The assumption of risk defense is still available when the claim is based on a condition of the land. This defense is called the open and obvious doctrine.

A landowner must protect invitees from hidden dangers. If the danger could have been seen or was seen, then it is open and obvious and the landowner must not protect the invitees from the danger.

Watkins, Jr., v St. Francis Camp on the Lake, 2010 Mich. App. LEXIS 1814

State: Michigan, Court of Appeals of Michigan

Plaintiff: Robert Vincent Watkins, Jr.

Defendant: St. Francis Camp on the Lake

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses: Open and Obvious defect in the land

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2010

The plaintiff was attending the defendant camp. The camp was run for people with special needs. The plaintiff suffered from cerebral palsy and was a quadriplegic. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was 34 years old.

At the camp, a water slide was created. The slide was a 100’ long tarp, 20’ wide and placed upon a hill. Water was prayed on the tarp along with soap. Some of the campers used inner tubes on the slide; others just went down on the buttocks.  

At the bottom was a little ditch, 2.5’ long 2’ wide and 12-18” deep. The ditch had mud and water in it. When someone going down slide hit the ditch it would flip them.

On the day before the incident, the plaintiff had gone down the slide four or five times. He would ride down the hill on an inner tube with a camp counselor in an inner tube behind the plaintiff. After each ride, the plaintiff and tubes would be loaded on a golf cart and taken to the top of the hill.

The second day the plaintiff was injured on the slide during the flip, injuring his foot. He had already gone down the slide twice before his injury.

The plaintiff sued for his injuries. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The basis for the dismissal was the condition of the land that caused the plaintiff’s injuries was open and obvious. The plaintiff argued that this was a case not based upon the land but based upon the actions of the defendant. The actions of the defendant would set up a negligence claim. A claim based upon the condition of the land would be determined on the duty owed by the landowner to the plaintiff as an invitee.

Under Michigan’s law, the duty owed by a landowner to an invite was:

Generally, a premises possessor owes a duty of care to an invitee to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land. This duty generally does not encompass a duty to protect an invitee from “open and obvious” dangers. However, if there are “special aspects” of a condition that make even an “open and obvious” danger “unreasonably dangerous,” the premises possessor maintains a duty to undertake reasonable precautions to protect invitees from such danger.

The appellate court also found the claims rose from the land; therefore, the liability was from the relationship between the landowner and the plaintiff-invitee.

That is, the question was whether defendant had a duty as the owner of the land to protect plaintiff from harm and thus provide a water slide activity that was free from danger by not allowing a ditch at the bottom of the slide to exist, which propelled participants into the air.

Even if actions of the defendants contributed to the injury it was not enough to alter the relationship to create a negligence claim.

Consequently, although some alleged conduct on the part of defendant may have been involved-i.e. failing to protect plaintiff from harm, allowing the ditch to form, and/or failing to train staff to recognize the danger involved in allowing participants to hit the ditch and be propelled into the air-this does not change the fact that, as a matter of law, this negligence claim was based on premises liability law.

Because the condition was open and obvious, one that the plaintiff knew about normally because they could have or should have seen it and in this case did see it and did encounter it, there was no liability owed by the landowner-defendant.

Plaintiff argued that because the counselor’s did not recognize the danger, the danger could not be open and obvious.  

However, simply because one counselor did not see any danger in operating the slide (all the evidence pointed to the conclusion that all campers enjoyed the slide) does not result in a conclusion that an average user of ordinary intelligence would not have been able to discover the danger and the risk presented upon casual inspection by going down a water slide, hitting the ditch, and flipping into the air.

Evidence of prior injuries would be needed to convert the actions of the counselors from that of a landowner to simple defendants. If the counselors kept the slide open after a person had been injured and then the plaintiff received his injury, then the open and oblivious claim may not work.

This argument fails for the simple reason that in a premises liability action when determining whether a condition is open and obvious, “the fact-finder must consider the ‘condition of the premises,’ not the condition of the plaintiff.”

The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the case by the trial court.

So Now What?

In this specific case, you can look at the open and obvious defense as similar to the defense of assumption of the risk.

More importantly always examine every possible defense when you are faced with a suit. Here, the answer was easy, although having campers launched into the air may not provide an open and obvious defense in all states.

If you are a camp or landowner, what you need to constantly be aware of and even search for are the non-open and obvious dangers on the land. Those things that cannot be seen by casual observation or that should have been seen by observation are what will hold you liable.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Watkins, Jr., v St. Francis Camp on the Lake, 2010 Mich. App. Lexis 1814

Watkins, Jr., v St. Francis Camp on the Lake, 2010 Mich. App. Lexis 1814

Robert Vincent Watkins, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant, v St. Francis camp on the lake, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 292578

Court of Appeals of Michigan

2010 Mich. App. LEXIS 1814

September 28, 2010, Decided

NOTICE: THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION. IN ACCORDANCE WITH MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS RULES, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS ARE NOT PRECEDENTIALLY BINDING UNDER THE RULES OF STARE DECISIS.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Hillsdale Circuit Court. LC No. 08-000601-NI.

CORE TERMS: water slide, ditch, camper, slide, went down, premises liability, amend, times, counselor, tube, matter of law, nuisance, flipped, invitee, futile, hit, air, obvious danger, pleaded, bottom, rolled, feet, leave to amend, physical condition, duty to protect, duty of care, liability case, liability claim, dangerous condition, ordinary intelligence

JUDGES: Before: MURPHY, C.J., and SAWYER and MURRAY, JJ. MURPHY, C.J. (concurring).

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

Plaintiff Robert Watkins, Jr., appeals by leave granted the trial court’s June 1, 2009, order granting defendant summary disposition, and its order denying his motion to amend. We affirm.

I. FACTS

Plaintiff, who is disabled, was injured using a water slide at a summer camp that defendant St. Francis Camp on the Lake runs for people with special needs. Plaintiff, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair because he is a quadriplegic, was approximately 34 years old at the time of the accident and was living with his parents. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was employed at the Roscommon county courthouse as a mail clerk, where he worked for the previous 15 years for about 20 hours per week. Plaintiff did not have a legal guardian.

