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Just because you have a piece of paper saying you are an additional insured, it does not mean there is any coverage under any policy to protect you.

Additional insured certificates are limited by two things, what the underlying policy provides coverage for and what the certificate of insurance says it will cover. Lacking  coverage under the policy or lacking the necessary language in the additional insured certificate you are hanging in the wind without any insurance coverage.

For an additional insured certificate to be valid, you must put together three things. A contract which identifies the requirements or insurance you are looking for. An insurance policy that insures those requirements and a certificate of insurance that covers those requirements or better states as the requirements are set forth in the original contract. Lacking any, one of those and you are just wasting paper.

When you get a certificate of insurance, you must then read it to make sure you meet the requirements it may set out. If there is a limitation on the amount of time you have to file a claim or a specific way to notify the insured, make sure you follow those procedures. 

Finally, whenever you file any claim with any insurance company for coverage, follow the procedures the policy requires then follow up with a letter providing notice the insurance company in writing.

Great American Alliance Insurance Company, v. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148

State: Missouri, United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division 

Plaintiff: Great American Alliance Insurance Company 

Defendant: Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al. 

Plaintiff Claims: Great American now moves for summary judgment on its requested declaratory judgment that: (1) no liability coverage exists under its policy issued to Student Life for any claims asserted in the underlying lawsuit against Windermere or Windermere’s employees, including Kendra Brown; (2) Great American owes no duty to defend Windermere, Kendra Brown, or any other Windermere employees in the underlying lawsuit; and
(3) no medical payments coverage exists for Karlee Richards. 

Defendant Defenses:   No coverage provided under the policy or certificate of insurance

Holding: Split decision, however the insurance company will not pay anything under the certificate of insurance 

Year: 2017 

This is a legally complicated case with simple facts. A church rented a camp from Student Life, which had contracted with a church camp called Windermere. The reservation form and simple agreement between the camp and the church required the issuance of a certificate of insurance. 

A camper, part of the church group fell while riding the zip line. She sued. That lawsuit was still pending when this lawsuit was started to determine whose insurance was required to defend against the camper’s lawsuit. 

In that case, damages are being sought against them for injuries sustained by Karlee Richards after she fell while zip-lining at The Edge, a ropes course at Windermere’s Conference Center. Kendra Brown was an employee of Windermere, working at the Edge at the time of  the accident.

 The injured camper Richards was with the Searcy Baptist Church. They rented the camp through Student Life. Student Life rented the camp from Windermere. The contract between Student Life and Windermere is the one at question here. Windermere required a certificate of insurance from Student Life. 

June 2014, Karlee Richards and her Searcy Baptist Church youth group were attending a summer camp at Windermere’s Conference Center, which was sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Conference, d.b.a. Student Life. Student Life contracted with Windermere to hold the church camp at Windermere’s facility in Missouri. Student Life had a liability policy with Great American, and Windermere was an additional insured on that policy. The additional insured endorsement provides that the additional insured, in this case Windermere, is only covered for “liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that portion of the premises leased to Great American contends that Windermere is not entitled to coverage for Kaylee Richards’s injuries because Windermere did not “lease” the Edge to Student Life because the Edge was not specifically mentioned in Student Life’s written agreement with Windermere.

 The first issue the court skipped was the policy that Student Life had, was restrictive and had minimal coverage. It had a requirement that all claims had to be made in one year. This may not be bad, but if the statute of limitations for the type of injury is two years or three, you may not have coverage for a claim because you did not know you had one until after the time period had run. 

Student Life is the named insured on a Commercial General Liability policy with Great American. The policy requires that all requests for medical payments be made within one year of the accident that gives rise to the insurance claim. Also, when there is other valid and collectible excess insurance coverage, the Great American policy provides that Great American will have no duty to defend its insured against a claim for damages.

 On top of the claim limitation period, the coverage was solely excess coverage. Meaning the coverage did on top of any other coverage the insured had and had no duty to defend or pay for attorneys. It only had to pay for a claim after the
limits of the underlying policy were exhausted. No underlying policy was ever mentioned in the case so it is unknown if one existed.

If this is the only policy, Student Life purchased, they bought the wrong one! 

Another issue was whether the student life policy would provide coverage for employees of Windermere that were sued based on the accident. 

This suit was brought by the Student Life insurance company, Great American Alliance Insurance Company, asking the court to tell Student Life it was not going to pay or defend any of the claims brought by the injured camper against Windermere. 

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

 The court first looked at whether the additional insured certificate was ambiguous. If so, then the court had to interpret the ambiguity under Missouri’s law.

An ambiguity is an uncertainty in the meaning of the policy.

  If an ambiguity exists, the policy language will be construed against the insurer. Mendota, “‘An ambiguity exists when there is
duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language of the policy.'” “‘To test whether the language used in the policy is ambiguous, the language is considered in the light in which it would normally be understood by the lay person who bought and paid for the policy.'” Whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law.” 

The burden of proving there is coverage falls on the party seeking it, in this case, Windermere. An ambiguity exists if there are different interpretations of the language in the policy. There are two types of Ambiguities, Latent and patent. 

A policy is ambiguous if it is “fairly open to different interpretations” because it contains “duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty of meaning.” Importantly, there are two types of ambiguities in the law: patent and latent. “A patent ambiguity is detected from the face of the document, whereas a latent ambiguity is found ‘when the particular words of a document apply equally well to two different objects or some external circumstances make their meaning uncertain.'” 

Here the court found that a patent ambiguity existed. 

For these reasons, a patent ambiguity exists. The disputed phrase not only should be interpreted in favor of the Defendants, but the Defendants’ interpretation is arguably the only one that would make sense to an ordinary person under these circumstances. 

The court also found a latent ambiguity existed in the certificate of insurance. 

A latent ambiguity exists when a contract “on its face appears clear and unambiguous, but some collateral matter makes the meaning
uncertain.” Id. In other words, an ambiguity is “latent if language, which is plain on its face, becomes uncertain upon application.”

 If an ambiguity is found in an insurance policy, the ambiguity is construed against the insurance company. “In the
alternative, it is well-settled that an ambiguity within an insurance policy must be construed against the insurer
.”

Consequently, the court ruled on this issue, that there was coverage for Windermere from the Student Life Policy. However, the court found against Student Life and Windermere on the other issues.

Windermere requested coverage for defending its employees, which the court denied. 

Great American argues that no coverage exists for Brown or any other Windermere employee because the Additional Insured Endorsement does not provide additional insured status and/or coverage for an additional insured’s employees. Brown is not identified anywhere in Student Life’s Great American policy nor is she listed as an Additional Insured on a Certificate of Liability. Therefore, any coverage for Brown would necessarily derive from her status as Windermere’s employee, and employees are not covered as insureds by the Additional Insured Endorsement. 

The court agreed with Great American that no coverage was described in the certificate of insurance. 

The next issue was, whether or not there was a duty to defend. A duty to defend is to pay the cost of the lawsuit; attorney fees, expert witness fees, etc. 

Under Missouri law, the duty to defend “arises whenever there is a potential or possible liability to pay based on the facts at the outset of the case and is not dependent on the probable liability to pay based on the facts ascertained through trial.” 

Because there was no coverage for the Windermere employees, there was no duty to defend them either. A duty to defend must be specifically identified in the policy. In this case the policy specifically stated, there was no duty to defend. 

As to whether Great American owes a duty to defend Windermere, the Endorsement makes clear that any coverage for Windermere as an additional insured would be excess, and the policy does not afford a defense when (1) its coverage is excess and (2) when the insured is being provided a defense by another carrier. 

The last issue was whether medical expenses of the injured camper were owed by Great American to Windermere. Again, since the policy specifically stated there was no coverage for medical expenses this was denied. The court also found the
requirement under the policy to make a claim for medical expenses had to be done within one year, and that time had lapsed; therefore, no medical expenses were owed by the Student Life Policy with Great American. 

The decision was split, however, in reality; Windermere got nothing from the decision. If Windermere lost its suit or exhausted its own liability insurance policy protection, it could, then see money from the Student Life policy with Great American, but no other coverage was owed by Great American. However, that meant the camper was going to have to win millions probably to exhaust the Windermere policy and Windermere or its insurance company was going to foot the bill with no help from the policy under the certificate of insurance. 

So Now What? 

This is a classic case were not knowing or checking what happens when you receive an additional insured certificate ends up costing you more money than not having one. 

The underlying policy by the group coming into the camp was crap. On top of that it had major restrictions on when it would pay. Add to those issues the certificate of insurance was badly written and the company receiving the additional insured certificate received a worthless piece of paper. On top of that it cost them a lot of money I’m guessing to sue to find out they were not going to get anything from the policy.

 1.       Issue a request for a Certificate of Insurance in a contract or the contract. Set forth in the contract everything you must have and the type of insurance policy that must be underlying the certificate of insurance.

2.      Request a copy of the insurance policy be delivered with the certificate of insurance. Again, if the policy is crap, you are getting crap. 

3.      Make sure the insurance policy covers what the contract says it should cover. 

4.      Make sure the certificate of insurance covers what the contract says it must cover. 

Just collecting certificates of insurance to put in a box or file cabinet are only killing trees. It is probably not providing you any protection as in this case.

 What do you think? Leave a comment.

 To Comment Click on the Heading and go to the bottom of the page. 

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529 

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Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff, vs. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148

Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff, vs. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148

Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff, vs. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., Defendants.

No. 2:16-cv-04046-NKL

United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division

2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148

July 5, 2017, Decided

July 5, 2017, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Great Am. Alliance Ins. Co. v. Windermere Baptist Conf. Ctr., Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92701 (W.D. Mo., July 18, 2016)

COUNSEL: [*1] For Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff: John S. Sandberg, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kenneth R. Goleaner, Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard, PC-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.

For Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., Defendant: Amber Joy Simon, Lauren E. Tucker McCubbin, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lisa A. Weixelman, Polsinelli PC – KCMO, Kansas City, MO.

For Kendra Brown, Defendant: Christopher P. Rackers, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kaci R Peterson, Schreimann, Rackers & Francka, LLC, Jefferson City, MO.

For Jeremy Richards, Karlee Richards, Defendants: Patrick M. Martucci, LEAD ATTORNEY, Johnson, Vorhees & Martucci – Joplin, Joplin, MO.

JUDGES: NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: NANETTE K. LAUGHREY

OPINION

ORDER

This case principally concerns whether Defendants, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and Kendra Brown, have insurance coverage under a Great American policy for potential liability in a suit pending in Morgan County. In that case, damages are being sought against them for injuries sustained by Karlee Richards after she fell while zip-lining at The Edge, a ropes course at Windermere’s Conference Center. Kendra Brown was an employee of Windermere, working at the Edge at the time of the accident.

In [*2] June 2014, Karlee Richards and her Searcy Baptist Church youth group were attending a summer camp at Windermere’s Conference Center, which was sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Conference, d.b.a. Student Life.1 Student Life contracted with Windermere to hold the church camp at Windermere’s facility in Missouri. Student Life had a liability policy with Great American, and Windermere was an additional insured on that policy. The additional insured endorsement provides that the additional insured, in this case Windermere, is only covered for “liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that portion of the premises leased to [Student Life] [by Windemere].” [Doc. 35-17, p.1 (“Endorsement”)]. Great American contends that Windermere is not entitled to coverage for Kaylee Richards’s injuries because Windermere did not “lease” the Edge to Student Life because the Edge was not specifically mentioned in Student Life’s written agreement with Windermere.

1 Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention does business as Student Life. The Court refers to Lifeway and Student Life interchangeably throughout the remainder of this Order as simply, “Student Life.”

Pending before the Court is Great American’s Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. 34]. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Undisputed Facts2

2 Unless otherwise noted, the facts recited are those which are properly supported and undisputed.

A. The Student Life [*3] Camp at Windermere

Windermere Baptist Conference Center is a large Conference Center on the Lake of the Ozarks with over 300 acres and 126 buildings, including group lodging, a dining hall, conference space, cabins, a chapel, and a gift shop. Windermere also offers various recreational facilities and activities at its campus, including the Edge. Organizations like Student Life use Windermere’s facilities for summer church camps.

Student Life had been conducting camps at Windermere for about ten years prior to its June 2014 camp. In January 2014, Student Life and Windermere executed an Amended Conference Contract. The “Amended Conference Contract,” provides:

Amended Conference Contract

. . .

EVENT INFORMATION

Event Name: Student Life #1 ’14 (June 2-6, 2014)

Expected #: 1000

Arrive Date: Saturday, May 31, 2014

(Check in begins at 3:00 PM. Rooms may not be available until 6:00 PM. . .)

Depart Date: Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lodging Check out time is 11:00 AM. Keys must be turned in by this time. . .)

LODGING INFORMATION

Lodging Type Start End Nights Units Cost Total
Per Person (Student Life Extra) 5/31/14 6/2/14 2 25 $17.50 $825.00
Per Person (Student Life Extra) 6/1/14 6/2/14 1 15 $17.50 $262.50
Per Person (Student Life [*4] ’14) 6/2/14 6/5/14 4 1,000 $70.00 $70,000
Minimum
Total for Lodging: $71,137.50 $56,910.00

You will need to provide Windermere a rooming list (names of individuals occupying each room) and a copy of your conference or retreat schedule at the time of check-in.

. . .

MEAL INFORMATION

Minimum
Total for Meals: $76,570.00 $61,733.00

. . .

All guests eating in the dining hall must have a meal ticket or wrist band to be

admitted into the Dining Hall.

. . .

CONFERENCE SPACE INFORMATION

Facility/Room Start End Cost
Wilderness Creek Auditorium (1500) 6/1/14 8:00am 6/6/14 12:00pm
Deer Ridge Conf Rm 1 (30) 6/2/14 3:00pm 6/6/14 12:00pm
Total for Conference Space: $0.00

. . .

Use of conference space and facilities begins at the start time stated in the contract. Conference or facility space usage time ends at the time stated in the contract and must be empty of all guests and guest items.

. . .

ENTITY OBLIGATION

Estimated Total Payment $147,707.50
Total Minimum Payment $118,643.00
Property Damage/Abuse

The above named group will have financial responsibility for any damages and excessive wear and tear it incurs to the Windermere grounds, facilities or property to the extent that such damage or excessive wear and tear arises [*5] from the negligence or willful misconduct of the above named group. Cleanup of any facilities or grounds that are excessively dirty will be the financial responsibility of the group.

[Doc. 35-5 (“Amended Conference Contract”)].

