the injury was wilfully and wantonly inflicted.” (Citation omitted.) City of Winder v. Girone, 265 Ga. 723, 724 (2) (462 S.E.2d 704) (1995). In Rice v. Oaks Investors II, 292 Ga.App. 692, 693-694 (1) (666 S.E.2d 63) (2008), the defendant was entitled to a directed verdict where, notwithstanding evidence that the defendants were negligent per se in failing to properly enclose the pool in which the ten-year-old decedent drowned, the child’s own negligence was the sole proximate cause of her death because the risk of swimming in the pool was obvious as a matter of law. Similarly, notwithstanding whether a defendant breached a duty to care for or supervise a decedent, the decedent’s assumption of the risk of injury may bar recovery. See Sayed v. Azizullah, 238 Ga.App. 642, 643-644 (519 S.E.2d 732) (1999) (finding no need to reach the issue [342 Ga.App. 255] of whether a duty was owed by the defendant to care for the 17-year-old decedent because the decedent was charged with appreciating the risk of swimming in the lake as a matter of law, and he voluntarily assumed that risk); Riley v. Brasunas, 210 Ga.App. 865, 868 (2) (438 S.E.2d 113) (1993) (any failure of the defendant to exercise the duty of an ordinary responsible guardian in watching over the seven-year-old child, who was injured using a trampoline, could not be the proximate cause of the child’s injuries where the child knowingly exposed himself to the obvious danger). See also Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. at 69-70 (2) (as the decedent, who was over 14 years old, was chargeable with diligence for his own safety against palpable and manifest peril, plaintiff could not recover against defendants for failure to exercise ordinary care in supervising the decedent in and around the lake in which he drowned).

As Appellants show, a decedent’s decision to enter a body of water with awareness of the physical circumstances is not necessarily determinative of whether the decedent assumed the risk of drowning. For example, the breach of a duty to provide statutorily required safety equipment may be ” inextricable from the proximate cause of the damage.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Holbrook v. Exec. Conference Center, 219 Ga.App. 104, 107 (2) (464 S.E.2d 398) (1995) (finding that a jury could determine that the absence of statutorily mandated safety equipment was the proximate cause of the decedent’s drowning in the defendant’s pool). See Alexander v. Harnick, 142 Ga.App. 816, 817 (2) (237 S.E.2d 221) (1977) (where the decedent drowned after she jumped from the defendant’s houseboat into the water in an attempt to rescue her dog, and the defendant did not have any throwable life preservers on board, nor readily accessible life vests, as required by law, ” a jury would not be precluded [802 S.E.2d 442] from finding that the absence of the safety equipment was the proximate cause of the decedent’s death merely because she entered the water voluntarily” ). And in premises liability actions, the general rule is ” that owners or operators of nonresidential swimming facilities owe an affirmative duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety and protection of invitees swimming in the pool.” Walker v. Daniels, 200 Ga.App. 150, 155 (1) (407 S.E.2d 70) (1991).

Appellants do not show, however, that Oglethorpe was under a statutory or common law duty to provide safety equipment to its students during an excursion to the beach, or that the ocean is analogous to a nonresidential swimming pool. Nor can we conclude that Oglethorpe became an insurer for the safety of its students by undertaking a study-abroad program, or that it was responsible for the peril encountered by Downes in that it transported him to the beach. Compare Alexander v. Harnick, 142 Ga.App. at 817 (3) (an issue of fact remained as to whether, by taking decedent onto the water without the statutorily required safety equipment, defendant helped to create her peril). Because he was a competent adult, Downes would have appreciated the specific risk of drowning posed by entering a body of water so inherently dangerous as the Pacific Ocean. As Downes voluntarily did so, Oglethorpe established that he assumed that risk. Although Downes’s death was undeniably tragic, we are constrained to conclude that the trial court correctly granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

2. The Appellants’ other claims of error are moot.

Judgment affirmed.

Andrews and Rickman, JJ., concur.

Notes:

[1]The evidence showed that ” [a] rip current is a strong outflow or stream of water usually beginning at the beach, moving perpendicular to the beach, beginning with the neck and then terminating at some point beyond the surf line[.]”