A water slide was at the camp. The water slide consisted of a tarp, which was approximately 100 feet long and 20 feet wide, placed on a hill. Water was then sprayed onto the tarp and soap was put onto the campers so that the campers would slide down the tarp faster. Some of the campers would use inner tubes [*2] when going down the hill and some would slide down the hill on their buttocks. At the bottom of the slide was a “little ditch,” which was approximately two and one-half feet long, two feet wide, and 12 to 18 inches deep. There was water and mud in the ditch, and if a camper hit the ditch when sliding down the hill, which “pretty much everybody hit the ditch,” the camper would flip.

Robert Seger was a camp counselor while plaintiff was at the camp. Seger indicated that the camp basically “let the campers decide what they feel they can and can’t do. They try not to place any limitations on anybody. They want them to have the best experience possible there.” Camp counselors kept notes throughout the week about the campers. Seger’s notes about plaintiff reflected, “July 15th, Sunday. Robert W. excited to be at the new camp. Very happy and pleasant all day. Likes to try new things and is determined to do as much as he can do on his own.” Seger’s notes also reflected, “July 17th, Tuesday. Robert W. says he really likes the camp. The best one he has been to. Took him on the slip and slide. He does not let his physical limitations stop him from trying anything new. He loves the water slide.” [*3] 1

1 Plaintiff’s mother completed plaintiff’s camper medical information form and indicated on the form that plaintiff has suffered from cerebral palsy since birth, was a quadriplegic, used an electric wheelchair, and had a colostomy as well as arthritis and speech problems. One of the questions on the form provided, “Should camper’s activities be limited due to physical condition or illness?” Plaintiff’s mother circled “Yes” and explained “Spine/disc narrowing-disc bulging, and disc herniation.”

Seger testified that, on Tuesday, plaintiff went down the water slide four or five times. Seger testified that plaintiff was loaded onto a tube at the top of the hill, then a camp counselor sat in a tube behind plaintiff’s tube and went down the hill holding onto plaintiff’s tube. Plaintiff was subsequently loaded onto a golf cart and driven back up to the top of the hill. On Wednesday, plaintiff went down the water slide approximately four more times. Seger testified:

So Robby rolled a couple times, got up laughing. It was fine the first day. And that’s when, I believe the second day, he really took a good flip. Elizabeth went down with him on the slide as well. I believe that’s the day he might [*4] have, when he rolled might have hit his foot on the ground too hard. He might have caught it in the ditch down at the bottom. I am not quite too sure exactly the circumstances that led to bones being broken in his foot. But when he complained about it I noticed the bruising and said something to the nurse and had her examine it.

Seger further testified regarding the last two times that plaintiff went down the water slide on Wednesday:

The third time I do remember him flipping. He went one time after that which he flipped as well. So-I’m sorry. Like I said, I can’t necessarily-I don’t remember specific times, but his last two times he flipped really hard. And that’s when he decided he was done. He didn’t want to go anymore. And he had some scratches caused from the gravel from the rolling over. And I think I remember that there was-he complained-got the wind knocked out of him when they rolled over, because he had lain there for a bit. And we went down to check everything out, make sure he was okay, checked his colostomy bag. Because I mean, like I said, he rolled over pretty good. And he said he just kind of had the wind knocked out of him but he was fine. So we got him cleaned up, wiped [*5] the mud off of his face, put him back in the golf cart, took him to the top of the hill. And that was close to the end of the activity, but he didn’t want to go anymore anyways.

On March 6, 2008, plaintiff filed a complaint, which alleged the following:

7. On or about July 19, 2007, the Defendant and its agents and employees, including all camp instructors and supervisors, owed certain duties and obligations to the Plaintiff and those similarly situated, including but not limited to:

a. Ensuring that they were kept from harm;

b. Utilizing all means and methods to ensure that they would not cause serious and permanent injury to Plaintiff;

c. To abide by the wishes and request of any guardian or parent of the Plaintiff or other similar situated individuals so as to ensure that the Plaintiff was not exposed to an increase[d] risk of harm and injury in the activities undertaken during said time at the camp;

d. To ensure that individuals attending the facility such as the Plaintiff herein were protected from severe and permanent injury and damage during the course of normal activity;

e. To ensure that injuries and damages sustained by the Plaintiff or other[s] similar[ly] situated while staying [*6] at the camp were properly and adequately diagnosed and treated and then appropriate and prompt medical attention was provided to these individuals and the Plaintiff herein by qualified and competent medical professionals;

f. To ensure that the facility properly and adequately trained its personnel to recognize the dangers in activities, which they may undertake with campers so as to reduce or eliminate the danger for severe and permanent injury and damage; and

g. Such other duties and obligations as may be identified throughout the course of discovery.

On April 17, 2009, defendant moved for summary disposition, pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)10), arguing that this was a premises liability case and that the alleged hazard was open and obvious. Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint in order to add a claim of nuisance in fact and moved to amend the scheduling order in order to extend scheduling dates 60 days so that he would have enough time to complete discovery. Plaintiff also opposed defendant’s motion.

At the hearing on the motion to amend the complaint, the trial court concluded:

This isn’t a nuisance case. This isn’t an issue that’s something open to the general public. It is for simply the [*7] private campers. You’ve got a negligence action, I think. It would appear that Mr. Watkins-at least from the briefs I’ve read thus far, subject to the arguments of both of you, I believe it’s Friday-didn’t even agree to this activity. It would appear that he simply was picked up out of a wheelchair, put on an inner tube, and he was accompanied by a counselor down the hill. This isn’t a nuisance case, it’s a negligence case. Doesn’t even appear to be a premises liability case.

So I think we’re-it would be futile to amend the complaint at this time. We’ll proceed with the complaint as drafted . . . .

At the hearing, the trial court also indicated that it was denying plaintiff’s request to have the scheduling order dates extended.

