Feleccia v. Lackawanna Coll., 215 A.3d 3, 2019 Pa. LEXIS 4615

Feleccia v. Lackawanna Coll., 215 A.3d 3, 2019 Pa. LEXIS 4615

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

December 5, 2018, Argued; August 20, 2019, Decided

No. 75 MAP 2017

Reporter

215 A.3d 3 *; 2019 Pa. LEXIS 4615 **

AUGUSTUS FELECCIA AND JUSTIN T. RESCH, Appellees v. LACKAWANNA COLLEGE A/K/A LACKAWANNA JUNIOR COLLEGE, KIM A. MECCA, MARK D. DUDA, WILLIAM E. REISS, DANIEL A. LAMAGNA, KAITLIN M. COYNE AND ALEXIS D. BONISESE, Appellants

Subsequent History: As corrected August 26, 2019.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 385 MDA 2016 dated February 24, 2017, reconsideration denied April 26, 2017, Reversing the Judgment of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, at No. 12-CV-1960 entered February 2, 2016 and Remanding for trial.

Feleccia v. Lackawanna Coll., 2017 PA Super 44, 156 A.3d 1200, 2017 Pa. Super. LEXIS 117 (Pa. Super. Ct., Feb. 24, 2017)

Counsel: For Pennsylvania Association for Justice, Amicus Curiae: Barbara Axelrod, Esq., Beasley Firm, L.L.C. (The).

For Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, Amicus Curiae: Christopher D. Carusone, Esq., Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC.

For National Athletic Trainers’ Association & PA Athletic Trainers’ Society, Inc., Amicus Curiae: Mitchell Y. Mirviss, Esq.

For Lackawanna College a/k/a Lackawanna Junior College, Kim A. Mecca, Mark D. Duda, William E.Reiss, Daniel A.Lamagna, Kaitlin M.Coyne & Alexis D.Bonisese, Appellants: Steven Jay Engelmyer, Esq., Kleinbard LLC.

For Lackawanna College a/k/a Lackawanna Junior College, Kim A. Mecca, Mark D. Duda, William E.Reiss, Daniel A.Lamagna, Kaitlin M.Coyne & Alexis D.Bonisese, Appellants: Eric Joseph Schreiner, Esq., Kleinbard LLC.

For Lackawanna College a/k/a Lackawanna Junior College, Kim A. Mecca, Mark D. Duda, William E.Reiss, Daniel [**2]  A.Lamagna, Kaitlin M.Coyne & Alexis D.Bonisese, Appellants: Joshua John Voss, Esq., Kleinbard LLC.

For Augustus Feleccia and Justin T. Resch, Appellee: Andrew P. Motel, Esq., Law Offices of Andrew P. Motel, L.L.C. (The).

For Augustus Feleccia and Justin T. Resch, Appellee: Robert A. Saraceni Jr., Esq.

For Augustus Feleccia and Justin T. Resch, Appellee: Daniel Joel Siegel, Esq., Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, L.L.C.

Judges: SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ. Justices Baer, Todd, Donohue and Mundy join the opinion. Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Wecht file concurring and dissenting opinions.

Opinion by: DOUGHERTY

Opinion

 [*5]  JUSTICE DOUGHERTY

In this discretionary appeal arising from the dismissal of personal injury claims on summary judgment, we consider whether the Superior Court erred in 1) finding a duty of care and 2) holding a pre-injury waiver signed by student athletes injured while playing football was not enforceable against claims of negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness. After careful review, we affirm the Superior Court’s order only to the extent it reversed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment on the  [*6]  claims of gross negligence and recklessness, and we remand [**3]  to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

Appellees, Augustus Feleccia and Justin T. Resch, (collectively, appellees) were student athletes who played football at Lackawanna Junior College (Lackawanna), a non-profit junior college. See Complaint at ¶¶ 29, 30. At all times relevant to this matter, the following individuals were employed by Lackawanna and involved in its football program: (1) Kim A. Mecca, the Athletic Director for Lackawanna College who oversaw all of Lackawanna’s athletic programs, including the football program (AD Mecca); (2) Mark D. Duda, the head coach (Coach Duda); (3) William E. Reiss, an assistant and linebacker coach (Coach Reiss); (4) Daniel A. Lamagna, an assistant and quarterback coach (Coach Lamagna); (5) Kaitlin M. Coyne, hired to be an athletic trainer (Coyne); and (6) Alexis D. Bonisese, hired to be an athletic trainer (Bonisese) (collectively with Lackawanna referred to as appellants). Id. at ¶¶31-34, 40, 41, 43, 44.

Lackawanna had customarily employed two athletic trainers to support the football program.1 However, both athletic trainers resigned in the summer of 2009 and AD Mecca advertised two job openings for the position [**4]  of athletic trainer. AD Mecca received applications from Coyne and Bonisese, recent graduates of Marywood University who had obtained Bachelor of Science degrees in Athletic Training. AD Mecca conducted telephone interviews with Coyne and Bonisese for the open athletic trainer positions at Lackawanna. See Feleccia v. Lackawanna College, 2017 PA Super 44, 156 A.3d 1200, 1203 (Pa. Super. 2017).

At the time she applied and interviewed for the Lackawanna position, Coyne had not yet passed the athletic trainer certification exam, which she took for the first time on July 25, 2009, and was therefore not licensed by the Board. Bonisese was also not licensed, having failed the exam on her first attempt, and still awaiting the results of her second attempt when she applied and interviewed for the Lackawanna position. Nevertheless, Lackawanna hired both Coyne and Bonisese in August 2009 with the expectation they would serve as athletic trainers, pending receipt of their exam results, and both women signed “athletic trainer” job descriptions. Id. After starting their employment at Lackawanna, Coyne and Bonisese both learned they did not pass the athletic trainer certification exam. Coyne informed AD Mecca of her test results, and AD Mecca also learned Bonisese had failed her second [**5]  attempt at certification. Id. at 1203-04.

AD Mecca retitled the positions held by Coyne and Bonisese from “athletic trainers” to “first responders.” Id. at 1204. AD Mecca notified Coyne and Bonisese via email and written correspondence that due to their failure to pass the certification exam, they would function as “first responders” instead of “athletic trainers.” However, neither Coyne nor Bonisese executed  [*7]  new job descriptions, despite never achieving the credentials included in the athletic trainer job descriptions they did sign. Appellants were also aware the qualifications of their new hires was called into question by their college professors and clinic supervisors. See Id. More specifically, Shelby Yeager, a professor for Coyne and Bonisese during their undergraduate studies, communicated to AD Mecca her opinion that Coyne and Bonisese were impermissibly providing athletic training services in September 2009. Professor Yeager was aware Lackawanna did not have any full-time athletic trainers on staff2 and noted Coyne and Bonisese, as recent graduates, were inexperienced and did not have the required Board license. Professor Yeager stated that Coyne in particular was “ill-equipped to handle the rigors [**6]  of a contact sport (like football) as an athletic trainer on her own regardless of whether she managed to pass [the certification] exam and obtain her state license.” Id., quoting Affidavit of Shelby Yeager. With regard to Bonisese, Bryan Laurie, who supervised her as a student, rated her performance as “below average/poor” and provided his assessment that she was not qualified to act as an athletic trainer in March of 2010. Id., citing Affidavit of Bryan Laurie.

Appellee Resch started playing football at the age of six, and continued playing through high school. Id. at 1204-05. Upon graduating from high school in 2008, Resch was accepted at Lackawanna and, hoping to continue playing football, met with Coach Duda prior to arriving for classes. Resch tried out for the Lackawanna football team in the fall of 2008. Resch not only failed to make the roster, but was also placed on academic probation, so he was ineligible to play football in the spring of 2009.

Appellee Feleccia also began playing football as a child at the age of ten, and played through high school. Feleccia was recruited by Coach Duda to play football at Lackawanna. See id. Feleccia did not make the team in the fall of 2008, but practiced [**7]  with them during that time. During a scrimmage in the fall of 2008, Feleccia tore the labrum in his left shoulder, which was surgically repaired. Feleccia was also placed on academic probation after the fall 2008 semester and temporarily withdrew from Lackawanna. See id.

In mid-January 2010, Resch and Feleccia returned to Lackawanna for the spring semester with the aspiration to make the football team. Id. Lackawanna required appellees to fill out and sign various documents in a “participation packet” before playing with the team, including a “Waiver of Liability and Hold Harmless Agreement” (the Waiver) and a form including an “Information/Emergency Release Consent” (the Consent). See Appellees’ Brief in Opposition to MSJ at Exhibit 18(b). Appellee Resch “skimmed” and signed the Waiver on March 22, 2010. Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1205. Feleccia also executed the Waiver on March 22, 2010. The Waiver provided as follows:

1. In consideration for my participation in [Football] (sport), I hereby release, waive, discharge and covenant not to sue Lackawanna College, its trustees, officers, agents, and employees from any and all liability, claims, demands, actions, and causes of action whatsoever arising out of or related [**8]  to any loss, damage, or injury, including death, that may be sustained by me, or to any property belonging to me,  [*8]  while participating in such athletic activity.

2. To the best of my knowledge, I am not aware of any physical disability or health-related reasons or problems which would preclude or restrict my participation in this activity. I am fully aware of the risks and hazards connected with [Football] (sport), and I hereby elect to voluntarily participate in said activity, knowing that the activity may be hazardous to me and my property. I voluntarily assume full responsibility for any risks of loss, property damage, or personal injury, including death, that may be sustained by me, or any loss or damage to property owned by me, as a result of being engaged in such activity.

3. I have adequate health insurance necessary to provide for and pay any medical costs that may directly or indirectly result from my participation in this activity. I agree to indemnify and hold harmless Lackawanna College, its trustees, officers, agents, and employees, from any loss, liability, damage or costs, including court costs and attorneys’ fees that may be incurred, due to my participation in said activity. [**9]

4. It is my express intent that this Release and Hold Harmless Agreement shall bind my family, if I am alive, and my heirs, assigns and personal representative, if I am deceased, and shall be deemed as a release, waiver, discharge and covenant not to sue Lackawanna College, its trustees, officers, agents and employees. I hereby further agree that this Waiver of Liability and Hold Harmless Agreement shall be construed in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In signing this release, I acknowledge and represent that I have read the foregoing Waiver of Liability and Hold Harmless Agreement, understand it and sign it voluntarily; no oral representations, statements, or inducements, apart from the foregoing written agreement, have been made; I am at least eighteen (18) years of age and fully competent; and I execute this Release for full, adequate and complete consideration fully intending to be bound by the same. Parent/Guardians’ signature required for individuals under eighteen (18) years of age.

Waiver attached as Exhibit A to Appellants’ Answer with New Matter.

Appellees also signed the Consent that provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

(1) I do hereby off[er] [**10]  my voluntary consent to receive emergency medical services in the event of an injury during an athletic event provided by the athletic trainer, team physician or hospital staff.

Consent attached as part of Exhibit 18(b) to Appellees’ Brief in Opposition to MSJ.

On March 29, 2010, appellees participated in the first day of spring contact football practice. The team engaged in a variation of the tackling drill known as the “Oklahoma Drill.” Appellees had previously participated in the Oklahoma Drill, or a variation of it, either in high school or at Lackawanna football practices, and were aware the drill would take place during practices. While participating in the drill, both Resch and Feleccia suffered injuries. Resch attempted to make a tackle and suffered a T-7 vertebral fracture. Resch was unable to get up off the ground and Coyne attended to him before he was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. See Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1207. Notwithstanding Resch’s injury, the Lackawanna football team continued practicing and running the Oklahoma Drill. Later that same day, Feleccia was injured while attempting to make his first tackle, experiencing a “stinger” in his right shoulder,  [*9]  i.e., experiencing numbness, [**11]  tingling and a loss of mobility in his right shoulder. Id. Bonisese attended Feleccia and cleared him to continue practice “if he was feeling better.” Id. Feleccia returned to practice and then suffered a traumatic brachial plexus avulsion while making a tackle with his right shoulder. Id.

Appellees filed suit against appellants, Lackawanna, AD Mecca, Coach Duda, Coach Reiss, Coach Lamagna and Coyne and Bonisese, asserting claims for damages caused by negligence, including negligence per se. The complaint also sought punitive damages, alleging appellants acted “willfully, wantonly and/or recklessly.” Complaint at ¶¶82, 97, 98, 102 & 103. Appellants filed preliminary objections which were overruled, and filed an answer with new matter raising defenses, including that the Waiver precluded liability on all of appellees’ claims.

At the close of discovery, appellants filed a motion for summary judgment, relying primarily on the Waiver; appellants argued they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law due to appellees’ voluntary release of appellants from any and all liability for damages resulting from participation in the Lackawanna football program. See Appellants’ Brief in Support of [**12]  MSJ at 13. In response, appellees argued Lackawanna “ran its Athletic Training Department in a manner demonstrating a total disregard for the safety of its student-athletes or the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” Appellees’ Brief in Opposition to MSJ at 1. Appellees argued appellants had required appellees to sign the Consent for treatment by an “athletic trainer,” thus taking on a duty to provide an athletic trainer, but then failed to provide an athletic trainer for its football team. See id. at 18-20.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellants. The court ruled the Waiver: (1) did not violate public policy; (2) was a contract between Lackawanna and college students relating to their own private affairs, and (3) was not a contract of adhesion. See Feleccia v. Lackawanna College, 2016 WL 409711, at *5-*10 (Pa..Com.Pl. Civil Div. Feb. 2, 2016), citing Chepkevich. v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174 (Pa. 2010) (setting forth elements of valid exculpatory agreements).

The court then considered whether the Waiver was enforceable, i.e., whether it “spells out the intention of the parties with particularity and shows the intent to release [Lackawanna] from liability by express stipulation.” Id. at *10, quoting Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1191 (additional citations omitted). The court noted the Waiver did not specifically use the word “negligence” or mention the [**13]  Oklahoma Drill, but it was executed freely by appellees, and stated they were fully aware of the risks and hazards in the activity and “voluntarily assume[d] full responsibility for any . . . personal injury” resulting from it. Id. at *11, quoting the Waiver. The court found the Waiver immunized appellants from liability because it addressed the “risks and hazards” ordinarily inherent in the sport of football. Id. at *12.3 Finding the negligence claims barred, the court ruled the claim for punitive damages also failed, and discussion of the Waiver’s applicability to those allegations was unnecessary. Id. at *14 n.13.  [*10]  The court concluded there was no genuine issue of material fact and appellants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the basis of the Waiver.

Appellees filed an appeal and the Superior Court reversed.4 Although the panel agreed with the trial court’s holding the Waiver was valid under Chepkevich, the panel disagreed that the Waiver barred all of appellees’ claims as a matter of law. The panel first observed the Waiver was “not sufficiently particular and without ambiguity” to relieve appellants of liability for their own acts of negligence. Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1212-13, quoting Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1189 (exculpatory [**14]  clause is unenforceable “unless the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence.”).

The panel also held the trial court erred in failing to address appellees’ allegations underlying their claim for punitive damages, and whether the Waiver applied to preclude liability based on those allegations. Id. at 1213. The panel recognized this Court’s jurisprudence holding exculpatory clauses are not enforceable to preclude liability for reckless conduct. Id. at 1214, citing Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corp., 47 A.3d 1190, 616 Pa. 385 (Pa. 2012).

Finally, the panel’s “most important” reason for reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was that, after reviewing the record in the light most favorable to appellees as the non-moving parties, there were genuine issues of material fact as to “whether the College’s failure to have qualified medical personnel at the March 29, 2010 practice constitute[d] gross negligence or recklessness,” and whether that failure caused appellees’ injuries or increased their risk of harm. Id. at 1214, 1219. The panel’s determination in this regard was based on its view that Lackawanna had a “duty of care to its intercollegiate student athletes . . . to have qualified medical personnel available at the [**15]  football tryout on March 29, 2010, and to provide adequate treatment in the event that an intercollegiate student athlete suffered a medical emergency.” Id. at 1215. The panel relied in part on Kleinknecht v. Gettysburg College, 989 F.2d 1360 (3d Circ. 1993), where the Third Circuit predicted this Court “would hold that a special relationship existed between the [c]ollege and [student-athlete] that was sufficient to impose a duty of reasonable care on the [c]ollege.” Id. at 1367. The panel further held it was for a jury to decide whether appellees signed the Waiver “unaware that [Lackawanna’s] athletic department did not include qualified athletic trainers.” Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1219. Accordingly, the panel remanded the matter for trial.

Upon petition by appellants we granted allowance of appeal to address following issues:

a. Is a Pennsylvania college required to have qualified medical personnel present at intercollegiate athletic events to satisfy a duty of care to the college’s student-athletes?

b. Is an exculpatory clause releasing “any and all liability” signed in connection with participation in intercollegiate football enforceable as to negligence?

Feleccia v. Lackawanna College, 644 Pa. 186, 175 A.3d 221 (Pa. 2017) (per curiam).

HN1[] This matter presents pure questions of law, over which our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. See [**16]  In re Vencil, 638 Pa. 1, 11-12, 152 A.3d 235 (Pa. 2017). “[A]n appellate court may reverse the entry of summary judgment only where it finds that the trial  [*11]  court erred in concluding that the matter presented no genuine issue as to any material fact and that it is clear that the moving party was entitled to [a] judgment as a matter of law.” Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 576 Pa. 644, 841 A.2d 1000, 1004 (Pa. 2003), citing Pappas v. Asbel, 564 Pa. 407, 768 A.2d 1089 (Pa. 2001). We consider the parties’ arguments with these standards in mind.

II.

A. Is a Pennsylvania college required to have qualified medical personnel present at intercollegiate athletic events to satisfy a duty of care to the college’s student-athletes?

Appellants argue the Superior Court created a brand new common law duty of care requiring colleges to have qualified medical personnel available to render treatment at every practice and every game. Appellants aver the Superior Court did so without attempting to analyze the factors set forth in Althaus ex rel. Althaus v. Cohen, 562 Pa. 547, 756 A.2d 1166, 1169 (Pa. 2000) (before recognizing new duty of care courts must analyze the relationship between the parties; the social utility of the actor’s conduct; the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred; the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and the overall public interest in the proposed solution). Appellants’ Brief at 18-20, citing Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1215. Appellants [**17]  assert that, in creating this new duty of care, the Superior Court relied only on a decades-old, non-binding federal decision. Id., citing Kleinknecht, 989 F.2d at 1371. Appellants argue that, had the Superior Court applied the Althaus factors instead, it would not have created such a duty. Appellants’ Brief at 20-22. Appellants argue a proper analysis of these factors either weighs against the creation of a new duty or is neutral. Accordingly, appellants request we reverse the Superior Court’s decision to the extent it created a new duty.5

Appellees respond that the panel did not create a new, onerous duty, and that appellants actually failed to comply with existing common law and statutory duties to have qualified medical personnel available at intercollegiate athletic events. Appellees refer to MPA provisions that set forth the qualifications for an “athletic trainer” and the manner in which they must perform their duties. Specifically, appellees note the regulations implementing the MPA establish restrictions and protocols for licensed athletic trainers, and they also prohibit the use of the title “athletic trainer” by any person without a Board-issued license. [**18]  See Appellees’ Brief at 29-30, quoting 63 P.S. §422.51a (“An athletic trainer who meets the requirements of this section shall be licensed, may use the title ‘athletic trainer’ . . . and may perform athletic training services. A person who is not licensed under this section may not use the designation of licensed athletic trainer, athletic trainer or any of the listed abbreviations for that title, including ‘L.A.T.’ or ‘A.T.L.,’ or any similar designation.”). Appellees thus argue the Superior Court’s holding recognizes appellants have a duty to provide athletic trainers at practices,  [*12]  who, by statute, should be qualified medical personnel. Appellees’ Brief at 31.

Appellees also submit appellants’ claim the Superior Court ignored the Althaus factors is disingenuous. Appellees note the panel explicitly relied on Kleinknecht and, although the federal decision predated Althaus, the Third Circuit considered the same factors ultimately set forth in Althaus. Appellees’ Brief at 39-40, citing Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1215 (Kleinknecht court recognized: special relationship between college and student-athlete requiring college to act with reasonable care towards athletes; risk of severe injuries during athletic activities was foreseeable; [**19]  and college acted unreasonably in failing to protect against risk). In any event, appellees reiterate, the Superior Court did not create a new common law duty, but rather recognized the “duty of care is necessarily rooted in often amorphous public policy considerations[.]” Appellees’ Brief at 38, quoting Althaus, 756 A.2d at 1169.

Finally, appellees observe appellants themselves undertook the duty to protect their student-athletes by customarily hiring licensed athletic trainers prior to 2009, and holding out Coyne and Bonisese as “athletic trainers” in the documentation regarding their employment, including executed job descriptions, where Coyne and Bonisese acknowledged they were required to have passed the national certification exam, which is a pre-requisite to use of the title “athletic trainer.” See Appellees’ Brief at 41-43, quoting Rstmt (2d) of Torts, §323 (“One who undertakes . . . to render services to another . . . is subject to liability to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking[.]”). Appellees argue the evidence presented was sufficient to raise factual jury questions regarding whether appellants breached this duty and whether [**20]  that breach led to appellees’ injuries.6

Having considered the parties’ arguments and the opinion below, we acknowledge the Superior Court articulated a duty not previously recognized by Pennsylvania Courts: a college has a “duty of care to its intercollegiate student athletes requir[ing] it to have qualified medical personnel available at [athletic events, including] the football tryout, . . . and to provide adequate treatment in the event that an intercollegiate student athlete suffer[s] a medical emergency.” Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1215, citing Kleinknecht, 989 F.2d at 1369-70. We further recognize the Superior Court did not analyze the Althaus factors, as  [*13]  required when imposing a previously unarticulated common law duty. Althaus, 756 A.2d at 1169. Instead, the panel relied on non-binding federal case law to impose what it viewed as a new common law duty. In this specific regard, the panel erred.

HN2[] Courts should not enter into the creation of new common law duties lightly because “the adjudicatory process does not translate readily into the field of broad-scale policymaking.” Lance v. Wyeth, 624 Pa. 231, 85 A.3d 434, 454 (Pa. 2014), citing Seebold, 57 A.3d at 1245; see also Official Comm. of Unsecured Creditors of Allegheny Health Educ. & Research Found. v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 605 Pa. 269, 989 A.2d 313, 333 (Pa. 2010) (“Unlike the legislative process, the adjudicatory process is structured to cast a narrow focus on matters framed by litigants before the Court in [**21]  a highly directed fashion”). We also acknowledge it “is the Legislature’s chief function to set public policy and the courts’ role to enforce that policy, subject to constitutional limitations.” Seebold, 57 A.3d at 1245 & n.19 (additional citations omitted). “[T]he Court has previously adopted the default position that, unless the justifications for and consequences of judicial policymaking are reasonably clear with the balance of factors favorably predominating, we will not impose new affirmative duties.” Id. at 1245 (citations omitted).