[2]Fletemeyer’s testimony is not explicit as to why pocket beaches are dangerous to swimmers, although, in the context of the line of questioning, his testimony implies that the physical characteristics of pocket beaches are associated with the formation of rip currents.

[3]The evidence did not show that Playa Ventanas, in particular, had an unusually high number of drownings.

[4]The Appellants also contend that the trial court erred in granting Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment (1) because Oglethorpe owed a duty to exercise ordinary care for the safety of its students in the planning and implementation of its study-abroad program, and material issues of fact remain regarding Oglethorpe’s negligence, (2) the exculpatory clause in the release agreement signed by Downes is not enforceable, and (3) gross negligence cannot be waived by an exculpatory clause, and material issues of fact remain as to whether Oglethorpe was grossly negligent.


Arizona University did not owe student a duty of care during a study abroad program when the students organized an “off campus” trip, which resulted in a student’s death

Two different issues determine most outcomes in lawsuits against college & universities, whether the class was for credit or not and whether the incident occurred off campus or on campus.

Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

State: Arizona, Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One

Plaintiff: Elizabeth Boisson

Defendant: Arizona Board Of Regents, a public entity; State of Arizona, a public entity; Nanjing American University, L.L.C., an Arizona corporation doing business as, or under the trade name of Yangtze International Study Abroad

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: no duty owed

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2015

The deceased signed up for an international study abroad trip in China through the defendant university. While in China, the deceased and several other students organized a trip to Everest base camp. While at Everest base camp the deceased suffered altitude sickness and died.

From China, you can drive to the North Side base camp of Everest, which is at 19,000 feet.

During a student-organized trip, 14 study abroad students — including Morgan — flew to Lhasa, Tibet. The students then drove to the Mount Everest base camp a few days later. While at base camp, which is approximately 18,000 feet above sea level, Morgan developed and then died of altitude sickness.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims based on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.

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

The court first looked at the requirements to prove negligence in Arizona.

Although described in various ways, a plaintiff alleging a claim for negligence under Arizona common law has the burden to show: (1) duty; (2) breach of that duty; (3) cause-in-fact; (4) legal (or proximate) causation and (5) resulting damages.

Arizona uses a five-step test for negligence when most other states use a four-point test. The difference is Arizona expands the definition of proximate causation requiring an actual cause and a proximate cause to prove negligence.

Of the five steps, the first, whether or not there was a duty, is a decision that is made by the court.

The existence of a duty of care is a distinct issue from whether the standard of care has been met in a particular case. As a legal matter, the issue of duty involves generalizations about categories of cases. Duty is defined as an “obligation, recognized by law, which requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm.” . . . .

Whether the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care is a threshold issue; absent some duty, an action for negligence cannot be maintained. Thus, a conclusion that no duty exists is equivalent to a rule that, for certain categories of cases, defendants may not be held accountable for damages they carelessly cause, no matter how unreasonable their conduct.

Foreseeability is not an issue under Arizona’s law. Whether or not the defendant could foresee the injury to the plaintiff does not come into play when determining if a duty existed.

The court then looked at the duties owed by a college in Arizona to a student. Most duties arise when the relationships between the school and the student are custodial. Arizona does owe students a duty of reasonable care for on campus activities.

However, the duties owed for off-campus  activities by a university to a student are different.

Therefore, in the student-school relationship, the duty of care is bounded by geography and time, encompassing risks such as those that occur while the student is at school or otherwise under the school’s control.

This analysis has seven steps to determine the duty owed, if any, by an Arizona college.

…Arizona cases have identified the following factors in determining whether an off-campus activity is deemed a school activity: (1) the purpose of the activity, (2) whether the activity was part of the course curriculum, (3) whether the school had supervisory authority and responsibility during the activity, and (4) whether the risk students were exposed to during the activity was independent of school involvement. Courts elsewhere also have looked at whether (5) the activity was voluntary or was a required school activity; (6) whether a school employee was present at or participated in the activity or was expected to do so and (7) whether the activity involved a dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus.

Here the trip was conceived and organized by the students. The students dealt with a Chinese tour company to make the arrangements. Not all the students in the study abroad program undertook the trip. The college offered no academic credit for the trip, and the trip was not in the curriculum of the program.