At the subsequent hearing on defendant’s motion for summary disposition, the trial court held:

This case has been described as a premises liability case. The reason the Court doesn’t consider it a negligence case in general is that I’m not sitting here with a patient that — or an individual that is not cognizant of what is going on around him. The staff followed his directions.

* * *

[I]n this particular case I’m dealing with a ditch at the bottom of a hill where [*8] water accumulates. As I have described here, based on the depositions, the condition was open, the condition was obvious, it was observed by Mr. Watkins, it was observed by everyone around. This could not be expected that this would result in a serious injury-severe injury. The condition of the premises cannot be considered unreasonable. You don’t have a situation where we could have an especially high likelihood of injury.

Hence, the trial court concluded that defendant’s motion for summary disposition should be granted because plaintiff’s claims were based on premises liability law and the condition was open and obvious and without special aspects that would remove the condition from the open and obvious danger doctrine. The trial court noted, however, that the claim relating to the failure to obtain proper medical services in a timely fashion remained pending. At the end of the hearing on the motion for summary disposition, the trial court entertained plaintiff’s motion for entry of order to dismiss the case without prejudice, which the trial court also granted.

II. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff argues that his claims of negligence should not have been summarily dismissed as claims sounding only [*9] in premises liability because it was defendant’s conduct in not properly and adequately training its personnel to recognize the dangers in activities that led to his injuries. Further, an objective reading of the complaint results in a finding that the negligence clearly involved the conduct of individuals with regard to the water slide activity. Thus, plaintiff’s claims should not have been dismissed on the basis of premises liability law because premises liability law does not apply to conduct.

We review de novo a trial court’s decision to grant summary disposition. Coblentz v City of Novi, 475 Mich 558, 567; 719 NW2d 73 (2006). We review the record in the same manner as the trial court to determine whether the movant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Morales v Auto-Owners Ins, 458 Mich 288, 294; 582 NW2d 776 (1998). A motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual sufficiency of the complaint. Maiden v Rozwood, 461 Mich 109, 120; 597 NW2d 817 (1999). In evaluating a motion for summary disposition brought under this subsection, a reviewing court considers affidavits, pleadings, depositions, admissions and other evidence submitted by the parties, MCR 2.116(G)(5), in the [*10] light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Coblentz, 475 Mich at 567-568. Where the proffered evidence fails to establish a genuine issue regarding any material fact, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. MCR 2.116(C)(10); MCR 2.116(G)(4); Coblentz, 475 Mich at 568.

Generally, where an injury arises out of a condition on the land, rather than conduct or activity, the action lies in premises liability. James v Alberts, 464 Mich 12, 18-19; 626 NW2d 158 (2001); Laier v Kitchen, 266 Mich App 482, 493; 702 NW2d 199 (2005). In other words:

In a premises liability claim, liability emanates merely from the defendant’s duty as an owner, possessor, or occupier of land. However, that does not preclude a separate claim grounded on an independent theory of liability based on the defendant’s conduct . . . . [Id.]

Premises liability law has been summarized by the Michigan Supreme Court as follows:

Generally, a premises possessor owes a duty of care to an invitee to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land. This duty generally does not encompass a duty to protect an invitee from “open [*11] and obvious” dangers. However, if there are “special aspects” of a condition that make even an “open and obvious” danger “unreasonably dangerous,” the premises possessor maintains a duty to undertake reasonable precautions to protect invitees from such danger. [Mann v Shusteric Enterprises, Inc, 470 Mich 320, 328; 683 NW2d 573 (2004) (citations omitted).]

The test to determine if a danger is open and obvious is whether an average user of ordinary intelligence would have been able to discover the danger and the risk presented upon casual inspection. Joyce v Rubin, 249 Mich App 231, 238; 642 NW2d 360 (2002).

We conclude, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, that defendant’s alleged liability emanated from its duty as the owner of the land. Coblentz, 475 Mich at 568; Laier, 266 Mich App at 493. That is, the question was whether defendant had a duty as the owner of the land to protect plaintiff from harm and thus provide a water slide activity that was free from danger by not allowing a ditch at the bottom of the slide to exist, which propelled participants into the air. Id. The theory of liability directly related to a condition on the land, i.e. the premises. James, 464 Mich at 18-19. [*12] Consequently, although some alleged conduct on the part of defendant may have been involved-i.e. failing to protect plaintiff from harm, allowing the ditch to form, and/or failing to train staff to recognize the danger involved in allowing participants to hit the ditch and be propelled into the air-this does not change the fact that, as a matter of law, this negligence claim was based on premises liability law. Bertrand v Alan Ford, Inc, 449 Mich 606, 609; 537 NW2d 185 (1995); Laier, 266 Mich App at 489. 2 Indeed, in Laier we specifically held that the open and obvious doctrine applied to a claim pleaded as “a failure to warn of a dangerous condition or as a breach of a duty in allowing the dangerous condition to exist.” Id. at 489 (emphasis added). Accordingly, the trial court correctly determined that this case was based on premises liability law and analyzed the case under that theory. Id.

2 That is, of course, except for the negligence claim related to plaintiff’s subsequent care and treatment at the camp, which the trial court indicated remained pending, at least until the order dismissing the case without prejudice.

The undisputed facts reveal that the condition was also open and [*13] obvious. Joyce, 249 Mich App at 238. The testimony reflected that almost every time a camper went down the water slide, they hit the ditch and flipped or became covered in mud. In addition, plaintiff specifically testified that before he went down the water slide, he saw other people go down the water slide and fly into the air. Further, the testimony established that plaintiff went down the water slide several times before he was injured and that plaintiff was enjoying the water slide. We find on the record before us that an average user of ordinary intelligence would have been able to discover the danger and the risk presented upon casual inspection. Id. Based on the foregoing, the danger of going down the water slide, hitting the ditch, and flipping into the air, was open and obvious. Id.