The parties’ Amended Conference Contract does not identify every building or activity that was available to campers during Student Life’s camp at Windermere. For example, the chapel, which is made available to any group attending a camp at Windermere, is not listed. In addition, the dining hall is not specifically listed under the “Conference Space Information” heading, despite the Amended Conference Contract listing a price for meals Windermere is to provide.

In addition, it is undisputed that Windermere offered various free recreational activities to its guest campers, including those who attended the Student Life camp. Windermere also offered some special recreational activities that required an additional fee and reservations. The Edge was one such activity. The Edge, a ropes and zip-lining course, is not accessible to campers at Windermere without special scheduling, the purchase of tickets, and the execution of a “Recreational Release” form. Student Life [*6] advertised Windermere’s recreational facilities, including “The Edge,” as available for use to its campers, and it was Student Life’s expectation that these facilities would be available.

In addition to the Amended Conference Contract, Student Life also completed a Facilities Request Form, and Windermere completed a Fax Back Response Sheet. [Docs. 40-3 and 40-4]. The Fax Back Response Sheet provides:

Student Life Camp

Windermere Conference Center

Recreation:

. . .

What are some free-time options on your campus?

o Sand Volleyball, Outdoor Basketball, Tennis, Mini Golf, Disc Golf, Pool, Hiking, The Edge (low/high ropes course), Paintball, Waterfront Activities (Inflatable water park, kayak, canoe, paddle boats, fishing, etc) (See attached PDF on available Recreation Packages).

[Doc. 40-4, p. 3].

B. Great American Insurance Policy

Student Life is the named insured on a Commercial General Liability policy with Great American. The policy requires that all requests for medical payments be made within one year of the accident that gives rise to the insurance claim. [Doc. 42-2, p. 62 of 166]. Also, when there is other valid and collectible excess insurance coverage, the Great American policy provides [*7] that Great American will have no duty to defend its insured against a claim for damages. [Doc. 42-2, p. 67-68 of 166].

Because Student Life was contracting with Windermere for its event, Windermere was named as an additional insured on Student Life’s Great American policy. The Certificate of Liability Insurance was issued by Great American on May 8, 2014, and Windermere accepted. The Certificate referenced Great American’s policy issued to Student Life, Policy No.: GLP 0310189 and stated:

Event: Student Life Event Dates: May 31-June 7 and June 14-20, 2014 Windermere Conference Center is included as Additional Insured on the General Liability policy, as per endorsement #CG 82 24, ed. 12/01, and on the Automobile Liability policy, as per endorsement #CA 8518, ed. 6/09.

[Doc. 35-7 (“Certificate of Liability Insurance”)].

C. The Underlying Lawsuit

The Searcy Baptist Church youth group was one of the groups of campers that attended Student Life’s camp at Windermere in June of 2014. Karlee Richards and the rest of the Searcy youth group were scheduled to ride The Edge on June 4, 2014. They paid Windermere an additional fee for this activity. While zip-lining at The Edge that day, Richards fell [*8] and was injured. Kendra Brown, a Windermere employee, was working at the Edge at the time of the accident.

Following Karlee Richards’s accident at The Edge, her father, Jeremy Richards, both individually and as Next Friend, brought suit against Windermere and several of Windermere’s employees, including Kendra Brown. This lawsuit is currently pending in the Circuit Court of Morgan County, Missouri and seeks damages for Karlee Richards’s physical injuries sustained at The Edge.

On November 17, 2015, Windermere and Kendra Brown tendered claims to Great American for defense and indemnity of the underlying lawsuit, seeking coverage as additional insureds under Student Life’s Great American policy. [Doc. 35-15 (“Demand Letter”)]. The letter also demanded Medical Payments coverage for Karlee Richards’s medical expenses. The demand for Medical Payments coverage was made more than one year after Richards’s June 4, 2014 accident at The Edge. [Docs. 35-15 (“Demand Letter”) and 35-18 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)].

Great American responded to the parties’ demand letter with a request for additional information, including information regarding Windermere’s coverage through Church Mutual Insurance [*9] Company. Windermere’s insurer, Church Mutual, was defending Windermere in the underlying lawsuit. [Doc. 35-14, p. 1 of 7 (“Dec. 17, 2015 Letter”)]. In subsequent correspondence with Great American, Windermere also stated, “Church Mutual, the insurer for ‘Windermere’ has tendered its full two million dollars in liability insurance.” [Doc. 35-14, p. 1 of 7 (“Dec. 17, 2015 Letter”)].

In its February 4, 2016 denial letter to Windermere and Brown, Great American concluded that Richards’s accident did not arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the premises Windermere leased to Student Life and denied Windermere’s tender. Great American’s letter also provided that:

[E]ven if indemnity coverage did exist for Windermere and Kendra Brown under the Lifeway Policy, it is also clear that that [sic] Great American owes no defense obligation of the pending lawsuit. Your December 17, 2015 correspondence renewing the tender of defense on behalf of both Windermere and Kendra Brown makes clear that Windermere is being afforded a defense by Church Mutual and that Kendra Brown is being defended by both Church Mutual and Shelter. . . . [T]he Social Service Agency General Liability Broadening Endorsement [*10] makes clear that any coverage that did exist would be excess over all other insurance, including both the Church Mutual and Shelter policies. The “Other Insurance” provision of the Lifeway Policy makes clear that, where its coverage is excess and a defense is being provided by another carrier, Great American owes no duty to defend. Hence, Windermere’s and Kendra Brown’s tender of the defense of the pending lawsuit is denied for this additional reason.

[Doc. 35-18, p. 6 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)]. Great American also denied Brown’s tender, stating that she was not an additional insured on the policy. Id.

II. Discussion

Windermere seeks coverage in the underlying Morgan County lawsuit as an additional insured under the Great American policy issued to Student Life. After denying Windermere’s tender, Great American filed suit before this Court seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its obligations under the policy. Great American now moves for summary judgment on its requested declaratory judgment that: (1) no liability coverage exists under its policy issued to Student Life for any claims asserted in the underlying lawsuit against Windermere or Windermere’s employees, including Kendra [*11] Brown; (2) Great American owes no duty to defend Windermere, Kendra Brown, or any other Windermere employees in the underlying lawsuit; and (3) no medical payments coverage exists for Karlee Richards.

A movant is entitled to summary judgment “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.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The rule requires summary judgment to be entered “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

A federal court sitting in diversity applies the choice-of-law rules of the state where the court sits, in this case, Missouri. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941); American Guarantee Liability Ins. Co. v. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 668 F.3d 991, 996 (8th Cir.2012). But a court need not undertake a choice-of-law inquiry unless an actual conflict of law is demonstrated. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Kamrath, 475 F.3d 920, 924 (8th Cir.2007) (citation omitted). Because the parties do not raise any actual conflict and because they do not dispute that Missouri law applies, the Court applies Missouri law.3

3 Plaintiff Great American contends no choice of law analysis is necessary because the outcome is the same under the law of the three states that could potentially apply: Missouri, Tennessee, and Alabama. Because Defendants Windermere, Brown, and the Richards contend Missouri law should apply, the Court concludes that the parties agree to the application of Missouri law.

A. Interpretation of Insurance Policies in Missouri

The interpretation [*12] of an insurance policy is a question of law to be determined by the Court. Mendota Ins. Co. v. Lawson, 456 S.W.3d 898, 903 (Mo. Ct. App. 2015). The ultimate goal of contract interpretation is to determine the intent of the parties. Bolinger v. Clarks Mut. Ins. Co., 485 S.W.3d 803, 809 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016). To determine the intent of the parties, the language in the contract is to be read according to its plain and ordinary meaning. Mendota, 456 S.W.3d at 903.

In interpreting an insurance policy, “[t]he key is whether the contract language is ambiguous or unambiguous.” Todd v. Mo. United Sch. Ins. Council, 223 S.W.3d 156, 160 (Mo. banc 2007). If an ambiguity exists, the policy language will be construed against the insurer. Mendota, 456 S.W.3d at 904. “‘An ambiguity exists when there is duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language of the policy.'” Fanning v. Progressive Northwestern Ins. Co., 412 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013) (quoting Seeck v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129, 132 (Mo. banc 2007)). “‘To test whether the language used in the policy is ambiguous, the language is considered in the light in which it would normally be understood by the lay person who bought and paid for the policy.'” Blumer v. Automobile Club Inter–Ins, 340 S.W.3d 214, 219 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Heringer v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 140 S.W.3d 100, 102 (Mo. Ct. App. 2004)). “Whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law.” Todd, 223 S.W.3d at 160.

“[T]he parties seeking to establish coverage under the insurance policy have the burden of proving that the claim is within the coverage afforded by the policy . . . even though they are denominated as defendants in a declaratory judgment action.” State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. D.T.S., 867 S.W.2d 642 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993).

B. Liability Coverage [*13] for Windermere as Additional Insured

The Great American policy’s declarations page lists Student Life as the named insured. Windermere is listed as an additional Insured as follows:

5. AUTOMATIC ADDITIONAL INSURED(S)

a. Additional Insured — Manager or Lessor of Premises

(1) This policy is amended to include as an insured any person or organization (hereinafter called Additional Insured) from whom you lease or rent property and which requires you to add such person or organization as an Additional Insured

***

(2) With respect to the insurance afforded the Additional Insured identified in Paragraph A.(1) of this endorsement, the following additional provisions apply:

(a) This insurance applies only to liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that portion of the premises leased to [Student Life].

[Doc. 35-17, p. 1 (“Endorsement”)]

Great American contends that the reference in Section 5.a.(2)(a) to “premises leased to you” refers to the specific places identified in the Amended Conference Contract between Windermere and Student Life. According to Great American, because the Edge is not listed, Windermere’s potential liability for the accident at the Edge is not covered. In contrast, Windermere [*14] argues that “premises lease” includes all the places on its property that Student Life campers were authorized to access, including the Edge.

1. Interpretation of Section 5.a.(2)(a)4

4 Defendants Brown and the Richards argue that the limitation of liability in Section 5.a.(2)(a) does not apply to Windermere because that section refers to Paragraph A.(1), and Windermere is identified as an Additional Insured by Paragraph a.(1). In other words, these Defendants reason that the parties must be referring to something other than the preceding paragraph a.(1) because capital A.(1) rather than lower case a.(1) was used. Defendants further reason that the only “Paragraph A.(1)” in the endorsement is located in Section 7A.(1) which limits liability to $300,000 for personal property and building damage rented to an additional insured. The Court rejects this argument because the reference to “A” instead of “a” is clearly a minor typographical error, and the Defendants’ strained interpretation of Section 7 in this context makes no sense. In Mendota Insurance Company v. Ware, 348 S.W.3d 68 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011), the Missouri Court of Appeals rejected a similar argument based on a typographical error because the “policy’s intended meaning, would be apparent to an ordinary reader.” Id. at 73. In the context of the Great American policy, it would not be reasonable for an ordinary reader to think that the use of A.(1), immediately after a section labeled a.(1), would be referring to 7A.(1) when 7A.(1) has nothing to do with identifying an additional insured and is not located in close proximity to the paragraph that does deal with the additional insured.

Whether an insurance provision is ambiguous is a question of law for the Court. General Am. Life Ins. Co. v. Barrett, 847 S.W.2d 125, 131 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993). A policy is ambiguous if it is “fairly open to different interpretations” because it contains “duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty of meaning.” Id. Importantly, there are two types of ambiguities in the law: patent and latent. Cent. United Life Ins. Co. v. Huff, 358 S.W.3d 88, 95 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). “A patent ambiguity is detected from the face of the document, whereas a latent ambiguity is found ‘when the particular words of a document apply equally well to two different objects or some external circumstances make their meaning uncertain.'” Id. (quoting Jake C. Byers, Inc. v. J.B.C. Invs., 834 S.W.2d 806, 816 (Mo. Ct. App. 1992)).

a. Patent Ambiguity

The key phrase that this Court must interpret and apply is “portion of the premises leased to [Student Life].” “The words of a policy must be given their plain and ordinary meaning consistent with the reasonable expectation and objectives of the parties, unless it is obvious that a technical meaning was intended.” Bolinger v. Clarks Mut. Ins. Co., 485 S.W.3d 803, 809 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016). (internal quotation marks removed). Counsel for Great American argues that the term “lease” is understood by everyone [*15] to be a premise over which one has exclusive or near exclusive control. [Oral Argument Transcript, p. 3]. Therefore, the word “lease” would only cover the property over which Student Life had exclusive control by the terms of the Amended Conference Contract. In contrast, Windermere effectively argues that all of the documents surrounding the formation of the insurance policy demonstrate that an ordinary person would not intend the technical meaning of the term “lease,” i.e. exclusive possession, but instead, would expect it to cover all of the Windermere property to which Student Life campers had authorized access.

Under Missouri law, a lease gives exclusive5 use of property for a determined period of time to the lessee. Chubb Group of Ins. Cos. v. C.F. Murphy & Associates, Inc., 656 S.W.2d 766, 777 (Mo. Ct. App. 1983). The term “lease” gives rise to a landlord-tenant relationship, whereby the tenant has “exclusive possession of the premises as against all the world,” including the landlord. Santa Fe Trail Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. v. W.F. Coen & Co., 154 S.W.3d 432, 439 (Mo. Ct. App. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citations removed). In contrast, “[a] license is only a privilege to enter certain premises for a specific purpose. Kimack v. Adams, 930 S.W.2d 505, 507 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996). The difference between a lease and a license is technical and difficult to determine. Santa Fe, 154 S.W.3d at 439.

5 Great American did not cite to a case that says “near exclusive” possession is enough, and the Court has found no such statement in Missouri law.

When there is a conflict between the technical definition [*16] of a term in a policy and what a reasonable person would understand, the lay definition controls unless it is obvious that a technical definition was intended. Mansion Hills Condo. Ass’n v. Am. Fam. Mut. Ins. Co., 62 S.W.3d 633, 638 (Mo. Ct. App. 2001). “To determine the [lay definition] of a term, courts will consult standard English language dictionaries.” Id. Merriam Webster’s New College Dictionary defines “leased” as “property occupied or used under the terms of a lease.” Webster’s II New College Dictionary (1995). “Lease” is defined as “a contract granting occupation or use of property during a certain period in exchange for a specified rent.” Id. “Premises” is defined as “land and the buildings on it.” Id. Those definitions do not indicate possession is exclusive.