Applying the Althaus factors is not a mere formality, but is necessary when courts announce a new common law duty. Althaus requires consideration of the justifications for and the relevant consequences and policy concerns of the new duty of care. See Althaus, 756 A.2d at 1169 (setting forth factors for determination of new common law duty). Further, “determining whether to impose a duty often requires us to weigh ‘amorphous public policy considerations, which may include our perception of history, morals, justice and society.'” Walters v. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, 187 A.3d 214, 223 (Pa. 2018), quoting Althaus, 756 A.2d at 1169 (additional citations omitted). The Superior Court did not engage these factors, nor did the summary judgment record include relevant data regarding, for example, injury rates [**22]  at practices, the consequences of having (or not having) available qualified medical professionals, the budgetary or other collegiate resource impact, or the relative public policy concerns involved.7

Importantly, however, an Althaus analysis was not necessary here because our review reveals the present circumstances involve application of existing statutory  [*14]  and common law duties of care. See, e.g., Dittman v. UPMC, 196 A.3d 1036, 1038 (Pa. 2018) (analysis of Althaus factors not required where case is one involving “application of an existing duty to a novel factual scenario”). In Dittman, for example, we recognized the legal duty of an employer (UPMC) “to exercise reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information stored by the employer on an internet-accessible computer system.” Id. at 1038. We did so because UPMC had required its employees to provide sensitive personal information, and then collected and stored that information on its computer system without implementing adequate security measures, such as encryption, firewalls, or authentication protocols. Id. at 1047. We reasoned that this “affirmative conduct” by UPMC created the risk of a data breach, which in [**23]  fact occurred. Id. We further determined that, in collecting and storing its employees’ data on its computers, UPMC owed those employees a duty to “exercise reasonable care to protect them against an unreasonable risk of harm arising out of that act.” Id. Dittman may have been our first opportunity to recognize this duty in the context of computer systems security, but there is longstanding jurisprudence holding that “[i]n scenarios involving an actor’s affirmative conduct, he is generally ‘under a duty to others to exercise the care of a reasonable man to protect them against an unreasonable risk of harm to them arising out of the act.'” Id. at 1046, quoting Seebold, 57 A.3d at 1246. This existing duty “appropriately undergirds the vast expanse of tort claims in which a defendant’s affirmative, risk-causing conduct is in issue.” Id. at 1047, quoting Seebold, 57 A.3d at 1246, see also Dittman, 796 A.3d at 1056-57 (Saylor, CJ, concurring and dissenting) (requirement to provide confidential information as condition of employment created “special relationship” between employer and employees giving rise to duty of reasonable care to protect information against foreseeable harm).

Additionally, HN3[] we have adopted as an accurate statement of Pennsylvania law the Restatement (Second) of Torts §323 (1965). Gradel v. Inouye, 491 Pa. 534, 421 A.2d 674, 677-78 (Pa. 1980) (“Section 323(a) of the Restatement of Torts has been part [**24]  of the law of Pennsylvania for many years.”). Section 323 provides:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of the other’s person or things, is subject to liability to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if

(a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of such harm, or

(b) the harm is suffered because of the other’s reliance upon the undertaking.

Restatement. (Second) of Torts, §323 (1965). See also Feld v Merriam, 506 Pa. 383, 485 A.2d 742, 746 (Pa. 1984) (landlord that undertook duty to provide secured parking for tenants may be liable for damages arising from failure to exercise reasonable care in doing so).

In Feld, the plaintiffs were injured during a carjacking that began inside the garage of their apartment building. They filed a negligence lawsuit against their landlord, who had charged tenants additional rental fees to provide a gate and security guard for its parking garages. In discussing the viability of the plaintiffs’ negligence action, the Feld Court first noted landlords do not generally owe a duty as insurer to protect the safety of their tenants. However, the Court noted such a duty might [**25]  arise if the landlord undertook  [*15]  to provide secured parking and failed to exercise reasonable care in doing so, and the tenants, who had relied on those services, were injured as a result. Id. at 746, citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, §323 (1965) (identifying discrete duty where a “landlord [who] by agreement or voluntarily offers a program to protect the premises, . . . must perform the task in a reasonable manner and where a harm follows a reasonable expectation of that harm, he is liable.”).

Application of these legal principles to the present factual scenario supports a determination that “affirmative conduct” by appellants created a “special relationship” with and increased risk of harm to its student athletes such that appellants had a duty to “exercise reasonable care to protect them against an unreasonable risk of harm arising” from that affirmative conduct. Dittman, supra. In addition, the record supports a finding appellants undertook a duty to provide duly licensed athletic trainers for the purpose of rendering treatment to its student athletes participating in athletic events, including the football practice on March 29, 2010,8 although it remains to be determined whether the steps actually taken by appellants satisfied that duty. [**26]  See Wilson v. PECO Energy Co., 2012 PA Super 279, 61 A.3d 229, 233 (Pa. Super. 2012) (sufficient facts alleged to overcome summary judgment and reach jury on question of scope of duty undertaken and its breach).

Specifically, when we consider the record in the light most favorable to appellees as the non-moving parties, we observe the following: before hiring Coyne and Bonisese, Lackawanna customarily employed athletic trainers, who were licensed as required by applicable statutes and regulations; Lackawanna required its student athletes including appellees to execute the Consent to treatment by “athletic trainer, team physician or hospital staff” in the event of an emergency during participation in the football program; Lackawanna held out Coyne and Bonisese as athletic trainers to appellees and their teammates, despite its knowledge they lacked the statutorily required licenses; Lackawanna demonstrated its awareness that Coyne and Bonisese did not have the qualifications of athletic trainers by renaming them “first responders,” but did not alter their job descriptions, which encompassed the duties of “athletic trainers”; Coyne and Bonisese were the only individuals present at the March 29, 2010 football tryout to provide treatment [**27]  to injured student athletes; the coaching staff propagated the misrepresentation of Coyne and Bonisese as athletic trainers; and Coyne and Bonisese  [*16]  performed the role of athletic trainers by attending appellees when they were injured, and directing appellee Feleccia to return to practice when he was “feeling better.”

Under these circumstances, appellants clearly created an expectation on which the student athletes might reasonably rely — i.e. in the case of injury during an athletic event, they receive treatment from a certified athletic trainer, as clearly outlined in the Consent they were required to sign. We thus easily conclude appellants undertook a duty to provide treatment by a certified athletic trainer at the March 29, 2010 practice. We further conclude the record, taken in the light most favorable to appellees, demonstrates the existence of a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to overcome summary judgment regarding whether appellants breached this duty and caused appellees’ injuries. Thus, we hold the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of appellants.

B. Is the Waiver enforceable as to the negligence claims?

Notwithstanding the existence of a duty [**28]  on the part of appellants, and factual allegations of a breach of that duty which would support a negligence claim, we must now consider whether the Waiver completely precludes any liability on such a claim, or on appellees’ additional claims of gross negligence and recklessness. Appellants observe that by signing the Waiver appellees released “any and all liability, claims, demands, actions and causes of action whatsoever arising out of or related to any loss, damage, or injury, including death, that may be sustained” while playing football at Lackawanna. Appellants’ Brief at 38. Appellants submit Topp Copy Prods. v. Singletary, 626 A.2d 98, 100, 533 Pa. 468 (Pa. 1993) held a Waiver of “any and all” liability was sufficiently clear to bar claims of all negligence, and the Superior Court erred in holding the Waiver is unenforceable because “it does not indicate that Lackawanna was being relieved of liability for its own acts of negligence.” Appellants’ Brief at 39, quoting Topp Copy, 626 A.2d at 100 (“[T]he word ‘all’ needs no definition; it includes everything and excludes nothing. There is no more comprehensive word in the language, and as used here it is obviously broad enough to cover liability for negligence.”) (additional citations omitted). Appellants emphasize “Pennsylvania [**29]  courts have consistently held that exculpatory clauses may bar suits based on negligence even where the language of the clause does not specifically mention negligence at all.” Appellants’ Brief at 43, quoting Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1193 (emphasis added).

Appellees submit the only issue preserved by appellants with respect to the validity of the Waiver is whether it is enforceable as to negligence, and that in this regard, the Superior Court correctly determined the Waiver is not sufficiently explicit regarding appellants’ own negligence to be enforceable. Appellees further assert the law is clear the Waiver is not enforceable to protect appellants from liability arising from gross negligence or recklessness, and the Superior Court properly remanded for further proceedings to determine whether appellants’ conduct constituted gross negligence or recklessness. Appellees’ Brief at 45-46, citing Tayar, supra, and Chepkevich, supra.

At the outset, we note appellants concede, as they must, that appellees’ claims of liability arising from recklessness are not precluded by the Waiver. See, e.g. Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1203 (finding public policy prohibits pre-injury waivers from releasing reckless behavior). The issue before us is thus narrowed to whether the Waiver, which purports [**30]  to release “any  [*17]  and all liability,” precludes liability on appellees’ claims of negligence and, relatedly, gross negligence.9 We bear in mind that exculpatory contracts are generally disfavored, and subject to close scrutiny. See Employers Liability Assur. Corp. v. Greenville Bus. Men’s Ass’n, 423 Pa. 288, 224 A.2d 620, 623 (Pa. 1966) (“contracts providing for immunity from liability for negligence must be construed strictly since they are not favorites of the law”); see also Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1199. Accordingly, exculpatory contracts are valid and enforceable only when “certain criteria are met.” Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1200 & n.8, citing Chepkevich and Topp Copy. Our case law provides “guiding standards” for assessing the enforceability of exculpatory contracts. See, e.g., Topp Copy, 626 A.2d at 99 (1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing the immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause).

i. Ordinary Negligence

The Superior Court considered the Waiver to be unenforceable as to appellees’ claims of negligence because its “language does not indicate that Lackawanna was being relieved of liability for its own acts of negligence.” Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1213. The court further found fault with the Waiver because it did not specifically include the word “negligence.” Id. at 1212-13. Although our cases have directed that exculpatory clauses must clearly provide “a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence[,]” we have not prescribed specific language. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1189, quoting Topp Copy, 626 A.2d at 99. In this case, the Waiver purported to protect appellants from “any and all liability” arising out of “any injury” sustained by student athletes while playing football at Lackawanna. We have determined such language is sufficient to express the parties’ intention to bar ordinary negligence claims. See Topp Copy, 626 A.2d at 99, 101 (lease agreement releasing lessor from ‘”any and all liability” clearly and unambiguously covered negligence claims’); see also Cannon v. Bresch, 307 Pa. 31, 160 A. 595, 596 (Pa. 1932) (lease releasing landlord from “all liability” was sufficient to cover liability for negligence).

 [*18]  The Superior Court, in reaching the opposite result, failed to acknowledge the trial court did not find [**32]  the mere existence of the Waiver automatically extinguished all potential claims of liability. Rather, the trial court applied the Topp Copy guiding standards to determine “whether the [exculpatory] clause ‘spells out the intention of the parties with particularity and shows the intent to release [appellants] from liability by express stipulation.'” Trial Court op. at 19, quoting McDonald v. Whitewater Challengers, Inc., 2015 PA Super 104, 116 A.3d 99, 121 (Pa. Super. 2015), quoting Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1191. The trial court examined the facts of record, including the parties’ intentions related to the execution of the Waiver as well as whether the risks undertaken by appellees and injuries suffered were encompassed within its terms. Trial Court op. at 18-22. The trial court determined it could not “say that the risks associated with Lackawanna’s Oklahoma Drill are so far beyond those risks ordinarily inherent to the sport of football and addressed in the Waiver as ‘risks and hazards’ typical of the sport that we must, as a matter of law, invalidate the Waiver.” Id. at 21-22. The trial court thus found the Waiver was enforceable and entered summary judgment in favor of appellants. We conclude that the Superior Court’s reversal of this holding with respect to appellees’ claims of ordinary negligence was error.10  [**33] See, e.g., Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1194-95 (release enforceable to preclude liability for general claims of negligence); see also, Topp Copy, 626 A.2d at 101 (release of “any and all” liability sufficient to preclude liability resulting from landlord’s negligence); see also Cannon, 160 A. at 597 (“The covenant in this lease against liability for acts of negligence does not contravene any policy of the law.”).

ii. Gross Negligence

As we have seen, appellees’ claims of ordinary negligence are barred by the Waiver, their claims of recklessness are not, and the allegations of recklessness will be tested at trial on remand. We have yet to rule on whether appellees may also proceed to trial on their allegations of gross negligence, or whether such claims are precluded by the Waiver. See Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1199 n.7 (“[A]s gross negligence is not implicated in the instant matter, we leave for another day the question of whether a release for gross negligence can withstand a public policy challenge.”).

Appellants consider gross negligence to be more closely aligned with negligence than recklessness, describing it as a form of negligence where there is a more significant departure from the standard of care, but without the “conscious action or inaction” that characterizes recklessness. [**34]  See Appellants’ Brief at 52. Appellants view gross negligence as a type of negligence that is covered by the Waiver and precludes appellees’ action for damages. Id. at 53-54.

Appellees respond that gross negligence is “more egregiously deviant conduct than ordinary carelessness, inadvertence, laxity, or indifference. . . . The behavior of the defendant must be flagrant, grossly deviating from the ordinary standard of care.”  [*19]  Appellees’ Brief at 50, quoting Bloom v. Dubois Reg’l Med. Ctr., 597 A.2d 671, 679, 409 Pa. Super. 83 (Pa. Super. 1991); accord Albright v. Abington Mem’l Hosp., 548 Pa. 268, 696 A.2d 1159, 1164 (Pa. 1997) (“We believe that this definition is a clear, reasonable, and workable definition of gross negligence[.]”). Here, appellees assert, there were sufficient facts presented for the jury to conclude appellants’ conduct was grossly negligent, and public policy compels the conclusion such conduct should not be immunized by the Waiver. Appellees’ Brief at 52-53.

HN4[] A determination that a contract is unenforceable because it contravenes public policy “requires a showing of overriding public policy from legal precedents, governmental practice, or obvious ethical or moral standards.” See Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1199, citing Williams v. GEICO Gov’t Employees Ins. Co., 613 Pa. 113, 32 A.3d 1195, 1200 (Pa. 2011). “It is only when a given policy is so obviously for or against the public health, safety, morals or welfare that there is a virtual unanimity of opinion [**35]  in regard to it, that a court may constitute itself the voice of the community in so declaring. . . .” Id., quoting Williams, 32 A.3d at 1200. Our law is clear that pre-injury exculpatory contracts purporting to protect a party from liability arising from recklessness are unenforceable on this public policy basis.

Although we have equated “gross negligence” with “recklessness” in the criminal law context, we have not expressly applied that equation in the civil context. See Com. v. Huggins, 575 Pa. 395, 836 A.2d 862, 867 (Pa. 2003) (gross negligence equates with recklessness for purpose of establishing mens rea for manslaughter). In the civil context, there is some difficulty in ascertaining the term’s precise meaning. See In re Scheidmantel, 2005 PA Super 6, 868 A.2d 464, 484-85 (Pa. Super. 2005) (recognizing “gross negligence” is frequently invoked but is not well defined in the civil context and “Pennsylvania Courts have struggled to provide a workable definition for ‘gross negligence’ when faced with the need to apply the concept.”). In Albright, 696 A.2d at 1164, we defined gross negligence in the context of the Mental Health Procedures Act11 as a “form of negligence where the facts support substantially more than ordinary carelessness, inadvertence, laxity, or indifference. The behavior of the defendant must be flagrant, grossly deviating from the ordinary standard [**36]  of care.” Id. at 1164, quoting Bloom, 597 A.2d at 679.

HN5[] Thus, although we have not previously settled on a definitive meaning of the term “gross negligence” as compared to “ordinary negligence” in the civil context, we have recognized there is a difference between the two concepts, and they are distinguished by the degree of deviation from the standard of care. See, e.g., Albright, supra; Ratti v. Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Corp., 2000 PA Super 239, 758 A.2d 695, 703 (Pa. Super. 2000), appeal denied, 567 Pa. 715, 785 A.2d 90 (Pa. 2001). See also Pa. Suggested Standard Civil Jury Instructions 13.50 (“Gross negligence is significantly worse than ordinary negligence” requiring proof actor “significantly departed from how a reasonably careful person would act under the circumstances”). To the extent our courts have used the term, the “general consensus finds gross negligence constitutes conduct more egregious than ordinary negligence but does not rise to the level of intentional indifference to the consequences of one’s acts.” Id. Other Pennsylvania sources have observed:

 [*20]  In essence, gross negligence is merely negligence with a vituperative epithet. It constitutes conduct more egregious than ordinary negligence but does not rise to the level of intentional indifference to the consequences of one’s acts. It may also be deemed to be a lack of slight diligence or care [**37]  comprising a conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of a legal duty and the consequences to another party. The term has also been found to mean a form of negligence where the facts support substantially more than ordinary carelessness, inadvertence, laxity, or indifference. The behavior of the defendant must be flagrant, grossly deviating from the ordinary standard of care.

2 Summ. Pa. Jur. 2d Torts §20:5 (internal citations omitted).

HN6[] Gross negligence has thus been consistently recognized as involving something more than ordinary negligence, and is generally described as “want of even scant care” and an “extreme departure” from ordinary care. Royal Indem. Co. v. Sec. Guards, Inc., 255 F.Supp.2d 497, 505 (E.D. Pa. 2003), quoting Williams v. State Civil Serv. Comm’n, 9 Pa. Commw. 437, 306 A.2d 419, 422 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1973), aff’d 457 Pa. 470, 327 A.2d 70 (Pa. 1974); see also Scheidmantel, 868 A.2d at 485 (gross negligence is “a lack of slight diligence or care comprising a conscious, voluntary act or omission in ‘reckless disregard’ of a legal duty and the consequences to another party”). See also Black’s Law Dictionary 1057 (7th ed. 1999) (gross negligence is a “lack of slight diligence or care” and a “conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of a legal duty and the consequences to another party”). With these principles in mind, we now proceed to consider whether a pre-injury exculpatory [**38]  waiver is valid to preclude claims of gross negligence.12

In Tayar, we held an exculpatory clause was not valid to preclude liability arising from reckless conduct because allowing such waivers would permit parties to “escape liability for consciously disregarding substantial risks of harm to others[.]” Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1203. We recognized such pre-injury releases are unenforceable in circumstances where they “would jeopardize the health, safety, and welfare of the people by removing any incentive for parties to adhere to minimal standards of safe conduct.” Id.

As we have seen, HN7[] gross negligence does not rise to the level of the intentional indifference or “conscious disregard” of risks that defines recklessness, but it is defined as an “extreme departure” from the standard of care, beyond that required to establish ordinary negligence, and is the failure to exercise even “scant care.” Royal Indem. Co., 255 F.Supp.2d at 505. See also 2 Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of  [*21]  Torts § 140 (gross negligence is “a high, though unspecified degree of negligence, or as courts sometimes say, the failure to use even slight care.”) Thus, gross negligence involves more than a simple breach of the standard of care (which would establish ordinary negligence), and instead [**39]  describes a “flagrant” or “gross deviation” from that standard. Bloom, 597 A.2d at 679 (gross negligence involves behavior that is “flagrant, grossly deviating from the ordinary standard of care”). As such, the same policy concerns that prohibit the application of a waiver in cases of recklessness — i.e., allowing it would incentivize conduct that jeopardizes the signer’s health, safety and welfare to an unacceptable degree requires a similar holding with regard to gross negligence.13 Accordingly, we hold the Waiver is not enforceable to preclude liability arising from appellees’ claims of gross negligence, and the allegations supporting such claims should be tested at trial on remand.

III. Conclusion

For all the foregoing reasons, we hold appellants had a duty to provide duly licensed athletic trainers for the purpose of rendering treatment to its student athletes participating in athletic events, including the football practice of March 29, 2010, and there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether appellants breached this duty. Moreover, although the Waiver bars recovery for appellees’ damages arising from ordinary negligence, we hold the Waiver does not bar recovery for damages arising [**40]  from gross negligence or recklessness, and there remain factual questions regarding whether appellants’ conduct constituted gross negligence or recklessness. Accordingly, we affirm the Superior Court’s order only to the extent it vacated the trial court’s entry of summary judgment on these claims specifically, and we remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Jurisdiction relinquished.

Justices Baer, Todd, Donohue and Mundy join the opinion.

Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Wecht file concurring and dissenting opinions.

Concur by: SAYLOR; WECHT

Dissent by: SAYLOR; WECHT

Dissent

CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION

CHIEF JUSTICE SAYLOR

I join the majority opinion to the extent it reverses the Superior Court’s creation of a generalized duty of care owed by Pennsylvania colleges to student athletes to have medical personnel available at all football practices. See Majority Opinion, slip op. at 14. I respectfully differ, however, with the majority’s follow-on holding that, under an assumption-of-duty theory as reflected in Section 323 of the Second Restatement of Torts, Lackawanna College definitively owed a duty of care to Plaintiffs on the date in question.

As a general matter, whether a defendant owed a duty of care to another person at [**41]  the relevant time is a legal issue to be decided on the underlying facts. See, e.g., Dittman v. UPMC,     Pa.    ,    , 196 A.3d 1036, 1046 (2018); accord Kukis v.  [*22]  Newman, 123 S.W.3d 636, 639 (Tex. Ct. App. 2003) (“The existence of a duty is a question of law for the court to decide based on the specific facts of the case.”). Because the complaint was dismissed on a defense motion for summary judgment, the majority appropriately “consider[s] the record in the light most favorable to [Plaintiffs] as the non-moving parties[.]” Majority Opinion, slip op. at 19. In doing so the majority recites certain facts which remain in dispute. This alone is not problematic given that, again, the record is being viewed favorably to Plaintiffs. The difficulty arises when the majority holds, in definitive terms, that a duty existed in light of such circumstances.

For example, the majority states, “Lackawanna held out Coyne and Bonisese as athletic trainers to [Plaintiffs] and their teammates,” and that these same two individuals “performed the role of athletic trainers by attending [Plaintiffs] when they were injured[.]” Id. Notably, Appellees expressly denied that Coyne and Bonisese held themselves out as athletic trainers or Lackawanna College held them out as such. See Defendants’ Answer and New Matter at ¶¶40, 42, 43, 44 (averring [**42]  that, at all relevant times, Coyne and Bonisese were held out by themselves and the college as first responders). Thus, I would frame the holding in more abstract terms and allow the common pleas court to determine, after resolution of any necessary factual disputes, whether Appellees’ affirmative conduct created a duty under the circumstances — and if so, the scope that duty.1

In terms of the second question accepted for review — whether the exculpatory clause is valid as to negligence — I also respectfully differ with the majority’s conclusion that the clause is unenforceable as contrary to public policy relative to a claim based on gross negligence.2

It is only when a given policy is so obviously for or against the public health, safety, morals or welfare that there is a virtual unanimity of opinion in  [*23]  regard to it, that a court may constitute itself the voice of the community in so declaring. There must be a positive, well-defined, universal public sentiment, deeply integrated in the customs and beliefs of the people and in their conviction of what is just and right and in the interests of the public weal.