Plaintiff argues that because a counselor at the camp did not recognize the danger, there was genuine issue of material fact on whether the condition was open and obvious. However, simply because one counselor did not see any danger in operating the slide (all the evidence pointed to the conclusion that all campers enjoyed the slide) does not result in a conclusion that an average user of ordinary [*14] intelligence would not have been able to discover the danger and the risk presented upon casual inspection by going down a water slide, hitting the ditch, and flipping into the air. Joyce, 249 Mich App at 238. Additionally, there was no evidence of prior injuries. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff, there is no genuine issue of material fact whether the condition was open and obvious, Coblentz, 475 Mich at 567-568, and no special aspects to this condition were presented. Lugo v Ameritech Corp, 464 Mich 512, 516-520; 629 NW2d 384 (2001). Hence, plaintiff’s claim was barred by the open and obvious doctrine.

In addition, plaintiff argues that defendant should have known or anticipated that, given plaintiff’s physical condition and his parent’s requested restrictions, plaintiff could have been hurt if propelled into the air after hitting the ditch. This argument fails for the simple reason that in a premises liability action when determining whether a condition is open and obvious, “the fact-finder must consider the ‘condition of the premises,’ not the condition of the plaintiff.” Mann, 470 Mich at 329. Hence, plaintiff’s physical condition was not pertinent to [*15] the determination that the condition was open and obvious. Id.

Plaintiff also argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied him the opportunity to amend his pleadings with additional theories of ordinary negligence. The grant or denial of leave to amend is within the trial court’s discretion. Weymers v Khera, 454 Mich 639, 654; 563 NW2d 647 (1997). Thus, “[we] will not reverse a trial court’s decision regarding leave to amend unless it constituted an abuse of discretion that resulted in injustice.” PT Today, Inc v Comm’r of the Office of Financial & Ins Servs, 270 Mich App 110, 142; 715 NW2d 398 (2006). “Leave to amend the pleadings should be freely granted to the nonprevailing party upon a grant of summary disposition unless the amendment would be futile or otherwise unjustified.” Lewandowski v Nuclear Mgt, Co, LLC, 272 Mich App 120, 126-127; 724 NW2d 718 (2006). Specifically, “[a]n amendment is futile where the paragraphs or counts the plaintiff seeks to add merely restate, or slightly elaborate on, allegations already pleaded.” Dowerk v Oxford Charter Twp, 233 Mich App 62, 76; 592 NW2d 724 (1998).

For two reasons the trial court did not abuse it’s discretion. First, [*16] the exclusive focus of plaintiff’s motion to amend was to amend the complaint to allege a “nuisance”, and plaintiff does not challenge the trial court’s conclusion that nuisance is not properly pleaded under these facts. Second, an amendment would have been futile because plaintiff’s alleged additional theories of ordinary negligence merely restated, and slightly elaborated on, the theories of negligence that plaintiff already pleaded. Id. And, as already stated above, the open and obvious doctrine applied because defendant’s alleged liability emanated from defendant’s duty as the owner of the land to protect plaintiff from harm, including in allowing the danger to exist. Bertrand, 449 Mich at 609; Laier, 266 Mich App at 493. In other words, the open and obvious doctrine applied to plaintiff’s alleged theories of negligence, which were set forth in his complaint, as well as plaintiff’s alleged additional theories of ordinary negligence (except as noted in footnote 2, supra) because defendant’s alleged liability emanated from defendant’s duty as the owner of the land to protect plaintiff from harm. Id. Thus, there was no abuse of discretion that resulted in an injustice because granting [*17] plaintiff leave to amend his complaint would have been futile. Dowerk, 233 Mich App at 76; Weymers, 454 Mich at 654.

Affirmed.

/s/ David H. Sawyer

/s/ Christopher M. Murray

CONCUR BY: William B. Murphy

CONCUR

MURPHY, C.J. (concurring).

I find it unnecessary to determine whether plaintiff’s lawsuit sounded solely in premises liability law. Assuming that plaintiff alleged an independent cause of action on a pure negligence theory, I would hold, as a matter of law, that defendant owed no specific duty of care to plaintiff that encompassed protecting him from or keeping him off the water slide. I would also analyze the premises liability claim in a slightly different manner. Accordingly, I respectfully concur.

“The elements of an action for negligence are (i) duty, (ii) general standard of care, (iii) specific standard of care, (iv) cause in fact, (v) legal or proximate cause, and (vi) damage.” Moning v Alfono, 400 Mich 425, 437; 254 NW2d 759 (1977). As a general rule, there is no common law duty that obligates one person to protect another person from danger. Dawe v Dr Reuven Bar-Levav & Associates, PC, 485 Mich 20, 25; 780 NW2d 272 (2010). An exception exists when there is a special relationship between a plaintiff [*18] and the defendant. Id. at 25-26. The Dawe Court, quoting Williams v Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc, 429 Mich 495, 499; 418 NW2d 381 (1988), observed:

“The rationale behind imposing a duty to protect in these special relationships is based on control. In each situation one person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself. The duty to protect is imposed upon the person in control because he is best able to provide a place of safety.” [Dawe, 485 Mich at 26.]

Here, plaintiff’s allegations that presumably sounded in negligence were in the nature of claims that defendant had failed to protect him from or keep him off the water slide. Despite his physical limitations, plaintiff is an adult who was fully aware of the ditch at the end of the water slide, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that he was incapable of appreciating any potential dangers, nor that he was incapable of making his own informed decision whether to engage in the activity of using the water slide. The record reflects that plaintiff did not have a guardian and that he was employed as a mail clerk. This case does not present a situation in which plaintiff [*19] entrusted himself to the control and protection of defendant, as he never lost the ability to protect himself, which could have been accomplished by simply declining to participate in the activity. Defendant never forced plaintiff to use the water slide. Indeed, plaintiff later decided against further using the slide. I would hold, as a matter of law, that defendant owed no specific duty of care to plaintiff that encompassed protecting him from or keeping him off the water slide.