In this context, did the parties intend the phrase “premises leased to you” to have a technical meaning–i.e. the formation of a landlord-tenant relationship between Windermere and Student Life whereby Student Life would have exclusive control over the property listed in the Amended Conference Contract, even as to Windermere? The Certificate of Insurance6 suggests otherwise. [Doc. 35-7]. It states:

Event: Student Life Event Dates: May 31-June 7 and June 14-20, 2014 Windermere Conference Center is included as [*17] Additional Insured on the General Liability policy, as per endorsement #CG 82 24, ed. 12/01, and on the Automobile Liability policy, as per endorsement #CA 8518, ed. 6/09.

This language does not suggest that the parties intended a landlord-tenant relationship being created between Student Life and Windermere. Rather, it suggests that Great American knew it was providing liability insurance to Windermere for an event — the camp — being held by Student Life on the Windermere campus. At a minimum, there is a conflict between the technical meaning of the word lease and what an ordinary person would understand under these circumstances, taking into account the dictionary definitions. In those circumstances, the technical definition does not control. See Mansion Hills Condo. Ass’n v. Am. Fam. Mut. Ins. Co., 62 S.W.3d 633, 638 (Mo. Ct. App. 2001).

6 Because the Certificate of Liability was issued to Windermere for the purpose of adding Windermere as an additional insured, “as per endorsement #CG 82 24 ed. 12/01,” the Certificate arguably became a part of the insurance contract. See Corder v. Morgan Roofing Co., 355 Mo. 127, 195 S.W.2d 441 (Mo. 1946) (finding certificate of insurance that doubled liability coverage, added insurance for property damage, and certified complete coverage of all operations in connection with the insured’s construction contract was part of the insurance contract); see also, Section 1.5.a.(1) of this endorsement:

This policy is amended to include as an insured any person or organization (hereinafter called Additional Insured) from whom you lease or rent property and which requires you to add such person or organization as an Additional Insured on this policy.

Further, State ex rel. State Highway Commission v. Johnson, 592 S.W.2d 854, 857-8 (Mo. Ct. App. 1979), says that a court may consider the circumstances under which the contract was made. These circumstances, as discussed below in the section on latent ambiguity, also support [*18] a finding that an ordinary person would expect to be covered for camp activities, not just for dorm rooms and conference space.

For these reasons, a patent ambiguity exists. The disputed phrase not only should be interpreted in favor of the Defendants, but the Defendants’ interpretation is arguably the only one that would make sense to an ordinary person under these circumstances.

b. Latent Ambiguity

Even if there were no patent ambiguity, the Court can look at extrinsic evidence to determine if there is a latent ambiguity.7 Royal Banks of Mo. v. Fridkin, 819 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. banc 1991) (“A latent ambiguity . . . must be developed by extrinsic evidence.”).

7 Although Defendants do not use the term latent ambiguity, this appears to be the crux of Defendants’ argument: that even if the “premises leased” term is not ambiguous on its face, it is ambiguous when applied to the facts at hand.

A latent ambiguity exists when a contract “on its face appears clear and unambiguous, but some collateral matter makes the meaning uncertain.” Id. In other words, an ambiguity is “latent if language, which is plain on its face, becomes uncertain upon application.” Gen. Am. Life Ins. Co. v. Barrett, 847 S.W.2d 125, 131 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993). For example, “[a] latent ambiguity may be one in which the description of the property is clear upon the face of the instrument, but it turns out that there is more than one estate to which the description applies; or it may be one where the property is imperfectly or in some respects erroneously described, so as not to refer with precision [*19] to any particular object.” Muilenburg, Inc. v. Cherokee Rose Design & Build, LLC, 250 S.W.3d 848, 854-55 (Mo. Ct. App. 2008) (quoting Prestigiacamo v. Am. Equitable Assur. Co. of N.Y., 240 Mo. App. 839, 221 S.W.2d 217, 221 (1949) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The case of Royal Banks of Mo. v. Fridkin, 819 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. banc 1991) provides another example. In Royal Banks, the Missouri Supreme Court found a latent ambiguity in an otherwise unambiguous contract where the contract described a $10,000.00 promissory note but where no $10,000.00 promissory note actually existed. Id. Looking to extrinsic evidence, the court concluded, “Evidence of a promissory note that fits the description in the guaranty in all respects except for principal amount, coupled with the fact that a $10,000.00 note did not exist, is a collateral matter that renders the meaning of the guaranty uncertain. Once it became apparent that there was no $10,000.00 note but instead only a $50,000.00 note, a latent ambiguity existed.” Id.

Although parol evidence may not ordinarily be considered to create an ambiguity, the Court may consider such evidence to demonstrate the existence of collateral matters that create a latent ambiguity. Royal Banks of Mo. v. Fridkin, 819 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. banc. 1991) (“A latent ambiguity is not apparent on the face of the writing and therefore, must be developed by extrinsic evidence.”). Therefore, the Court may consider extrinsic evidence to determine if a latent ambiguity exists. In this case, [*20] in the absence of a definition of “premises leased,” the surrounding facts suggest a latent ambiguity about what was intended by this term.

The plain language of the Amended Conference Contract alludes to Student Life’s use of and access to many more properties than merely conference space and lodging units during its event. For example, the Contract’s plain language contemplates Student Life’s use of a dining hall8 because the meals they contracted for were to be served there. Yet, the Contract does not specifically list the dining hall. Likewise, the Contract does not mention the chapel, despite Windermere’s title as Windermere Baptist Conference Center and its practice of contracting with church groups to conduct summer church camps. At a minimum, a jury could find the parties intended that campers would have access to the chapel, even though it was not listed. Finally, the Contract, like the Certificate of Insurance, refers to an “Event,” and Great American’s interpretation of the Contract considers only part of what was going to occur at that event.

8 The Contract’s “Meal Information” section provides start and end times for specific meals and alludes to Student Life’s use of the Dining Hall, stating, “All guests eating in the dining hall must have a meal ticket or wrist band to be admitted into the Dining Hall.” [Doc. 35-5, p. 2].

The Court also considers the parties’ Fax Back Response Sheet. [Doc. 40-4]. This document confirms that the purpose of the parties’ [*21] agreement was to host an event, referred to by the Sheet as “Student Life Camp.” [Doc. 40-4]. In addition, the Sheet shows the parties’ understanding that Student Life’s campers would have access to not only conference and dorm space, but also a church for worship, recreational fields, a gymnasium, hiking trails, a body of water for “waterfront activities,” and as is relevant in this case, The Edge ropes course:

What are some free-time options on your campus?

o Sand Volleyball, Outdoor Basketball, Tennis, Mini Golf, Disc Golf, Pool, Hiking, The Edge (low/high ropes course), Paintball, Waterfront Activities (Inflatable water park, kayak, canoe, paddle boats, fishing, etc) . . .

See generally [Doc. 40-4 and p. 3 (emphasis added)]. Because Student Life was contracting with Windermere for an event–to host a camp complete with various camp activities and facilities–the Court cannot find that a reasonable insured would have intended the term, “premises leased,” to limit its coverage only to liability arising out of conference rooms and lodging units.

There is no dispute that Student Life camper, Karlee Richards, was authorized to access The Edge at the time of her accident. Based on the Fax [*22] Back Response Sheet, alone, which suggests that Student Life would expect to have access to The Edge during its event, a reasonable juror could conclude that The Edge was a “portion of the premises leased,” which would entitle Windermere to coverage as an additional insured for its liability to Richards. Therefore, summary judgment must be denied.9

9 Although Defendants did not file their own motions for summary judgment, Defendants ask the Court to grant summary judgment in their favor, citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f)(1), which provides: “After giving notice and a reasonable time to respond, the court may: (1) grant summary judgment for a nonmovant.” [Doc. 53]. Granting summary judgment for the non-movants under this rule is discretionary. Due to the fact that the focus of this briefing has been on Great American’s request for summary judgment, the Court declines to exercise its discretion under this provision. However, the Court will permit Defendants to file their own motions for summary judgment within 20 days of the date of this Order, not inconsistent with this order as to the issues ruled against them.

In the alternative, it is well-settled that an ambiguity within an insurance policy must be construed against the insurer. Krombach v. Mayflower Ins. Co., Ltd., 827 S.W.2d 208, 210 (Mo. banc 1992). As already discussed, an ambiguity exists as to what the parties intended “premises leased” to refer to. Therefore, construing this ambiguous term against Great American requires the Court to apply the meaning “which would be attached by an ordinary person of average understanding if purchasing insurance.” Id. An ordinary insured could reasonably understand this phrase to refer to the areas to which Student Life had access during its event at Windermere. Therefore, Great American’s Motion for Summary Judgement must be denied on this issue.

Great American’s cited authorities do not require a different outcome. First, the coverage disputes in many of Great American’s authorities center on how to interpret “arising out of,” [*23] without any dispute as to what properties the parties understood to be the “leased premises” covered by the additional insured endorsement at issue. In contrast to the facts before this Court, each of these cases involved an undisputed lease contract between a landlord and tenant, rather than an event contract between two organizations, and there was no dispute or ambiguity surrounding what property was meant by the “premises leased” or a similar term. See, e.g., Belz Park Place v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc., 2015 WL 11145058 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 23, 2015) (within context of landlord-tenant relationship, involving a lease contract, and no dispute about the leased premises); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Michigan Mut. Ins. Co., 891 N.E.2d 99 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008) (same); Northbrook Ins. Co. v. American States Ins. Co., 495 N.W.2d 450 (Minn. Ct. App. 1993) (same); Hilton Hotels Corp v. Employers Ins. of Wausau, 629 So.2d 1064 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1994) (same); SFH, Inc. v. Millard Refrigerated Svcs., Inc., 339 F.3d 738 (8th Cir. 2003) (same).

For example, in U.S. Fidelity & Guar. v. Drazic, 877 S.W.2d 140 (Mo. Ct. App. 1994). the Missouri Court of Appeals considered additional insured coverage within the context of a landlord-tenant relationship and an unambiguous lease contract. The Drazics leased a portion of their basement to the Brewers, and the Drazics were named as additional insureds under the Brewers’ liability insurance policy. Id. at 141. After the Brewers’ employee fell in a parking lot near the Drazics’ building and injured herself, she filed suit alleging that the Drazics negligently discharged steam from their dry cleaning business, which formed ice on the parking area [*24] causing her fall. Id. at 141-42. The policy’s additional insured endorsement provided coverage to the Drazics as additional insureds “but only with respect to liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that part of the premises designated below leased to the named insured.” Id. at 142-43 (emphasis added). The court considered the parties’ lease contract, which identified the premises leased as a “designated portion of a commercial building known and numbered as 418 Manchester Road, Ballwin, Missouri 63011, plus the area adjacent to the entrance of Brewer’s Quilt Shop for installation of their office.” Id. at 142. The court reasoned that the endorsement’s “plain language contemplated coverage for the Drazics as additional insureds for liability arising out of incidents taking place in that part of the building leased to the Brewers pursuant to the lease contract” and that there was no coverage because the accident at issue “took place on a parking area outside the building.” Id. at 143.

In contrast to Drazic, the Great American policy does not limit coverage to the “premises designated below” accompanied by a lease that specifically identifies an address or description of the area unambiguously covered by this [*25] clause. Also unlike the facts before this Court, there is no dispute or uncertainty in Drazic about what is meant by the “premises [leased].”

In addition, the Court rejects Great American’s reliance on Drazic for the separate proposition that “the purpose of additional insured endorsements obtained in a landlord-tenant context is to provide landlords protection from vicarious liability due to a tenant‘s action which takes place on the premises that the tenant has leased.” [Doc. 35, p. 16 (quoting Drazic, 877 S.W.2d at 143)]. Despite articulating this theory, the Drazic court did not resolve the coverage question based on vicarious liability: “The injury to Leary occurred due to alleged negligence on the part of the landlords’ business . . . and it did not occur on the premises leased to the [tenants].” Drazic, 877 S.W.2d at 143 (emphasis added). Furthermore, to the extent Great American contends that additional insured coverage is limited to acts for which Windermere is vicariously liable, the Court disagrees. The case from which this theory originated involved an insurance contract materially different from the one at issue here because the policy language in that case specifically limited coverage for additional insureds “against [*26] vicarious liability for the acts of the named insured.” See Hormel Foods Corp. v. Northbrook Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 938 F. Supp. 555, 558-560 (D. Minn. 1996) (quoting Harbor Ins. Co. v. Lewis, 562 F. Supp. 800, 802 (E.D. Pa. 1983) and explaining the origins and inapplicability of this theory). In contrast, coverage under the Great American policy cannot be said to turn on “vicarious liability” because the policy provision does not use this language.

As for other cases cited by Great American, these cases are distinguishable because they involve starkly different contract language than the term, “premises leased,” which this Court has found to be ambiguous. See, e.g., Lancaster v. Ferrell Paving, Inc., 397 S.W.3d 606 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012) (involving different endorsement language: “liability arising out of your ongoing operations performed for the [additional] insured”) (emphasis added). Finally, Great American’s reliance on contract cases outside of the insurance context is misplaced because these cases also interpret contract provisions that are unlike the policy language at issue here. See, e.g., Once Upon a Time, LLC v. Chappelle Properties, LLC, 209 So. 3d 1094, 2016 WL 3031347 (Ala. 2016) (applying Alabama law to an indemnity agreement that did not contain the language “arising out of” or “premises leased” and did not involve insurance policy); Union Realty Co., Ltd. v. Family Dollar Stores of Tennessee, Inc., 255 S.W.3d 586 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008) (interpreting contract language regarding the landlord’s and tenant’s obligations to procure insurance but no interpretation of insurance policy language at [*27] issue); Pilla v. Tom-Boy, Inc., 756 S.W.2d 638 (Mo. Ct. App. 1988) (interpreting indemnity provision in a lease that did not contain the language “arising out of” outside of insurance context and no dispute surrounding what constituted the leased premises).

Finally, the Court rejects Great American’s separate argument that whether a tenant has “shared” versus “exclusive” use of an area controls whether that area is part of the “premises leased” covered by an insurance endorsement. For example, in Colony Ins. Co. v. Pinewoods Enterprises, Inc., 29 F. Supp. 2d 1079 (E.D. Mo. 1998), a district court found insurance coverage for liability arising out of an area shared between the additional insured and other parties. In Colony, Bledsoe and Pinewoods entered a leasing contract in which Bledsoe (the lessee) leased portions of Pinewood’s campgrounds for a concert. Id. at 1081. Pinewoods was named as an additional insured under Bledsoe’s general liability policy with Colony Insurance. Id. During the concert, a rain storm caused many of the concert goers to take shelter on and under a deck attached to a lodge at the campground. Id. The lodge’s deck collapsed, injuring numerous concertgoers. Id. At issue was whether Colony Insurance’s coverage of Pinewoods as an additional insured extended to this accident. Id.