Shick v. Shirey, 552 Pa. 590, 600, 716 A.2d 1231, 1235-36 (1998) (quoting Mamlin v. Genoe, 340 Pa. 320, 325, 17 A.2d 407, 409 (1941)); see also Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corp., 616 Pa. 385, 399, 47 A.3d 1190, 1199 (2012) (recognizing that “avoidance of contract [**43]  terms on public policy grounds requires a showing of overriding public policy from legal precedents, governmental practice, or obvious ethical or moral standards”). Tayar cited Williams v. GEICO Government Employees Insurance Co., 613 Pa. 113, 32 A.3d 1195 (2011), for this position, and continued as follows:

Public policy is to be ascertained by reference to the laws and legal precedents and not from general considerations of supposed public interest. As the term “public policy” is vague, there must be found definite indications in the law of the sovereignty to justify the invalidation of a contract as contrary to that policy[.] . . . Only dominant public policy would justify such action. In the absence of a plain indication of that policy through long governmental practice or statutory enactments, or of violations of obvious ethical or moral standards, the Court should not assume to declare contracts . . . contrary to public policy. The courts must be content to await legislative action.

Tayar, 616 Pa. at 399-400, 47 A.3d at 1199 (quoting Williams, 613 Pa. at 120-21, 32 A.3d at 1200) (alterations made by Tayar).

In this vein, it seems to me that, to invalidate the waiver relative to gross negligence claims as contrary to public policy, the concept of gross negligence would, at a minimum, have to be well understood and defined. [**44]  Apart from a clear notion of what constitutes gross negligence as distinguished from ordinary negligence, it seems difficult to contend that laws, legal precedents, long governmental practice, or other recognized indicators of longstanding, dominant public policy are so firmly entrenched in this Commonwealth against such waivers as to permit this Court to declare, as the majority presently does, that they are judicially prohibited.

Yet, as the majority explains, it is difficult even to ascertain the precise meaning of gross negligence, as that term represents an “amorphous concept,” that is, at its essence, “merely negligence with a vituperative epithet.” The majority proceeds to describe gross negligence as “appear[ing] to lie somewhere between” negligence and recklessness. Majority Opinion, slip op. at 21 n.9, 27.

This type of uncertainty in discerning just what gross negligence consists of, in my view (and for reasons more fully explained below) undermines the concept that liability waivers should be deemed unenforceable as against claims of gross negligence although they can be valid and enforceable in relation to claims of ordinary negligence.

In terms of the competing interests involved, it should go [**45]  without saying that athletic and other recreational pursuits by Pennsylvania residents are in the public interest and should be encouraged. See, e.g., Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 30, 2 A.3d 1174, 1191 (2010) (reviewing cases). On the other hand, it is plainly contrary to public policy to enforce releases which would allow individuals intentionally to harm others with impunity. Accord Tayar, 616 Pa. at 401, 47 A.3d at 1200. In Tayar, this Court extended that understanding to harm stemming  [*24]  from recklessness, that is, conduct in which the actor knowingly disregards an unreasonable risk of harm. Tayar reasoned that the conscious act of ignoring such a risk “aligns . . . closely with intentional conduct.” Id. at 403, 47 A.3d at 1201. Still, this Court should not overlook the competing policy grounds underlying the enforceability of liability waivers relative to inherently risky athletic activities.

Generally speaking, an exculpatory clause is a renunciation of a right and, as such, it constitutes a means of allocating risk as between contracting parties. See generally Anita Cava & Don Wiesner, Rationalizing a Decade of Judicial Responses to Exculpatory Clauses, 28 Santa Clara L. Rev. 611, 648 (1988). Because incurring risks is costly, shifting risks from the organizer of the athletic endeavor (the “supplier”) to the participant (the “consumer”) allows the supplier to lower the price of the activity, [**46]  particularly where there is market competition and/or where, as here, the provider is a non-profit organization. Cf. Carnival Cruise Lines v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585, 594, 111 S. Ct. 1522, 1527, 113 L. Ed. 2d 622 (1991) (applying similar reasoning to a contractual forum-selection clause). See generally Brief for Amicus Ass’n of Indep. Colls. & Univs. of Pa. at 12-14 (detailing that complying with the generalized duty imposed by the Superior Court would be likely to impose significant costs on the Association’s member institutions). A lower price, in turn, serves the public interest because, on the margin at least, recreational opportunities become available to lower-income residents who would otherwise be excluded from such events.

It may be assumed that another factor favoring enforcement is the recognition that, subject to limiting principles, parties are generally at liberty to enter into contracts of their choosing. See Cent. Dauphin Sch. Dist. v. American Cas. Co., 493 Pa. 254, 258, 426 A.2d 94, 96 (1981). This is reflected in the test for enforceability, one element of which asks whether each party is a “free bargaining agent.” Tayar, 616 Pa. at 399, 47 A.3d at 1199 (citing Emp’rs Liab. Assur. Corp. v. Greenville Business Men’s Ass’n, 423 Pa. 288, 224 A.2d 620 (1966)).

Conversely, enforcing waivers of liability based on any kind of fault — including ordinary negligence — diminishes incentives for the supplier to manage risks which it is in a better position than the consumer to control.

None of the above is to suggest that negligent or grossly negligent [**47]  conduct is in any sense socially beneficial. Rather, it is offered solely for the purpose of illustrating that multiple competing interests are at stake when a litigant requests that we judicially invalidate an otherwise binding contractual provision on public policy grounds. Presumably, this Court’s line of decisions enforcing waivers as to ordinary negligence reflects a balancing of these considerations.

Certainly, and as noted, a weighing of such policies favors unenforceability where intentional or reckless conduct is concerned. In such instances, not only are there obvious reasons based on enduring societal mores which support such a result, but — and perhaps less obvious — any competing interest in cost reduction is not unduly compromised. This is because, absent some proof of intentional conduct or conscious disregard, the common pleas court can, in a given case, be expected to act as a gatekeeper so that the supplier need not incur the cost of litigating the case to the conclusion of a jury trial and, perhaps, post-trial motions.

The same cannot be said for gross negligence precisely because of its “amorphous” nature. After today it will be difficult for common pleas courts to [**48]  decide — when the  [*25]  defendant is in possession of a validly-executed waiver covering the activity in question — whether the complaint should be dismissed on the grounds that it only alleges ordinary negligence and not gross negligence. As a consequence, litigants can be expected to argue, with regard to any supportable allegation of negligence, that they are entitled to have a jury decide whether the defendant’s negligence was, in fact, “gross.” Absent thorough and detailed appellate guidance as to the types of facts that must be pled to allege gross negligence, such an argument is likely to prevail in many if not most cases.

In all events, the type of policy making this Court presently undertakes is best suited to the General Assembly. We have observed on multiple occasions that the legislative branch is the appropriate forum for the balancing of social policy considerations and interests and the making of social policy judgments, and that it has the tools to perform these tasks — tools which the courts lack. See, e.g., Seebold v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 618 Pa. 632, 653, 57 A.3d 1232, 1245 & n.19 (2012).

Accordingly, I respectfully dissent from the holding reached in Part II(b) of the majority opinion. I note, however, that I do not foreclose reconsidering my [**49]  position if, in the future, the concept of gross negligence in Pennsylvania is made subject to a more precise definition which allows for some measure of consistency and predictability in litigation.

CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION

JUSTICE WECHT

I. Introduction

Like the Majority, I believe that Lackawanna College had a duty to ensure that certified athletic trainers were available to treat student-athletes injured during the March 29, 2010 football tryouts. Considering the record in the light most favorable to Feleccia and Resch, as we must, it is clear that Lackawanna College assumed this duty through its own actions and representations.1 As a general matter, I agree as well with the Majority’s analysis regarding the enforceability of the liability waiver that Feleccia and Resch signed. Specifically, I join in the conclusion that the waiver was enforceable as to ordinary negligence, and not enforceable as to gross negligence.2

 [*26]  I write separately because, while the Majority limits Lackawanna College’s duty to the obligation it undertook through its own actions and representations, see Maj. Op. at 18-19, principles of Pennsylvania tort law require us to go further. Based upon [**50]  the factors that this Court articulated in Althaus ex rel. Althaus v. Cohen, 562 Pa. 547, 756 A.2d 1166 (Pa. 2000), as well as the persuasive opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Kleinknecht v. Gettysburg Coll., 989 F.2d 1360 (3d Cir. 1993), colleges owe a duty to their student-athletes to ensure that qualified medical personnel3 are available to render needed assistance during school-sponsored and supervised intercollegiate contact sport activities.

II. Legal Backdrop

A. Kleinknecht

While this Court previously has rejected the doctrine of in loco parentis as a basis for finding that colleges owe a duty of care to their students,4 we have not addressed whether colleges owe any duty to their student-athletes. In a case with similar facts, the Third Circuit predicted that this Court would indeed conclude that a college’s relationship with its student-athletes created a duty of care to these athletes during their participation in intercollegiate contact sports. Kleinknecht, 989 F.2d at 1367-69. In Kleinknecht, a college lacrosse player suffered cardiac arrest during practice and ultimately died. No medical personnel were present at the practice, and the coaches lacked any immediate means to contact emergency services.

Distinguishing prior cases in which courts held that colleges owed no duty to their students, [**51]  the Kleinknecht court explained that, unlike in those cases, the lacrosse player was not acting as a private student engaged in his own affairs when he collapsed.5 Instead, the student was  [*27]  participating in a scheduled practice for an intercollegiate, school-sponsored team under the supervision of coaches employed by the college. The court also found the college’s recruitment of the lacrosse player significant, noting that it could not “help but think that the College recruited [the athlete] for its own benefit, probably thinking that his [athletic skill] would bring favorable attention and so aid the College in attracting other students.” Id. at 1368.

Additionally observing that the imposition of a duty is justified when the foreseeable risk of harm is unreasonable, the Kleinknecht court considered the foreseeability and magnitude of the risk at the lacrosse practice. The court found that it is “clearly foreseeable that a person participating [in an intercollegiate contact sport] will sustain serious injury requiring immediate medical attention.” Id. at 1371. The court also opined that the “magnitude of foreseeable harm—irreparable injury or death to [a student-athlete] as a result of inadequate [**52]  preventative emergency measures—is indisputable.” Id. at 1370. Accordingly, in light of the relationship between a college and its student-athletes and the foreseeability of grave injury during athletes’ participation in contact sports, the court opined that the college owed a duty “to provide prompt and adequate emergency medical services” to its intercollegiate athletes when they are “engaged in a school-sponsored athletic activity for which [they] ha[ve] been recruited.” Id. at 1371.

B. Althaus

Seven years after the Third Circuit decided Kleinknecht, this Court compiled earlier approaches to the duty inquiry and distilled them into a five-factor framework.6 Observing that the concept of duty is “necessarily rooted in often amorphous public policy considerations,” Althaus, 756 A.2d at 1169, we acknowledged that discerning a “previously unrecognized duty” is an inherently difficult task. See Walters v. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, 187 A.3d 214, 222 (Pa. 2018). To assist in this undertaking, we identified the following five factors for courts to consider: “(1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the social utility of the actor’s conduct; (3) the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred; (4) the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and (5) the overall public [**53]  interest in the proposed solution.” Althaus, 756 A.2d at 1169. We also have noted that “[n]o one of these five factors is dispositive. Rather, a duty will be found to exist where the balance of these factors weighs in favor of placing such a burden on a defendant.” Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 576 Pa. 644, 841 A.2d 1000, 1008-09 (Pa. 2003).

III. Analysis

Although some twenty-six years have passed since the Third Circuit’s prediction in Kleinknecht, this Court has yet to resolve whether colleges owe any duty to their student-athletes. Allowing for argument’s  [*28]  sake that this is a new duty, a principled weighing of the Althaus factors leads to the conclusion that colleges owe a duty to ensure that qualified medical personnel are available to student-athletes participating in school-sponsored and supervised intercollegiate contact sports.7

A. Althaus (1): The relationship between the parties8

A party’s duty of care to another can arise from the parties’ relationship. See Morena v. S. Hills Health Sys., 501 Pa. 634, 462 A.2d 680, 684 (Pa. 1983). In light of the increased autonomy afforded to college students in modern times, courts have rejected the notion that colleges act in loco parentis or as [**54]  “insurer[s] of the safety of [their] students.” See Sullivan, 572 A.2d at 1213 (quoting Bradshaw, 612 F.2d at 138). However, despite widespread agreement among courts on this general principle, courts differ as to whether colleges owe any duty to their student-athletes.9 In recent  [*29]  decades, scholars have opined that the unique relationship between colleges and their student-athletes justifies the imposition of a duty upon the college when the athletes participate in intercollegiate contact sports. These commentators observe that, unlike the relationship between a college and its average student, the relationship between colleges and their student-athletes is characterized by mutual benefits and by the college’s assertion and exercise of significant control over the athletes’ lives, thereby justifying the recognition of a duty of care.10

In the case before us today, the relationship between [**55]  Lackawanna College and its intercollegiate football players weighs in favor of recognizing a duty similar to the one that the Third Circuit articulated in Kleinknecht. Like the student-athlete in Kleinknecht, at the time of their injuries, Feleccia and Resch both were engaged in something other than their own private affairs. Rather, Feleccia and Resch were participating in tryouts for the intercollegiate, school-sponsored football team under the supervision of coaches employed by the college. Like the Third Circuit in Kleinknecht, I would find that the college expected its relationship with the student-athletes to benefit the college. Before Feleccia and Resch enrolled at Lackawanna College, its head football coach contacted both of them about playing football for the school’s intercollegiate team, presumably because the college expected to gain favorable attention or other benefits from their participation in the program. Moreover, as the Majority aptly observes, Feleccia’s and Resch’s relationship with Lackawanna College rested in part upon their reasonable expectation, based upon the college’s actions and representations, that a certified athletic trainer would treat them if they [**56]  were injured during athletic activities. See Maj. Op. at 19.

Accordingly, like the school-athlete relationship at issue in Kleinknecht, the relationship between Lackawanna College and its intercollegiate football players weighs in favor of recognizing a duty.

B. Althaus (2): The social utility of the actor’s conduct

The conduct at issue in any negligence case is the “act or omission upon which liability is asserted.” Walters, 187 A.3d at  [*30]  234. In cases in which an actor’s omission is at issue, courts must consider not only the social utility of the actor’s conduct, but also the utility of the individual’s failure to act. For example, in Walters, this Court weighed the social utility of UPMC providing health care services to the community against the utility of UPMC’s failure to report a former employee’s theft of fentanyl to the appropriate authorities. Although we concluded that UPMC’s provision of health care was beneficial to society, we found that its failure to take “steps to enhance public safety” by ensuring that its former employee did not “repeat his dangerous and criminal conduct” lacked any social utility. Id. at 235.

Similarly, in Phillips, 576 Pa. 644, 841 A.2d 1000, this Court weighed the social utility of a company manufacturing butane lighters [**57]  against the utility of the company’s failure to manufacture these lighters with child safety features. After opining that the lighters had obvious social utility, we observed:

[T]he evidence does not show that the utility of the lighter is increased when a child safety device is lacking. Conversely, it is readily apparent that a device which would prevent small children, who lack the discretion and caution of the average adult, from creating a flame would have great utility in our society.

Id. at 659-60. Therefore, we concluded that this factor weighed in favor of imposing a duty.11

Here, we must weigh the social utility of Lackawanna College maintaining an intercollegiate athletic program against the utility of the college’s failure to ensure that qualified medical personnel were available to its student-athletes during football tryouts. Unquestionably, intercollegiate athletics furnish many benefits. As the Supreme Court of California observed in Avila, “[i]ntercollegiate competition allows a school to, on the smallest scale, offer its students the benefits of athletic participation and, on the largest scale, reap the economic and marketing benefits that derive from maintenance of [**58]  a major sports program.” Avila, 131 P.3d at 392. Intercollegiate athletic programs provide numerous revenue sources for colleges. In addition to the money colleges earn from ticket sales at intercollegiate athletic events, successful athletic programs serve as magnets for corporate sponsorships and substantial donations from alumni and fans.12 These programs also exponentially increase the sales of merchandise bearing the school’s name, mascot, and logo, generating significant profits for schools.13

Intercollegiate athletic programs also may increase the school’s marketability and enrollment.14 These programs inevitably  [*31]  facilitate the recruitment of other athletes, who desire to play for a reputable team. Intercollegiate athletics attract media attention, expanding the school’s visibility to prospective students. Further, the culture surrounding intercollegiate athletic programs improves the quality of students’ college experience by fostering and enhancing school spirit, and by offering students the opportunity to participate in a variety of social activities that attend these sports. Thus, by improving the quality of campus life, such programs enhance the school’s appeal to athletes and non-athletes [**59]  alike. Additionally, cheering for or participating in intercollegiate sports often creates a lasting connection between students and their universities, increasing the likelihood that they will donate to the school as alumni, recommend the school to potential students, or otherwise volunteer their services in order to help the school succeed.

In contrast, Lackawanna’s failure to ensure that certified athletic trainers were available during football tryouts lacks any social utility. Undoubtedly, the availability of qualified medical personnel such as certified athletic trainers increases the social utility of intercollegiate programs by providing athletes with proper medical care, and by preventing injuries like Feleccia’s and Resch’s. Moreover, as discussed more fully infra, the college’s failure to ensure that qualified medical personnel were available severely undermined the benefits that intercollegiate athletics generate.

Thus, because the social utility of maintaining intercollegiate athletic programs is great, and because the failure to ensure that qualified medical personnel are available to student-athletes during intercollegiate contact sports lacks any social utility, [**60]  this factor weighs in favor of imposing a duty.

C. Althaus (3): The nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred

In addition to identifying the nature of a college’s relationship with its student-athletes as a basis for imposing a duty of care upon the college, the Kleinknecht court also found that the college owed its athletes a duty of care based upon the foreseeability of severe injury at a practice for a contact sport. Here, the risk of injury exceeded the risk at issue in Kleinknecht. As observed by amicus curiae, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (“NATA”), collegiate football has one of the highest injury rates of all collegiate sports, and the preseason practice injury rate is over twice the rate during in-season practices. See Amicus Brief for NATA at 8. Moreover, college football players routinely suffer severe injuries. The drill that led to Feleccia’s and Resch’s injuries was a variation of the once-prevalent Oklahoma Drill, a tackling drill that has been the subject of extensive criticism during recent concussion litigation.15 Two experts, including the former head football coach at Texas A&M University and a certified athletic trainer at Stevenson [**61]  University, also opined that Lackawanna College ran a particularly dangerous variant of the drill.16

 [*32]  The foreseeability of the risk of the exacerbation of practice injuries was only enhanced when Lackawanna College employed Alexis Bonisese and Kaitlin Coyne to fulfill the roles of athletic trainers, despite the school’s awareness that these two individuals possessed neither the athletic training certifications nor the skills necessary to perform the duties of athletic trainers. See Maj. Op. at 3-4, 19. By employing Bonisese and Coyne, Lackawanna College not only failed to ensure that qualified medical personnel were available to care for injured football players, but also created an additional risk for the College’s athletes by allowing them to receive care and advice from unqualified individuals whom the athletes believed to be certified trainers. The athletes thus were unable to make an informed decision as to whether to consult or follow the recommendations of (uncertified) staff, exposing those athletes to the hidden risk of greater injury arising from bad advice.17

Given the magnitude and frequency with which players [**62]  sustain serious injury in contact sports, and football in particular, and given the likelihood that uncertified individuals undertaking the responsibilities of athletic trainers will render bad advice that further endangers athletes, the harm that Feleccia and Resch suffered was entirely foreseeable. In light of these considerations, Lackawanna College’s failure to protect against these risks was unreasonable, and this factor weighs in favor of imposing a duty on colleges in favor of student-athletes.

D. Althaus (4): The consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor

Requiring colleges to ensure that qualified medical personnel are available to student-athletes participating in intercollegiate contact sports undoubtedly imposes a financial burden upon colleges and universities, particularly small colleges lacking the resources of larger institutions. Some schools may be hard-pressed to find the money to fulfill this obligation, and could face a difficult decision between cutting spending in other areas of their budgets and reducing the number of intercollegiate sports that they offer. Additionally, it may be difficult for some colleges to find qualified medical personnel who are willing [**63]  to work for their schools, depending upon the individual’s salary requirements and the location of the college. However, for several mitigating reasons, these burdens weigh only modestly, if at all, against imposing a duty upon colleges.

First, this duty is limited. Like Lackawanna College, the college in Kleinknecht contended that imposing a duty of care would create a slippery slope, requiring colleges to provide medical personnel for all sports, irrespective of whether the sport posed a substantial risk of injury or whether the college sponsored or supervised the athletic event. The Third Circuit rejected this argument as an “unwarranted extension” of its holding, explaining that the duty it imposed was limited to the particular facts of the case in which an athlete suffered a medical emergency  [*33]  while participating in an intercollegiate contact sport for which the college had recruited him. Kleinknecht, 989 F.2d at 1370-71. I agree generally with the Kleinknecht court’s suggested limitation,18 such that the duty in question should extend only to intercollegiate contact sports. At least for present purposes, other athletic activities, such as intramurals, necessarily fall outside the scope of this duty.19

Second, Lackawanna College and colleges like it are tuition-dependent for the bulk of their revenue. See Deposition of Suellen Musewicz, 11/11/14, at 15. For all the reasons discussed above, maintaining an intercollegiate athletic program attracts more students, increasing tuition revenue. Indeed, Feleccia and Resch both averred that they attended Lackawanna College because they wanted to participate in its football program.20 Furthermore, although hiring qualified medical personnel such as certified athletic trainers increases the cost of colleges’ athletic programs, it also can increase the appeal of these programs to prospective student-athletes, in additional service of the above-stated benefits. By contrast, developing a reputation for employing unqualified individuals to treat injured players has the potential to decrease the number of students willing to participate on a college’s sports teams. Failing to ensure that injured athletes have access to proper medical care during athletic events increases injury rates, decreasing the college’s ability to capitalize on the benefits that successful programs generate. Additionally, such failures can result in litigation [**65]  (as evidenced by the present case), which presents its own financial and reputational challenges for colleges.

Third, hiring qualified medical personnel is hardly cost-prohibitive. This is particularly true because the number of medical personnel a college must employ to cover its intercollegiate contact sports is dependent upon a variety of factors unique to each college. As one example, NATA has promulgated worksheets to assist colleges in calculating an appropriate amount of medical coverage for their athletic programs. These worksheets incorporate many factors, including the intercollegiate sports that the college offers, the injury rates of those sports, the length of each sport’s season, and the number of participating athletes.

Using Lackawanna College as an example, to be staffed adequately in-season for all sports during the 2009-10 academic year according to NATA’s recommendations, one expert opined that the college needed to hire approximately 2.27 full-time athletic trainers. See Expert Report of M.  [*34]  Scott Zema, 9/28/15, at 4 (unnumbered). This number is roughly consistent with the two full-time certified athletic trainers that Lackawanna College had on staff prior to employing [**66]  Bonisese and Coyne, an expense that evidently was deemed cost-effective at the time. Thus, requiring Lackawanna College to meet NATA’s suggestion would require it to do little more than restore the staffing it had prior to creating the dubious “first responder” positions for the uncertified Bonisese and Coyne.

In short, the consequences of recognizing this duty are not de minimis, but this impact is offset by the aforementioned considerations, particularly when considering the facts of this case. Thus, in my view, the fourth Althaus factor weighs only slightly, if at all, against imposing a duty.