With respect to plaintiff’s claims predicated on premises liability law, this case is not truly one that concerns the open and obvious danger doctrine. Rather, we have a situation in which defendant had no duty because plaintiff had actual knowledge of the hazard and chose to proceed. Plaintiff knew that camp patrons, including himself, had flipped over in the ditch, considering that he had slid down the slide and flipped previously, and given that he observed others doing the same. As indicated in Bertrand v Alan Ford, Inc, 449 Mich 606, 610; 537 NW2d 185 (1995), liability will not be imposed on a landowner where a hazard is known or is open and obvious. “[T]he open and obvious doctrine will cut off liability [*20] if the invitee should have discovered the condition and realized its danger.” Id. at 611 (emphasis added). Thus, liability or a duty evaporates when a danger is open and obvious, as it should have been discovered, or when the danger was actually known, as it had been discovered, which is the case here. Plaintiff’s premises liability claim thus fails, as I do not find that the condition remained unreasonably dangerous despite plaintiff’s knowledge of it. Id.

In all other respects, I agree with the majority’s opinion.

I respectfully concur.

/s/ William B. Murphy


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Camp held liable when a camper misunderstands instructions, and plaintiff was not paying attention.

Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227 (Mich App 2012)

Would you have ever guessed that capture the flag would lead to a lawsuit?

This case was dismissed by the trial court on a summary disposition which is called a motion for summary judgment in most jurisdictions. The case had been dismissed before trial because the trial court found that:

I can’t see where the camp and Mr. Schulman did anything wrong. I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event by the camp and those in charge of this particular camp and the camp’s owner.

The case arose at a summer camp when the campers were play capture the flag. At either end of the field, there was a circle with a pole and a flag on top of the pole. The pole was to locate the flag. The flag was a piece of cloth lying at the base on the ground within the circle.

One of the girls either was not told what the flag was or misunderstood what the flag was and instead of grabbing the flag lying on the ground grabbed the pole and started running. The plaintiff ran into the bottom of the pole which had a metal stake which hit her in the mount. The plaintiff lost one tooth, and three other teeth were broken.

The plaintiff sued claiming negligence and claims for premise’s liability. Premise’s liability is the legal theory that based on the type of person you are the duty owed by the land owner changes. Since the plaintiff was on the land, she claimed the landowner/defendant had not kept her safe to the legal standard required.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the Definition of Negligence under Michigan Law. The elements to prove negligence in Michigan are identical to the majority of other states. “The elements of a negligence claim are “(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.”

The court then determined that the issue the trial court had decided was that there was no duty owed to the plaintiff. The court then defined how a duty was to be determined.

“When determining whether a duty should be imposed, the ultimate inquiry is “whether the social benefits of imposing a duty outweigh the social costs of imposing a duty.””

“This inquiry involves considering, among any other relevant considerations, the relationship of the parties, the foreseeability of the harm, the burden on the defendant, and the nature of the risk presented.” But the most important factor is the relationship of the parties.

The court found that the defendant owed a duty to provide proper instructions on how the game of capture the flag was to be played.

In 2007, Gamze was a summer camper at the Camp. She and her family entrusted defendants with her safety during her stay. It was foreseeable that if the campers were not properly instructed, then a camper could pick up the actual flagpole instead of picking up the flag/towel lying on the ground next to the flagpole. It is also foreseeable that, if a camper did remove the flagpole from the ground, the camper could injure another camper while running with the pole. Finally, the burden to properly instruct the campers to pick up the towel from the ground is negligible.

Once it is determined that the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care, then the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct is a question of fact for the jury.

The court also looked at whether the injury was proximately caused by the actions of the defendant. “Proximate cause normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences and whether a defendant should be held liable for those consequences.” However, the court held that proximate cause was a question for the jury.

The final issue was the premise’s liability claim. The court agreed with the trial court and upheld the dismissal of the claim. The plaintiff was an invitee to the land, and as such she was owed a “duty to “‘exercise reasonable care to protect [her] from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.‘””

The court found that the plaintiff was not harmed by a dangerous condition on the land. The danger was solely caused by the actions of the other campers not an inherent condition of the premises.

The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court on the issue of whether the camp was negligent in the way it instructed and ran the capture the flag game.

So Now What?

Kids get hurt. There is not much you can do about that, and if you can, you have probably stopped the earth from rotating. There was not much you can do here from a legal perspective to stop this litigation except tell parent’s things they should already know.

Kids get hurt. When your bring child to this camp, we will do everything we can to keep your child safe. However, we cannot protect your child from everything, much of anything. Between the outdoors, you not being here and other campers all sorts of injuries occur.

Do you understand that when you bring your child to this camp, your child can be hurt?

You could keep campers from playing games, or you could keep young girls who are being chased from running without looking where they are going. However, I think that earth rotation thing will be easier.

Plaintiff: Jonathan C. Gamze, as Next Friend for Julie Gamze,

 

Defendant: Camp Sea-Gull, Inc. and William P. Schulman, Defendants-Appellees, and Emily Lisner, Defendant

 

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and premises liability

 

Defendant Defenses: No duty and injury not caused by the premises

 

Holding: Premises liability claim was dismissed and the case was returned for trial on the negligence claim.

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Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227 (Mich App 2012)

Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227 (Mich App 2012)

JONATHAN C. GAMZE, as Next Friend for JULIE GAMZE, a Minor, Plaintiff-Appellant, v CAMP SEA-GULL, INC. and WILLIAM P. SCHULMAN, Defendants-Appellees, and EMILY LISNER, Defendant.

No. 299433

COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN

2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227

June 21, 2012, Decided

NOTICE: THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION. IN ACCORDANCE WITH MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS RULES, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS ARE NOT PRECEDENTIALLY BINDING UNDER THE RULES OF STARE DECISIS.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Charlevoix Circuit Court. LC No. 09-054822-NO.