The court considered both the insurance [*28] policy endorsement and the parties’ lease contract. The endorsement provided additional insured coverage “but only with respect to liability arising out of your [Bledsoe’s] operations or premises owned by or rented to you.” Id. at 1082. The leasing contract specifically provided that Bledsoe “shall have the exclusive use of the Pinewoods Park” for a specific time period with the exception of the Lodge area. Id. at 1081-82. The contract also provided:

(5) LESSEE [Bledsoe], its customers, guests and invitees will share the Lodge area and facilities, i.e. store, gift shop, bait and tackle area . . . with the fishermen and permanent guests and any campers reserved prior to June 10, 1995.

Id. at 1082. The court concluded that Bledsoe leased the lodge area because the contract “specifically (albeit not exclusively) lease[d] the lodge area to Bledsoe,” and the endorsement provided that coverage extended to “the premises owned by or rented to you.” Id. at 1083 (emphasis added). The court concluded that “Colony’s additional insured endorsement extend[ed] coverage to Pinewoods for any liability arising out of the collapse of the lodge’s deck because the lodge was part of the premises leased to Bledsoe.” Id. In contrast to Great American’s contention that exclusivity [*29] is required, the Colony court still found the lodge premises to be “rented to” Bledsoe for purposes of additional insured coverage, despite the fact that the parties’ lease agreement provided that Bledsoe would “share” the lodge area premises at issue “with the fishermen and permanent guests and any campers.” Id. (emphasis added).

C. Liability Coverage for Kendra Brown or Other Windermere Employees

Great American also moves for summary judgment on the issue of coverage for Kendra Brown, Windermere’s employee. Great American argues that no coverage exists for Brown or any other Windermere employee because the Additional Insured Endorsement does not provide additional insured status and/or coverage for an additional insured’s employees. Brown is not identified anywhere in Student Life’s Great American policy nor is she listed as an Additional Insured on a Certificate of Liability. Therefore, any coverage for Brown would necessarily derive from her status as Windermere’s employee, and employees are not covered as insureds by the Additional Insured Endorsement.

Brown does not dispute that the Additional Insured Endorsement fails to provide coverage for an additional insured’s employees. Instead, [*30] Brown argues that Windermere should be considered a “Named Insured,” which in turn, makes the provisions applicable to “Named Insureds” also applicable to Windermere, including the provision that expands coverage for “Named Insureds” to their employees. The Court rejects this argument as based on an unreasonable interpretation of the policy.

Brown contends that the policy does not define “Named Insured,” and thus, it must be given the meaning that would be attached by an ordinary person. Brown reasons that an ordinary person would define “Named Insured” as a person or entity that is actually named as an insured. In turn, Brown says, because the Certificate of Liability names Windermere as an additional insured, Windermere must be a “Named Insured.” Brown next points to the following provision:

Throughout this Policy the words “you” and “your” refer to the Named Insured shown in the Declarations, and any other person or organization qualifying as a named insured under this Policy.

The word “insured” means any person or organization qualifying as such under

SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED.

***

[Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. Brown contends that because she has established that Windermere [*31] is a “Named Insured,” “you” and “your” throughout the policy must also refer to Windermere. Next, Brown points to Section II of the policy:

SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED

2. Each of the following is also an Insured:

a. Your . . . “employees,” . . . but only for acts within the scope of their employment by you or while performing duties related to the conduct of your business.

[Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. Brown argues that if the Court accepts her contention as true that Windermere is a “Named Insured,” then “your” refers to Windermere, which means that Brown “is also an Insured” as “[y]our [Windermere’s] ’employee,'” according to Section II.2.a.

Brown’s argument fails because it is based on an unreasonable interpretation that Windermere is somehow a “Named Insured,” a status unsupported by the policy’s clear language.10 First, the policy distinguishes between mere “insureds” and those insureds that are “Named Insureds.” Compare “The word ‘insured’ means any person or organization qualifying as such under SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED” with “Throughout this Policy the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ refer to the Named Insured shown in the Declarations, and any other person or organization qualifying [*32] as a named insured under this Policy.” [Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. The fact that the policy differentiates between the two statuses shows that they are different terms, despite Brown’s contention that all insureds named are “Named Insureds.”

10 Furthermore, even if the Court accepted Brown’s contention that Windermere, an Additional Insured, was in fact, a Named Insured, Brown still has not shown that she is entitled to coverage under the policy as a Windermere employee because she has not alleged any facts or argument that her liability to Richards arose from “acts within the scope of [her] employment . . . or while performing duties related to the conduct of [Windermere’s] business.” Section II.(2).a.; [Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)].

Furthermore, the policy’s plain language identifies which insureds are “Named Insureds.” First, the top of the policy’s Declarations page states:

NAMED INSURED LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION

[Doc. 42-2, p. 29 of 166]. Therefore, because Student Life is “shown in the Declarations,” it is a “Named Insured.” The policy also includes a Named Insured Endorsement, which amends the Declarations by providing, “It is agreed that the Named Insured shown in the Declarations is amended to read as follows.” [Doc. 42-2, p. 41 of 166]. This statement is followed by a list of various organizations’ names related to Lifeway, which the endorsement provides are also included as Named Insureds. Id. Accordingly, it is reasonable to conclude that these organizations constitute “any other . . . organization qualifying as a named insured under this Policy” and therefore are also “Named Insureds.” [Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL [*33] Policy”)]. Based on the policy’s plain language, an ordinary person would understand “Named Insured” to refer to those insureds identified on the Declarations Page next to “NAMED INSURED” and those insureds identified in the Named Insured Endorsement. To interpret the policy to mean that anyone named as an insured, including those named as Additional Insureds, were also entitled to the same expansive level of coverage as the “Named Insureds” would be unreasonable.

In contrast to those entities that are clearly designated as “Named Insureds,” Windermere is not listed as a Named Insured on either the Declarations page or on the endorsement adding Named Insureds to the Declarations page. Instead, the policy’s only reference to Windermere is located in the Certificate of Liability it was issued prior to Student Life’s 2014 camp, which included it as an “Additional Insured,” providing:

Windermere Conference Center is included as Additional Insured on the General Liability policy, as per endorsement #CG 82 24, ed. 12/01, and on the Automobile Liability policy, as per endorsement #CA 8518, ed. 6/09.

[Doc. 35-7 (“Certificate of Liability Insurance”) (emphasis added)]. The Additional Insured Endorsement [*34] provides that it “is added to SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED, 5. AUTOMATIC ADDITIONAL INSURED(S).” [Doc. 35-17, p.1 (“Endorsement”).] Had Great American intended to make Windermere a “Named Insured,” it could have identified it as a “Named Insured” within the Certificate of Liability, or it could have provided that Windermere be added to the Named Insured Endorsement, rather than merely “Section II — Who is an Insured.” It did neither. For these reasons, an ordinary person would understand Windermere to be an “insured,” not a “Named Insured,” and thus, the words “you” and “your” throughout the policy do not refer to Windermere. Accordingly, the provision that expands coverage for “Named Insureds” to cover their employees as insureds does not apply to Windermere. Because Brown is not an insured under the policy and therefore not entitled to coverage, summary judgment is granted in favor of Great American on this point.

D. Duty to Defend

Great American also contends that it owes no duty to defend Windermere or Brown and it should be granted summary judgment on this claim. Under Missouri law, the duty to defend “arises whenever there is a potential or possible liability to pay based on [*35] the facts at the outset of the case and is not dependent on the probable liability to pay based on the facts ascertained through trial.” Columbia Cas. Co. v. HIAR Holding, L.L.C., 411 S.W.3d 258, 265 n.10 (Mo. 2013) (internal quotation marks removed). Because the Court has already found that Brown and other Windermere employees are not insureds under Great American’s policy and thus, not entitled to coverage, it follows that Great American has no duty to defend Brown.11

11 This rationale was also articulated in Great American’s denial letter, which provided:

First, as to Kendra Brown, she is not listed as an additional insured on the Certificate of Liability Insurance, nor is there any indication on the [Certificate] that additional insured status is to be afforded to employees of Windermere. Finally, there is nothing in the specific form referenced on the Certificate . . . nor anywhere else in the Lifeway Policy, that affords additional insured status to Kendra Brown or any other Windermere employee. . . . Kendra Brown is simply not an additional insured under the Lifeway Policy such that Great American is denying the tender made on behalf of Kendra Brown.

[Doc. 35-18, p. 5-6 of 12 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)].

As to whether Great American owes a duty to defend Windermere, the Endorsement makes clear that any coverage for Windermere as an additional insured would be excess, and the policy does not afford [*36] a defense when (1) its coverage is excess and (2) when the insured is being provided a defense by another carrier.12 Under Missouri law, “‘an insurer’s duty to defend is purely contractual.'” Markel Am. Ins. Co. v. Unnerstall, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3430, 2009 WL 57451 at *4 (E.D. Mo. 2009) (quoting Crown Ctr. Redevelopment Corp. v. Occidental Fire, 716 S.W.2d 348 (Mo. Ct. App. 1986)). “If there is no contract to defend, there is no duty to defend.” Id. In relevant part, the Endorsement provides:

5. AUTOMATIC ADDITIONAL INSURED(S)

a. Additional Insured — Manager or Lessor of Premises

***

(2) With respect to the insurance afforded the Additional Insured identified in Paragraph A.(1) of this endorsement, the following additional provisions apply:

***

(d) Coverage provided herein is excess over any other valid and collectible insurance available to the Additional Insured whether the other insurance is primary, excess, contingent or on any other basis unless a written contractual arrangement specifically requires this insurance to be primary.

12 This rationale was also articulated in Great American’s denial letter, which provided:

[E]ven if indemnity coverage did exist for Windermere and Kendra Brown under the Lifeway Policy, it is also clear that that [sic] Great American owes no defense obligation of the pending lawsuit. Your December 17, 2015 correspondence renewing the tender of defense on behalf of both Windermere and Kendra Brown makes clear that Windermere is being [*37] afforded a defense by Church Mutual and that Kendra Brown is being defended by both Church Mutual and Shelter. . . . [T]he Social Service Agency General Liability Broadening Endorsement makes clear that any coverage that did exist would be excess over all other insurance, including both the Church Mutual and Shelter policies. The “Other Insurance” provision of the Lifeway Policy makes clear that, where its coverage is excess and a defense is being provided by another carrier, Great American owes no duty to defend. Hence, Windermere’s and Kendra Brown’s tender of the defense of the pending lawsuit is denied for this additional reason.

[Doc. 35-18, p. 6 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)].

The Additional Insured Endorsement’s Section 5.a.(2)(d) is clear that any coverage afforded is “excess over any other valid and collectible insurance,” regardless of the priority of coverage of the insurance–be it “primary, excess, [or] contingent.” In this case, Church Mutual had already tendered, or attempted to tender its policy limits on Windermere’s behalf in the underlying lawsuit. Therefore, although Windermere is entitled to coverage under the Great American policy, this coverage is excess.

The Other Insurance provision then states that where coverage is excess [*38] and the insured is being provided a defense by another carrier, Great American has no defense obligation. [Doc. 42-2, p. 66-68 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. Specifically, this provision provides:

SECTION IV — COMMERCIAL GENERAL LIABILITY CONDITIONS

***

4. Other Insurance

***

(2) When this insurance is excess we will have no duty under Coverages A or B to defend the Insured against any “suit” if any other insurer has a duty to defend the Insured against the “suit.” . . .

Windermere is currently being defended by its own insurance carrier, Church Mutual. Because the policy is clear that there is no defense obligation where coverage is excess and a defense is being provided by another carrier, which is the case here, the Court rejects Windermere’s contention that it is entitled to a defense based on a potential for coverage. Therefore, summary judgment is granted for Great American on its duty to defend.

E. Medical Payments Coverage

Finally, Great American moves for summary judgment as to the Medical Payments coverage for Richards’s medical expenses. In its November 17, 2015 letter to Great American, Windermere demanded the Coverage C Medical Payments limits for Richards. The provision governing Medical [*39] Payments provides in relevant part:

COMMERCIAL GENERAL LIABILITY COVERAGE FORM

***

Coverage C — Medical Payments

1. Insuring Agreement

a. We will pay medical expenses as described below for “bodily injury” caused by an accident:

***

provided that:

***

(b) the expenses are incurred and reported to us within one year of the date of the accident; and

***

[Doc. 42-2, p. 62 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)].

Great American argues that it is entitled to summary judgment as to this coverage because medical expenses were not reported to Great American within the time limit provided in Paragraph 1.a.(b). This provision provides that Great American will pay medical expenses for bodily injury “provided that . . . (b) the expenses are incurred and reported to us within one year of the date of the accident.” Section 1.a.(b) (emphasis added).

Richards’s accident occurred on June 4, 2014. Neither she nor anyone on her behalf made claim for Medical Payments coverage until Windermere’s November 17, 2015 demand letter more than one year after the date of the accident. Therefore, Great American is entitled to summary judgment as to the Medical Payments coverage.

III. Conclusion

For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff Great American Alliance [*40] Insurance Company’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. [Doc. 34]. Summary judgment is granted on Great American’s liability coverage for Kendra Brown, individually, as an additional insured; Great American’s duty to defend Kendra Brown and Windermere; and Great American’s Medical Payments coverage for Karlee Richards’s injuries. Summary judgment is denied on Great American’s coverage for Windermere as an additional insured. It is further ordered that on or before July 25, 2017, Defendants may file any motions for summary judgment not inconsistent with this order as to the issues ruled against them.

/s/ Nanette K. Laughrey

NANETTE K. LAUGHREY

United States District Judge

Dated: July 5, 2017

Jefferson City, Missouri


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

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

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

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

Plaintiff: Sally Rumpf & Louis Rumpf

Defendant: Sunlight, Inc.

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

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

Holding: for the Defendant 

Year: 2016 

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

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

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

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

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

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

WARNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adhesion was defined by the court in Colorado as:

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

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

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

“Interpretation of a written contract and the determination of whether a provision in the contract is ambiguous are questions of law.” Under Colorado law, I must examine the actual language of the agreements for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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

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

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

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

August 3, 2016, Decided

August 3, 2016, Filed

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

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

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

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

OPINION BY: Wiley Y. Daniel

OPINION

ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the … moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Equal Employment Opportunity Comm. v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000). “When applying this standard, the court must ‘view [*5] the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.'” Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1148 (10th Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted). “‘Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.'” Id. (quotation omitted). Summary judgment may be granted only where there is no doubt from the evidence, with all inferences drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, that no genuine issue of material fact remains for trial and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bee v. Greaves, 744 F.2d 1387 (10th Cir. 1984).

III. ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, it is

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

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

Dated: August 3, 2016

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Wiley Y. Daniel

Wiley Y. Daniel

Senior United States District Judge


The safety precautions undertaken by the defendant in this mountain bike race were sufficient to defeat the plaintiff’s claims of gross negligence in this Utah mountain bike fatality.

Tour of the Canyonlands was an 18-mile mountain bike race near Moab, Utah. Six miles of the course were on roads. The course was an open course meaning, there might be automobile traffic on the roads; the roads would not be closed to traffic.
Two plaintiffs’ struck a truck on the road, killing one of the mountain bikers.

Milne v. USA Cycling Inc., et. al., 575 F.3d 1120; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 17822

State: Utah, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Plaintiff: Robert J. Milne, an individual; Timothy K. Sorrow, individually and as personal representative on behalf of his deceased son, Samuel B. Hall,

Defendant: USA Cycling Inc., a Colorado corporation, d/b/a National Off-road Bicycle Association; Cycle Cyndicate Inc.,

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful death

Defendant Defenses: release, failure to state a claim to prove gross negligence

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2009

This is an attempt to recover damages by parents for the injuries they suffer when a son is hurt or dies. It probably involves as many emotional issues as it does legal ones such as how and why did my son die, why didn’t they do more to keep my son alive and possibly even some desire to protect others from the same
fate.

Two mountain bikers entered the Tour of the Canyonlands mountain bike race. Both had entered the race before and were classified as expert racers. They both signed a release prior to the race and had been told the first six miles of the course would be an open course.

An “open course” is one that is not closed to automobile traffic. Cycling on an “open course,” whether on a mountain bike or road bike, you will be encountering cars and be passed by cars. Approximately 25% of all mountain bike races are open course and a majority of road bike races in the US.

The race organizers had put up signs before the racing telling motorists that there was going to be a race. The organizers had volunteers along the route and first aid people to assist riders. They had made the effort to notify all campers on the race route about the race. The defendant driving the truck involved in the collision stated he was not notified about the race, but other people camping with him stated they had been notified.

The accident occurred when one racer attempted to pass another racer on the open part of the course while passing the automobile coming from the opposite direction. The automobile was a Ford Excursion pulling a 30’ trailer. The mountain bikers tangled, and one of the plaintiffs’s crashed into the truck.

Mr. Konitshek testified that, when he saw the oncoming bikers, he veered as far right in his lane of travel as possible, and remained on the right side of the road the entire time. He was going about 5 miles per hour when one of the bikers hit his left sideview mirror, causing it to bang into his window and shatter.

Mr. Hall had attempted to pass both himself and Mr. Milne. Mr. Byrd was immediately behind Mr. Milne, so Mr. Hall passed him first. Mr. Byrd testified that Mr. Hall passed very closely and, because of his proximity and his speed–Mr. Hall was riding about 25 miles per hour at that time–Mr. Casey could feel the wind coming off him as he passed. Then, as Mr. Hall began to pass Mr. Milne, their handlebars locked together, causing them to veer left and strike Mr. Konitshek’s camper. It is not entirely clear what happened next, but at least one racer testified that he saw the trailer run over Mr. Hall.

The release stopped the claims based on simple negligence and wrongful death of the plaintiffs. That left the claims for gross negligence. The Federal District Court (trial court) dismissed the plaintiff’s claims because the plaintiff had not pled any facts to prove their claim of gross negligence.

On the plaintiff’s gross negligence claims, the court determined that the undisputed facts showed that defendants had taken a number of steps to protect the racers’ safety, and even if those steps were taken negligently, they were not grossly negligent.

There was also an issue of the plaintiff’s expert witness whom the trial court had prevented from testifying because the trial court found him to not have any experience as a mountain bike race expert.

The plaintiff’s appealed the trial court’s decision.

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

The appellate court had a long discussion on the courts process to dismiss cases based on motions for summary judgment. The court then started into the analysis of the facts in this case and how they applied to the law.

Gross negligence in Utah is a failure on the part of the defendant to observe even slight care. “Under Utah law, “[g]ross negligence is the failure to observe even slight care; it is carelessness or recklessness to a degree that shows utter indifference to the consequences that may result.” The plaintiff to prove the defendant was grossly negligent must proof “conduct substantially more distant from the appropriate standard of care than does ordinary negligence.”

The facts argued by the plaintiff can then only be interpreted in one way for a court to determine gross negligence cannot be proved. However, even if there are different ways of viewing the facts, gross negligence claims can be beat if there is evidence the defendant did show care or was not lacking care.

However, appeals courts have affirmed grants of summary judgment on gross negligence claims where the undisputed evidence showed that the defendants took precautionary measures and did not ignore known and obvious risks.

In this case, the court could point out numerous instances where the defendant was not careless. “… the plaintiffs have fallen short of producing evidence upon which a jury could conclude that the defendants failed to exercise “even slight care” in organizing and administering this race.

The court also looked at the knowledge of the racers and the fact they assumed the risk of the sport and injuries they encountered.

Mountain bike racing is an inherently dangerous sport, so the defendants cannot be considered grossly negligent merely because they organized a race that placed the racers at risk of injury and even death. Rather, the court must look at the specific steps the defendants took to ensure the racers’ safety in order to determine whether a jury could decide that they
were grossly negligent.

Although the issue of assumption of the risk was reviewed by the court and it obviously factored into the court’s analysis, it was not stated by the court as a reason for its decision.

The plaintiff argued the driver’s statements showed the defendant not done anything. However, the court seemed to discount the driver’s statements and found everyone else did know about the race. A defendant in the case looking not to lose a lawsuit would be more inclined to state he had not been notified.

Mr. Konitshek claimed that the organizers’ efforts to warn people in the area of the upcoming race were ineffective, because he did not know about the race until moments before the accident. Mr. Konitshek’s complaints about the sufficiency of the race organizers’ warnings do not rise to the level of creating a material issue of fact with regard to gross
negligence for two reasons. First, even if the race organizers’ warnings were imperfect, that does not negate the fact that they made rather substantial efforts to warn people, and their failure to reach every person in the area is insufficient to show gross negligence. Second, although Mr. Konitshek testified that he would have changed his plans if he had known about the race in advance, the plaintiffs presented no reason for this court to think that most drivers would change their plans to avoid a bicycle race on a 6-mile stretch of open road.

Utah requires a high disregard of safety issues to constitute gross negligence. Since automobile accidents were rare in mountain bike racing, this being the only one in the ten years of running this event, automobile accidents were not considered a serious threat to the participants. The issues were brought up by the plaintiff’s expert witness whom the court dismissed in one paragraph.

Thus, the organizers’ failure to shut down the road, mark and enforce a center line on the road, more closely monitor vehicular traffic, or more thoroughly warn other area drivers of the upcoming race cannot, as a matter of law, amount to gross negligence in light of the other safety steps taken by the organizers of this race.

Nor is gross negligence proved by 20/20 hindsight.

An examination of cases in other jurisdictions shows that courts have been reluctant to find that race organizers have been grossly negligent for failing to take every precaution that 20/20 hind-sight might counsel.

The court found the plaintiff’s had not presented evidence that could prove to a jury that the race organizers were grossly negligent and the actions of the race organizers in attending to the safety issues discounted or eliminated the plaintiff’s gross negligence claim.

We therefore agree with the district court’s determination that the plaintiffs in this case have failed to provide evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude that the race organizers were grossly negligent.

The court then went on to support the trial courts exclusion of the plaintiff’s expert witness because the expert witness did not have sufficient experience in mountain bike racing. 

There was a concurring opinion in this case. A concurring opinion is one where a justice sitting on the appeal agrees with the outcome of the decision but for a different reason than the majority of the justices. In this case, the concurring judge felt the plaintiff’s expert witness statements were enough to beat the gross negligence claim.

In this case, he would have excluded the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony, but would have used his testimony where he stated the defendants exercised some degree of care for the participants as a reason to dismiss the gross negligence claim.

The dismissal of the claims of the plaintiff by the trial court was upheld.

So Now What?

I am seeing case after case where gross negligence claims are made to defeat a release. Twenty years ago, few cases pleaded a claim for gross negligence, and now every case does. As such part of your preparation for any activity, trip or program is to make sure you do not do anything that could support a gross negligence claim.

Gross negligence claims rarely proved at trial, extremely rare. As such their main reason they are pled is to get passed the motion for summary judgment, which increases the cost of continuing the case substantially. Therefore, any settlement offer will be increased significantly. A gross negligence claim hanging over the head of a defendant is also a real threat as some insurance companies will not pay to defend such a claim judgment based on gross negligence are not dischargeable in Bankruptcy.

Planning what safety precautions you should undertake should first start with understanding what your industry does. Know how other races are put on and what precaution to take is the first step. Then looking at your course, your participants or your ability to respond, you should modify the safety program to meet those differences. 

Finally, have a release and fully inform every one of the risks. Most importantly inform them of all risks, maybe even repeatedly, that are different from everyone else or that substantially increase the risk. Assumption of the Risk is the second most-used defense to negligence claims in recreation cases after a release. Always use both.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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What happens if you fail to follow the requirements of your insurance policy and do not get a release signed? In New Hampshire, you have no coverage.

You either have to create an absolutely fool proof system or take your release
online. If they don’t sign they don’t climb!

Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym & a., 158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d
399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: Colony Insurance Company

Defendant: Dover Indoor Climbing Gym& a.

Plaintiff Claims: There was no insurance coverage because the insured did not get a release signed by the injured claimant

Defendant Defenses: The insurance policy endorsement requiring a release to be signed was ambiguous

Holding: For the Plaintiff Insurance Company

Year: 2009

This is a scary case, yet the outcome is correct. The plaintiff insurance company issued a policy to the defendant climbing gym. An endorsement (an added amendment to the contract) to the policy said there would only be coverage if the gym all customers sign a release.

 An endorsement to the policy stated: “All ‘participants’ shall be required to sign a waiver or release of liability in
your favor prior to engaging in any ‘climbing activity.’ “It further stated: “Failure to conform to this warranty will render this policy null and void as [sic] those claims brought against you.”

A climber came to the gym with a group of friends. The gym asked everyone if they had a release on file, and no one said no. (Yes really stupid procedures!) Bigelow was part of the group and did not have a release on file and had not signed a release. While climbing Bigelow fell and was injured.

Bigelow accompanied friends to the climbing gym, but did not sign a waiver. He testified that he was never asked to sign a waiver; the gym owner’s affidavit stated that the owner asked the group of climbers if they had waivers on file and received no negative answers. It is undisputed; however, that Bigelow did not sign a waiver or release. While climbing, Bigelow fell and sustained serious injuries.

The defendant climbing gym put the plaintiff insurance company on notice of the claim. When the insurance company found out no release was signed, the insurance company filed a declaratory judgment motion. A declaratory judgment is a way to go into a court and say there is no coverage under this policy because there was no release. It is an attempt to be a quick interpretation of the contract so the bigger issue can be resolved quickly.

The gym then put Colony on notice to defend and pay any verdict obtained by Bigelow. In response, Colony filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing that the gym’s failure to obtain a release from Bigelow absolved Colony of any duty to defend or indemnify the gym.

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted the climbing gym’s motion for summary judgment saying the endorsement requiring the signed release was ambiguous. The ambiguity was created because the insurance company had not provided the gym with a sample waiver to use.

The trial court found that Colony’s failure to provide the gym with a sample waiver rendered the endorsement provision ambiguous. The trial court therefore denied Colony’s motion for summary judgment, and granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. 

This analysis by the court was absurd. Releases need to be written for the gym, for the gym’s clients and for the state law of the state where it is to be used. A “sample” release is a guaranteed loser in most cases. However, I suspect the court was looking for anyway it could find to provide coverage for the gym.

The trial court’s ruling meant the plaintiff insurance company had to provide coverage to the defendant for any claims made by the injured climber Bigelow.

The insurance company appealed the decision. New Hampshire does not have an intermediary appellate court system so the appeal went to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

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

Insurance policies are contracts and are interpreted as such. However, because have been written in a specific way and are always offered on a take it or leave it basis, as well as the fact the insurance company has all the cards (money) insurance policies have additional legal interpretations in addition to contract law.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court started its analysis by looking at how insurance policies are interpreted. That means the policy is read as a whole objectively. Terms are given their natural meaning, meaning there is no special interpretation of any term, and if the policy is clear and unambiguous is it enforced. No special reading of the policy is allowed based on any party to the policy’s expectations.

We construe the language of an insurance policy as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole. Policy terms are construed objectively, and where the terms of a policy are clear and unambiguous, we accord the language its natural and ordinary meaning. We need not examine the parties’ reasonable expectations of coverage when a policy is clear and unambiguous; absent ambiguity, our search for the parties’ intent is limited to the words of the policy.

The burden of proving that no insurance coverage exists as defined by the policy rests on the insurance company. That means coverage exists under the policy unless the insurance company can prove no coverage was written.

If an insurance company wants to limit its coverage, it is allowed to do so. However, that limitation must be clear and unambiguous. An ambiguity exists if a reasonable disagreement exists between the insurance company and the policyholder and that disagreement could lead to two or more, interpretations.

Although an insurer has a right to contractually limit the extent of its liability, it must do so “through clear and unambiguous policy language. Ambiguity exists if “reasonable disagreement between contracting parties” leads to at least two interpretations of the language. 

Ambiguities will be examined in the appropriate context and the words construed in their plain, ordinary and popular meaning. If the interpretation of the ambiguity favors the policyholder, then the coverage will favor the insured.

In determining whether an ambiguity exists, we will look to the claimed ambiguity, consider it in its appropriate context, and construe the words used according to their plain, ordinary, and popular definitions. If one of the reasonable meanings of the language favors the policyholder, the ambiguity will be construed against the insurer. 

If, however, the language in the policy is clear, the court will not bend over backward or as written in this case “perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics” to find an ambiguity and create coverage.

Where, however, the policy language is clear, this court “will not perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics to find a purported ambiguity” simply to construe the policy against the insurer and create coverage where it is clear that none was intended. 

The court then looked at the determination of the trial court which found an ambiguity because the insurance company did not provide a sample insurance policy. The Supreme Court found that was an incorrect interpretation of the policy. Even the defendant climbing gym agreed with the court on this
issue.