E. Althaus (5): The overall public interest in the proposed solution

In cases in which we have considered whether one party owed a duty to another, this Court time and again has observed that the concept of duty amounts to “the sum total of those considerations of policy which led the law to say that the particular plaintiff is entitled to protection.” See Sinn v. Burd, 486 Pa. 146, 404 A.2d 672, 681 (Pa. 1979) (quoting Leong v. Takasaki, 55 Haw. 398, 520 P.2d 758, 764 (Haw. 1974)). Accordingly, like Dean Prosser, we have recognized:

These are shifting sands, and no fit foundation . . . . The word serves a useful purpose in directing attention to the obligation to be imposed upon the defendant, rather than the [**67]  causal sequence of events; beyond that it serves none. In the decision whether or not there is a duty, many factors interplay: The hand of history, our ideas of morals and justice, the convenience of administration of the rule, and our social ideas as to where the loss should fall. In the end the court will decide whether there is a duty on the basis of the mores of the community, “always keeping in mind the fact that we endeavor to make a rule in each case that will be practical and in keeping with the general understanding of mankind.”

Gardner ex rel. Gardner v. CONRAIL, 573 A.2d 1016, 1020, 524 Pa. 445 (Pa. 1990) (quoting William L. Prosser, Palsgraf Revisited, 52 Mich. L. Rev. 1, 14-15 (1953)). Thus, a duty arises, in part, from society’s interest in protecting the plaintiff from a certain harm.

In Kleinknecht and in the present case, the public has a substantial interest in protecting the health and well-being of intercollegiate athletes. As the Superior Court observed, “[c]olleges are expected to put a priority on the health and safety of their students, especially student[-]athletes engaged in dangerous sports.” Feleccia, 156 A.3d at 1219. As discussed supra, student-athletes participating in intercollegiate contact sports face a significant and foreseeable risk of acute injury, and colleges benefit considerably [**68]  from students’ participation in their athletic programs. The receipt of such benefits at the expense of these athletes’ health and well-being is, as one scholar opined, “grossly unfair.”21

Colleges are best positioned to ensure that their athletes receive timely, competent medical attention when they participate in contact sports. In theory, one might suggest that student-athletes could  [*35]  seek out their own treatment when they are injured and decide for themselves when they feel well enough to return to play. The wisdom of imposing such a responsibility on student-athletes is questionable, at best. Scholars have observed that, when allowed to make their own decisions regarding injuries and returning to play, collegiate athletes often are willing to sacrifice their bodies in pursuit of their athletic goals, and to take great risks because they believe themselves to be impervious to injury.22 Further, in addition to the pressure that they place upon themselves, student-athletes also experience pressure from coaches, teammates, parents, sponsors, and the media to perform despite their injuries.23 This pressure can cause athletes to return to play before recovering fully from an illness [**69]  or injury or to play through pain rather than receiving necessary medical attention.24 These considerations are only amplified in the context of a competitive tryout, when an athlete may fear losing the chance to play entirely. Moreover, the extensive training and certification required of an athletic trainer demonstrates just how unqualified student-athletes are to make their own decisions regarding whether they need medical attention and when they can return to play.25

Our Commonwealth’s imposition of rigorous requirements on those wishing to claim the title “athletic trainer” also demonstrates the interest of our citizens, expressed through their General Assembly, in ensuring that athletes who seek athletic training services receive a certain standard of care. The Medical Practice Act of 1985 and its implementing regulations prohibit unlicensed individuals from using the title “athletic trainer” or providing athletic training services, and allow the imposition of injunctions and penalties on those who [**70]  violate the Act.26 As these laws indicate,  [*36]  the interest of Pennsylvania and its citizens in the health and safety of student-athletes is particularly great when a college affirmatively purports to provide its athletes with care from certified athletic trainers while in fact allowing uncertified individuals to masquerade in performing athletic training duties. In such circumstances, an athlete’s decision-making ability regarding his medical care and return to play not only is compromised by the aforementioned pressures, but also is impaired by his ignorance of the caregiver’s lack of qualification to deliver advice.

Lackawanna College’s conduct makes clear that the public’s interest in protecting the health and safety of intercollegiate athletes cannot be entrusted categorically to colleges based upon the assumption that they will in all instances ensure that their athletic departments are staffed adequately to provide treatment to injured student-athletes. Judicial recognition of this duty is necessary to ensure that colleges take the necessary precautions to protect their athletes from injury by holding them accountable for failing to fulfill this obligation.

Because the public [**71]  has a strong interest in protecting collegiate athletes from injury, and from receiving athletic training services from uncertified individuals, this factor also weighs in favor of imposing a duty.

IV. Conclusion

Based upon this analysis of the Althaus factors, the better view of Pennsylvania law is that colleges and universities bear a duty to ensure that qualified medical personnel are available to student-athletes when the athletes participate in intercollegiate contact sports. Whether Lackawanna College breached this duty, and whether this breach caused Feleccia’s and Resch’s injuries, remain questions for the jury.27 Thus, while I agree with the Majority to the extent that it concludes that Lackawanna College owed a duty to Feleccia and Resch in this case, I disagree with the Majority’s choice to limit its holding to this case-specific evaluation of this school’s particular representations and these parties’ course of conduct. Unintentionally, but in practical effect, such limitation may create a perverse incentive for institutions like Lackawanna College to do less rather than more to protect their athletes by encouraging the institutions to make no representations at all.

End of Document


E.M. v. House of Boom Ky., LLC (In re Miller), 2019 Ky. LEXIS 211, 2019 WL 2462697

E.M. v. House of Boom Ky., LLC (In re Miller), 2019 Ky. LEXIS 211, 2019 WL 2462697

In Re: Kathy Miller, as Next Friend of Her Minor Child, E.M.

v.

House of Boom Kentucky, LLC

No. 2018-SC-000625-CL

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 13, 2019

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY LOUISVILLE DIVISION CASE NO. 3:16-CV-332-CRS

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Grover Simpson Cox Grover S. Cox Law Office Vanessa Lynn Armstrong U.S. District Court

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Anthony M. Pernice Reminger Co., LPA

COUNSEL FOR AMICUS CURIAE KENTUCKY JUSTICE ASSOCIATION: Kevin Crosby Burke Jamie Kristin Neal Burke Neal PLLC

OPINION

VANMETER, JUSTICE

By order entered February 14, 2019, this Court granted the United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky’s request for certification of law on the following issue:

Is a pre-injury liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child enforceable under Kentucky law?

After careful consideration, we hold that such a waiver is unenforceable under the specific facts of this case.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

House of Boom, LLC (“House of Boom”) is a for-profit trampoline park located in Louisville, Kentucky. The park is a collection of trampoline and acrobatic stunt attractions. On August 6, 2015, Kathy Miller purchased tickets for her 11-year-old daughter, E.M., and her daughter’s friends to go play at House of Boom. Before purchasing the tickets, House of Boom required the purchaser to check a box indicating that the purchaser had read the waiver of liability. The waiver reads:

(1) RELEASE OF LIABILITY: Despite all known and unknown risks including b[u]t not limite[d] to serious bodily injury, permanent disability, paralysis and loss of life, I, on behalf of myself, and/or on behalf of my spouse, minor child(ren)/ward(s) hereby expressly and volun[]tarily remise, release, acquit, satisfy and forever discharge and agree not to sue HOUSE OF BOOM, including its suppliers, designers, installers, manufacturers of any trampoline equipment, foam pit material, or such other material and equipment in HOUSE OF BOOM’S facility (all hereinafter referred to as “EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS”) and agree to hold said parties harmless of and from any and all manner of actions or omission(s), causes of action, suits, sums of money, controversies, damages, judgments, executions, claims and demands whatsoever, in law or in equity, including, but no[t] limited to, any and all claim[s] which allege negligent acts and/or omissions committed by HOUSE OF BOOM or any EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS, whether the action arises out of any damage, loss, personal injury, or death to me or my spouse, minor child(ren)/ward(s), while participating in or as a result of participating in any of the ACTIVITIES in or about the premises. This Release of Liability, is effective and valid regardless of whether the damage, loss or death is a result of any act or omission on the part of HOUSE OF BOOM and/or any EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS.

The agreement goes on to state:

1. By signing this document, I understand that I may be found by a court of law to have forever waived my and my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) right to maintain any action against HOUSE OF BOOM on the basis of any claim from which I have released HOUSE OF BOOM and any released party herein and that I have assumed all risk of damage, loss, personal injury, or death to myself, my spouse and/or my minor child(ren)/wards(s) and agreed to indemnify and hold harmless HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS from and against any all losses, liabilities, claims, obligations, costs, damages and/or expenses whatsoever paid, incurred and/or suffered by HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS as a result of the participation in ACTIVITIES in or about the facility by myself, my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) and/or claims asserted by myself, my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) against HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS related to such participation in ACTIVITIES. I have had a reasonable and sufficient opportunity to read and understand this entire document and consult with legal counsel, or have voluntarily waived my right to do so. I knowingly and voluntarily agree to be bound by all terms and conditions set forth herein.

The above waiver includes language that, if enforceable, would release all claims by (1) the individual who checked the box, (2) her spouse, (3) her minor child, or (4) her ward against House of Boom. Once Miller checked the box, E.M. participated in activities at House of Boom. She was injured when another girl jumped off a three-foot ledge and landed on E.M’s ankle, causing it to break. Miller, as next friend of her daughter, sued House of Boom for the injury. House of Boom, relying on Miller’s legal power to waive the rights of her daughter via the release, moved for summary judgment. The Western District of Kentucky concluded that House of Boom’s motion for summary judgment involved a novel issue of state law and requested Certification from this Court which we granted. Both parties have briefed the issue and the matter is now ripe for Certification.

II. Analysis.

The question before this Court is whether a parent has the authority to sign a pre-injury exculpatory agreement on behalf of her child, thus terminating the child’s potential right to compensation for an injury occurring while participating in activities sponsored by a for-profit company. Although an issue of first impression in the Commonwealth, the enforceability of a pre-injury waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child has been heavily litigated in a multitude of jurisdictions. House of Boom categorizes these decisions in as those that enforced the waiver and those that did not, but the decisions of those jurisdictions more accurately fall into four distinct categories: (1) jurisdictions that have enforced a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity;[1] (2) jurisdictions that have enforced waivers between a parent and a non-profit entity;[2] (3) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity unenforceable;[3] and (4) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a non-profit entity unenforceable.[4]House of Boom is a for-profit trampoline park, and eleven out of twelve jurisdictions that have analyzed similar waivers between parents and for-profit entities have adhered to the common law and held such waivers to be unenforceable.[5]

Pre-injury release waivers are not per se invalid in the Commonwealth but are generally “disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying on them.” Hargis v. Baize, 168 S.W.3d 36, 47 (Ky. 2005) (citation omitted). We analyze these agreements for violations of public policy. See Cobb v. Gulf Refining Co., 284 Ky. 523, 528, 145 S.W.2d 96, 99 (1940) (citing Restatement of Contracts § 575). The relevant public policy here is whether a parent has the authority to enter into an exculpatory agreement on their child’s behalf, negating any opportunity for a tort claim-a child’s property right-if House of Boom’s negligence causes injury to the child.

The general common law rule in Kentucky is that “parents ha[ve] no right to compromise or settle” their child’s cause of action as that “right exist[s] in the child alone,” and parents have no right to enter into contracts on behalf of their children absent special circumstances. Meyer’s Adm’r v. Zoll, 119 Ky. 480, 486, 84 S.W. 543, 544 (1905); see also Wilson v. Wilson, 251 Ky. 522, 525, 65 S.W.2d 694, 695 (1933) (“[W]hile the mother might enter into a contract regarding her rights, she could not contract away the rights of her unborn child[]”);GGNSC Stanford, LLC v. Rome, 388 S.W.3d 117, 123 (Ky. App. 2012) (“In light of the limited authority granted to custodians by KRS[6] 405.020 and KRS 387.280, we cannot conclude they are permitted to contractually bind their wards without formal appointment as guardians[]”). Thus, we must determine whether Kentucky public policy supports a change in the common law that would protect for-profit entities from liability by enforcing pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of their children. First, KRS 405.020 provides that “[t]he father and mother shall have the joint custody, nurture, and education of their children who are under the age of eighteen (18).” However, this grant of custody and a parent’s right to raise their child, choose the child’s educational path, and make healthcare decisions on a child’s behalf has never abrogated the traditional common law view that parents have no authority to enter into contracts on behalf of their child when dealing with a child’s property rights, prior to being appointed guardian by a district court. Scott v. Montgomery Traders Bank & Trust Co., 956 S.W.2d 902, 904 (Ky. 1997).

In Scott, the parent at issue attempted to settle her child’s tort claim and fund a trust with the settlement funds without being appointed guardian by a district court. Id. This Court held that

[i]t is fundamental legal knowledge in this state that District Court has exclusive jurisdiction “. . . for the appointment and removal of guardians . . . and for the management and settlement of their accounts” and that a person must be appointed as guardian by the Court in order to legally receive settlements in excess of $10, 000.00.

Id. (quoting KRS 387.020(1), KRS 387.125(b)) (emphasis added). Additionally, our precedent dictates that even when acting as next friend, a minor’s parent has no right to compromise or settle a minor’s claim without court approval or collect the proceeds of a minor’s claim.[7] Metzger Bros. v. Watson’s Guardian, 251 Ky. 446, 450, 65 S.W.2d 460, 462 (1933). Thus, finding no inherent right on the part of a parent to contract on behalf of their child, the remaining question is whether public policy demands enforcement of these contracts within the Commonwealth.

House of Boom’s initial public policy argument is that a parent’s fundamental liberty interest “in the care and custody of their children” supports enforcing a for-profit entity’s pre-injury liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child. Morgan v. Getter, 441 S.W.3d 94, 112 (Ky. 2014) (citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 2060, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000) (“The liberty interest … of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children-is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court[]”). Although this Court recognizes a parent’s fundamental liberty interest in the rearing of one’s child, this right is not absolute, and the Commonwealth may step in as parens patraie[8] to protect the best interests of the child. See Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 390 (“the question whether a parent may release a minor’s future tort claims implicates wider public policy concerns and the parens patriae duty to protect the best interests of children[]”); see also Cooper, 48 P.3d at 1235 n. 11 (parental release of child’s right to sue for negligence is “not of the same character and quality as those rights recognized as implicating parents’ fundamental liberty interest in the ‘care, custody and control’ of their children[]”). House of Boom argues that the parens patriae doctrine “is difficult to defend in a post-Troxel world.” However, if Troxel is read to grant parents the decision to enter into pre-injury liability waivers, then, logically, our court-appointed guardian statutes and statutes restricting a parent’s ability to settle claims post-injury would also infringe upon a parent’s fundamental liberty interest. As litigation restrictions upon parents have remained a vital piece of our Commonwealth’s civil practice and procedure, we do not recognize a parent’s fundamental liberty interest to quash their child’s potential tort claim.

House of Boom next argues that public policy concerns surrounding post-injury settlements between parents and defendants are not present when a parent is signing a pre-injury release waiver (signing in the present case being checking a box on an I phone), and therefore, the state only needs to step in to protect the child post-injury, not pre-injury. First, we note that since Meyer’s Adm’r and Metzger Bros., this Court and the legislature have protected minor’s rights to civil claims. See KRS 387.280. Indeed, “children deserve as much protection from the improvident compromise of their rights before an injury occurs [as our common law and statutory schemes] afford[] them after the injury.” Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 387. As summarized in Hawkins, 37 P.3d at 1066,

[w]e see little reason to base the validity of a parent’s contractual release of a minor’s claim on the timing of an injury. Indeed, the law generally treats preinjury releases or indemnity provisions with greater suspicion than postinjury releases. See Shell Oil Co. v. Brinkerhoff-Signal Drilling Co., 658 P.2d 1187, 1189 (Utah 1983). An exculpatory clause that relieves a party from future liability may remove an important incentive to act with reasonable care. These clauses are also routinely imposed in a unilateral manner without any genuine bargaining or opportunity to pay a fee for insurance. The party demanding adherence to an exculpatory clause simply evades the necessity of liability coverage and then shifts the full burden of risk of harm to the other party. Compromise of an existing claim, however, relates to negligence that has already taken place and is subject to measurable damages. Such releases involve actual negotiations concerning ascertained rights and liabilities. Thus, if anything, the policies relating to restrictions on a parent’s right to compromise an existing claim apply with even greater force in the preinjury, exculpatory clause scenario.

The public policy reasons for protecting a child’s civil claim pre-injury are no less present than they are post-injury, and we are unpersuaded by House of Boom’s arguments to the contrary.

Lastly, House of Boom argues that enforcing a waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child to enter a for-profit trampoline park furthers the public policy of encouraging affordable recreational activities. In making this argument, House of Boom relies on the decisions of states that have enforced these waivers between a parent and a non-commercial entity. Granted, this Commonwealth has similar public policy to these jurisdictions to “encourage wholesome recreation for boys and girls” and to limit liability for those volunteering, in a variety of ways, to increase recreational and community activities across the Commonwealth. Wilson v. Graves Cty. Bd. Of Educ, 307 Ky. 203, 206, 210 S.W.2d 350, 351 (1948); see also KRS 162.055 (granting limited immunity to school districts for allowing the public to use school grounds for “recreation, sport, academic, literary, artistic, or community uses”); KRS 411.190(2) (“[t]he purpose of this section is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes[]”). However, the same public policy implications that apply when dealing with the voluntary opening of private property or a school district’s limited immunity allowing community use of school property do not apply when dealing with a commercial entity.

A commercial entity has the ability to purchase insurance and spread the cost between its customers. It also has the ability to train its employees and inspect the business for unsafe conditions. A child has no similar ability to protect himself from the negligence of others within the confines of a commercial establishment. “If pre-injury releases were permitted for commercial establishments, the incentive to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of minor children would be removed.” Kirton, 997 So.2d at 358. Accordingly, no public policy exists to support House of Boom’s affordable recreational activities argument in the context of a commercial activity.[9]

HI. Conclusion.

Under the common law of this Commonwealth, absent special circumstances, a parent has no authority to enter into contracts on a child’s behalf. Based upon our extensive research and review of the relevant policy in this Commonwealth and the nation as a whole, we find no relevant public policy to justify abrogating the common law to enforce an exculpatory agreement between a for-profit entity and a parent on behalf of her minor child.[10] Simply put, the statutes of the General Assembly and decisions of this Court reflect no public policy shielding the operators of for-profit trampoline parks from liability.

All sitting. All concur.

———

Notes:

[1] Maryland’s highest court is the only judicial body to enforce these waivers when one of the parties is a for-profit entity. However, Maryland’s court rules allow parents to “make decisions to terminate tort claims” without “judicial interference.” BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. v. Rosen, 80 A.3d 345, 356-57 (Md. 2013) (citing Md. Code Ann. § 6-205). Kentucky does not have a similar provision in our court rules, statutes, or judicial decisions.

[2] See Kelly v. United States, 809 F.Supp.2d 429, 437 (E.D. N.C. 2011) (waiver enforceable as it allowed plaintiff to “participate in a school-sponsored enrichment program that was extracurricular and voluntary[]”); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647, 649-50 (Cal.Ct.App. 1990) (upholding a pre-injury release executed by a father on behalf of his minor child which waived claims resulting from an injury during a school sponsored activity); Sharon v. City of Newton, 769 N.E.2d 738, 747 (Mass. 2002) (upholding a public school extracurricular sports activities waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 205 (Ohio 1998) (holding that public policy supporting limiting liability of volunteer coaches and landowners who open their land to the public “justified] giving parents authority to enter into [pre-injury liability waivers] on behalf of their minor children!]”).

[3] See In re Complaint of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 403 F.Supp.2d 1168, 1172-73 (S.D. Fla. 2005) (where “a release of liability is signed on behalf of a minor child for an activity run by a for-profit business, outside of a school or community setting, the release is typically unenforceable against the minor[]”); Simmons v. Parkette Nat’l Gymnastic Training Ctr., 670 F.Supp. 140, 144 (E.D. Pa. 1987) (invalidating a pre-injury release waiver signed by a parent in adherence with the “common law rule that minors, with certain exceptions, may disaffirm their contracts [based on] the public policy concern that minors should not be bound by mistakes resulting from their immaturity or the overbearance of unscrupulous adults[]”); Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co., 48 P.3d 1229, 1237 (Colo. 2002) (“[T]o allow a parent to release a child’s possible future claims for injury caused by negligence may as a practical matter leave the minor in an unacceptably precarious position with no recourse, no parental support, and no method to support himself or care for his injury[]”), superseded by statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-22-107(3)); Kirton v. Fields, 997 So.2d 349, 358 (Fla. 2008) (invalidating agreement between parent and for-profit ATV park, but limiting the holding to “injuries resulting from participation in a commercial activity[]”); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 634 N.E.2d 411, 414 (111. 1994) (invalidating waiver between parent and for-profit horse riding stable); Woodman ex. rel Woodman v. Kera LLC, 785 N.W.2d 1, 16 (Mich. 2010) (holding, in a case against a for-profit inflatable play area, that state common law indicated that enforcement of a waiver signed by parent was “contrary to the established public policy of this state” and that the legislature is better equipped for such a change in the common law); Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 901 A.2d 381, 386 (N.J. 2006) (“the public policy of New Jersey prohibits a parent of a minor child from releasing a minor child’s potential tort claims arising out of the use of a commercial recreational facility[]”); Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. v. Mallison, 354 P.2d 800, 802 (Or. 1960) (invalidating an indemnity provision in a settlement agreement-after settlement the child sustained further injury-in part because a parent’s duty to act “for the benefit of his child [is] not fully discharged where the parent enters into a bargain which gives rise to conflicting interests[]”); Blackwell v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC, 523 S.W.3d 624, 651 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) (in holding a parent-signed waiver unenforceable, the court held that Tennessee had no public policy supporting the “desire to shield the operators of for-profit trampoline parks from liability[]”); Munoz u. IUaz Inc., 863 S.W.2d 207, 210 (Tex. App. 1993) (“in light of this state’s long-standing policy to protect minor children, the language, ‘decisions of substantial legal significance’in section 12.04(7) of the Family Code cannot be interpreted as empowering the parents to waive the rights of a minor child to sue for personal injuries[]”); Hawkins v. Peart, 37 P.3d 1062, 1066 (Utah 2001) (concluding that “a parent does not have the authority to release a child’s claims before an injury”); Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 834 P.2d 6, 11-12 (Wash. 1992) (“Since a parent generally may not release a child’s cause of action after injury, it makes little, if any, sense to conclude a parent has the authority to release a child’s cause of action prior to an injury[]”).

[4] See Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 143 A.2d 466, 468-69 (Conn. 1958) (invalidating a waiver signed by a child’s parents allowing the child to attend Boy Scout camp); Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252, 259 (Iowa 2010) (invalidating a pre-injury release waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child attending a school sponsored field trip because of Iowa’s “strong public policy favoring the protection of children’s legal rights”).

[5] While a slight majority of jurisdictions support enforceability in the context of a non-profit recreational activity, non-profits and volunteer youth sports raise different public policy concerns which we need not address in this opinion today.