CORE TERMS: camper, flag, flagpole, towel, capture, foreseeable, premises liability, team’s, material fact, circle, lying, pole, matter of law, genuine issues, proximate cause, proximately, counselor, favorable, causation, grabbing, owed, top, pick, order granting, negligence claim, final order, proper instructions, dangerous condition, foreseeability, depositions

JUDGES: Before: WILDER, P.J., and HOEKSTRA and BORRELLO, JJ.

OPINION

Per Curiam.

In this case, plaintiff appeals from an order granting summary disposition in favor of defendants1 Camp Sea-Gull, Inc. (the Camp) and William Schulman, a part-owner and associate director of the Camp, on plaintiff’s claims of negligence and premises liability. Because genuine issues of material fact remain regarding plaintiff’s negligence claim, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.2

1 Emily Lisner was dismissed by stipulation and is not involved in this appeal. Thus, our reference to “defendants” will refer to appellees.

2 Defendants have raised a question as to this Court’s jurisdiction over the appeal. Plaintiff filed the initial appeal of the order granting summary disposition before Lisner had been dismissed from the case. Accordingly, this Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered July 13, 2010 (Docket No. 298202). We informed plaintiff, however, that he could seek to appeal the grant of summary disposition by filing a delayed application for leave under MCR 7.205(F). Defendants [*2] subsequently requested that the trial court tax their costs against plaintiff. On July 29, 2010, the trial court denied this motion except for a $20 motion fee. Plaintiff then filed the current appeal. The arguments on appeal do not concern the motion for costs but, instead, are exclusively aimed at the trial court’s decision to grant the motion for summary disposition.

When an appeal of right is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or is not timely filed, an appellant may file an application for leave to appeal up to 12 months after entry of the final order to be appealed. MCR 7.205(F)(1) and (F)(3). Plaintiff filed this appeal on August 2, 2010, less than 12 months after May 21, 2010. Given the trial court’s notation in the orders below concerning which order was–or was not–intended as the final order in this case, we treat plaintiff’s claim of appeal as an application for leave and hereby grant it. MCR 7.205(D)(2); see also In re Morton, 258 Mich App 507, 508 n 2; 671 NW2d 570 (2003).

I. BASIC FACTS

Julie Gamze and defendant Emily Lisner were both campers at the Camp in the summer of 2007. As part of a “Pirate Day” on July 15, 2007, the Camp organized a game of capture the flag on a [*3] large field divided into two halves. In the middle of each half was a circle, and in the middle of the circle was a five-foot tall flagpole3 with a colored flag on top. While the object of the game was to “capture” the opposing team’s “flag,” the “flag” to be seized was actually a piece of cloth or towel lying on the ground at the base of the flagpole. Participants were not supposed to attempt to capture the flag on top of the pole or the pole itself. Lisner testified that no one told her that the flagpole flag was not the correct flag to capture, and the counselor who explained the rules does not remember if she clarified that point. In the course of the game, Lisner grabbed the flagpole and began running with it. Gamze was running nearby, being chased by another camper, and the metal stake at the bottom end of the flagpole hit her in the mouth. She lost one tooth, and three others were broken.

3 The flagpole also had a metal tapered end or “stake” so it could be inserted and anchored into the ground.

Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging negligence and premises liability. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary disposition and stated the following at the hearing:

I [*4] can’t see where the camp and Mr. Schulman did anything wrong. I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event by the camp and those in charge of this particular camp and the camp’s owner.

Anything that they did or failed to do was not the proximate cause of this Plaintiff’s injury. And, I don’t believe there is any material facts that are in dispute that would prevent the granting for the Motion for Summary Disposition under [MCR 2.116(C)(10)]. So that’s my ruling.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court reviews de novo a trial court’s decision on a motion for summary disposition. Auto Club Group Ins Co v Burchell, 249 Mich App 468, 479; 642 NW2d 406 (2001). When reviewing a motion brought under MCR 2.116(C)(10), we consider the pleadings, admissions, and other evidence submitted by the parties in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Brown v Brown, 478 Mich 545, 551-552; 739 NW2d 313 (2007). A grant of summary disposition “is appropriate if there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 552.

III. ANALYSIS

A. NEGLIGENCE

The elements of a negligence claim are “(1) a duty [*5] owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.” Case v Consumers Power Co, 463 Mich 1, 6; 615 NW2d 17 (2000). It is not entirely clear which element(s) the trial court found to be deficient in plaintiff’s claim. While only explicitly referencing causation, the trial court’s statement seemed to encompass three of the elements: duty (“I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event . . . .”; breach (“I can’t see where the [defendants] did anything wrong.”; and causation (“[a]nything that they did or failed to do was not the proximate cause of this Plaintiff’s injury.”). With the damages element not being disputed, we will address the remaining three elements.

The question of whether a defendant owes a plaintiff a duty of care is a question of law. Cummins v Robinson Twp, 283 Mich App 677, 692; 770 NW2d 421 (2009). When determining whether a duty should be imposed, the ultimate inquiry is “whether the social benefits of imposing a duty outweigh the social costs of imposing a duty.” In re Certified Question from Fourteenth Dist Court of Appeals of Texas, 479 Mich 498, 505; 740 NW2d 206 (2007). “This inquiry [*6] involves considering, among any other relevant considerations, the relationship of the parties, the foreseeability of the harm, the burden on the defendant, and the nature of the risk presented.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). But the most important factor is the relationship of the parties. Id.

Here, we conclude that defendants owed Gamze a duty to provide proper instructions for the game of “capture the flag.” In 2007, Gamze was a summer camper at the Camp. She and her family entrusted defendants with her safety during her stay. It was foreseeable that if the campers were not properly instructed, then a camper could pick up the actual flagpole instead of picking up the flag/towel lying on the ground next to the flagpole. It is also foreseeable that, if a camper did remove the flagpole from the ground, the camper could injure another camper while running with the pole.4 Finally, the burden to properly instruct the campers to pick up the towel from the ground is negligible.