Defendants had no supervisory authority over, or responsibility for, the trip, and no faculty or staff went on the trip. The risk of altitude sickness was present independent of any involvement by Defendants and the trip did not involve a potentially dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. Accordingly, applying these factors, the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty under Arizona law.

The plaintiff hired an expert witness who stated that the university absolutely had a duty to the plaintiff. However, the court ignored the expert finding the determination of a duty was solely within the province of the court, and the expert witness’s opinion did not matter.

The trial court’s determination was upheld because the appellate court found that the school owed no duty to the deceased.

So Now What?

One important thing that parents seem to forget when their sons and daughters leave for college is not only are they leaving home, but they are also leaving any real supervision, custody or control. Colleges and universities are not baby sitters or parents and parents probably should be reminded of that fact.

Here, the effects were disastrous; however, the issues were clear. A group of students left campus to do something. Where campus is, did not matter and where the students went did not matter. Whether or not the effects of altitude on a student at 19, 000 did also not matter because the college did not arrange, run, manage or control the students.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

Elizabeth Boisson, individually and on behalf of all statutory beneficiaries, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. Arizona Board Of Regents, a public entity; State of Arizona, a public entity; Nanjing American University, L.L.C., an Arizona corporation doing business as, or under the trade name of Yangtze International Study Abroad, Defendants/Appellees.

No. 1 CA-CV 13-0588

Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One

236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

March 10, 2015, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Review denied by , , 2015 Ariz. LEXIS 348 (Ariz., Dec. 1, 2015)

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County. No. CV2010-025607. The Honorable Douglas L. Rayes, Judge.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: Knapp & Roberts, P.C., Scottsdale, By Craig A. Knapp, Dana R. Roberts, David L. Abney, Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants.

Garrey, Woner, Hoffmaster & Peshek, P.C., Scottsdale, By Shawna M. Woner, Stephanie Kwan, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Arizona Board of Regents and State of Arizona.

Udall Law Firm, LLP, Tucson, By Peter Akmajian, Janet Linton, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Nanjing American University, L.L.C., dba Yangtze International Study Abroad.

Judge Samuel A. Thumma delivered the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Margaret H. Downie and Judge Andrew W. Gould joined.

JUDGES: THUMMA, Judge.

OPINION BY: THUMMA

OPINION

[*621] [**933] THUMMA, Judge:

P1 Elizabeth Boisson appeals from a judgment dismissing a wrongful death negligence claim arising out of the death of her son Morgan Boisson. The judgment was based on the ground that Defendants owed no duty to Morgan when, while studying abroad in China, he traveled to Tibet and died of altitude sickness. Finding no error, this court affirms.

FACTS1 AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

1 The superior court struck supplemental filings relating to the summary judgment [***2] briefing and, on Elizabeth’s motion, struck portions of certain declarations filed by Defendants. Because the judgment is properly affirmed on other grounds, this court does not address these issues or the finding that there were no disputed issues of material fact. See Monroe v. Basis School, Inc., 234 Ariz. 155, 157 n.1 ¶ 3, 318 P.3d 871, 873 n.1 (App. 2014).

P2 Morgan was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, which is governed by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR). In the fall of 2009, Morgan and 16 other university students spent the semester studying in China at Nanjing American University (NAU). This study-abroad program, sometimes referred to as Yangtze International Study Abroad (YISA), was a collaborative effort between ABOR and NAU.

P3 While in China, the study-abroad program included school-sponsored trips to various cities in China with NAU faculty. At other times, the students organized their own trips. During a student-organized trip, 14 study abroad students — including Morgan — flew to Lhasa, Tibet. The students then drove to the Mount Everest base camp a few days later. While at base camp, which is approximately 18,000 feet above sea level, Morgan developed and then died of altitude sickness.

P4 As relevant here, Elizabeth filed a complaint [***3] against the State of Arizona, ABOR and NAU (collectively Defendants), asserting a wrongful death negligence claim pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) sections 12-611 to -613 (2015).2 After discovery, motion practice and oral argument, the superior court granted Defendants’ motions for summary judgment on the ground that Defendants “owed no affirmative duty of care to Morgan while he was a participant on the subject trip to Tibet.” After entry of judgment, Elizabeth timely appealed. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to the Arizona Constitution, Article 6, Section 9, [*622] [**934] and A.R.S. §§ 12-120.21(A)(1) and -2101(A)(1).