Even the gym, however, contends that the trial court “reached the correct result for the wrong reasons.” Thus, the gym does not argue that the endorsement creates an ambiguity by its failure to provide the insured with a sample waiver form, but, rather, that the exclusionary language is ambiguous because it states that participants shall “be required” to sign waivers as opposed to mandating that the gym obtain signed waivers.  

The court then applied to the law of New Hampshire in interpreting insurance policies to the facts of this case. The court found the language requiring a release was clear and that a reasonable person could only read it.

The clear meaning of the policy language is that the gym is required to actually obtain waivers from climbing participants. The gym’s interpretation would lead to the absurd result of requiring coverage even if the gym never actually enforced its waiver policy. A reasonable person reading the policy would not understand that coverage existed in such circumstances. The gym’s interpretation is unreasonably narrow, and is therefore not the type of alternative interpretation that renders policy language ambiguous.

Simply put the policy requires the defendant climbing gym to have everyone sign a release. If no release is signed, there was no coverage for the gym. The trial court was overturned, and the climbing gym faced the claims of the injured climber without insurance coverage.

So Now What?

One of the first cases I was involved with was very similar. A Montana stable was insured by an insurance company with an endorsement just as this one; all riders were required to sign a release. In Montana all guides, including horseback guides had to be licensed by the state. A state employee was checking out the
stable and found the releases. In Montana, you cannot use a release. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release andMontana Statute Prohibits Use of a Release)

The state employee had the stable quit using the release, or they would lose their license to operate in Montana. A rider was injured and sued the stable, and the insurance company denied coverage. I was contacted by the law firm representing the insurance company and was floored by the facts and how the insurance company could deny coverage when it violated state regulations.

However, in that situation as well as this one, there is not much you can do to get around the situation if the policy clearly states you must have a release signed. In the Montana case, the stable owner should have immediately contacted his insurance company when he was told he could not use a release and pay to have the endorsement removed or found another insurance company to write him a policy.

In this case, a proper procedure should have been put in place to confirm signed releases rather than relying on the honesty of someone walking through the doors to the gym.

When you purchase insurance make sure you and your insurance agent are speaking clearly to each other, and you both understand what you are looking for. When the policy arrives, read the policy or pay a professional to read the policy for you looking for the coverage’s you need as well as looking for problems with the coverage.

If you ask the agent or broker to clarify the coverage you are wanting, to make sure you get that clarification in writing (or an email), so you can take that to court if necessary.

Most importantly create a system to make sure that everyone who comes to your facility, activity or business when you use a release, signs a release.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

 If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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proving, contracting parties, contractually, policyholder, objectively,
linguistic, gymnastics, purported, Climbing Gym, Release,


 

 


Milne v. USA Cycling Inc., et. al., 575 F.3d 1120; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 17822

Milne v. USA Cycling Inc., et. al., 575 F.3d 1120; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 17822

Robert J. Milne, an individual; Timothy K. Sorrow, individually and as personal representative on behalf of his deceased son, Samuel B. Hall, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. USA Cycling Inc., a Colorado corporation, d/b/a National Off-road Bicycle Association; Cycle Cyndicate Inc., a Colorado Corporation; Eric Jean, an individual, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 07-4247

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

575 F.3d 1120; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 17822

August 10, 2009, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah. (D.C. No. 2:05-CV-00675-TS).

Milne v. USA Cycling, Inc., 489 F. Supp. 2d 1283, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42579 (D. Utah, 2007)

COUNSEL: Steve Russell (Jordan Kendall with him on the briefs) of Eisenberg & Gilchrist, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Allan L. Larson (Richard A. Vazquez with him on the briefs) of Snow, Christensen, & Martineau, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Defendants-Appellees.

JUDGES: Before McCONNELL, EBEL, and GORSUCH, Circuit Judges. GORSUCH, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

OPINION BY: EBEL

OPINION

[*1122] EBEL, Circuit Judge.

This diversity jurisdiction case involves Utah state law claims of negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful death based on a tragic accident that occurred during a bicycle race called the “Tour of Canyonlands” near Moab, Utah. During the race, one or more of the racers collided with an SUV and trailer driving in the opposite direction. One racer was killed, and another was badly injured. The injured rider and the decedent’s mother–in her own capacity and on behalf of her son’s estate–filed suit against the race’s organizers and the entities responsible for promoting and overseeing the race.

The district court granted defendants’ motion to strike plaintiffs’ expert’s second [**2] affidavit, and granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. On appeal, the plaintiffs only challenge the district court’s decision to exclude their expert’s opinion and to grant summary judgment for the defendants on the plaintiffs’ claims of gross negligence.

Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we AFFIRM.

I. BACKGROUND 1

1 Because this case comes to us on defendants’ motion for summary judgment, we construe all facts in plaintiffs’ favor. See Beardsley v. Farmland Co-Op, Inc., 530 F.3d 1309, 1313 (10th Cir. 2008) ( [HN1] “This court reviews the district court’s summary judgment decision de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party . . . .” (quoting Herrera v. Lufkin Indus., Inc., 474 F.3d 675, 679-80 (10th Cir. 2007)) (ellipses in original).

The “Tour of the Canyonlands” (“TOC”) is a cross-country mountain bike race [*1123] through the canyons outside Moab, Utah. The race begins on six miles of an “open course” dirt road, where racers share the road with automobile traffic, and continues for another nineteen miles on rugged off-road paths. On April 25, 2005, two racers–Samuel B. Hall and Robert J. Milne–were racing the TOC when they [**3] struck a Ford Excursion SUV, and the trailer it was pulling, on the six-mile open course portion of the race. Mr. Hall died at the scene from severe head trauma. Mr. Milne was seriously injured, but survived the accident.

Following the accident, Plaintiff-Appellant Timothy Sorrow brought negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful deaths claims personally and on behalf of the estate of her deceased son, Mr. Hall, against the people and entities responsible for organizing the race. Plaintiff-Appellant Robert J. Milne brought claims of negligence and gross negligence on his own behalf against the same defendants.

The three Defendants-Appellees were responsible for organizing, promoting, and overseeing the TOC race on April 25, 2005. U.S.A. Cycling Inc., d/b/a the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (“NORBA”), oversaw the race and drafted the rules governing the race, Cycle Cyndicate organized and promoted the race, and Eric Jean–the president and CEO of Cycle Cyndicate–played a large role in administering and supervising the race.

A. Open Course Mountain Bike Racing

Although a portion of this race took place on an open road, the race was governed exclusively by the mountain bike racing [**4] rules developed by NORBA. These rules differ significantly from road racing rules. For example, road racers must obey a “center-line rule,” and may be disqualified if they cross over the line painted in the middle of the road. Mountain bike racers, on the other hand, will not be disqualified for crossing the center-line. This distinction is based at least in part on the fact that, unlike the roads used for road racing, open-course mountain bike races often take place on dirt roads that do not have a clearly marked center line. Thus, a center-line rule would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

Despite the fact that a mountain bike racer may not be disqualified for crossing the center line, there was evidence that the race organizers told the racers to obey a center-line rule. Even where no center-line rule is in effect, however, racers are expected to be aware of their surroundings, and to veer right if they see oncoming traffic.

Open-course bicycle races are apparently not uncommon in the mountain bike racing world and are especially common in Utah. Mr. Milne testified that about 25% of the mountain bike races he participated in were “open course” races. The TOC itself has taken [**5] place in part on an open course since at least 1998.

Automobile-bicycle accidents are very uncommon at TOC. Mr. Jean stated that throughout the more than ten-year history of the race, with races in many of those years having nearly 500 participants, he is aware of only one accident involving a bicyclist and an automobile–the accident that led to this case. Perhaps because of the low frequency of vehicular accidents, NORBA has no rules dictating that race organizers must regulate traffic on open-course trails to avoid automobile-bicycle [*1124] collisions. There was some evidence that, despite the fact that NORBA has no such requirement, Mr. Jean requested permission to close the road to traffic on the day of the race. Whether or not he made those efforts, it is clear that the permit obtained for the race stated that the race could not stop traffic for more than 15 minutes at a time. 2

2 The race organizers obtained a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) for [**6] the race. However, the record indicates that there was a conflict at the time between the BLM and some of the County governments regarding who had control over the roads in the area. This court expresses no opinion on that conflict.

B. The Racers

Both Mr. Hall and Mr. Milne were classified as “expert” racers, and had extensive mountain bike racing experience. They had raced the TOC before, and were familiar with the course. Before each of these races, they knowingly signed liability release forms, which provided that the parties had waived all claims against the race organizers, including claims premised on the organizers’ negligence. The releases also specifically mentioned that racers were assuming the risk of collision with vehicles. Those warnings, in combination with the race organizers’ pre-race announcements that the first six miles would be on an open course shared with other vehicles, make it clear that Mr. Hall and Mr. Milne knew they could encounter vehicles during their race.

C. Safety Precautions Taken by the Race Organizers

The race organizers took a number of safety precautions both before and during the race. For example, the race organizers posted a sign warning people [**7] in the area of the upcoming race, although that sign had been knocked down at least once during the week the leading up to the race.

On the day of the race, the organizers posted, about a mile and half from the starting line, some attendants whose job it was to warn drivers that a race was taking place, that they might encounter some temporary road closures, and that they would be sharing the road with hundreds of cyclists. Some race organizers also testified that they approached people camped in the area to warn them that a race would be taking place that day. Mr. Konitshek, the driver of the SUV involved in the accident, testified that no one ever came to his campground to warn of the race that morning, despite the fact that his campground was clearly visible from the road. However, the other members of his party testified that the race organizers warned them about the race as they drove away from their campground.

The race organizers also arranged for 25 “course marshals” to help supervise the race. Some of those marshals were posted near intersections or sharp turns in order to mitigate some of the risks associated with the automobile traffic the racers might encounter. However, [**8] no one was assigned to the area right near the accident site, which was relatively straight and wide. Further, even though some course marshals had been assigned to areas between the starting line and the place of the accident, some witnesses testified that they did not notice anyone directing traffic in that area. In addition to the course marshals, Mr. Jean had a few people available to administer first aid to injured riders. Mr. Jean himself also carried a backpack with some medical equipment.

Finally, the race organizers made significant efforts to inform the racers that they might encounter vehicles during the race. In order to ride, race participants had to sign a liability release waiver that specifically mentioned the potential for vehicular [*1125] accidents. Further, before the race began, the race organizers announced that the TOC was an open course race, and that racers might encounter automobile traffic.

D. The Accident

Mr. Konitshek was driving a 2001 Ford Excursion with a 30-foot trailer about five miles from the starting line when he noticed that a group of bikers were approaching his car from the opposite direction. The bikers were spread out too wide for their lane of travel. [**9] That portion of the road was relatively wide, open, and fast. The visibility there was also relatively good. Although the view was partially blocked by some rocks, Mr. Konitshek’s SUV and trailer were visible to racers from at least 150 feet away. Mr. Konitshek testified that, when he saw the oncoming bikers, he veered as far right in his lane of travel as possible, and remained on the right side of the road the entire time. 3 He was going about 5 miles per hour when one of the bikers hit his left sideview mirror, causing it to bang into his window and shatter.

3 There was conflicting evidence on whether Mr. Konitshek or the racers had crossed the center line of the road. Mr. Konitshek was adamant that he had remained on his side. However, one of the riders witnessing the accident testified that the riders remained on their side of the road, although he then recanted his testimony to some extent, stating that it was hard to tell whether the riders and/or the truck had remained on their respective sides of the road. Another rider testified at his deposition that he was certain that Mr. Konitshek’s SUV extended beyond the center line. Still another testified that the SUV certainly remained [**10] on its side of the road the entire time. For purposes of this appeal, we will assume the facts most favorable to Plaintiffs’ argument.

Casey Byrd, a rider who was just behind Mr. Hall and Mr. Milne when the accident occurred, testified that right before the accident, Mr. Hall had attempted to pass both himself and Mr. Milne. Mr. Byrd was immediately behind Mr. Milne, so Mr. Hall passed him first. Mr. Byrd testified that Mr. Hall passed very closely and, because of his proximity and his speed–Mr. Hall was riding about 25 miles per hour at that time–Mr. Casey could feel the wind coming off him as he passed. Then, as Mr. Hall began to pass Mr. Milne, their handlebars locked together, causing them to veer left and strike Mr. Konitshek’s camper. It is not entirely clear what happened next, but at least one racer testified that he saw the trailer run over Mr. Hall.

E. The District Court’s Decision

The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. On the plaintiff’s gross negligence claims, the court determined that the undisputed facts showed that defendants had taken a number of steps to protect the racers’ safety, and even if those steps were taken negligently, [**11] they were not grossly negligent. The district court also struck plaintiffs’ expert’s second affidavit, finding that plaintiffs’ witness was not qualified to testify as an expert on mountain bike races. This appeal, challenging the district court’s grant of summary judgment on plaintiffs’ gross negligence claims and the court’s decision to strike plaintiffs’ expert, timely followed.

II. Discussion

A. Federal Law Dictates Summary Judgment Standard

Before turning to the facts of this case, this court must address whether Utah’s summary judgment rules preclude this court from upholding the district court’s grant of summary judgment. [HN2] Under federal law, a defendant may be granted summary judgment whenever plaintiffs fail adequately to “support one of the elements of [*1126] their claim upon which they ha[ve] the burden of proof.” Jensen v. Kimble, 1 F.3d 1073, 1079 (10th Cir. 1993).

[HN3] Utah’s approach to summary judgment is generally parallel to the federal courts’ approach. See, e.g., Burns v. Cannondale Bicycle Co., 876 P.2d 415, 418-20 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (affirming summary judgment for defendants because plaintiff failed to bring evidence supporting one of the elements regarding which it had the burden [**12] of proof). However, Utah has a special rule for summary judgment in negligence cases that differs significantly from federal law. Under Utah law, “[s]ummary judgment in negligence cases, including gross negligence cases, is inappropriate unless the applicable standard of care is fixed by law.” Pearce v. Utah Athletic Foundation, 2008 UT 13, 179 P.3d 760, 767 (Utah 2008) (emphasis added) (internal quotation omitted). In other words, Utah courts would prevent either party to a negligence dispute from obtaining summary judgment where the standard of care applicable to that dispute has not been “fixed by law.” See Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, 171 P.3d 442, 449 (Utah 2007) (explaining that Utah courts will not grant summary judgment in a gross negligence case where the applicable standard of care has not been fixed by law because “[i]dentification of the proper standard of care is a necessary precondition to assessing the degree to which conduct deviates, if at all, from the standard of care–the core test in any claim of gross negligence”); but see RJW Media, Inc. v. CIT Group/Consumer Finance, Inc., 202 P.3d 291, 296, 2008 UT App 476 (Utah Ct. App. 2008) (affirming grant of summary judgment for defendant in a [**13] negligence case where the standard of care had not been “fixed by law” but the defendant had presented uncontested evidence of the appropriate standard of care).