[6] Kentucky Revised Statutes.

[7] The legislature has sought fit to slightly change this portion of the common law and has authorized parents to receive funds less than $10, 000, but those settlements must be approved by a court before the funds may be paid to a parent in custody of a child. KRS 387.280. Thus, a parent, based merely on custody, still maintains no right to negotiate a settlement on behalf of their child.

[8] See Parens Patriae, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th. ed 2014) (“The state regarded as a sovereign; the state in its capacity as provider of protection to those unable to care for themselves”); see also KRS 600.010(2)(a) (the Commonwealth should “direct its efforts to promoting protection of children”); Giuliani v. Gutter, 951 S.W.2d 318, 319 (Ky. 1997) (relevant public policy existed to support the enlargement of children’s legal rights under the common law derived from KRS 600.010(2)(a)’s directive to protect children).

[9] As previously noted, the question of whether public policy exists to require enforcement of parent-signed, pre-injury waivers in a non-commercial context is not before this Court today, and thus we make no determination on the issue.

[10] House of Boom retains the ability to urge change in the common law by petitioning the General Assembly to enact a statute that supports a parent’s ability to waive their child’s legal rights. See Alaska Stat. § 09.65.292 (2004) (“a parent may, on behalf of the parent’s child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence against the provider of a sports or recreational activity in which the child participates to the extent that the activities to which the waiver applies are clearly and conspicuously set out in the written waiver and to the extent the waiver is otherwise valid. The release or waiver must be in writing and shall be signed by the child’s parent[]); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-22-107(3) (2003) (“A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence[]”).

———


Colorado Supreme Court Determines that a Piece of Playground Equipment on School Property Is Not Protected by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act

Colorado Supreme Court Determines that a Piece of Playground Equipment on School Property Is Not Protected by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, Sports Litigation Alert Vol. 14, Iss. 13

In St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. A.R.L., 2014 CO 33; 325 P.3d 1014; 2014 Colo. LEXIS 362, the plaintiff was playing on a piece of school equipment called a zip line when she fell and fractured her wrist. The court described the playground equipment as an apparatus. The defendants, who included the principal of the school where the playground was located, filed a motion to dismiss based on C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) stating the court lacked jurisdiction based on the Colorado Governmental Immunities Act, (CGIA).

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Great analysis of the “Rescue Doctrine” in a ballooning case from South Dakota

The rescue doctrine was created so that the person causing the injury or putting the plaintiff in peril also is responsible for any rescuer of the plaintiff.

Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

State: South Dakota, Supreme Court of South Dakota

Plaintiff: Marvin Thompson

Defendant: Charles Summers

Plaintiff Claims: General negligence claims

Defendant Defenses: no duty

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 1997

This is an interesting case that never fully played out so we don’t know the outcome of the case. A balloonist, eventual defendant, was teaching a student to fly and was attempting to land. Another balloon instructor on the ground, who had taught the instructor in the balloon, thought the landing was not going to be good and attempted to help with the landing.

The balloonist on the ground thought the balloon was going to hit high-voltage power lines. As the balloon got lower to the ground, the balloonist on the ground, the plaintiff, ran over and grabbed the balloon in an attempt to stop the balloon. The balloon hit the power lines and the plaintiff, rescuer, suffered burns over 60% of his body. The two people in the balloon were not injured.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for not employing the rip cord, which opens the balloon to release the hot air. The plaintiff argued failing to employ the rip cord was negligence. (The obvious issue here is what duty was owed by the balloonist to the plaintiff on the ground, other than to not land on him.)

This is confusing, in that failing to protect yourself from injury is a negligent act to one who is injured rescuing you? It is difficult to understand in this case the liability owed to an intervener for your failure to act. Stated another way, your liability because the intervener expected you to act in a certain way?

South Dakota only has one appellate court, the South Dakota Supreme Court. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, and the plaintiff appealed to the supreme court of South Dakota.

The trial court dismissed the complaint on the defendant’s motion to dismiss. Meaning this case was dismissed prior to any discovery or even an answer from the defendant. Therefore, when the appellate court reviews the issues, it must do so to look for any allegations by the plaintiff that may support a claim. This analysis is not whether a claim was supported or could be won in court, just whether or not it, there was any possibly that the case could be.

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

The court started its analysis by looking at the rescue doctrine. The rescue doctrine is an odd, but arguably valid legal argument. If you attempt to assist someone who needs rescued, are injured during that assistance, the person who caused the accident is also responsible for your injuries.

This theory provides that one who, through negligence, jeopardizes the safety of another, may be held liable for injuries sustained by a “rescuer” who attempts to save the other from injury.

A rescuer’s right of action against the initial negligent actor rests upon the view that one who imperils another at a place where there may be bystanders, must take into account the chance that some bystander will yield to the impulse to save life or even property from destruction and will attempt a rescue; negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.

There is an argument that the rescue doctrine was not properly raised at the trial court level and a variation of the rescue doctrine   a dissenting opinion. The dissenting opinion agreed with the outcome of the majority, but felt the analysis of the rescue doctrine was premature. Either way, the court looked at the argument and found it applied to this case.

One argument made by the defendant was that he could not be liable, unless he requested the assistance or at least knew about the assistance.

Summers claims that he would have had to request Thompson’s assistance to establish a duty under these circumstances. At the very least, he argues, Summers must have been aware of Thompson’s presence. At oral argument, counsel for Summers went so far as to state there must be a “relationship” between the plaintiff and the defendant before a duty can be established. On the contrary, it is foreseeability of injury to another, not a relationship with another, which is a prerequisite to establishing a duty necessary to sustain a negligence cause of action. See SDCL 20-9-1, wherein the Legislature codified the common law of negligence: “Every person is responsible for injury to the person, property, or rights of another caused by his willful acts or caused by his want of ordinary care or skill, subject in the latter cases to the defense of contributory negligence.”

The court did not buy this argument. “As indicated above, “negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well

Not only, that unconscious victims or rescuers the victim does not know about would leave rescuers risking their cost of their own injuries.

Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer.

The court also looked at other theories how the plaintiff’s claim may have merit.

One was the argument that the defendant breached federal regulations created by the Federal Aviation Administration. Breaching a statute creates a negligence per se action. “This court has consistently held that “an unexcused violation of a statute enacted to promote safety constitutes negligence per se.”

Whether Summers violated one or more of these statutes and regulations, and if so, whether the violation was the proximate cause of Thompson’s injuries constitutes a question for the factfinder.

However, here again, any breach of an FAA regulation would inure to the passenger, not the rescuer; I would think? However it was held to support the claim of the plaintiff/rescuer here.

However, the court seemed to circle back to that argument when it stated:

With regard to the proximate cause issue, this court has recognized that the mere violation of a statute is insufficient to support an action for damages. Rather, a plaintiff must show that the violation of a statutory duty was the proximate cause of his injury to support a recovery in negligence.

The court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings and closed with this summary.

Negligence is the breach of a legal duty imposed by statute or common law.” Thompson clearly outlined a claim under a common-law negligence theory. (“The three necessary elements of actionable negligence are: (1) A duty on the part of the defendant; (2) a failure to perform that duty; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff resulting from such a failure.”). The rescue doctrine is part of the common law of negligence.

So Now What?

The biggest issue which is confusing is the original claim must be based on a negligent act which never occurred to the possible plaintiff, just the defendant. How can the defendant be liable for his own rescue? What negligent act on the part of the defendant created the liability to create the liability for the rescuer?

Where the rescue doctrine comes into play in the outdoor recreation and adventure travel field that creates problems is when other guests attempt to help. Whenever someone is in a jam, everyone wants to help, and you may need everyone’s help. If another guest is injured when helping, and you were the legally the cause of the original accident, you could be liable for the guests who helped also.

Does that mean guests cannot help? No, many times you may need the guests to assist in rescuing someone. Just make sure they know their job, are doing it in a safe way and keep your eyes on them.

Will a release work to stop the claims of the injured guest/rescuer? I have no idea, maybe, but no court that I know of has ever looked at the issue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

Marvin Thompson, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Charles Summers, Defendant and Appellee.

# 19940

Supreme Court of South Dakota

1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

June 4, 1997, Argued

August 13, 1997, Opinion Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT. PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. THE HONORABLE THOMAS L. TRIMBLE Judge.

DISPOSITION:

Reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL:

DAVE L. CLAGGETT of Claggett & Madsen, Spearfish, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.

DONALD A. PORTER of Costello, Porter, Hill, Heisterkamp & Bushnell, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellee.

JUDGES: SABERS, Justice. KONENKAMP, Justice, concurs. MILLER, Chief Justice, and AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON, Justices, concur in result.

OPINION BY: SABERS

OPINION: [**389]

SABERS, Justice.

¶2 On September 4, 1993, Charles Summers was piloting a hot air balloon in an instructional flight over Rapid City, accompanied by flight student Matt McCormick. At about 8:25 a.m., Summers attempted to land the balloon in a public recreational area of Rapid City’s flood plain known as the “greenway.” Marvin Thompson, also a hot air balloon pilot, was at the greenway and recognized the balloon as one he sold to Summers. As Thompson observed Summers’ descent, he became concerned the wind was going to drag the balloon into nearby high voltage power lines. As the balloon skimmed across the ground toward the power lines, Thompson ran over and seized the basket of the balloon, hoping to prevent it from making contact with the power lines. Despite his efforts, Thompson suffered severe electrical burns to over 60% of his body. Summers and McCormick were apparently not injured.

¶3 Thompson sued Summers for his injuries, claiming he was negligent in not employing the rip cord to “rip out” the balloon, a procedure which instantly deflates and stops the balloon. Failure to do so, he claims, was negligence and the cause of his injuries. He argues that, under the “rescue doctrine,” it was foreseeable to Summers that a bystander might intervene when Summers’ negligence put others in peril. In addition, Thompson claims Summers violated several state and federal statutory duties of care pertaining to hot air balloon piloting and landing safety, including proper use of the ripcord.

¶4 Without submitting an answer, Summers made a motion to dismiss the complaint, alleging that Thompson failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted according to SDCL 15-6-12(b)(5) [hereinafter Rule 12(b)(5) ], which provides:

Every defense, in law or fact, to a claim for relief in any pleading, whether a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, shall be asserted in the responsive pleading thereto if one is required, except that the following defenses may at the option of the pleader be made by motion:

(5) Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.] [1]

The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Thompson appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶5 A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5) tests the law of a plaintiff’s claim, not the facts which support it. Stumes v. Bloomberg, 1996 SD 93, p 6, 551 N.W.2d 590, 592; Schlosser v. Norwest Bank South Dakota, 506 N.W.2d 416, 418 (S.D.1993) (citations omitted). The motion is viewed with disfavor and is rarely granted. Schlosser directs the trial court to consider the complaint’s allegations and any exhibits which are attached. The court accepts the pleader’s description of what happened along with any conclusions reasonably drawn therefrom. The motion may be directed to the whole complaint or only specified counts contained in it…. “In appraising the sufficiency of the complaint we follow, of course, the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” [quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) ]. The question is whether in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with doubt resolved in his or her behalf, the complaint states any valid claim of relief. The court must go beyond the allegations for relief and “examine the complaint to determine if the allegations provide for relief on any possible theory.” [quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (1971) ].

506 N.W.2d at 418 (emphasis added). As this appeal presents a question of law, our review is de novo, with no deference given to the trial court’s legal conclusions. City of Colton v. Schwebach, 1997 SD 4, p 8, 557 N.W.2d 769, 771.

¶6 WHETHER ANY LEGAL THEORY EXISTS TO SUPPORT THOMPSON’S CLAIM.

¶7 Thompson advances at least three legal theories which may support his cause of action. We need not, and do not, decide whether he will ultimately succeed on any of these theories. See Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418:

[P]leadings should not be dismissed merely because the court entertains doubts as to whether the pleader will prevail in the action as this is a matter of proof, not pleadings. The rules of procedure favor the resolution of cases upon the merits by trial or summary judgment rather than on failed or inartful accusations.

(Quoting Janklow v. Viking Press, 378 N.W.2d 875, 877 (S.D.1985) (citing Federal Practice and Procedure, supra )).

¶8 First, Thompson argues that the common law of negligence, particularly the “rescue doctrine,” is applicable to this case. [2] That doctrine is simply an adjunct of the common law of negligence. It is “nothing more than a negligence doctrine addressing the problem of proximate causation.” Lowery v. Illinois Cent. Gulf R.R. Co., 891 F.2d 1187, 1194 (5th Cir.1990); accord Stuart M. Speiser et al., The American Law of Torts § 9:23, at 1147 (1985) (“In considering the rescue doctrine and its ramifications, it must be always kept in mind that many–if, indeed not most–American courts regard it in terms of proximate causation.”). This theory provides that one who, through negligence, jeopardizes the safety of another, may be held liable for injuries sustained by a “rescuer” who attempts to save the other from injury. See 57A AmJur2d Negligence § 689 (1989):

A rescuer’s right of action against the initial negligent actor rests upon the view that one who imperils another at a place where there may be bystanders, must take into account the chance that some bystander will yield to the impulse to save life or even property from destruction and will attempt a rescue; negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.

(Footnotes & citations omitted). Interestingly, the rescue doctrine can be traced to an 1822 case involving a crowd rushing to assist a descending balloonist. See W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser & Keeton on the Law of Torts § 44, at 307 & n.63 (5th ed.1984) (citing Guille v. Swan, 19 Johns. 381 (N.Y.1822), and noting that since that case, the concept of the rescuer is “nothing abnormal”).

¶9 Summers argues that Thompson cannot raise this theory in this appeal because he did not present it to the trial court. We disagree for two reasons: First, Thompson’s complaint and his brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss adequately set forth his reliance on the rescue doctrine. [3] In his complaint, he stated:

Plaintiff perceived the situation to be an imminent threat to the general public on land and further perceived Defendant and Matt McCormick to be in imminent danger of severe physical harm or death. Plaintiff, in an attempt to prevent the same, went to the location of the balloon and grabbed on to it to help prevent it from drifting into the power lines.

(Emphasis added). In his brief, he reiterates the foregoing portion of his complaint, and adds: “Thompson responded to the emergency. In attempting to prevent an accident from happening, he grabbed the balloon to help prevent it from hitting the power lines.”

¶10 In opposing the motion to dismiss, Thompson briefed the case of Olson v. Waitman, 88 S.D. 443, 221 N.W.2d 23 (S.D.1974), which is not precisely on point, but somewhat analogous to the rescue doctrine, and certainly a common law negligence case. That case held that the jury was properly instructed that a plaintiff may have been contributory negligent when she was pinned under a car after she got behind it to push it from a ditch. However, it was error to so instruct the jury on the plaintiff’s second claim of negligence (she was severely burned after the defendant attempted to drive the car off of her). This court held that the plaintiff had two separate claims of negligence against the defendant and stated:

Regardless of how negligent the plaintiff may have been in getting into this predicament, she did not thereby give the defendant license to thereafter injure her with impunity. Id. at 446, 221 N.W.2d at 25 (remanding for new trial with proper instructions).

¶11 Clearly, Thompson adequately outlined his claim even if he did not include the term “rescue doctrine”. See, e.g., Thomas W. Garland, Inc. v. City of St. Louis, 596 F.2d 784, 787 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 899, 100 SCt 208, 62 L.Ed.2d 135 (1979) (stating that a complaint should not be dismissed because it does not state with precision all elements that give rise to a legal basis for recovery); accord Jackson Sawmill Co., Inc., v. United States, 580 F.2d 302, 306 (8th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1070, 99 S.Ct. 839, 59 L.Ed.2d 35 (1979).

¶12 The second reason we disagree with Summers’ argument that Thompson cannot raise a legal theory for the first time on appeal concerns the nature of a Rule 12(b)(5) motion. It is settled law that the trial court is under a duty to determine if the plaintiff’s allegations provide for relief on any possible theory, regardless of whether the plaintiff considered the theory. Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418; Eide v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., 1996 SD 11, p 7, 542 N.W.2d 769, 771; Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357; Seeley v. Brotherhood of Painters, 308 F.2d 52, 58 (5thCir.1962) (“[T]he theory of the plaintiff in stating his claim is not so important and the complaint should not be dismissed on motion unless, upon any theory, it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff would be entitled to no relief under any state of facts that could be proved in support of his claim.”); cf. Doss v. South Cent. Bell Tel. Co., 834 F.2d 421, 424 (5th Cir.1987) (“[T]he fact that a plaintiff pleads an improper legal theory does not preclude recovery under the proper theory.”); Oglala Sioux Tribe of Indians v. Andrus, 603 F.2d 707, 714 (8th Cir.1979) (“The ‘theory of the pleadings’ doctrine, under which a plaintiff must succeed on those theories that are pleaded or not at all, has been effectively abolished under the federal rules.”).

¶13 Summers argues the motion to dismiss was properly granted because Thompson cannot establish a duty owed by Summers to Thompson. Summers claims that he would have had to request Thompson’s assistance to establish a duty under these circumstances. At the very least, he argues, Summers must have been aware of Thompson’s presence. [4] At oral argument, counsel for Summers went so far as to state there must be a “relationship” between the plaintiff and the defendant before a duty can be established. On the contrary, it is foreseeability of injury to another, not a relationship with another, which is a prerequisite to establishing a duty necessary to sustain a negligence cause of action. See SDCL 20-9-1, wherein the Legislature codified the common law of negligence: “Every person is responsible for injury to the person, property, or rights of another caused by his willful acts or caused by his want of ordinary care or skill, subject in the latter cases to the defense of contributory negligence.” See also Muhlenkort v. Union County Land Trust, 530 N.W.2d 658, 662 (S.D.1995), where this court stated, “To establish a duty on the part of the defendant, it must be foreseeable that a party would be injured by the defendant’s failure to discharge that duty.”

¶14 Additionally, Summers misapprehends the principles of the rescue doctrine. The basic theory of this doctrine is that the defendant’s negligence in placing another in a position of imminent peril is not only a wrong to that person, but also to the rescuing plaintiff. Wharf v. Burlington N. R.R. Co., 60 F.3d 631, 635 (9th Cir.1995); Dinsmoore v. Board of Trustees of Memorial Hosp., 936 F.2d 505, 507 (10thCir.1991); Lowery, 891 F.2d at 1194; Bonney v. Canadian Nat’l Ry. Co., 800 F.2d 274, 276 (1st Cir.1986); Barger v. Charles Mach. Works, Inc., 658 F.2d 582, 587 (8th Cir.1981); Barnes v. Geiger, 15 Mass.App.Ct. 365, 446 N.E.2d 78, 81-82 (1983) (collecting cases); Metzger v. Schermesser, 687 S.W.2d 671, 672 (Mo.Ct.App.1985); see generally The American Law of Torts, supra § 9:23; Prosser & Keeton, supra § 44, at 307-09 (collecting cases from nearly every state). The rescuer may also recover from the imperiled party if that party’s negligence caused the peril. Wharf, 60 F.3d at 635. As indicated above, “negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.” 57A AmJur2d Negligence § 689 (1989). Judge Cardozo’s statement regarding the rescue doctrine is often quoted in these cases:

Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer. Wagner v. International Ry. Co., 232 N.Y. 176, 133 N.E. 437, 437 (1921).

¶15 This theory of “duty” comports with the well-established view of this court. See, e.g., Mark, Inc. v. Maguire Ins. Agency, Inc., 518 N.W.2d 227, 229-30 (S.D.1994) (“Whether a duty exists depends on the foreseeability of injury.”); accord Muhlenkort, 530 N.W.2d at 662; see also Mid-Western Elec., Inc. v. DeWild Grant Reckert & Assocs. Co., 500 N.W.2d 250, 254 (S.D.1993) (“We instruct trial courts to use the legal concept of foreseeability to determine whether a duty exists.”).

¶16 Under Thompson’s second theory, he claims that Summers violated a standard of care as provided in SDCL chapter 50-13, “Air Space and Operation of Aircraft.” “Aircraft” includes balloons. SDCL 50-13-1. SDCL 50-13-4 provides:

Flight in aircraft over the lands and waters of this state is lawful, unless … so conducted as to be imminently dangerous to persons or property lawfully on the land or water beneath.

See also SDCL 50-13-6, which provides, in relevant part:

The owner and the pilot, or either of them, of every aircraft which is operated over lands or waters of this state shall be liable for injuries or damage to persons or property on the land or water beneath, caused by the ascent, descent, or flight of the aircraft, or the dropping or falling of any object therefrom in accordance with the rules of law applicable to torts in this state.

Additionally, SDCL 50-13-16 provides:

It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to operate an aircraft within the airspace over, above and upon the lands and waters of this state, carelessly and heedlessly in intentional disregard of the rights or safety of others, or without due caution and circumspection in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.

All of these statutes were presented to the trial court. This court has consistently held that “an unexcused violation of a statute enacted to promote safety constitutes negligence per se.” Bell v. East River Elec. Power Coop., Inc., 535 N.W.2d 750, 755 (S.D.1995) (citing Engel v. Stock, 88 S.D. 579, 225 N.W.2d 872, 873 (1975); Bothern v. Peterson, 83 S.D. 84, 155 N.W.2d 308 (1967); Blakey v. Boos, 83 S.D. 1, 153 N.W.2d 305 (1967)).

¶17 Third, Thompson argues that Summers violated certain federal regulations [5] relating to hot air balloon piloting and landing safety, including proper use of the ripcord in emergency operations. See, e.g., 14 C.F.R. § 61.125(e)(5), which requires applicants for a commercial certificate for piloting balloons to have knowledge in

Operating principles and procedures for free balloons, including emergency procedures such as crowd control and protection, high wind and water landings, and operations in proximity to buildings and power lines.

Additionally, id. § 61.127(f) sets minimum proficiency requirements for balloon pilots and requires competence in, among other procedures, landing and emergency operations, including the use of the ripcord. See also id. § 91.13 (“No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”). These regulations were presented to the trial court.

¶18 Whether Summers violated one or more of these statutes and regulations, and if so, whether the violation was the proximate cause of Thompson’s injuries constitutes a question for the factfinder. Violation of the statute “alone is not sufficient to render them liable to the plaintiff. Before they may be held to respond in damages it must further appear that their violation of the duty placed on them by this rule was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury. The burden of establishing this is on the plaintiff.” Blakey, 83 S.D. at 8, 153 N.W.2d at 309 (citation omitted); accord Musch v. H-D Coop., Inc., 487 N.W.2d 623, 625-26 (S.D.1992):

With regard to the proximate cause issue, this court has recognized that the mere violation of a statute is insufficient to support an action for damages. Rather, a plaintiff must show that the violation of a statutory duty was the proximate cause of his injury to support a recovery in negligence. Serles v. Braun, 79 S.D. 456, 113 N.W.2d 216 (1962); Zeller v. Pikovsky, 66 S.D. 71, 278 N.W. 174 (1938). In Leslie v. City of Bonesteel, 303 N.W.2d 117, 119 (S.D.1981), we stated: “For proximate cause to exist, ‘the harm suffered must be found to be a foreseeable consequence of the act complained of…. The negligent act must be a substantial factor in bringing about the harm.’ Williams v. United States, 450 F.Supp. 1040, 1046 (D.S.D.1978).”