2 Absent material revisions after the relevant dates, statutes and rules cited refer to the current version unless otherwise indicated.

DISCUSSION

I. Duty In An Arizona Common Law Negligence Claim.3

3 Because the parties do not claim that any other law applies, this court applies Arizona law. See Gemstar Ltd. v. Ernst & Young, 185 Ariz. 493, 501, 917 P.2d 222, 230 (1996).

P5 Although described in various ways, [HN1] a plaintiff alleging a claim for negligence under Arizona common law has the burden to show: (1) duty; (2) breach of that duty; (3) cause-in-fact; (4) legal (or proximate) causation and (5) resulting damages. See, e.g., Gipson v. Kasey, 214 Ariz. 141, 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d 228, 230 (2007); Ontiveros v. Borak, 136 Ariz. 500, 504, 667 P.2d 200, 204 (1983); Wisener v. State, 123 Ariz. 148, 149, 598 P.2d 511, 512 (1979). “The first element, whether a duty exists, is a matter of law for the court to decide.” Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230 (citation omitted).

[HN2] The existence of a duty of care is [***4] a distinct issue from whether the standard of care has been met in a particular case. As a legal matter, the issue of duty involves generalizations about categories of cases. Duty is defined as an “obligation, recognized by law, which requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm.” . . . .

Whether the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care is a threshold issue; absent some duty, an action for negligence cannot be maintained. Thus, a conclusion that no duty exists is equivalent to a rule that, for certain categories of cases, defendants may not be held accountable for damages they carelessly cause, no matter how unreasonable their conduct.

Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143–44 ¶¶ 10–11, 150 P.3d at 230–31 (citations omitted).

P6 As noted by the Arizona Supreme Court, pre-2007 case law addressing duty “created ‘some confusion and lack of clarity . . . as to what extent, if any, foreseeability issues bear on the initial legal determination of duty.'” Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231 (citation omitted). Gipson, however, expressly held “that [HN3] foreseeability is not a factor to be considered by courts when making determinations of duty, and we reject any contrary suggestion in [***5] prior opinions.” 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231. Accordingly, foreseeability is not a part of the duty inquiry and those portions of pre-Gipson cases relying on foreseeability when addressing the issue are no longer valid.

P7 Although a duty can arise in various ways, Elizabeth argues: (1) the student-school relationship imposes a duty on Defendants here and (2) public policy imposes such a duty. [HN4] Recognizing the concept of duty is context dependent, Gipson indicates that duty may arise from the relationship between the parties or, alternatively, from public policy considerations. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 145 ¶ 18, ¶ 23, 150 P.3d at 232; accord Monroe v. Basis School, Inc., 234 Ariz. 155, 157, 159 ¶ 5, ¶ 12, 318 P.3d 871, 873, 875 (App. 2014); see also Randolph v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 19 Ariz. App. 121, 123, 505 P.2d 559, 561 (App. 1973) (“No better general statement can be made, than that the courts will find a duty where, in general, reasonable men would recognize it and agree that it exists.”).

A. Duty Based On The Student-School Relationship.

1. Context Of The Duty.

P8 [HN5] “The student-school relationship is one that can impose a duty within the context of the relationship.” Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 5, 318 P.3d at 873. Arizona case law shows the duty most clearly applies in on-campus activities in the primary and secondary school context, where the relationship is custodial. Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 158 ¶ 9, 318 P.3d at 874. Arizona case law is less clear whether and to what extent the duty applies in off-campus [***6] activities in the primary and secondary school context. See Alhambra Sch. Dist. v. Superior Court, 165 Ariz. 38, 41–42, 796 P.2d 470, 473–74 (1990) (holding school district owed duty to high school student injured in elementary school-created crosswalk); Collette v. Tolleson Unified Sch. Dist., No. 214, 203 Ariz. 359, 54 P.3d 828 (App. 2002) (holding school owed no [*623] [**935] duty to third party who was injured by high school student who left campus in violation of school policy).