4 This is especially foreseeable when the opposing team’s goal is to pursue and tag the flag carrier.

Once the existence of a duty toward Gamze is established, the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct is a question [*7] of fact for the jury. Arias v Talon Development Group, Inc, 239 Mich App 265, 268; 608 NW2d 484 (2000). Thus, the next question is whether there is a genuine issue regarding whether defendants breached this duty by failing to provide the proper instructions.

In support of their motion for summary disposition, defendants provided, inter alia, the unsworn “statements” from two people who were camp counselors at the time of the accident. However, these statements do not comply with the requirements of MCR 2.116(G)(2) since they are not “affidavits, depositions, admissions, or other documentary evidence,” and consequently cannot be considered. Marlo Beauty Supply, Inc v Farmers Ins Group of Cos, 227 Mich App 309, 321; 575 NW2d 324 (2009). Moreover, even if the statements were considered, they would not support granting defendants’ motion for summary disposition. The first statement was by Leah Glowacki, who was the programming counselor at the time of the incident. With regard to the instructions, she stated, “I instructed the campers to attempt to obtain the flag that was inside the circle on the opposite side of the field from where their team was stationed.” This statement does not establish [*8] that the correct instructions were given. In fact, when viewing the statement in a light most favorable to plaintiff, one could conclude that Glowacki’s instructions might possibly have been construed by at least some campers as a directive to remove the flag itself instead of the towel on the ground. The other statement was provided by Stephanie Plaine, who stated that she instructed the campers “to capture the team’s flag on the other side of the field which was located inside the circles drawn onto the grass.” Again, this statement does not specify that the instruction was to get the towel lying next to the flag.

Defendants did properly submit the depositions of six people, however. But none of the submitted testimony indicated that the campers were instructed to ignore the flagpole and only pick up the towel on the ground: Gamze could not recall what specific instructions were given; Lisner testified that she did not hear any specific instructions to take the towel on the ground instead of the pole itself; Jack Schulman and William Schulman both admitted that they did not hear the instructions that Glowacki and Plaine provided; Marsha Schulman admitted that she was not present when [*9] the instructions were given; and Plaine, herself, testified that she could not recall the specifics of the instructions that she gave. Therefore, when viewing all of this evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff, there is a question of material fact on whether the Camp instructed the campers to only take the towel lying at the base of the flagpole instead of the flag or flagpole itself.

Finally, the trial court indicated that it found as a matter of law that defendants could not have proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries. But proximate cause is a factual question for the jury unless reasonable minds could not differ. Lockridge v Oakwood Hosp, 285 Mich App 678, 684; 777 NW2d 511 (2009). Proximate cause normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences and whether a defendant should be held liable for those consequences. Campbell v Kovich, 273 Mich App 227, 232; 731 NW2d 112 (2006). Here, a reasonable juror could have concluded that a failure to instruct the campers properly could foreseeably result in an enthusiastic camper grabbing and removing the flagpole in order to “capture the flag” affixed to the top of it. And because the object of the game was for the camper [*10] to run the flag back to her team’s territory while other campers tried to tag her, a reasonable person could conclude that it was foreseeable that other campers might be hit and injured by the five-foot tall flagpole as it was being moved. Therefore, the trial court erred by holding as a matter of law that defendants could not have proximately caused Gamze’s injuries.

B. PREMISES LIABILITY

We now turn to plaintiff’s premises liability claim. Because Gamze was an invitee on the Camp’s premises, defendants owed a duty to “‘exercise reasonable care to protect [her] from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.'” Benton v Dart Properties, Inc, 270 Mich App 437, 440; 715 NW2d 335 (2006), quoting Lugo v Ameritech Corp, Inc, 464 Mich 512, 516; 629 NW2d 384 (2001) (emphasis added). Plaintiff must show that the duty was breached and that the breach proximately caused her injuries. Benton, 270 Mich App at 440.

However, Gamze was not harmed by a dangerous condition “on the land.” Instead, she was harmed when Lisner pulled the flagpole out of the ground and began running with it. The danger arose solely because of the actions of the participants and not because of [*11] an inherent condition of the premises. Thus, plaintiff’s claim properly sounds in negligence, not premises liability.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction. No costs are taxable pursuant to MCR 7.219, neither party having prevailed in full.

/s/ Kurtis T. Wilder

/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra

/s/ Stephen L. Borrello

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Association of Independent Camps is moving forward

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coda%20cropped.png

In early February I wrote to you indicating that the AIC board of Directors voted unanimously to take the steps necessary to create a 501 (C) 6 non-profit organization separate from it’s ACA subsidiary AIC organization.

The purpose of this letter is to let you know of the steps that have been taken.

We have a new name. I am excited to announce that The Camp Owners and Directors Association (CODA) has been reserved as a non-profit Corporation in Massachusetts. We have the name, website and the means to continue our mission which, quite frankly, does not change from what it was as AIC.

We know:

That the mission of Independent Camp Owners, directors and administrators is to provide safe, fun, productive camping experiences for children helping them grow, mature and gain independence.

It is the mission of CODA to help you achieve this vision.

Our goal is for CODA to become so effective that every independent camp director, owner and administrator, whether for profit or non-profit will feel the need to belong. To this end we will double our membership by the end of 2014.

We have not stood still while we work through the legalities and complexities of moving from AIC to CODA. In the past month you have received information about riflery equipment and horseback riding training. We have a lot more to share. In the near future we will communicate to you on the following:

  • We are offering an innovative CODA insurance product that protects the camp parent’s investment and the camp owner’s income. This product is administered through Bollinger Insurance and Ed Schirick:
  • An agreement with Care.com to get our message to the over 4 million visitors to their website:
  • We are planning THE project we’ve all wanted for the past 20 years. A HUGE endeavor that will encompass every aspect of our organization. A project that is America’s Summer Camps!
  • We are creating a relationship with Firestorm, an organization that will help us plan, prepare and be ready for the unthinkable situations that inevitable happen at camp;
  • We will be bringing you information from a “Magician” (direct quote from Michael Brandwein) in camp marketing, Travis Allison, the Camp Hacker.
  • And a new website to be revealed shortly.