(Emphasis & alterations omitted). Questions of proximate cause are for the jury in “all but the rarest of cases.” Bauman v. Auch, 539 N.W.2d 320, 325 (S.D.1995); Nelson v. Nelson Cattle Co., 513 N.W.2d 900, 903 (S.D.1994); Holmes v. Wegman Oil Co., 492 N.W.2d 107, 114 (S.D.1992).

CONCLUSION

¶19 “Negligence is the breach of a legal duty imposed by statute or common law.” Stevens v. Wood Sawmill, Inc., 426 N.W.2d 13, 14 (S.D.1988) (citing Walz v. City of Hudson, 327 N.W.2d 120, 122 (S.D.1982)). Thompson clearly outlined a claim under a common-law negligence theory. See id. (“The three necessary elements of actionable negligence are: (1) A duty on the part of the defendant; (2) a failure to perform that duty; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff resulting from such a failure.”). The rescue doctrine is part of the common law of negligence. Therefore, under the law governing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5), it was improper to dismiss Thompson’s lawsuit even if the doctrine was not yet addressed in South Dakota. [6]

¶20 Additionally, Thompson set out South Dakota statutes and federal regulations which establish the standard of care for a hot air balloon pilot. The question is “whether in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with doubt resolved in his or her behalf, the complaint states any valid claim of relief.” Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418 (emphasis added). Thompson asserts at least three theories which may support his cause of action. Therefore, the trial court erred in holding as a matter of law that Thompson did not allege a duty owed by Summers. Whether he can ultimately succeed presents questions not capable of resolution by a motion to dismiss. We reverse and remand for trial.

¶21 KONENKAMP, J., concurs.

¶22 MILLER, C.J., and AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON, JJ., concur in result.

MILLER, Chief Justice (concurring in result).

¶23 I agree with Justice Sabers’ ultimate result and his discussion noting that Thompson’s complaint states various theories which may support the cause of action (common-law negligence, state statutes and federal regulations). I must merely concur in result, however, because I disagree with and disassociate myself from the discussion and analysis of the rescue doctrine, specifically pp 8-16 supra.

¶24 Analysis of the propriety and applicability of the rescue doctrine at this juncture in these proceedings is premature at best. The doctrine was not argued or advanced by Thompson as a theory to support his cause of action below. It is well settled that we will not review issues which have not been presented to the trial court. Boever v. Board of Accountancy, 526 N.W.2d 747, 750 (S.D.1995); Fullmer v. State Farm Ins. Co., 514 N.W.2d 861, 866 (S.D.1994) (citations omitted). Matters not determined by the trial court are not appropriate for appellate review. See Schull Construction Co. v. Koenig, 80 S.D. 224, 229, 121 N.W.2d 559, 561 (1963). The parties agree and the trial court’s memorandum indicates that the rescue doctrine was not considered in the trial court’s grant of the motion to dismiss. [7] Accordingly, we need not and should not examine the doctrine at this time. [8]

¶25 Any contention that the rescue doctrine was presented to the trial court via the language of the complaint is not persuasive reasoning for reviewing the rescue doctrine as a possible theory of recovery, especially when Thompson specifically concedes he failed to consider the doctrine or present it for the trial court’s consideration. While pleadings need not be so artfully drafted as to specifically list each and every possible claim, the complaint must set forth the facts alleged and contain the essential elements of the cause of action pursued in order to be sufficient. Harmon v. Christy Lumber, Inc., 402 N.W.2d 690, 693 (S.D.1987). See also Weller v. Spring Creek Resort, Inc., 477 N.W.2d 839, 841-42 (S.D.1991). Our deferential standard of review allowing complaints to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim so long as the “complaint states any valid claim for relief …. ‘on any possible theory,’ ” Schlosser v. Norwest Bank South Dakota, 506 N.W.2d 416, 418 (S.D.1993) (citations omitted), does not require the trial court to ferret out and advance a theory on behalf of a party which has not been recognized in this jurisdiction. Such a requirement would put the trial court in the inappropriate position of advocating on behalf of a party and would unduly strain judicial resources in an effort to explore every conceivable theory, whether recognized in this jurisdiction or not.

¶26 Thompson’s complaint states sufficient theories to support his cause of action; therefore, the trial court’s grant of the motion to dismiss was in error and I agree with Justice Sabers that it should be reversed. However, I respectfully assert that the issue of whether the rescue doctrine is a valid theory of common-law negligence in this jurisdiction should be left until another day when the issue has been properly presented for our review.

¶27 I am authorized to state that Justices AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON join in this concurrence in result.

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Notes:

[1] SDCL 15-6-12(b)(5) is identical to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

[2] In response to Chief Justice Miller’s special writing, we are reversing on precisely the three theories which he lists as meriting reversal. The rescue doctrine is not, standing alone, a viable theory. It is part of negligence in the same way that respondeat superior, vicarious liability, imputed negligence, and concurrent negligence are a part of negligence. Whether the rescue doctrine will be adopted in South Dakota is premature at this state of the proceedings and must await proper disposition upon remand.

However, the rescue doctrine was pled, argued, and reached even if the precise term “rescue doctrine” was not employed. The complaint clearly demonstrates that Thompson set forth the facts and essential elements of this cause of action. The sum total of the trial court’s decision is as follows:

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is hereby granted. In order for a negligence action to stand, there must be a duty on the part of the defendant running to the plaintiff; the existence of such a duty is a question of law for the Court. This Court finds that no such duty has been established by the Plaintiff in the case at bar, and therefore the case is dismissed. Defendant is requested to draft and submit the appropriate Order.

By determining that no duty existed, the trial court rejected all three theories, including the common law of negligence, of which the rescue doctrine is a part.

[3] While Thompson’s complaint did not include the term “rescue doctrine”, it pleads a legally sufficient cause of action for negligence under “notice pleading” theory. See SDCL 15-6-8(a):

A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, whether an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim, shall contain

(1) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and

(2) a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled.

Relief in the alternative or of several different types may be demanded.

(Emphasis added); see also Norwest Bank Black Hills v. Rapid City Teachers Fed. Credit Union, 433 N.W.2d 560, 563 (S.D.1988) (“Under SDCL 15-6-8(a) it is not necessary to plead ‘duty’ in negligence cases where the existence of a duty may be logically inferred from the claim stated in one’s complaint.”); accord Korstad-Tebben, Inc. v. Pope Architects, Inc., 459 N.W.2d 565, 568 (S.D.1990). Thompson claimed that Summers breached a duty to him by failing to rip out the balloon. It did not require the trial court to “explore every conceivable theory” (infra p 25 (Miller, C.J., concurring in result)) to ascertain whether a duty was indeed owed. Duty is based upon foreseeability of injury to another. Analysis of this case depends upon whether injury to Thompson was foreseeable to Summers, and the rescue doctrine simply facilitates the analysis.

[4] Although not material on a motion to dismiss, Summers claims he did not know until afterward that Thompson tried to help him land safely. As noted, the court accepts the pleader’s description of events. Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418.

[5] “The reasons which persuaded us to hold that the violation of a safety statute or ordinance is negligence as a matter of law apply with equal validity to safety rules and regulations[.]” Blakey, 83 S.D. at 7, 153 N.W.2d at 308.

[6] While this is the first time issues involving the rescue doctrine have been presented to this court, the public policy inherent in the doctrine is already in our statutes. The policy underlying the rescue doctrine is the public’s need for quick and courageous action in emergency situations. Compare SDCL 20-9-4.1, which provides individuals general immunity from liability for their actions in emergency situations:

No peace officer, conservation officer, member of any fire department, police department and their first aid, rescue or emergency squad, or any citizen acting as such as a volunteer, or any other person is liable for any civil damages as a result of their acts of commission or omission arising out of and in the course of their rendering in good faith, any emergency care and services during an emergency which is in their judgment indicated and necessary at the time. Such relief from liability for civil damages shall extend to the operation of any motor vehicle in connection with any such care or services….

(Emphasis added). By adopting this “Good Samaritan” statute, the Legislature adopted the public policy of encouraging persons, and–as the emphasized language indicates–not just professional persons, to act on their instinct when confronted with emergency situations. Of course, persons paid to act in emergencies cannot recover from the tortfeasor under the rescue doctrine. See, e.g., Gray v. Russell, 853 S.W.2d 928, 931 (Mo.1993) (en banc) (explaining the rationale for the “firefighter rule”):

Firefighters and police officers are hired, trained, and compensated to deal with dangerous situations affecting the public as a whole. Because of their exceptional responsibilities, when firefighters and police officers are injured in the performance of their duties the cost of their injuries should also be borne by the public as a whole, through the workers’ compensation laws and the provision of insurance benefits and special disability pensions.

(Citation omitted).

[7] At oral argument, Summers argued and Thompson conceded that the trial court was never presented with the rescue doctrine theory and did not reach the issue.

[8] There are a number of reasons for leaving an analysis of the rescue doctrine for another day. The rescue doctrine presents an issue of first impression in this jurisdiction. The failure to raise the doctrine below foreclosed the opportunity for full briefing and presentation of argument on the issue. The rescue doctrine should not be analyzed without the benefit of all the pertinent authorities and public policy arguments if a complete and informed decision is to be reached.

Additionally, “[p]rinciples of judicial restraint dictate that when an issue effectively disposes of the case, other issues that are presented should not be reached.” Poppen v. Walker, 520 N.W.2d 238, 248 (S.D.1994). The conclusion that the trial court’s motion to dismiss should be reversed on other theories negates the necessity of addressing the rescue doctrine on this appeal.

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Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy. Less than a week later the lawsuits are being filed in droves.

This is a monumental decision that will affect all recreational activities in Oregon, not just ski areas. A decision that will give injured plaintiffs of any recreational activity the opportunity to void releases for any number or reasons.

Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort, 2014 Ore. LEXIS 994

State: Oregon Supreme Court

Plaintiff: Myles A. Bagley, Al Bagley, and Lauren Bagley

Defendant: Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in the design, construction, maintenance, and inspection of the jump in the terrain park.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2014

Prior Article written about the Appellate Decision in this Case: Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18

The facts of this case have been copies from Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18.

This is a rare review of release or contract law because the odds are against it. A contract is voidable by the minor when the minor signs the contract. However, if the contract is, in effect, when the minor reaches the age of majority, the minor can either disaffirm the contract which puts the parties back in the position before the contract was signed or if he or she fails to do that he or she takes advantages of the benefits of the contract and continues to use it the contract is in force.

To determine the age of majority or the age a minor becomes an adult in each state see The age that minors become adults.

The minor signed a season pass release at the defendant ski area. His father signed a minor release and indemnity agreement. Two weeks later and before the plaintiff had started snowboarding, he turned 18. Once he started snowboarding, after reaching age 18, he boarded at the defendant’s resort 26 different days, and his pass was scanned 119 times.

Going through the terrain park where he seemed to spend most of his time, the plaintiff was injured on a jump which resulted in permanent paralysis.

The minor and his parents sued the resort. The trial court dismissed his complaints after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release the minor had signed.

The court also brought out in this case, signs posted at lifts terminals which restated the ticket was a release of liability. Oregon is the only court that had held that a lift ticket purchased to ski was a release. See Silva v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55942.

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

The court first stated it had not reviewed releases in decades. The court then reviewed the legal importance of contracts.

It is a truism that a contract validly made between competent parties is not to be set aside lightly. (“When two or more persons competent for that purpose, upon a sufficient consideration, voluntarily agree to do or not to do a particular thing which may be lawfully done or omitted, they should be held to the consequences of their bargain.”). The right to contract privately is part of the liberty of citizenship, and an important office of the courts is to enforce contractual rights and obligations. (so stating). As this court has stated, however, “contract rights are [not] absolute; * * * [e]qually fundamental with the private right is that of the public to regulate it in the common interest.”

The only contracts that will not be enforced, according to this decision, are those that are contrary to law, morality or public policy.

It is elementary that public policy requires that * * * contracts [between competent parties], when entered into freely and voluntarily, shall be held sacred and shall be enforced by the courts of justice, and it is only when some other overpowering rule of public policy * * * intervenes, rendering such agreement illegal, that it will not be enforced.

The court then looked at what issues surrounding or in a contract will void a contract based on a public policy issue. It is not that a contract may be harsh to one party to the contract. “…[t]he test is the evil tendency of the contract and not its actual injury to the public in a particular instance…” However, the court then did a 180-degree turn and stated that in this case:

Thus, for the sake of convenience–if not doctrinal convergence–we address the parties’ public policy arguments in the context of our analysis of whether, in the particular circumstances of this case, enforcement of the release would be unconscionable.

The court then proceeded to build its argument on why this contract was a violation of public policy. It first divided public policy into two types procedural or substantive.

Procedural unconscionability refers to the conditions of contract formation and focuses on two factors: oppression and surprise.

Oppression exists when there is inequality in bargaining power between the parties, resulting in no real opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract and the absence of meaningful choice. Surprise involves whether terms were hidden or obscure from the vantage of the party seeking to avoid them.

Generally speaking, factors such as ambiguous contract wording and fine print are the hallmarks of surprise.

In contrast, the existence of gross inequality of bargaining power, a takeit- or-leave-it bargaining stance, and the fact that a contract involves a consumer transaction, rather than a commercial bargain, can be evidence of oppression.

Substantive unconscionability was then defined as how the terms of the contract are viewed.

… generally refers to the terms of the contract, rather than the circumstances of formation, and focuses on whether the substantive terms contravene the public interest or public policy.

Either issue, whether the issues in how the contract was created, procedural unconscionability, or the terms of the agreement itself, substantive unconscionability, can void a contract.

The court then went to review the contract in light of any legislation related to the activity. Although Oregon has a Skier Responsibility Act, the court did not find it was instructive in this case.

The court did find that under Oregon law, it could void a release if the results would be harsh. “Finally, this court has held that another factor for determining whether an anticipatory release may be unenforceable is the possibility of a harsh or inequitable result for the releasing party.”

The court then listed the ways a contract could be voided under Oregon law.

We glean from those decisions that relevant procedural factors in the determination of whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable include whether the release was conspicuous and unambiguous; whether there was a substantial disparity in the parties’ bargaining power; whether the contract was offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis; and whether the contract involved a consumer transaction.

Relevant substantive considerations include whether enforcement of the release would cause a harsh or inequitable result to befall the releasing party; whether the releasee serves an important public interest or function; and whether the release purported to disclaim liability for more serious misconduct than ordinary negligence.

The court refused to provide details or procedures that would void a contract. Rather the court relied on a “totality of the circumstances” test. This means it provides great leeway for a court to determine if the facts swayed a judge, not whether the facts met any set requirements.

Nothing in our previous decisions suggests that any single factor takes precedence over the others or that the listed factors are exclusive. Rather, they indicate that a determination whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable must be based on the totality of the circumstances of a particular transaction.

The court then compared the ways it had found (created) to void a contract under Oregon law to the present situation.

This was not an agreement between equals. Only one party to the contract-defendant-was a commercial enterprise, and that party exercised its superior bargaining strength by requiring its patrons, including plaintiff, to sign an anticipatory release on a take-it-or-leave-it basis as a condition of using its facilities.

This analysis completely ignored the fact the contract covered recreational activities that most other states have found remove the take it or leave it bargaining issue. The exception being Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2. See Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy.

The court found because the plaintiff had no opportunity to negotiate the terms or cost then there was an inequality of bargaining power between the plaintiff and the defendant. “Simply put, plaintiff had no meaningful alternative to defendant’s take-it-or-leave-it terms if he wanted to participate in downhill snowboarding.

The court found this alone was not enough to void the release. The court then looked at whether the results of enforcing the contract would be harsh and found this to be true.

As pertinent here, we conclude that the result would be harsh because, accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured. And that harsh result also would be inequitable because defendant, not its patrons, has the expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards of its own creation on its premises, and to guard against the negligence of its employees.

This analysis completely ignores the issue of whether or not the plaintiff could have examined the jump or had gone over the jump before. The defendant had introduced evidence that the season pass had been used dozens of times prior to the accident.

The court then ignored the Oregon Skier Responsibility Law and stated that even though the act had reduced the liability of a ski area it had not changed its common law liability for those conditions that are not inherent in the activity.

Skier Responsibility Law provides that “[t]o the extent an injury is caused by an inherent risk of skiing, a skier will not recover against a ski area operator; to the extent an injury is a result of [ski area operator] negligence, comparative negligence applies

The court summed up its analysis to this point stating.

In short, because (1) accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured; and (2) defendant, not its patrons, had the expertise and opportunity–indeed, the common law duty–to foresee and avoid unreasonable risks of its own creation on its business premises, we conclude that the enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result, a factor that militates against its enforcement.

The court then looked at whether a ski area served an important public interest or function. The court found it did by adding an exception to the essential public service requirement stating that serving the public was enough.

However, like other places of public accommodation such as inns or public warehouses, defendant’s business premises–including its terrain park–are open to the general public virtually without restriction, and large numbers of skiers and snowboarders regularly avail themselves of its facilities. To be sure, defendants’ business facilities are privately owned, but that characteristic does not overcome a number of legitimate public interests concerning their operation

Because the public was invited to ski, the release violated Oregon Public Policy.

Accordingly, we reject defendant’s argument that the fact that skiing and snowboarding are “non-essential” activities compels enforcement of the release in this case. Instead, we conclude that defendant’s business operation is sufficiently tied to the public interest as to require the performance of its private duties to its patrons

The court then looked at the legal issues in a way I have never heard of before. The court accepted the plaintiff’s argument that the release was intended to prevent claims for negligence as well as for gross negligence, reckless, or intentional conduct. Although the court did not accept the argument in this case, it left the argument open for future cases.

The court summed up its opinion over a page and a half. The fact the release was written broadly caused the court’s concern.

That said, the release is very broad; it applies on its face to a multitude of conditions and risks, many of which (such as riding on a chairlift) leave defendant’s patrons vulnerable to risks of harm of defendant’s creation

However, the entire basis of its analysis was the court did not like the fact this injured plaintiff would not recover.

In the ultimate step of our unconscionability analysis, we consider whether those procedural and substantive considerations outweigh defendant’s interest in enforcing the release at issue here.

So Now What?

This case not only opened up lawsuits against ski areas but turned any recreation provider into a target. In just two weeks since the decision came down several high-dollar lawsuits have been filed in Oregon. See Mt. Hood Meadows snowboarder claims teen slammed into her, sues teen’s parents for $955,000 and Fallen tree causes Portland mountain bike racer to crash, fracture neck, $273,000 suit says.

By stating that any provider was subject to the public policy exception to releases, the court effectively found that anyone injured by a recreation provider could have their releases voided.

If you are Oregon and have a release you may want to put in that the release is only for claims of ordinary negligence. This violates every principal I have espoused over the years, but here the court found that failing to have such a clause may make an argument for voiding a release.

This decision is stretched to reach its decision, and it is written quite vaguely and broadly giving future plaintiff’s dozens of ways of voiding a release. Catastrophic injuries are going to be more likely, based on this analysis, to void a release; however, those are the ones that attract the money.

Oregon ski area ticket prices are going to increase because Oregon ski area insurance is going up.  

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Alaskan Supreme Court upholds releases for climbing gym and sets forth requirements on how releases will be upheld in AK

Decision points out what not to do in a release which has great information for everyone.

Donahue v. Ledgends, Inc., 2014 Alas. LEXIS 153 State

Plaintiff: Claire A. Donahue

Defendant: Ledgends, Inc. d/b/a Alaska Rock Gym

Plaintiff Claims: negligent failure to adequately train and supervise its instructors and violations of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA)

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

In three prior cases, the Alaskan Supreme Court had stated that releases were valid under Alaskan law; however, the releases in front of the court for review, failed for specific reasons. In this case, all the requirements to write a release according to the court were present.

The plaintiff in this case had decided that learning to climb was her next goal. The plaintiff’s second class was bouldering. At one point, she was 3-4’ off the ground and told to jump down by a gym instructor. The gym used mats for its landing padding. She jumped breaking her tibia in four places.

The plaintiff then sued the climbing gym for negligence and violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Protection Act (UTPA). The trial court upheld the release and dismissed the claims of the plaintiff, and the plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

This case is full of interesting and useful information. I’ll tackle it by subject matter rather than the order the court goes through it.

UTPA

The UTPA as identified in Alaska can be found in some form in all states. It is a consumer protection statute to provide consumers with greater benefits and damages if they are ripped off by someone or a business. Most are called consumer protection acts. Alaska joined the majority of states and said that consumer protection statutes did not apply to personal injury claims. The court dismissed this claim.

Offer of Judgment

The court also looked at the offer of judgment made by the defendant and resulting attorney fees awarded to the defendants. In Colorado and Alaska and probably most states, if the defendant makes an offer of settlement or offer of judgment, they are stating we will give the plaintiff $XX in this amount, and the case ends. However, if the plaintiff does not win that amount or a percentage of that amount, then the defendant can be awarded attorney fees or a percentage of its attorney fees.

The statute has a two-prong approach. First, it eliminates a lot of lawsuits quite quickly when the damages are close enough to the offer made by the defendant to get the plaintiff to think. It also makes the plaintiff to do an honest evaluation of the amount of money they can realistically receive in a lawsuit.

Here the plaintiff did not recover any money so the defendant was awarded 20% of their attorney fees per the statute.

Relevant Facts of the Case

The actual facts are stated in the decision are important.

Donahue completed her first class on harnessed climbing on March 23, 2008, and returned for a second class on May 11. When class began she was told that the day’s focus would be on bouldering, or unharnessed climbing on low walls. She did not express any hesitation. She climbed for almost two hours, successfully ascending and descending a number of routes. During this time, she saw other people drop from the wall without injury. After another successful ascent at the end of the lesson, she felt unable to climb down using the available holds. Her feet were somewhere between three and four-and-a-half feet from the ground. Her instructor suggested that she drop to the mat and told her to be sure to bend her knees. Donahue landed awkwardly and broke her tibia in four places. She was attended to immediately by Rock Gym personnel and a physician who happened to be present.

The court pointed out several facts surrounding the case. The ones in favor of the defendant were:

There were signs posted around the gym warning of the dangers of climbing. The plaintiff had never climbed before, but she was a runner, cyclists, kite boarder and had worked as a commercial river guide in Colorado. The plaintiff testified that she understood the risks of the activities and felt competent to make decisions about that risk for herself.

The ones in favor of the plaintiff were: Advertising of the gym gave the impression to the plaintiff that learning with the defendant was a safe way to learn how to climb. The defendant had run ads in the newspaper that stated:

[T]the only safe place in town to hang out.

Trust us, it still exists. . . . [E]very child in your family will be reminded of what it’s all about — friends and fun.

[Y]ou have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

(Marketing makes promises that risk management must pay for?)

Analysis of Prior Release law by the Court

The court outlined the three reasons it had thrown out releases in three earlier cases. The first decision, a release was used as a defense to a claim by a passenger in a plane that crashed.

We ruled that “[i]ntent to release a party from liability for future negligence must be conspicuously and unequivocally expressed.” We also held that a release must use the word “negligence” to establish the required degree of clarity, something the release in Kissick did not do. Further, since liability for “death” was not specifically disclaimed and the term “injury” was ambiguous, we held that the release did not apply to claims for wrongful death, construing it against the drafter.