P9 In the college and university context, courts in other jurisdictions “are split on whether a college owes an affirmative duty to its students.” Restatement (Third) of Torts: Physical and Emotional Harm § 40 Reporters’ Notes cmt. l (2012) (Restatement) (citing cases). [HN6] Arizona case law, however, indicates a college or university does owe its students a duty of reasonable care for on-campus activities. See Jesik v. Maricopa Cnty. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 125 Ariz. 543, 611 P.2d 547 (1980); see also Delbridge v. Maricopa Cnty. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 182 Ariz. 55, 58–59, 893 P.2d 55, 58–59 (App. 1994) (holding college owed duty to student for injury incurred during college class, even though college did “not have a permanent campus”). It is undisputed that the Tibet trip was not an on-campus activity.

P10 The parties have cited, and the court has found, no Arizona case addressing whether a college or university owes its students a duty of reasonable care for off-campus activities. Section 40(b)(5) of the Restatement, applied by the Arizona Supreme Court in a different context, imposes a “duty of reasonable care with [***7] regard to risks that arise within the scope of the relationship” for “a school with its students.” Restatement § 40(a), (b)(5).4 As framed by the parties, Restatement § 40 provides that a college or university may owe a duty to its student “to risks that occur while the student is at school or otherwise engaged in school activities.” Restatement § 40 cmt. l (emphasis added). No Arizona case has recognized a duty by a university or a college in any context comparable to this case. In addition, Restatement § 40, in its final form, was promulgated in 2012, meaning there is comparatively little guidance in construing “otherwise engaged in school activities.” Restatement § 40 cmt. l. This lack of authority is significant given that Elizabeth has the burden to show the existence of a duty. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230.

4 In the common carrier context, Nunez v. Professional Transit Mgmt. of Tucson, Inc., applied Restatement § 40 Proposed Final Draft No. 1 (2007). 229 Ariz. 117, 121 ¶¶ 17–18 & n.2, , 271 P.3d 1104, 1108 & n.2 (2012); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 5, 318 P.3d at 873 (citing Restatement § 40 in primary school context).

P11 [HN7] Recognizing that the existence of duty is a legal, not a factual, matter, Gipson cautioned against “a fact-specific analysis of the relationship between the parties” in determining whether a duty of care exists. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232 (considering whether duty existed in a case not involving a categorical relationship). Accordingly, [***8] this court does not look at “the parties’ actions” alleged to determine “if a duty exists.” Id. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232. Instead, this court looks to the legal factors identified elsewhere to determine whether the Tibet trip was an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty of reasonable care. See Barkhurst v. Kingsmen of Route 66, Inc., 234 Ariz. 470, 472–75 ¶¶ 10–18, 323 P.3d 753, 755–58 (App. 2014) (citing cases); Wickham v. Hopkins, 226 Ariz. 468, 471–73 ¶¶ 13–23, 250 P.3d 245, 248–50 (App. 2011) (citing cases); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157-59 ¶¶ 5-11, 318 P.3d at 873-75.

2. The Trip Was Not An Off-Campus School Activity For Which Defendants Owed Morgan A Duty.

P12 [HN8] In the college and university setting, duty is not governed by custody or in loco parentis concepts. Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; see also Randolph v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 19 Ariz. App. 121, 123, 505 P.2d 559, 561 (App. 1973) (“There comes a time when an individual must take it upon himself to be responsible for his own education and well-being. No person can be insulated against all the risks of living.”). Similarly, “[t]he scope of the duty imposed by the student-school relationship is not limitless.” Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 6, 318 P.3d at 873. “[T]he duty is tied to expected activities within the relationship. Therefore, in the student-school relationship, the duty of care is bounded by geography and time, encompassing risks such as those that occur while the student is at school or otherwise under the school’s control.” Id. at [*624] [**936] 157–58 ¶ 6, 318 P.3d at 873–74 (citing cases and Restatement § 40(b)(5) cmts. f, l).