There is a lot more to come from your old, NEW organization, The Camp Owners and Directors Association.

Be on the lookout for more information!

Robert Lebby

Camp Directors and Owners Association

Executive Director

520 577 7925

robertleb45


N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

N.H., a minor child, by and through his parents Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez and Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America

NO. 2:11-CV-171

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

April 30, 2012, Filed

CORE TERMS: punitive damages, trail, gross negligence, recklessly, survive, failed to properly, bike, damages claim, reasonable inference, entitlement to relief’, plausibility, punitive, reckless, biking, summer camp, proximate cause, proximate result, mountain

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jorge Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H, Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H., Plaintiffs: Thomas C Jessee, Jessee & Jessee, Johnson City, TN.

For Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, defendant: Suzanne S Cook, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunter, Smith & Davis – Johnson City, Johnson City, TN.

JUDGES: J. RONNIE GREER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: J. RONNIE GREER

OPINION

ORDER

This personal injury action is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Pending before the Court is the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [Doc. 5]. For the reasons which follow, the motion is GRANTED.

FACTS

The following facts are taken from plaintiffs’ Complaint and are assumed true for the purposes of defendant’s motion to dismiss. In June 2010, the minor plaintiff was registered by his parents to participate in a summer camp owned and operated by defendant in an attempt to earn merit badges towards becoming an Eagle Scout. On June 15, 2010, while at this summer camp, the minor plaintiff participated in a mountain biking activity/class sponsored by defendant. During the course of his participation, the minor plaintiff discovered [*2] that the brakes on his bike were not working, and he rode off the trail and struck a tree, sustaining severe bodily injuries.

The defendant was allegedly negligent as follows: (1) it failed to keep the mountain bike trails in a reasonably safe condition; (2) it failed to warn the minor plaintiff of hidden perils of the trails which defendant knew, or by reasonable inspection, could have discovered; (3) it failed to properly train its employees; (4) it failed to properly mark the bike trail; (5) it failed to properly evaluate and assess the skill of the minor plaintiff before allowing him to ride the trail; and (6) it was “negligent in other manners.” [Doc. 1 at ¶19]. The Complaint also states that “the negligence of Defendant . . . was the proximate cause of the injuries to the minor plaintiff.” Id. at ¶20. The Complaint contains a number of additional paragraphs that allege how the “negligence” of the defendant was the proximate cause of various other consequences. Id. at ¶¶22-27. The final paragraph of the Complaint states, “As a proximate . . . result of the negligence of Defendant, the Plaintiffs have been damaged . . . in an amount not to exceed $600,000.00 actual damages. As a [*3] direct and proximate result of the gross negligence of the Defendant, the Plaintiffs believe they are entitled to recover punitive damages . . ..” Id. at ¶28 (emphasis added).

Defendant has filed a motion asking the Court to dismiss the Complaint so far as punitive damages are concerned on the ground that the plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead a factual basis that would provide for the award of punitive damages.

LEGAL STANDARD

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claims” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than just labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).

“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [*4] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1950. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff’s allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984).

ANALYSIS

“In a diversity action . . . the propriety of an award of punitive damages for the conduct in question, and the factors the jury may consider in determining their amount, are questions of state law.” Browning-Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc., v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 278, 109 S. Ct. 2909, 106 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1989). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim for punitive damages must be plausible as defined by Tennessee law.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are available in cases involving “only the most egregious of wrongs.” [*5] Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901 (Tenn. 1992). Accordingly, under Tennessee law, “a court may . . . award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.” Id. 1

1 The Tennessee Supreme Court has expressly stated that punitive damages are not available for “gross negligence.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 900-901. However, the legal sufficiency of a complaint does not depend upon whether or not the plaintiffs invoked the right “magic words,” but instead whether the facts as alleged may plausibly be construed to state a claim that meets the standards of Rule 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)(clarifying the dismissal standard under Rule 12(b)(6) and noting that “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era”). Consequently, the Court will construe the plaintiffs’ allegations of “gross negligence” in paragraph 28 of the Complaint as an allegation that defendant behaved “recklessly.”

Here, defendant asserts that “Although the Complaint cursorily mentions ‘gross negligence’ one time in a conclusory manner, the Complaint [*6] lacks any facts or allegations that aver an utter lack of concern or reckless disregard such that a conscious indifference can even be implied . . ..” [Doc. 6 at 3]. The plaintiff counters that “The plaintiff in this case has identified specific detailed acts of negligence on the part of the defendant and . . . [consequently] it is clear that a jury could decide that the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent.” [Doc. 7 at 2].

The Court has reviewed the Complaint and agrees with the defendant. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Such is the case with the Complaint in this matter. The entirety of the Complaint is dedicated to explaining why the defendant was negligent. However, there is no separate mention made regarding why the defendant was reckless. To be sure, the plaintiff could argue that by alleging in multiple paragraphs that defendant “knew, or should have known,” of certain unsafe conditions, he has sufficiently pled both negligence and recklessness. However, plaintiff would be mistaken in asserting such [*7] argument.

Under Tennessee law, “A person acts recklessly when the person is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 901. An examination of the Complaint reveals that plaintiffs have failed to allege how or why the defendant was aware of the deficiencies in the bicycle and the biking trail. This is fatal to plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages. See Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 445 (6th Cir. 2012) (“To survive a motion to dismiss . . . allegations must be specific enough to establish the relevant ‘who, what, where, when, how or why.”); See also, Tucker v. Bernzomatic, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43771, 2010 WL 1838704 (E.D.Pa. May 4, 2010) (Dismissing punitive damages claim in products liability action because consumer did not allege how or why manufacturer knew that its product was dangerous).

In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the Complaint does not contain sufficient factual content to allow the Court to draw the reasonable inference that defendant has acted recklessly. [*8] See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The punitive damages claim will therefore be dismissed.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages [Doc. 5] is GRANTED and plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages is DISMISSED.

ENTER:

/s/ J. RONNIE GREER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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