The second release was thrown out in a case involving driving all-terrain vehicles. The public policy argument was reviewed in this case, and the court found a recreational release did not violate public policy. The court did find, however:

We did decide, however, that the release did not conspicuously and unequivocally express an intent to release the defendants from liability for the cause of the exact injury that occurred — a rollover when the plaintiff drove over a big rock hidden in tall grass. The release covered the inherent risks of ATV riding, but we found that it also included “an implied and reasonable presumption that the course [was] not unreasonably dangerous.” We found there to be fact questions about whether “the course posed a risk beyond ordinary negligence related to the inherent risks of off-road ATV riding assumed by the release,” and we held that summary judgment for the defendants on the basis of the release was therefore, improper.

The third decision involved the same defendant as in the present case, Ledgends, Inc. In that case the plaintiff fell and her foot slipped through two floor mats injuring her.

…language in the release that was problematic because it was internally inconsistent: the release stated that the gym would try to keep its facilities safe and its equipment in good condition, but it simultaneously disclaimed liability for actions that failed to meet such standards.

This last issue is critical to review when writing a release. See below.

Requirements for a Release to be Valid under Alaskan law

The court then outlined the six things a release under Alaskan law must meet to be valid.

(1) the risk being waived must be specifically and clearly set forth (e.g. death, bodily injury, and property damage);

(2) a waiver of negligence must be specifically set forth using the word “negligence”;

(3) these factors must be brought home to the releasor in clear, emphasized language by using simple words and capital letters;

(4) the release must not violate public policy;

(5) if a release seeks to exculpate a defendant from liability for acts of negligence unrelated to inherent risks, the release must suggest an intent to do so; and

(6) the release agreement must not represent or insinuate standards of safety or maintenance.

Simply put the requirements of a release in Alaska are simple clear and very precise. I would surmise that 90% of the releases written in the US would fail to meet one or more of the requirements required in Alaska.

A review of the specifics required by the court is educational.

1.       You can’t just have a one-paragraph release waiving negligence. Under Alaskan law, you have to list the possible risks. Here the court found the list describing what can happen to you in a climbing gym adequate. Falling is an obvious one for rock climbing but you probably also have to list rope burns, different ways you can fall, belayer issues as well as equipment failure.

You also cannot use one release to cover a multitude of risks anymore. The risks of rock climbing do not include drowning (outside of Thailand) which are a part of rafting. You will have to have a release for each group of risks to identify those risks.

2.      You have to have a release that releases the defendant from negligence. Alaska is not going to allow you to skirt the issue. Your release must use the word negligence and have the signor, sign away their right to sue for your negligent acts.

3.      The important language cannot be hidden, small type, etc. More importantly; the entire document must be a standalone document, and the releasing language set out, emphasized and capitalized.

Under Alaskan law, I would suspect that most “health club” releases found in the membership sign up may not meet these requirements. Those are documents were the majority of the language covers your promise to pay and there is a paragraph or two in the middle waiving any claims you may have.

(The language concerning payment allows the health club to sell the contract to a third party. The health club receives a fixed amount, usually about 50% of the total value immediately. The third party is then the one sending you the demand letter and trying to collect from you when you quit going to the club.)

4.      The release of liability language must be specific. This issue is similar to the first issue, but it requires specific action in the release. You must state you are not liable for negligence AND the risks you outline in the release and others. This requires you to have more than a simple negligence clause. Your negligence clause must be written to cover all aspects of the risk you are required to put in your release.

5.       The Fifth and Sixth requirements are similar. This is one I’ve been arguing for years. You can’t promise one thing and then not meet the promise. The court specifically stated you cannot say your state you follow a standard and then fail to meet that standard. (Sound familiar?)

If you say you follow the standards of the ACA, AEE, CWA or any other organization that writes standards for your activity you must meet those standards! You cannot say your equipment is kept up to date and then have shoddy equipment. You can’t say your employees are all trained in first aid and have a custodian who is not. No longer can you say you meet 80% of the standards or hope your release will get you out of those you don’t meet. If you state you meet the standards, yours or others, Alaska release law (contract law) states you must meet the standards.

If you marketing is making a promise that you fail to meet, in Alaska your release cannot get you out of failing to meet the promise. Whether or not this applies to advertising not found in the release will be interesting. However, I suspect if the plaintiff says I want to the defendant because their door said they meet the standards of ABC, and they failed to meet those standards; the defense in Alaska may not include a release.

The defendant was successful; the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed, and we have a decision providing an outline on how releases should be written in Alaska.

So Now What?

Many times in an effect to “soften” the way the release sounds to your clients you may make statements or promises in the release about how you or your equipment will operate or be maintained. In this decision, the court pointed out in its prior decision that those promises in a release will void the release if they are not kept.

There is no way to “soften” a release. Any time you do you are creating a contract with cross purposes. On one hand, you are attempting to prevent a lawsuit if someone is injured. On the other hand, you are promising that people won’t be injured. If you are promising someone won’t be injured why have the release? More importantly the courts have found that you can’t promise safety and when you fail to meet your promise, use the release to prevent the lawsuit over your promise.

A release is a contract. This court looked at the entire contract and found that promises in the contract were met. Promises in prior contracts that were not met voided the release.

This decision places stricter requirements on releases then in several other courts; however, the decision outlines how to be successful when writing a release in Alaska and all other states.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

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Henderson v. Quest Expeditions, Inc. 174 S.W.3d 730; 2005 Tenn. App. LEXIS 334

Henderson v. Quest Expeditions, Inc. 174 S.W.3d 730; 2005 Tenn. App. LEXIS 334

Nathan & Brandy Henderson v. Quest Expeditions, Inc.

No. E2004-02585-COA-R3-CV

COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE, AT KNOXVILLE

174 S.W.3d 730; 2005 Tenn. App. LEXIS 334

April 4, 2005, Session

June 8, 2005, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Appeal denied by Henderson v. Quest Expeditions, Inc., 2005 Tenn. LEXIS 962 (Tenn., Oct. 24, 2005)

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Tenn. R. App. P.3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed. Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Polk County. No. CV-03-130. Hon. John B. Hagler, Circuit Judge.

DISPOSITION: Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed.

COUNSEL: H. Franklin Chancey, Cleveland, Tennessee, for appellants.

Gary A. Cooper, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for appellee.

JUDGES: HERSCHEL PICKENS FRANKS, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., J., and D. MICHAEL SWINEY, J., joined.

OPINION BY: HERSCHEL PICKENS FRANKS

OPINION

[*731] In this action for personal injuries allegedly due to defendant’s negligence, the Trial Court granted defendant summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiffs had executed a Waiver and Release of Liability which was required by defendant prior to plaintiffs’ participation in white water rafting. Plaintiffs have appealed, insisting the Release is void as against the public policy of this State. We affirm.

Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleged that Henderson was injured while on a white water rafting expedition operated by defendant. The Complaint alleged that defendant “ferries rafters to and from the Ocoee River by means of a series of dilapidated school buses.”, and that [**2] after Henderson had completed his rafting trip, he and other rafters were put on a bus, and then told to get on another bus, and when disembarking from the first bus he slipped and fell, sustaining severe personal injuries. Plaintiffs further alleged that defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of his injuries.

Defendant in its Answer admitted that Henderson had participated in a rafting trip sponsored by defendant, and among its defenses raised was waiver, because plaintiff had signed a “Waiver and Release of Liability”, which defendant attached to its Answer.

In their Answers to Requests for Admissions, plaintiffs admitted that the waiver in question had been signed by Henderson. Defendant then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which plaintiffs opposed and Henderson filed his Affidavit which stated that Henderson had no previous white-water rafting experience, and was given a pre-printed document to sign prior to the excursion which was not reviewed with him by an employee of defendant. He further stated that he was not advised whether there were any other rafting companies who would allow him to go rafting without having to sign a waiver, or whether he could pay additional [**3] money to not have to sign the waiver.

The Trial Court determined that the waiver in this case did not affect the public interest, and thus the waiver was not void as against public policy. The court noted that Olson v. Molzen, 558 S.W.2d 429 (Tenn. 1977) did not apply to this situation and he was guided by the rule adopted in California, which states that “exculpatory agreements in the recreational sports context do not implicate the public interest.” Citing Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc., 51 Cal. App. 4th 1358, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 813, 823 (Ca. App. 1996).

Plaintiffs on appeal insist the Waiver is void against public policy, and in the alternative, that the Waiver was void on the grounds it was too excessive in scope.

Plaintiffs concede that if the Waiver is enforceable then this action is barred, but argue the waiver violates the public policy of this State.

[*732] As our Supreme Court has explained:

[HN1] It is well settled in this State that parties may contract that one shall not be liable for his negligence to another but that such other shall assume the risk incident to such negligence. . . . Further, it is not necessary that the word ‘negligence’ appear [**4] in the exculpatory clause and the public policy of Tennessee favors freedom to contract against liability for negligence.

Empress Health and Beauty Spa, Inc. v. Turner, 503 S.W.2d 188 (Tenn. 1973).

An exception to this rule was recognized by the Supreme Court in Olson v. Molzen, wherein the Court held that certain relationships required greater responsibility which would render such a release “obnoxious”. Olson, at p. 430. The Court adopted the opinion of the California Supreme Court in Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 383 P.2d 441, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33 (Ca. 1963), which held that where the public interest would be affected by an exculpatory provision, such provision could be held invalid. Olson, at p. 431.

[HN2] Our Supreme Court adopted the six criteria set forth in Tunkl as useful in determining when an exculpatory provision should be held invalid as contrary to public policy. See Olson. These criteria are:

(a.) It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation.

(b.) The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to [**5] the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.

(c.) The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards.

(d.) As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.

(e.) In exercising a superior bargaining power the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence.

(f.) Finally, as a result of the transaction, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller, subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.

Olson, at p. 431.

In Olson, the Supreme Court invalidated a contract between a doctor and patient which attempted to release the doctor from liability for his negligence in the performance of medical [**6] services. Also see Carey v. Merritt, 148 S.W.3d 912 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004) and Russell v. Bray, 116 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003). In Russell, this Court refused to enforce an exculpatory contract between home buyers and the home inspectors who were hired by the buyers, because the Court found that the home inspectors were professionals whose services affected the public interest, and thus the contracts were offensive to public policy, based on the factors enumerated in Olson. In Carey, this Court made clear that [HN3] not all of the factors had to be present in order to invalidate an exculpatory agreement, but generally, the factors were limited to circumstances involving “a contract with a profession, as opposed to ‘tradesmen in the marketplace’.” Carey, at p. 916; cf. Parton v. Mark Pirtle Oldsmobile-Cadillac-Isuzu, Inc., 730 S.W.2d 634 [*733] (Tenn. Ct. App. 1987) (auto repair shop is not “professional” as would qualify it as service affecting public interest in order to invalidate exculpatory contract).

This case is factually different from Olson, Carey, and Parton because the white-water rafting service offered [**7] by defendant is not a “professional” trade, which affects the public interest. As discussed in factor number two quoted above, this is not a service of “great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.” See Olson. There is no necessity that one go white-water rafting. In fact, [HN4] many jurisdictions have recognized that such recreational sporting activities are not activities of an essential nature which would render exculpatory clauses contrary to the public interest. See Seigneur v. National Fitness Institute, Inc., 132 Md. App. 271, 752 A.2d 631 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2000) (health club services not essential for purposes of holding exculpatory clause unenforceable as offensive to public interest); Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc., 51 Cal. App. 4th 1358, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 813 (Cal. Ct. App. 1996) (“voluntary participation in recreational and sports activities [skiing] does not implicate the public interest”); Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057 (Wyo. 1986) (sky diving and other private recreational businesses generally do not involve services which are necessary to the public such [**8] that exculpatory contract would be invalidated).

Plaintiffs argue that the Release in this case does affect the public interest because the business involved, i.e. commercial white-water rafting, is subject to regulation. While this is true, the presence of this factor does not render this Release offensive to the public interest. In fact, [HN5] recent legislation passed by the Tennessee Legislature “recognizes that the State has a legitimate interest in maintaining the economic viability of commercial white water rafting operations” because the State and its citizens benefit thereby. 2005 Tenn. Pub. Acts 169. This act states the legislative intent is to “encourage white water rafting by discouraging claims based on injury, death or damages resulting from risks inherent in white water rafting.” Id. Thus, the Tennessee legislature has evidenced that the public policy of this State is that commercial white water rafting companies be protected from claims for injuries to patrons.

Accordingly we affirm the Trial Court’s determination that the exculpatory contract in this case does not affect the public interest such that it should be invalidated pursuant to the Olson criteria.

Finally, [**9] appellants argue that the Release in this case should not operate as a bar to their claims because the injury suffered by Henderson was not within the “inherent risks” of the sport of white water rafting, and thus was not within the contemplation of the parties when the release was signed.

In the cases relied on by the plaintiffs regarding the scope of exculpatory provisions in the context of a sport, there are no provisions in those agreements which purport to release the defendant from its own negligence. For example, in Johnson v. Thruway Speedways, Inc., 63 A.D.2d 204, 407 N.Y.S.2d 81 (N.Y. App. Div. 1978), the Court refused to uphold a grant of summary judgment based on a release signed by the plaintiff prior to the sporting event. The Court stated that language of the release (which was not quoted in the opinion) “could lead to the conclusion that it only applied to injuries sustained by a spectator which were associated with the risks inherent in the activity of automobile racing”. The plaintiff in that case was injured when he was hit by a maintenance vehicle not involved in the race. Id. at 205. Thus, the Court [*734] held that this created a triable issue of fact [**10] as to whether the incident was of the type contemplated by the parties when the release was signed. Id.

Similarly, in the case of Larsen v. Vic Tanny International, 130 Ill. App. 3d 574, 474 N.E.2d 729, 85 Ill. Dec. 769 (Ill. App. Ct. 1984), the plaintiff was injured when he inhaled dangerous vapors created by the negligent mixing of cleaning compounds by the defendant health club’s employee. Plaintiff had signed a membership contract which contained exculpatory language regarding plaintiff’s use of the facilities (but did not mention any negligence by defendant). Id. The Court stated this type of injury was arguably not foreseeable to plaintiff when he signed the release, and thus a fact question existed regarding the parties’ intent behind the exculpation clause, which precluded summary judgment. Id. 1

1 The Court noted the result would have been different if plaintiff’s injuries stemmed from a slip and fall in an area adjacent to a swimming pool, citing its previous decision in Owen v. Vic Tanny Enterprises, 48 Ill. App. 2d 344, 199 N.E.2d 280 (Ill. App. Ct. 1964).

[**11] In another case where “negligence” is included in the release, Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc., 117 Cal. App. 4th 1301, 12 Cal.Rptr. 3d 678 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004), the plaintiff was injured when the pit-area bleachers collapsed. Plaintiff had signed a release before entering the pit area, which stated that he released the defendant from all liability “whether caused by the negligence of the releasees or otherwise while the undersigned is in or upon the restricted area and/or . . . observing . . . the event.” Id. at 680. The Court found that the release was ambiguous due to the “and/or” language used, and thus relied on extrinsic evidence in interpreting the release, such as the fact that anyone could enter the pit area without signing the release once the race was over. The Court concluded that the release was only intended to apply to the risks inherent in being in close proximity to a race, and was not intended to cover the type of incident which occurred when the bleachers collapsed due to defective construction/maintenance. Id.

[HN6] The majority view from sister states is that an exculpatory provision which specifically and expressly releases a defendant from [**12] its own negligence will be upheld, without regard to whether the injury sustained is one typically thought to be “inherent in the sport”. In fact, there seems to be a split of authority among the states regarding whether the word “negligence” is even required to be present in the exculpation clause for the provision to be construed as releasing the defendant from its own negligence. Cases from Connecticut, for example, have held that in order for an exculpatory provision to be construed as releasing a defendant from its own negligence, the provision must expressly mention negligence . The cases are equally clear, however, that if the provision does expressly release the defendant from its own negligence, then it will be upheld as written. See Hyson v. White Water Mtn. Resorts, 265 Conn. 636, 829 A.2d 827 (Conn. 2003) (snowtubing); Brown v. Sol, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2430, 2004 WL 2165638 (Conn. Super. Ct. Aug. 31, 2004) (racing school); DiMaggio v. LaBreque, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2823, 2003 WL 22480968 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct. 9, 2003) (parachuting).

[HN7] Most jurisdictions, including Tennessee, have held that if the exculpation contract sufficiently demonstrates the parties’ intent to eliminate [**13] liability for negligence, the absence of the word “negligence” is not fatal. See Krazek v. Mountain River Tours, Inc., 884 F.2d 163 (4th Cir. 1989) (white water rafting); Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 226 Cal. App. 3d 758, 276 Cal.Rptr. 672 (Cal. Ct. App. 1991) (white water rafting); Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (Colo. 1989) (horseback [*735] riding); Seigneur v. National Fitness Institute, Inc., 132 Md. App. 271, 752 A.2d 631 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2000) (health club); Petry v. Cosmopolitan Spa Intern., Inc., 641 S.W.2d 202 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1982) (health club); Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc., 186 W. Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (W. Va. 1991) (white water rafting); Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057 (Wyo. 1986) (skydiving). In these cases, the fact that the injury occurred during an activity that was not foreseeable or not associated with a risk “inherent in the sport” did not matter. See, e.g., Benedek (health club member injured when adjusting a television set above exercise machines which fell); Murphy (white water rafter injured [**14] when her raft tried to engage in rescue of another raft), and Petry (patron of health club injured when exercise machine she was sitting on collapsed).

In this case, the Release in question does specifically and expressly release defendant from any liability for its negligence or that of any employees, owners, agents, etc. In the matter of contract interpretation, this Court has previously explained:

[HN8] The cardinal rule in the construction of contracts is to ascertain the intent of the parties. West v. Laminite Plastics Mfg. Co., 674 S.W.2d 310 (Tenn. App. 1984). If the contract is plain and unambiguous, the meaning thereof is a question of law, and it is the Court’s function to interpret the contract as written according to its plain terms. Petty v. Sloan, 197 Tenn. 630, 277 S.W.2d 355 (1955). The language used in a contract must be taken and understood in its plain, ordinary, and popular sense. Bob Pearsall Motors, Inc. v. Regal Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 521 S.W.2d 578 (Tenn. 1975). In construing contracts, the words expressing the parties’ intentions should be given the usual, natural, and ordinary meaning. Ballard v. North American Life & Cas. Co., 667 S.W.2d 79 (Tenn. App. 1983). [**15] If the language of a written instrument is unambiguous, the Court must interpret it as written rather than according to the unexpressed intention of one of the parties. Sutton v. First Nat. Bank of Crossville, 620 S.W.2d 526 (Tenn. App. 1981). Courts cannot make contracts for parties but can only enforce the contract which the parties themselves have made. McKee v. Continental Ins. Co., 191 Tenn. 413, 234 S.W.2d 830, 22 A.L.R.2d 980 (1951).

Bradson Mercantile, Inc. v. Crabtree, 1 S.W.3d 648, 652 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999).

The Contract under consideration is clear and unambiguous, and states that plaintiffs agreed to release defendant from any and all liability, including defendant’s own negligence. Moreover, the Contract specifically mentions that plaintiffs are being furnished and participating in white water rafting and “bus or van transportation” provided by the defendant. The Contract states that plaintiffs realize that they could be injured due to dangers from the rafting as well as the use of white water equipment, forces of nature, or even due to the negligence of defendant’s employees and other rafters. The Contract states [**16] that defendant is being relieved of any liability caused by its own negligence in no less than four places, the last of which is in bold print above the signature line. This Contract is plain, and enforceable as written. We conclude the Trial Court properly granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiffs’ negligence claims.

The Trial Court’s Judgment is affirmed, and the cost of the appeal is assessed to plaintiffs Nathan and Brandy Henderson.

HERSCHEL PICKENS FRANKS, P.J.

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Lemoine v Cornell University, 2 A.D.3d 1017; 769 N.Y.S.2d 313; 2003 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 13209 (NY 2003)

Lemoine v Cornell University, 2 A.D.3d 1017; 769 N.Y.S.2d 313; 2003 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 13209 (NY 2003)

Decided and Entered: December 11, 2003

93723

[*1]Nadine Lemoine, Appellant, v Cornell University, Respondent.

Memorandum and Order

Calendar Date: October 15, 2003

Before: Cardona, P.J., Crew III, Carpinello, Rose and Lahtinen, JJ.

Lo Pinto, Schlather, Solomon & Salk, Ithaca

(Raymond M. Schlather of counsel), for appellant.

Nelson E. Roth, Cornell University, Ithaca, for

respondent.

Cardona, P.J.

Appeal from an order of the Supreme Court (Mulvey, J.), entered January 2, 2003 in Tompkins County, which granted defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint.

Plaintiff alleges that she sustained injuries on January 30, 2000, when she fell from the Lindseth Climbing Wall at defendant’s university during the first session of a seven-week basic rock climbing course offered by defendant’s outdoor education program. She had taken the same course eight years earlier, but had not taken any further instruction in the intervening years. Plaintiff registered, paid the tuition for the class, watched the orientation video describing safety procedures and signed a release holding defendant harmless from liability for, inter alia, any injuries caused by use of the climbing wall, including those caused by defendant’s own negligence. Plaintiff, as a climbing student, also signed a “Contract to Follow Lindseth Climbing Wall Safety Policies,” which included a promise that she would not climb above the yellow “bouldering” line without the required safety equipment. Prior to the accident, plaintiff, who was not wearing safety equipment, alleged that she was climbing with most of her body above the bouldering line. At the time, plaintiff and approximately 10 other students were under the supervision of two instructors. As she descended, instructor Michael Gilbert allegedly told her where to place her hands and feet. Plaintiff asserts that she lost her footing and fell to the floor [*2]below, which she described as “virtually unpadded.”[FN1] Thereafter, plaintiff commenced this action asserting negligence and gross negligence. Defendant moved to dismiss based upon the release and the safety contract, as well as a claim that plaintiff failed to set forth a cause of action [FN2]. Supreme Court granted defendant’s motion, prompting this appeal.

Plaintiff contends that the release and safety contract are void as against public policy by operation of statute, and, as a result, Supreme Court erred in granting defendant’s motion to dismiss. General Obligation Law § 5-326 states in pertinent part:

“Every covenant, agreement or understanding in or in connection with, or collateral to, any contract, membership application, ticket of admission or similar writing, entered into between the owner or operator of any pool, gymnasium, place of amusement or recreation, or similar establishment and the user of such facilities, pursuant to which such owner or operator receives a fee or other compensation for the use of such facilities, which exempts the said owner or operator from liability for damages caused by or resulting from the negligence of the owner, operator or person in charge of such establishment, or their agents, servants or employees, shall be deemed to be void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.”