In Pearce, 2008 UT 13, 179 P.3d 760, the most recent Utah Supreme Court case to consider this issue, the plaintiff brought gross negligence claims arising out of injuries that occurred during a bobsled ride. The Utah court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that summary judgment was inappropriate because the applicable standard of care had not been “fixed by law.” The court held that the generally applicable “reasonably prudent person” standard was insufficiently specific to constitute a standard of care “fixed by law.” Id. at 768 n.2. Rather, for the standard of care in that case to be “fixed by law,” a statute or judicial precedent must articulate “specific standards for designing, constructing, and testing a bobsled run for the public or for operating a public bobsled ride.” Id.; see also Berry, 171 P.3d at 449 (denying motion for summary judgment in negligence case involving a skiercross course because the applicable standard of care was not “fixed by law”); Wycalis v. Guardian Title of Utah, 780 P.2d 821, 825 (Utah. Ct. App. 1989) [**14] (stating that “the applicable standard of care in a given case may be established, as a matter of law, by legislative enactment or prior judicial decision”). Since no statute or precedent provided a standard of care for bobsled rides, the Utah court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Pearce, 179 P.3d at 768.

Applying Utah law to this case would probably require that we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment. It is undisputed that no Utah precedent or legislative enactment specifically establishes the standard of care for running mixed-course bicycle races. Thus, under Utah law, the standard of care in this case is not “fixed by law,” and summary judgment would be inappropriate.

[HN4] Under federal law, on the other hand, a defendant need not establish that the standard of care specific to the factual [*1127] context of the case has been “fixed by law” in order to be granted summary judgment. See Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 342 (3rd Cir. 1985) (holding that defendant moving for summary judgment in a legal malpractice claim need not present expert testimony establishing a standard of care even though a plaintiff in that position would need to do so, because the case [**15] law establishing the plaintiff’s duty to provide expert testimony “cannot fairly be characterized as applying to a defendant’s motion under Rule 56″) (emphasis in original); see also id. at 343 (“[T]he party moving for summary judgment has the ultimate burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. But once the appellees averred facts and alleged that their conduct was not negligent, a burden of production shifted to the appellant to proffer evidence that would create a genuine issue of material fact as to the standard of care.”) (citations omitted); see generally Young v. United Auto. Workers Labor Employment and Training Corp., 95 F.3d 992, 996 (10th Cir. 1996) (“A party who moves for summary judgment under Rule 56 is not required to provide evidence negating an opponent’s claim. Rather, the burden is on the nonmovant, who must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.”) (citations and quotations omitted).

On the contrary, [HN5] federal courts will sometimes grant summary judgment to defendants on negligence claims precisely because of the plaintiff’s failure to present evidence establishing a standard of [**16] care as part of its burden of proof on an element of plaintiff’s case. See, e.g., Briggs v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 481 F.3d 839, 841, 375 U.S. App. D.C. 343 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (affirming grant of summary judgment for defendants on a negligence claim where plaintiff, who under state law had the burden to provide expert testimony on the standard of care, failed to “offer creditable evidence sufficient to establish a controlling standard of care”); Keller v. Albright, 1 F. Supp. 2d 1279, 1281-82 (D. Utah 1997) (granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim asserted under Utah law because the plaintiff failed to provide expert testimony regarding the standard of care, and the case did not involve circumstances “within the common knowledge and experience of lay jurors”) (citation and quotation omitted), aff’d, No. 97-4205, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 7134, 1998 WL 163363 (10th Cir. Apr. 8, 1998) (unpublished) (affirming “for substantially those reasons set out in the district court’s [opinion]”). Thus, even when Utah substantive law was involved, the federal district court of Utah and the Tenth Circuit have held that the federal courts may grant a defendant summary judgment on a negligence [**17] claim even if the parameters of the standard of care in the relevant industry have not been previously established by precedent or statute. 4 See also Noel v. Martin, No. 00-1532, 21 Fed. Appx. 828, 836 *7 (10th Cir. Oct. 19, 2001) (unpublished) (upholding summary judgment for defendants in a legal malpractice case where the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s only expert on the issue of the standard of care).

4 Admittedly, there is no indication in Keller v. Albright, 1 F. Supp. 2d 1279, that the plaintiff there argued that the Utah standard for granting summary judgment in a negligence claim should apply.

In Foster v. Alliedsignal, Inc., 293 F.3d 1187 (10th Cir. 2002), this court addressed a closely analogous set of facts involving a conflict between federal and state law standards for granting summary judgment. Foster involved a retaliatory discharge case brought pursuant to Kansas law. Id. at 1190-91. Under Kansas law, a plaintiff can prevail at trial if she establishes [*1128] her case with “clear and convincing evidence.” Id. at 1194 (internal quotation omitted). However, Kansas law provides that “a plaintiff in a retaliation case . . . . can successfully oppose a motion for summary [**18] judgment by a preponderance of the evidence.” Id. at 1194 (internal quotation and citation omitted). In Foster, this court rejected the plaintiff’s efforts to have that lower evidentiary standard apply at the summary judgment stage in federal court. Id. at 1194-95. Instead, this court held that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986), [HN6] required that courts “view the evidence through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden.” Id. at 254; see also Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 769 F.2d 1451, 1454-55 (10th Cir. 1985) (stating, in the context of a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, that “the question of the sufficiency of the evidence needed to go to the jury in a diversity case is a matter of federal law”); Bank of Cali., N.A. v. Opie, 663 F.2d 977, 979 (9th Cir. 1981) (“[F]ederal law alone governs whether evidence is sufficient to raise a question for the trier-of-fact.”). Applying that standard to the case before it, this court in Foster held that, at summary judgment, the plaintiff “must set forth evidence of a clear and convincing nature that, if believed by the ultimate factfinder, would establish that plaintiff was [**19] more likely than not the victim of illegal retaliation by her employer.” Foster, 293 F.3d at 1195. See also Conrad v. Bd. of Johnson County Comm’rs, 237 F. Supp. 2d 1204, 1266-67 (D. Kan. 2002) (holding that, for state law retaliatory discharge claims, the “clear and convincing standard is applied at the summary judgment stage–at least when the claim is brought in a federal court sitting in diversity”). Thus, although the state law dictated that a plaintiff alleging retaliatory discharge could avoid summary judgment under a preponderance of the evidence standard, [HN7] federal law required that the substantive standard applied at trial (i.e., clear and convincing evidence) governs summary judgment determinations. See Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 85 S. Ct. 1136, 14 L. Ed. 2d 8 (1965); McEwen v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 919 F.2d 58, 60 (7th Cir. 1990) (“Federal courts may grant summary judgment under Rule 56 on concluding that no reasonable jury could return a verdict for the party opposing the motion, even if the state would require the judge to submit an identical case to the jury.”); 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, and Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2712 (3d ed. 1998) (“[I]n diversity-of-citizenship [**20] actions questions relating to the availability of summary judgment, such as whether there is a disputed issue of fact that is sufficient to defeat the motion, are procedural and therefore governed by Rule 56, rather than by state law.”).

The circumstances of this case are very similar to what we addressed in Foster. Like the evidentiary rule in Foster, [HN8] Utah’s rule foreclosing summary judgment in cases where the standard of care has not been fixed by law applies exclusively at summary judgment. This is clear because Utah law provides that, at trial, the plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating the appropriate standard of care. See Webb v. Univ. of Utah, 2005 UT 80, 125 P.3d 906, 909 (Utah 2005) (“To establish a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must establish . . . that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty [and] that the defendant breached that duty . . . .”) (citations and quotations omitted); Sohm v. Dixie Eye Ctr., 166 P.3d 614, 619, 2007 UT App 235 (Utah Ct. App. 2007) (“To sustain a medical malpractice action, a plaintiff must demonstrate . . . the standard of care by which the [physician’s] conduct is to be measured . . . .” (quoting Jensen v. IHC Hosps., Inc., [*1129] 2003 UT 51, 82 P.3d 1076, 1095-96 (Utah 2003)) (alteration [**21] in original)); see also Model Utah Jury Instructions, Second Edition, CV301B (2009), http://www.utcourts.gov/resources/muji/ (stating that “to establish medical malpractice” a plaintiff “has the burden of proving,” inter alia, “what the standard of care is”); id. at CV302 (putting the same burden of proof on a plaintiff attempting to prove nursing negligence). By allowing the plaintiff to avoid summary judgment in cases where the standard of care has not been fixed by law, Utah has created a rule very similar to Kansas’s rule allowing plaintiffs to avoid summary judgment under a lesser standard of proof than they would carry at trial. We are, therefore, bound to treat Utah’s unique summary judgment rule in the same way that we treated the rule in Foster, and conclude that, although we will look to Utah law to determine what elements the plaintiffs must prove at trial to prevail on their claims, see Oja v. Howmedica, Inc., 111 F.3d 782, 792 (10th Cir. 1997) (stating that “in a diversity action we examine the evidence in terms of the underlying burden of proof as dictated by state law”), we will look exclusively to federal law to determine whether plaintiffs have provided enough evidence [**22] on each of those elements to withstand summary judgment. 5 As we discuss in the following section, this approach leads us to concur with the district court’s decision granting summary judgment for the defendants.

5 Even if the defendants have some burden to establish that the race was run in accordance with the standard of care in order to be granted summary judgment, they have met that burden controlling. The defendants put on evidence from a number of experienced biking participants that this race was carefully run in accordance with the standard of care they have come to expect in mountain-bike races. Once the testimony of plaintiffs’ expert Sean Collinsworth is excluded, as we hold later was appropriate, plaintiffs put on no conflicting evidence from any witness qualified to articulate a proper standard of care for a mountain bike race. Further, under Utah law, it would probably be unnecessary for defendants to present expert testimony to establish compliance with the standard of care in this case. Compare Collins v. Utah State Dev. Ctr., 992 P.2d 492, 494-95, 1999 UT App 336 (Utah Ct. App. 1999) (holding that expert testimony was not necessary in case involving claim that a center working with the [**23] developmentally disabled was negligent for allowing a resident to ride a swing without any safety devices designed to ensure that she would not fall off), and Schreiter v. Wasatch Manor, Inc., 871 P.2d 570, 574-75 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (holding that expert testimony was not necessary in a case involving allegations that a senior living center was negligent for failing to install a fire sprinkler system), with Macintosh v. Staker Paving and Const. Co., 2009 UT App 96, 2009 WL 953712, *1 (Utah Ct. App. 2009) (unpublished) (holding that expert testimony was needed to establish the standard of care in a case involving traffic control at a construction site because of the complex rules governing traffic control in that context); see generally Preston & Chambers, P.C. v. Koller, 943 P.2d 260, 263 (Utah Ct. App. 1997) (“Expert testimony is required where the average person has little understanding of the duties owed by particular trades or professions, as in cases involving medical doctors, architects, and engineers.”) (citations and quotations omitted). In any event, plaintiffs have cited no law establishing that Utah would require an expert in this case, and have not addressed this question in their [**24] briefs, so this issue is not before us on appeal. Thus, even if the defendants have the burden at summary judgment to establish that there is no genuine dispute of fact that their conduct satisfied the applicable standard of care, we hold that on this summary judgment record, defendants satisfied that burden.

B. Plaintiffs Failed to Provide Evidence of Gross Negligence

1. Standard of Review

[HN9] “This court reviews the district court’s summary judgment decision de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party . . . .” Beardsley v. Farmland Co-Op, Inc., 530 F.3d 1309, 1313 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Herrera v. Lufkin Indus., Inc., 474 F.3d 675, 679-80 [*1130] (10th Cir. 2007)) (ellipses in original). “Summary judgment is appropriate if the record evidence shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Praseuth v. Rubbermaid, Inc., 406 F.3d 1245, 1255 (10th Cir. 2005) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). This court will grant summary judgment for a defendant if the plaintiff fails adequately “to support one of the elements of their claim upon which they ha[ve] the burden of proof.” Jensen, 1 F.3d at 1079. [**25] A plaintiff “cannot avoid summary judgment merely by presenting a scintilla of evidence to support her claim; she must proffer facts such that a reasonable jury could find in her favor.” Turner v. Public Serv. Co. of Colo., 563 F.3d 1136, 1142 (10th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

2. Analysis

The parties agree that, under Utah law, the liability releases signed by Mr. Milne and Mr. Hall preclude the plaintiffs from bringing ordinary negligence claims against the defendants. See Pearce, 179 P.3d at 765 (stating that [HN10] “people may contract away their rights to recover in tort for damages caused by the ordinary negligence of others”); see also id. at 766 (holding that “recreational activities do not constitute a public interest and that, therefore, preinjury releases for recreational activities cannot be invalidated under the public interest exception”). However, the plaintiffs argue–and, on appeal, the defendants do not contest–that, under Utah law, a liability release will not prevent a plaintiff from bringing claims of gross negligence. Cf. Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062, 1065 (Utah 2001) (stating in dicta that a liability release “is always invalid if it applies to harm [**26] wilfully inflicted or caused by gross or wanton negligence”) (quoting 6A Arthur L. Corbin, Corbin on Contracts, § 1472, at 596-97 (1962)). Thus, the only merits issue raised on appeal is whether plaintiffs have offered enough evidence in support of their claims of gross negligence to withstand a motion for summary judgment. 6

6 Aside from her negligence and gross negligence claims, Plaintiff Sorrow also brought wrongful death claims relating to Mr. Hall’s death. However, the appellants have not adequately addressed those claims on appeal, so they will be deemed to have been waived. See United States v. Abdenbi, 361 F.3d 1282, 1289 (10th Cir. 2004) ( [HN11] “The failure to raise an issue in an opening brief waives that issue.”).

[HN12] Under Utah law, “[g]ross negligence is the failure to observe even slight care; it is carelessness or recklessness to a degree that shows utter indifference to the consequences that may result.” Moon Lake Elec. Ass’n, Inc. v. Ultrasystems W. Constructors, Inc., 767 P.2d 125, 129 (Utah Ct. App. 1988) (quoting Atkin Wright & Miles v. Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co., 709 P.2d 330, 335 (Utah 1985)) (emphasis added); see also Pearce, 179 P.3d at 767 (same). Thus, “the task [**27] confronting a plaintiff who claims injury due to a defendant’s gross negligence is markedly greater than that of a plaintiff who traces his injury to ordinary negligence. Gross negligence requires proof of conduct substantially more distant from the appropriate standard of care than does ordinary negligence.” Berry, 171 P.3d at 449.