P13 In what are at best analogous [***9] contexts, Arizona cases have identified the following factors [HN9] in determining whether an off-campus activity is deemed a school activity: (1) the purpose of the activity, Collette, 203 Ariz. at 363 ¶ 16, 54 P.3d at 832; (2) whether the activity was part of the course curriculum, Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; (3) whether the school had supervisory authority and responsibility during the activity, id.; Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 161 ¶ 18, 318 P.3d at 877; and (4) whether the risk students were exposed to during the activity was independent of school involvement, Collette, 203 Ariz. at 365 ¶ 23, 54 P.3d at 834. Courts elsewhere also have looked at whether (5) the activity was voluntary or was a required school activity; (6) whether a school employee was present at or participated in the activity or was expected to do so and (7) whether the activity involved a dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. See 5 James A. Rapp & Jonathan M. Astroth, Education Law § 12.09[6][c] (2014) (citing cases).

P14 Applying these factors, the Tibet trip was conceived by exchange students who wanted to see Mount Everest, not for any NAU-related purpose. After doing some research, a student made arrangements directly with Tibettours, a Tibet-based tour company, which then set the itinerary, arranged trip details and served as a guide during the trip. Fourteen [***10] of the 17 study abroad students then went on the trip and paid Tibettours directly, or through the coordinating students. The trip, details of the trip and the cost of the trip were not part of the study-abroad program or any course curriculum, and no academic credit was awarded for the trip. At the students’ request, NAU student liaison Zhang Fan helped the students communicate with Tibettours and arrange flights, and also provided a letter, required by the Chinese government to secure required permits, stating the students were NAU students. At the students’ request, the professors agreed to allow the students to make up classes they missed if they participated in the trip. Defendants had no supervisory authority over, or responsibility for, the trip, and no faculty or staff went on the trip. The risk of altitude sickness was present independent of any involvement by Defendants and the trip did not involve a potentially dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. Accordingly, applying these factors, the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty under Arizona law. See Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 159 ¶ 11, 318 P.3d at 875; Collette, 203 Ariz. at 363 ¶ 16, 54 P.3d at 832; Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; see also Rapp & Astroth, Education [***11] Law § 12.09[6][c] (citing cases).5

5 This does not mean that a university or college lacks a duty to protect its students for activities occurring off campus on property owned or controlled by the university or college, or for off-campus functions controlled or regulated by the university or college. See, e.g., Barkhurst, 234 Ariz. at 473–74 ¶¶ 12–14, 323 P.3d at 756–57 (discussing Estate of Hernandez v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 177 Ariz. 244, 866 P.2d 1330 (1994)); accord Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157–58 ¶ 6 n.2, 318 P.3d at 873–74 n.2 (citing Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59).

P15 Elizabeth argues that the Tibet trip was a school activity because: (1) Defendants “knew that study-abroad programs pose dangers,” and issued students cell phones to “safeguard . . . [them] during their study-abroad program;” (2) 14 of the 17 exchange students participated in the trip; (3) Defendants let students make up the classes they missed during the trip and (4) the trip would not have been possible without Fan’s assistance.

P16 Defendants’ purported knowledge that participating in the study-abroad program would involve “risks not found in study at” the University of Arizona in Tucson does not help answer whether the trip was a school activity. See Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231 (rejecting foreseeability as factor in determining duty). Similarly, providing the students cell phones “with which they can contact faculty and staff to answer [***12] questions and solve problems day or night from any part of China” does not make the Tibet trip a school activity. And although many study-abroad students decided to go on the trip, some did not. Allowing [*625] [**937] classes to be made up at the students’ request similarly does not mean the trip was a school activity and the record suggests that students would have gone to Tibet even if it meant they could not make up classes they missed. Finally, it may be that the trip would not have been possible but for Fan’s assistance in response to the students’ request. That, however, does not mean Defendants owed Morgan a duty while on the trip. No authority cited holds the existence of a duty turns on whether a defendant made something possible. Indeed, such a rule would mean an almost unlimited number of individuals and entities could be found to have owed a duty here, including the airline that flew the students to Tibet, the manufacturer of that airplane and the provider of the airplane fuel. [HN10] Although a “but for” inquiry often is relevant in determining whether a plaintiff has shown causation after a duty and its breach are established, it does not address whether a duty exists. See id. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232.

P17 Nor [***13] does Elizabeth’s reliance on 2007 and 2009 YISA brochures and an affiliation agreement between YISA and the University of Arizona alter the analysis. The substance of the 2009 brochure is not contained in the record. The description attributed to the brochure (“Additional Travel Opportunities,” noting “that students in past programs had visited Tibet”) does not make the trip here a school activity. Presuming the 2007 brochure applied to the Fall 2009 program, that document states: (1) “[i]ncluded in your program fee will be trips to important cities or sites in China;” (2) in addition, “students will have a week or more of time off to travel on their own” and (3) “[o]ur staff will help with all aspects of planning these trips throughout China.” That Defendants may have helped students plan “travel on their own” does not impose on Defendants a duty for the student-planned Tibet trip. Similarly, YISA agreeing to provide “student support services — translation assistance, travel planning, and emergency assistance” — does not impose upon Defendants a duty to protect students from harms in the student-planned Tibet trip.

P18 Elizabeth also argues on appeal that selected excerpts from ABOR’s internal [***14] code of conduct mean the Tibet trip was a school activity. Although Elizabeth cited this document in superior court to show that the exchange program was an ABOR-sponsored activity, she did not argue it established a duty. By not pressing that argument then, Elizabeth cannot do so now. See Fisher v. Edgerton, 236 Ariz. 71, 75 n.2 ¶ 9, 336 P.3d 167, 171 n.2 (App. 2014).6 Even absent waiver, Elizabeth has not shown how ABOR’s code of conduct — addressing “misconduct . . . subject to disciplinary action” and “the promotion and protection” of “an environment that encourages reasoned discourse, intellectual honesty, openness to constructive change and respect for the rights of all” at state universities — makes the Tibet trip a school activity imposing a duty on Defendants.

6 Similarly, Elizabeth alleged negligence per se in superior court based on ABOR’s internal code of conduct, but did not further develop that claim. See Fisher, 236 Ariz. at 75 n.2 ¶ 9, 336 P.3d at 171 n.2; see also Steinberger v. McVey, 234 Ariz. 125, 139 ¶ 56, 318 P.3d 419, 433 (App. 2014) (noting negligence per se claim “must be based on a statute enacted ‘for the protection and safety of the public'”) (citation omitted).

P19 Finally, Elizabeth relies on the opinions of Dr. William W. Hoffa, her “standard of care” expert, who took the position that study-abroad programs should categorically owe a duty to students [***15] throughout all aspects of the program. But the question of whether a duty exists is an issue of law for the court to decide, not experts. Badia v. City of Casa Grande, 195 Ariz. 349, 354 ¶ 17, 988 P.2d 134, 139 (App. 1999) ( [HN11] “The issue of whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court, unaffected by expert opinion.”); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 4, 318 P.3d at 873 (existence of duty “is a matter of law for the court to decide”) (citing Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230). Moreover, as Elizabeth concedes, Dr. Hoffa’s testimony goes to the standard of care and other issues that are premised on the existence of a duty. See Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143–44 ¶¶ 10–11, 150 P.3d at 230–31 (citations omitted). Accordingly, Dr. Hoffa’s opinions do not resolve the question of whether a duty exists.

[*626] [**938] P20 For these reasons, the superior court properly concluded that the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty.

B. Duty Based On Public Policy.

P21 In discussing whether public policy should recognize a duty here, Elizabeth

cites no public policy authority, and we are aware of none, supporting a general duty of care against harm away from school premises, absent a school-supervised activity or a particular statute. To hold otherwise would imply that the student-school relationship extends to situations where the school lacks custody [***16] over the student and the student is not participating in a school-sponsored activity. We decline to define the scope of duty in such broad terms.

Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 161 ¶ 20, 318 P.3d at 877. For these reasons, Elizabeth has not shown that public policy considerations result in Defendants owing Morgan a duty for the Tibet trip.

II. Other Issues On Appeal.

P22 Having found Defendants did not owe Morgan a duty for the Tibet trip, this court affirms the judgment and need not address the other issues raised on appeal. ABOR’s request for taxable costs on appeal is granted contingent upon its compliance with Arizona Rule of Civil Appellate Procedure 21.

CONCLUSION

P23 The judgment in favor of Defendants is affirmed.