[HN13] “Whether an actor’s conduct constitutes negligence is generally a factual question left to a jury. The question should only be answered by the court in rare cases where the evidence is susceptible to only one possible inference.” Roberts v. Printup, 422 F.3d 1211, 1218 (10th Cir. 2005) (citations and quotations omitted). However, appeals courts have affirmed grants of summary judgment on gross negligence claims where the undisputed evidence showed that the defendants [*1131] took precautionary measures and did not ignore known and obvious risks. Cf. Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063, 1069 (Wyo. 1988) (affirming summary judgment for defendants on “willful and wanton misconduct” claim, holding that the defendants “did not act in utter disregard of” plaintiffs’ safety in organizing a ski race where the race organizers had taken a number of safety precautions, [**28] plaintiffs presented no evidence that there was a preexisting requirement to take additional precautions, and the racers had been notified in advance of the dangers of the race); Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App. 3d 27, 2006 Ohio 3656, 857 N.E.2d 1255, 1262-63 (Ohio Ct. App. 2006) (affirming directed verdict on claim of recklessness arising from an ice skating race in part because race organizers took some safety precautions and there was no evidence that organizer had knowingly disregarded any specific dangers or contravened any industry standards).

Moon Lake Elec. Ass’n, Inc., 767 P.2d at 129. In this case, the plaintiffs have fallen short of producing evidence upon which a jury could conclude that the defendants failed to exercise “even slight care” in organizing and administering this race.

Mountain bike racing is an inherently dangerous sport, so the defendants cannot be considered grossly negligent merely because they organized a race that placed the racers at risk of injury and even death. Rather, the court must look at the specific steps the defendants took to ensure the racers’ safety in order to determine whether a jury could decide that they were grossly negligent.

As discussed above, the undisputed evidence [**29] shows that the race organizers took a number of steps to warn of, and protect against, the risk of an automobile accident during the race. The race organizers posted a sign warning people in the area of the upcoming race, posted attendants near the starting line to warn drivers about the race taking place that day, and approached people camped in the area to warn them that the road would be clogged with bikers that morning.

The race organizers also provided 25 course marshals, some of which were assigned to areas like intersections and sharp turns specifically because of the unique risks of automobile traffic in those areas. No one was assigned to the area right near the accident, but that choice was not grossly negligent in light of the fact that the stretch of road where the accident occurred was relatively straight and wide. The race organizers also had some first aid personnel standing by, in addition to Mr. Jean, who carried a backpack with some medical supplies.

Finally, the racers were warned–both in writing and verbally–that they might encounter traffic during the race. The racers’ decision to compete on a course that they knew they would be sharing with automobiles strongly [**30] undercuts their ability to claim after the fact that it was grossly negligent for the race organizers to conduct an open course race. Cf. Walton v. Oz Bicycle Club of Wichita, No. 90-1597-K, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17655, 1991 WL 257088, *4 (D. Kan. Nov. 22, 1991) (granting defendants summary judgment on negligence claim arising from plaintiff striking an automobile during a bicycle race organized by the defendants in part because “the fact that the course was open to normal traffic was explicitly made known to the participants”).

Mr. Konitshek claimed that the organizers’ efforts to warn people in the area of the upcoming race were ineffective, because he did not know about the race until moments before the accident. Mr. Konitshek’s complaints about the sufficiency of the race organizers’ warnings do not rise to the level of creating a material issue of [*1132] fact with regard to gross negligence for two reasons. First, even if the race organizers’ warnings were imperfect, that does not negate the fact that they made rather substantial efforts to warn people, and their failure to reach every person in the area is insufficient to show gross negligence. Second, although Mr. Konitshek testified that he would have changed [**31] his plans if he had known about the race in advance, the plaintiffs presented no reason for this court to think that most drivers would change their plans to avoid a bicycle race on a 6-mile stretch of open road.

[HN14] Utah requires a very high level of disregard for safety in order to constitute gross negligence. See Pearce, 179 P.3d at 767; Atkin Wright & Miles, 709 P.2d at 335; Moon Lake Elec. Ass’n, Inc., 767 P.2d at 129. The undisputed steps that defendants took to enhance the safety of the TOC would prevent any reasonable juror from finding gross negligence under Utah substantive law. Many of the precautions discussed above were specifically designed to prevent accidents with automobiles. Further, there was no evidence that automobile accidents posed a particularly serious risk in this case. On the contrary, the race had been conducted on an open course for over a decade, and this is the first instance of an accident involving a racer and a vehicle. Thus, the organizers’ failure to shut down the road, mark and enforce a center line on the road, more closely monitor vehicular traffic, or more thoroughly warn other area drivers of the upcoming race cannot, as a matter of law, amount to [**32] gross negligence in light of the other safety steps taken by the organizers of this race. Cf. Holzer v. Dakota Speedway, Inc., 2000 SD 65, 610 N.W.2d 787, 793-94 (S.D. 2000) (affirming summary judgment for defendants on reckless conduct claim relating to harm caused to a pit crew member during an automobile race in part because the allegedly reckless conduct that led to the harm in that case had been present during races for three years prior to this accident, and had never before caused anyone any harm).

An examination of cases in other jurisdictions shows that [HN15] courts have been reluctant to find that race organizers have been grossly negligent for failing to take every precaution that 20/20 hindsight might counsel. See Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1069 (affirming summary judgment for defendants on “willful and wanton misconduct” claim arising out of a ski race where the race organizers had taken a number of safety precautions, plaintiffs presented no evidence that there was a preexisting requirement to take additional precautions, and the racers had been notified in advance of the dangers of the race); Santho, 857 N.E.2d at 1262-63 (affirming directed verdict on claim of recklessness arising from an [**33] ice skating race in part because race organizers took some safety precautions and there was no evidence that organizer had knowingly disregarded any specific dangers or contravened any industry standards); Holzer, 610 N.W.2d at 793-94 (affirming summary judgment for defendants on reckless conduct claim relating to harm caused to a pit crew member during an automobile race in part because plaintiff failed to show that, at the time of the accident, the defendants “knew or had reason to know of an unreasonable risk of harm” to the defendant); Walton, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17655, 1991 WL 257088 at *4 (granting defendants summary judgment on negligence claim arising from plaintiff striking an automobile during a bicycle race organized by the defendants in part because “the fact that the course was open to normal traffic was explicitly made known to the participants”).

We therefore agree with the district court’s determination that the plaintiffs in this case have failed to provide evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude [*1133] that the race organizers were grossly negligent. 7 See Turner, 563 F.3d at 1142 (stating that, [HN16] to avoid summary judgment, a plaintiff “must proffer facts such that a reasonable jury could [**34] find in her favor”).

7 Because we decide this case on the grounds that plaintiffs have failed to present evidence of gross negligence, we do not reach the defendants’ separate argument that, even if they were grossly negligent, their negligence could not have proximately caused the harms complained of in this case.

C. District Court did not Abuse its Discretion by Excluding Plaintiffs’ Expert

1. Standard of Review

[HN17] “Like other evidentiary rulings, [the court] review[s] a district court’s decision to exclude evidence at the summary judgment stage for abuse of discretion.” Sports Racing Servs. v. Sports Car Club of Am.., 131 F.3d 874, 894 (10th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). “[A] district court abuses its discretion when it renders an arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or manifestly unreasonable judgment.” Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1163 (10th Cir. 2000) (citations and quotations omitted).

[HN18] When testing the admissibility of expert testimony, courts must first determine whether an expert is “qualified by ‘knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education’ to render an opinion.” Ralston v. Smith & Nephew Richards, Inc., 275 F.3d 965, 969 (10th Cir. 2001) [**35] (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 702). Second, if the court determines that a witness is qualified, it must then “determine whether her opinions [a]re ‘reliable.'” Id.

The district court struck the second affidavit of plaintiffs’ expert Sean Collinsworth, concluding that he was “not sufficiently qualified to render expert testimony on the applicable standards of care for mountain bike racing, particularly regarding the TOC[, and] that any such testimony would be speculative and not sufficiently reliable . . . .” (Appx. at 9.)

2. Analysis

Plaintiffs rely heavily on their expert’s testimony to support their claim that the race organizers were grossly negligent. However, plaintiffs’ expert, Sean Collinsworth, admittedly had no experience in organizing, supervising, or studying mountain bike races and, therefore, was not qualified to offer expert testimony on the standard of care for mountain bike races. At his deposition, Mr. Collinsworth was asked, “As a matter of fact–just so we’re clear, you’re not an expert on mountain bike racing . . . Is that a fair statement?” (Appx. at 641.) He answered, “Yes, it is.” (Id.) Nor was he even an experienced mountain bike rider. He had only participated in one [**36] or two mountain bike races, and those were more than 15 years ago. He had never published any articles about bicycle racing of any sort, let alone mountain bike racing. He testified that, as a police officer, he investigated hundreds of vehicle-bicycle collisions, but there was no indication that any of those took place on a dirt road or in the course of a race.

Although Mr. Collinsworth had experience organizing and supervising paved road bike races, the district court reasonably concluded that his experience was insufficient to qualify him to testify about mountain bike races. The facts of this case make it clear that the rules and practices that prevail at mountain bike races–even the on-the-road portion of mountain bike races–are different from the rules and practices that prevail at traditional road races. Most importantly, road racers are always required to obey a center-line [*1134] rule, while mountain bikers racing on dirt roads will generally cross the center-line when there is no oncoming traffic, but are expected to veer right if they see any traffic approaching. Furthermore, the conditions of a road race on paved streets with clearly marked center lines differ significantly from [**37] the conditions of the open-course portion of the TOC, which took place on a dirt road with no clearly marked center line. Given the differences between road races and mountain bike races, we conclude that the district court’s finding that Mr. Collinsworth was unqualified to offer expert testimony on the standard of care for mountain bike races was not “arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or manifestly unreasonable.” Atlantic Richfield Co., 226 F.3d at 1163; cf. Ralston, 275 F.3d at 970-71 (upholding district court’s determination that a board certified orthopaedic surgeon was not qualified to testify about an orthopaedic device that she had never worked with or studied); Bertotti v. Charlotte Motor Speedway, Inc., 893 F. Supp. 565, 569-70 (W.D.N.C. 1995) (striking expert testimony regarding design of go-kart track where expert had experience in automobile racing, but not go-kart racing).

Even if Mr. Collinsworth was qualified to offer an expert opinion on the standard of care for mountain bike races, the district court correctly determined that his testimony in this case was unreliable. [HN19] “To determine whether an expert opinion is admissible, the district court performs a two-step analysis. [**38] First, the court must determine whether the expert is qualified by ‘knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education’ to render an opinion. See Fed. R. Evid. 702. Second, if the expert is sufficiently qualified, the court must determine whether the expert’s opinion is reliable . . . .” 103 Investors I, L.P. v. Square D Co., 470 F.3d 985, 990 (10th Cir. 2006). “In reviewing whether an expert’s testimony is reliable, the trial court must assess the reasoning and methodology underlying the expert’s opinion.” United States v. Rodriguez-Felix, 450 F.3d 1117, 1123 (10th Cir. 2006) (citations and quotations omitted). Mr. Collinsworth’s opinions in this case were not based on a study of other similar races, an analysis of precautionary measures used in mountain bike races and the risks and benefits of such measures, or any other empirical or quantitative studies. Instead, he relied almost exclusively on his experience in paved road racing–experience that the district court reasonably determined was inapplicable to the context of mountain bike racing–to form his conclusions about the standard of care that should have been used in this case. Mr. Collinsworth’s conclusions about the safety [**39] precautions that should have been taken in this case are, therefore, mere speculation, and [HN20] “[i]t is axiomatic that an expert, no matter how good his credentials, is not permitted to speculate.” Goebel v. Denver and Rio Grande Western R.R. Co., 215 F.3d 1083, 1088 (10th Cir. 2000). Without their expert’s testimony, the plaintiffs’ claims fall apart. See Bertotti, 893 F. Supp. at 570 (granting summary judgment for defendants on plaintiffs’ claim that defendants were grossly negligent in designing and maintaining a go-kart track where the only evidence plaintiffs provided in support of their claims of gross negligence was inadmissible expert testimony). 8

8 The district court’s holding on this matter was limited to Mr. Collinsworth’s second affidavit because the defendants did not also move to strike plaintiffs’ expert’s initial report or his deposition testimony. However, the district court’s ruling clearly indicated that it would not allow this expert to testify as an expert on any of the issues in this case. Therefore, we do not consider either of Mr. Collinsworth’s affidavits or his deposition testimony in deciding the merits of plaintiffs’ claims.

[*1135] III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, [**40] we AFFIRM the district court’s decisions to strike the plaintiff’s expert’s second affidavit and to grant summary judgment for the defendants.

CONCUR BY: GORSUCH (In Part)

CONCUR

GORSUCH, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

I join all but Section II.C of Judge Ebel’s fine opinion. That section concerns the admissibility of testimony by the plaintiffs’ expert, Sean Collinsworth. The majority upholds the district court’s decision to exclude Mr. Collinsworth’s testimony on the ground that he wasn’t an expert in the relevant field. I have my doubts. Mr. Collinsworth may not be a professional mountain bike racer, but he does have substantial experience in organizing and conducting traffic control operations for bicycle racing and similar events — and the adequacy of the defendants’ traffic control operations lie at the heart of this case.

Still, I would affirm the district court’s exclusion of Mr. Collinsworth for a different reason. The only question in this case is gross negligence — namely, whether defendants took any precautions against the accident that took place. See, e.g., Pearce v. Utah Athletic Found., 2008 UT 13, 179 P.3d 760, 767 (Utah 2008) (Gross negligence is “the failure to [**41] observe even slight care; it is carelessness or recklessness to a degree that shows utter indifference to the consequences that may result.”) (emphasis added); cf. Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, 171 P.3d 442, 449 (Utah 2007) (“Gross negligence requires proof of conduct substantially more distant from the appropriate standard of care than does ordinary negligence.”). Mr. Collinsworth’s proffered testimony faults the sufficiency of the defendants’ precautions, but doesn’t dispute that the defendants did exercise some degree of care, however slight, in preparing for and managing this race. His testimony, thus, might well have been relevant to a negligence claim, but it doesn’t illuminate the plaintiffs’ gross negligence claim. And a district court is not obliged to entertain evidence, expert or otherwise, irrelevant to the claims before it. See Fed. R. Evid. 402 (“Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.”). With this minor caveat, I am pleased to join.