The legislative intent of the statute is to prevent amusement parks and recreational facilities from enforcing exculpatory clauses printed on admission tickets or membership applications because the public is either unaware of them or not cognizant of their effect (see Lux v Cox, 32 F Supp 2d 92, 99 [1998]; McDuffie v Watkins Glen Intl., 833 F Supp 197, 202 [1993]). Facilities that are places of instruction and training (see e.g. Millan v Brown, 295 AD2d 409, 411 [2002]; Chieco v Paramarketing, Inc., 228 AD2d 462, 463 [1996]; Baschuk v Diver’s Way Scuba, 209 AD2d 369, 370 [1994]), rather than “amusement or recreation” (see e.g. Meier v Ma-Do Bars, 106 AD2d 143, 145 [1985]), have been found to be outside the scope of the statute.

In assessing whether a facility is instructional or recreational, courts have examined, inter alia, the organization’s name, its certificate of incorporation, its statement of purpose and whether the money it charges is tuition or a fee for use of the facility (see Fusco v Now & Zen, 294 AD2d 466, 467 [2002]; Bacchiocchi v Ranch Parachute Club, 273 AD2d 173, 175-176 [2000]; Baschuk v Diver’s Way Scuba, supra at 370). Difficulties arise in this area of law in situations where a person is injured at a mixed-use facility, namely, one which provides both recreation and instruction. In some cases, courts have found that General Obligations Law § 5-326 voids the particular release where the facility provides instruction only as an “ancillary” [*3]function, even though it is a situation where the injury occurs while receiving some instruction (see e.g. Bacchiocchi v Ranch Parachute Club, supra at 175-176; Wurzer v Seneca Sport Parachute Club, 66 AD2d 1002, 1002-1003 [1978]). In other mixed-use cases, courts focused less on a facility’s ostensible purpose and more on whether the person was at the facility for the purpose of receiving instruction (Scrivener v Sky’s the Limit, 68 F Supp 2d 277, 281 [1999]; Lux v Cox, supra at 99).

Here, plaintiff points out that her enrollment in the class entitled her to a discounted fee rate in the event that she sought use of the climbing wall on nonclass days and, additionally, defendant allowed its students, alumni and graduates of the rock climbing course to use the wall as long as they paid the regular fee and watched the safety video. Consequently, plaintiff, citing Bacchiocchi v Ranch Parachute Club (supra), argues that since this facility is both recreational and instructional, General Obligations Law § 5-326 must apply. While it may be true that defendant’s facility is a mixed use one, given that defendant is unquestionably an educational institution, along with the fact that the brochure and course materials in the record indicate that the purpose of the climbing wall facility was “for education and training in the sport of rockclimbing,” it is apparent that any recreational use of the wall by nonstudents would be ancillary to its primary educational purpose (cf. Bacchiocchi v Ranch Parachute Club, supra). Furthermore, even focusing primarily on plaintiff’s purpose at the facility, it is undisputed herein that she enrolled in the course, paid tuition, not a fee, for lessons and was injured during one of her instructional periods (cf. Scrivener v Sky’s the Limit, supra at 281). Therefore, under all the circumstances, we find that Supreme Court properly found the statute to be inapplicable.

Having found that the release and safety contract were not voided by the statute, we now decide whether they are dispositive in this case (cf. Gross v Sweet, 49 NY2d 102, 107 [1979]). For example, the release unambiguously acknowledges, inter alia, the inherent risks of rock climbing and the use of the climbing wall, including the risk of injury from falling off the wall onto the floor below, which is what plaintiff describes as happening in this case. The release further holds defendant harmless from liability from any negligence, including that related to plaintiff’s supervised or unsupervised use of the wall. Given plaintiff’s signature and initials on these documents, we conclude that dismissal was proper.

Turning to plaintiff’s contention that, even if the statute is applicable, defendant’s motion to dismiss should not have been granted because the release and safety contract, standing alone, would not defeat a claim adequately alleging gross negligence (see Amica Mut. Ins. Co. v Hart Alarm Sys., 218 AD2d 835, 836 [1995]). Significantly, gross negligence is reckless conduct that borders on intentional wrongdoing and is “different in kind and degree” from ordinary negligence (Sutton Park Dev. Corp. Trading Co. v Guerin & Guerin Agency, 297 AD2d 430, 431 [2002]; see e.g. Green v Holmes Protection of N.Y., 216 AD2d 178, 178-179 [1995]). Where a complaint does not allege facts sufficient to constitute gross negligence, dismissal is appropriate (see Sutton Park Dev. Corp. Trading Co. v Guerin & Guerin Agency, supra at 431). Even assuming that plaintiff’s specific allegations are true, we agree with Supreme Court that they constitute only ordinary negligence and cannot survive the motion to dismiss.

The remaining arguments raised by plaintiff have been examined and found to be either unpersuasive or rendered academic by our decision herein.

Crew III, Carpinello, Rose and Lahtinen, JJ., concur.

ORDERED that the order is affirmed, with costs.

Footnotes

Footnote 1: The incident report form, which plaintiff disputes, states that she “decided to jump down.” Defendant’s employees also assert that the floor was padded and plaintiff was four feet from the ground at the time that she left the wall.

Footnote 2: We note that although defendant’s motion states that it is pursuant CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and (7), it appears from the language therein that it is also premised upon CPLR 3211 (a) (5).

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Decisive Supreme Court Decision on the Validity of Releases in Oklahoma

Schmidt v. United States of America, 1996 OK 29; 912 P.2d 871; 1996 Okla. LEXIS 38 (Okla 1996)

Case arose as a certified question from the US District Court from Western Oklahoma.

This is a request by the Federal District Court in Western Oklahoma for clarification on a legal point. When a Federal court has to apply state law and there are no decisions for the Federal court to rely upon, it certifies the question to the state Supreme Court for clarification. That is how this case arose.

The plaintiff went for a trail ride at Artillery Hunt Riding Stables at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Because the stable was owned by the Army that is the reason for the suit to be brought in Federal Court and why the defendant is the USA.

While on the ride, the “ride leader” allegedly rode up behind the plaintiff and frightened her horse causing the horse to throw her. The plaintiff sued saying that the US “(1) is liable vicariously for the ride leader’s negligence and (2) is culpable for its own negligence in selecting and keeping an unfit ride leader.” Both claims are based in negligence.

The Federal Court could not find case law to rely upon to issue an opinion on the defendant’s defense of release so it sent the case the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court did not decide the case. The court only used the facts as supplemental information in making its decision concerning releases in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma looked at the question in two parts:

1. Whether, under Oklahoma law, a contractual exculpatory clause for personal injury is valid and enforceable?

2. Whether, under Oklahoma law, the exculpatory provisions contained in the Rental Riding Agreement are valid and enforceable and operate to bar the plaintiff’s negligence and negligent entrustment claims?

The court responded this way: “

We respond to the first question in the affirmative. We answer the second with a qualifying affirmative by noting that it applies if the certifying court finds that three preconditions to the clause’s enforcement are met: (1) the exculpatory clause’s language clearly, definitely and unambiguously displays an intent to insulate the United States from the type of liability the plaintiff seeks to impose; (2) no disparity of bargaining power existed between the two parties to the agreement containing the clause at the time it was executed; and (3) its effect would not violate public policy.

We note that exculpatory clauses cannot relieve one from liability for fraud, willful injury, gross negligence or violation of the law.

Summary of the case

This decision is a well-written look at how Oklahoma and many other states look at releases. Generally, releases are upheld in Oklahoma. However, although releases are “generally enforceable” releases are distasteful. The test in Oklahoma on whether a release is valid is:

(1) their language must evidence a clear and unambiguous intent to exonerate the would-be defendant from liability for the sought-to-be-recovered damages;

(2) at the time the contract (containing the clause) was executed there must have been no vast difference in bargaining power between the parties; and

(3) enforcement of these clauses must never

(a) be injurious to public health, public morals or confidence in administration of the law or

(b) so undermine the security of individual rights vis-a-vis personal safety or private property as to violate public policy.

The court then described what clear and unambiguous intent was:

A contractual provision which one party claims excuses it from liability for in futuro tortious acts or omissions must clearly and cogently (1) demonstrate an intent to relieve that person from fault and (2) describe the nature and extent of damages from which that party seeks to be relieved. This is so not only when one assesses a party’s direct liability for negligence, but also when assaying whether the agreement’s terms embrace acts of an agent or servant of that party. In short, both the identity of the tortfeasor to be released and the nature of the wrongful act — for which liability is sought to be imposed — must have been foreseen by, and fall fairly within the contemplation of, the parties. The clause must also identify the type and extent of damages covered — including those to occur in futuro.

The court did differentiate between an exculpatory clause (release) which limits suits and clauses, which limit damages under Oklahoma law.

Bargaining power was described by the court in looking at releases as:

Courts consider two factors when called upon to ascertain the equality of the parties’ bargaining power, vis-a-vis each other, in the setting of a promissory risk assumption: (1) the importance of the subject matter to the physical or economic well-being of the party agreeing to the release and (2) the amount of free choice that party could have exercised when seeking alternate services.

The final issue, a release that violates public policy was described as:

While courts may declare void those portions of private contracts which contradict public policy, they must do so only with great caution. Two classes of exculpating agreements may be said to violate public policy: (1) those which — if enforced — patently would tend to injure public morals, public health or confidence in the administration of the law and (2) those which would destroy the security of individuals’ rights to personal safety or private property.

The court summed up its opinion on what a release must have under Oklahoma law as:

“any agreement having as its purpose the unequivocal exoneration of one party from negligent tort liability of another must identify both the putative tortfeasor and the category of recovery from which that actor would be relieved.

However, if any single requirement of the three requirements is not met by a release, then the release must fail.

So Now What?

You never find a decision that says this is what you must do to be legal. This decision from the Oklahoma Supreme Court explains step by step what an attorney must do to write a release.

 

Plaintiff: Elizabeth M. Schmidt

 

Defendant: United States of America (Artillery Hunt Riding Stables at Fort Sill, Oklahoma)

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence in the original Federal Action

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

Holding: Sent to the Federal Court for determination based on the decision here.

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Tedesco et al., v. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, 250 A.D.2d 758; 673 N.Y.S.2d 181; 1998 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5801

Tedesco et al., v. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, 250 A.D.2d 758; 673 N.Y.S.2d 181; 1998 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5801

Theodore Tedesco et al., Appellant, v. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Respondent. (And a Third-Party Action.)

97-06400

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

250 A.D.2d 758; 673 N.Y.S.2d 181; 1998 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5801

April 13, 1998, Argued

May 18, 1998, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] In an action to recover damages for personal injuries, etc., the plaintiffs appeal from an order of the Supreme Court, Kings County (Hutcherson, J.), dated April 30, 1997, which (1) granted the motion of the defendant Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, and (2) denied their cross motion to strike the affirmative defense of release.

DISPOSITION: ORDERED that the order is affirmed, with costs.

COUNSEL: Sullivan & Liapakis, P.C., New York, N.Y. (John F. Nash and Stephen C. Glaser of counsel), for appellants.

Wallace D. Gossett, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Lawrence Heisler of counsel), for respondent.

JUDGES: Friedmann, J. P., Goldstein, Florio and Luciano, JJ., concur.

OPINION

[*758] [**182] Ordered that the order is affirmed, with costs.

The plaintiff Theodore Tedesco was injured while riding his bicycle during the “Bike New York” five-borough bicycle tour, sponsored by the third-party defendant, American Youth Hostels, Inc. The Supreme Court correctly determined that the release signed by the plaintiff Tedesco prior to his participation in the tour contained broad language which included the defendant Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (hereinafter [***2] the Authority) as one of the entities exempted from liability, even though the Authority was not specifically named in the release document (see, Wells v Shearson Lehman/American Express, 72 NY2d 11, 23). The release document specifically named the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (hereinafter the MTA) and “any other involved … representatives of the foregoing”. Since the Authority is a board comprised of 17 members of the MTA, serving ex officio, and all holding offices in the MTA (Public Authorities Law § 552), the Authority is an affiliated representative of the MTA and is, therefore, exempted from liability under the terms of the release document.

Contrary to the plaintiffs’ contention, the release is not invalidated pursuant to General Obligations Law § 5-326, since the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, where the plaintiff Tedesco was injured, is not a “place of amusement or recreation”.

[*759] The plaintiffs’ remaining contentions are without merit.

Friedmann, J. P., Goldstein, Florio and Luciano, JJ., concur.

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Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

Carrie Lewis, Lesa Moffatt, Appellants, v. Snow Creek, Inc., Respondent.

WD 55070

COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT

6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

March 31, 1999, Opinion Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Passed June 1, 1999. Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to the Supreme Court Denied July 27, 1999. Opinion Readopted and Mandate Issued January 6, 2000, Reported at: 2000 Mo. App LEXIS 7.

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri. The Honorable Ward B. Stuckey, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

COUNSEL: Fritz Edmunds, Jr., Overland Park, KS, for Appellants.

Thomas Magee, St. Louis, MO, for Respondent.

JUDGES: Albert A. Riederer Judge. Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: ALBERT A. RIEDERER

OPINION

[*391] This is an appeal from summary judgments granted in each of two separate suits filed by two different plaintiffs making identical claims against Respondent. Pursuant to a motion filed by Appellants and Respondent, the cases have been consolidated on appeal. Because we find that there is disputed evidence regarding both Respondent’s liability as a possessor of land and Appellant’s implied assumption of the risk, and because we find that express assumption of the risk did not apply under the facts in this record, we reverse on those issues. However, because there is no disputed evidence regarding count III of the petitions, and because Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that count, we affirm as to that count.

Factual and Procedural Background

On January 8, 1995, Appellant Lesa Moffatt rented skis at Snow [**2] Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” On January 21, 1995, Appellant Carrie Lewis rented skis at Snow Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” The form states in pertinent part:

10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.

This document was signed by both Lewis and Moffatt during the process of renting equipment. Lewis and Moffatt both stood in line with people in front of and behind them when they received this form. The form had to be completed before obtaining skis and equipment. Both Lewis and Moffatt claim that they felt pressured to move along and did not have an adequate opportunity to read and fully comprehend the rental form.

Lewis [**3] and Moffatt both fell on ice at Snow Creek and were injured. Lewis and Moffatt each filed a separate petition against Respondent which included the same four counts: I. Defendant owed a duty to plaintiff as a business invitee, and breached that duty by failure to warn of the icy condition where the fall occurred; II. Defendant negligently adjusted and maintained the bindings on Plaintiff’s skis because they failed to properly release when plaintiff fell, injuring plaintiff’s leg; III. Defendant created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow; and IV. Defendant was grossly negligent in failing to warn plaintiff of the dangerous condition on its premises. Respondent generally [*392] denied Appellant’s claims in its answer and asserted affirmative defenses of comparative fault and assumption of the risk.

Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment in each case. Respondent submitted as evidence the “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form” and the deposition of the plaintiff in each case. In response to Respondent’s motions for summary judgment, each Appellant submitted additional evidence in the form of her own affidavit. Both motions for summary judgment were granted. Lewis’ and Moffatt’s [**4] claims are identical, and they have been consolidated on appeal.

Standard of Review

[HN1] Our standard of review of a summary judgment is essentially de novo. Lawrence v. Bainbridge Apartments, 957 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1997) (citing, ITT Commercial Finance Corp., v. Mid-America Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993)). We review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered and grant the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record. Id. [HN2] To be entitled to summary judgment a movant must demonstrate that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

In accordance with the law, we analyze whether summary judgment is appropriate on the record developed by the parties and presented to this court. The Respondent advances several arguments why summary judgment is appropriate. First, it claims as a possessor of land, it has no duty to warn a business invitee of dangers which are open and obvious as a matter of law and that the ice alleged to have caused the fall and injury was [**5] open and obvious as a matter of law. Second, it claims Appellants expressly assumed the risk of this injury by signing the Rental Form. Third, it claims Appellants impliedly assumed the risk of this injury by engaging in the sport of skiing. Fourth, it claims the Rental Form operates as a release.

I. Duty of the Possessor of Land

Respondent claims that the presence of ice on a ski slope should be determined to be an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.

A. Duty Owed To A Business Invitee

” [HN3] The standard of care owed by a possessor of land is dependent upon the status of the injured party.” Peterson v. Summit Fitness, Inc., 920 S.W.2d 928, 932 (Mo. App. 1996). An invitee “is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.” Harris v. Niehaus, 857 S.W.2d 222, 225 (Mo. banc 1993) (quoting, Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 332 (1965). As [HN4] business invitees, the Appellants were entitled to reasonable and ordinary care by Respondent to make its premises safe. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 932. A possessor of land is [**6] liable to an invitee only if the possessor:

(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and

(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger or will fail to protect themselves against it, and

(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.

Id. Generally, [HN5] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Id. at 933. “The exception to this rule is where ‘the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.'” Id. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id.

Given the preceding principles, the pivotal question is whether the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land [*393] as a matter of law. If we determine the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land as a matter of law, Respondent as possessor has no liability – unless he should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness. Id. [**7] Thus, the next question would be whether Respondent could reasonably rely on its invitees – skiers – to protect themselves from the danger of ice or whether Respondent should have expected that skiers would not appreciate the danger thus posed. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. We need not reach the second question because this court is unwilling, under the facts as developed in this case, to declare that the conditions on Respondent’s property, which allegedly caused the fall, were open and obvious as a matter of law. To the contrary, we find there is a genuine dispute regarding a material fact: the nature and character of the ice alleged to have caused the fall. “For purposes of Rule 74.04, [HN6] a ‘genuine issue’ exists where the record contains competent materials that evidence two plausible, but contradictory, accounts of the essential facts.” ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 382. “A ‘genuine issue’ is a dispute that is real, not merely argumentative, imaginary or frivolous.” Id. In this case, Appellants characterized the ice as large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow. The evidence is that the Appellants fell on ice which they did not see because [**8] of the snow. Respondent maintained that both Appellants encountered ice on trails that the Appellants had been down several times before they fell. This is not sufficient evidence for this court to find that the ice Appellants encountered was an open and obvious danger as a matter of law. It is not clear that the Appellants should have reasonably been expected to have discovered the icy condition. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. ” [HN7] When there is disputed evidence – as in this case – on whether the landowner had reason to expect this type of accident . . ., the case properly belongs to the jury.” Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 229. Therefore, we find that Respondent was not entitled to summary judgment because there is a genuine issue regarding the ice, and the ice in question was not an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.

II. Assumption of Risk

Appellants claim that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the defense of assumption of the risk requires a jury determination as to disputed material facts. Specifically, Appellants claim that a jury should decide whether they knew of the ice and whether they understood and appreciated the [**9] danger posed by the ice. Respondent claims that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of a risk inherent in the sport of skiing, and therefore, the Appellants assumed the risk, or in the alternative, that Appellants expressly assumed the risk by signing the rental form. [HN8] Assumption of risk is generally categorized as express, implied primary, and implied secondary (reasonable and unreasonable). Sheppard v. Midway R-1 School District, 904 S.W.2d 257, 261-62 (Mo. App. 1995).

A. Express Assumption of Risk

[HN9] Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff expressly agrees in advance that the defendant owes him no duty. Id. Recovery is completely barred since there is no duty in the first place. Id. Respondent argues that the Rental Form, signed by both Appellants, specifically mentioned the snow. Respondent correctly argues that the Rental Form relieves it of liability for injury due to snow. The evidence is that the Appellants knew about the snow and voluntarily assumed that risk. However, we cannot agree that the Rental Form relieves Respondent from injury liability due to ice. First, the Rental Form did not mention injury due to ice. [**10] In addition, the Rental Form could only relieve Respondent of such liability if the general reference to “negligence” is sufficient to do so. The clause of the Rental Form reads as follows:

[*394] 10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.

” [HN10] Although exculpatory clauses in contracts releasing an individual from his or her own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited as against public policy.” Alack v. Vic Tanny International of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 334 (Mo. 1996). “However, contracts exonerating a party from acts of future negligence are to be ‘strictly construed against the party claiming the benefit of the contract, and clear and explicit language [**11] in the contract is required to absolve a person from such liability.'” Id. (quoting, Hornbeck v. All American Indoor Sports, Inc., 898 S.W.2d 717, 721 (Mo. App. 1995)).

“Historically, [HN11] Missouri appellate courts have required that a release from one’s own future negligence be explicitly stated.” 923 S.W.2d at 336 (emphasis in original). The Court in Alack determined that the best approach was to follow precedent and decisions from our state as well as others and to require [HN12] clear, unambiguous, unmistakable, and conspicuous language in order to release a party from his or her own future negligence. 923 S.W.2d at 337. The language of the exculpatory clause must effectively notify a party that he or she is releasing the other party from claims arising from the other party’s own negligence. Id. General language will not suffice. Id. “The words ‘negligence’ or ‘fault’ or their equivalents must be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs.” Id. [HN13] Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law to be decided by the court. Id. “An ambiguity arises when there is [**12] duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the words used in the contract.” Id.

Respondent’s exculpatory clause uses the term “negligence.” However, that does not end our inquiry. We must determine whether the exculpatory clause uses “clear, unmistakable, unambiguous and conspicuous language.” Id. The exculpatory clause purports to shield Respondent from “any claim based on negligence and . . . any claim based upon . . . other legal theory. . . .” Alack teaches us that “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” Id. Respondent argues that the language from paragraph 8 of the rental form “does not purport to release defendant from liability for intentional torts, gross negligence, or activities involving the public interest ” and that use of the word “negligence” results in a clear understanding of the acts for which liability is released. We disagree. The exculpatory clause uses general language, to wit, “any claim based on . . . other legal theory.” This language includes intentional torts, [**13] gross negligence or any other cause of action not expressly listed. ” [HN14] A contract that purports to relieve a party from any and all claims but does not actually do so is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain.” Id. Here, the Rental Form purports to relieve Respondent of all liability but does not do so. Thus, it is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain, Id., and thence arises an ambiguity. Rodriguez v. General Accident, 808 S.W.2d 379, 382 (Mo. banc 1991).

In addition, the exculpatory language and its format did not effectively notify the Appellants that they were releasing Respondent from claims arising from its negligence. The form the Appellants signed was entitled “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” It did not indicate it [*395] was a release. This title was in large type and could not be reasonably construed to include release of liability. By contrast, the exculpatory clause is in approximately 5 point type at the bottom of the form. “[ [HN15] A] provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 335. The Appellants had to sign [**14] the Rental Form to receive ski equipment and had to do so while in a line. The language and format of the exculpatory clause leaves doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to the clause actually would understand what future claims he or she is waiving. Id. at 337-38. The language drafted by Respondent is not “unambiguous” or “conspicuous,” and thus does not meet the standard of Alack. Id.

Thus, Respondent cannot rely on that language to claim the Appellants expressly assumed the risk of the injury complained of in the petition.

B. Implied Assumption of Risk

[HN16] Implied assumption of risk includes two sub-categories, implied primary and implied secondary. Implied primary assumption of risk involves the question of whether the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from the risk of harm. Sheppard, 904 S.W.2d at 261. It applies where the parties have voluntarily entered a relationship in which the plaintiff assumes well-known incidental risks. Id. The plaintiff’s consent is implied from the act of electing to participate in the activity. Id. Implied primary assumption of the risk is also a complete bar [**15] to recovery. Id. at 262. On the other hand, [HN17] implied secondary assumption of the risk occurs when the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff but the plaintiff knowingly proceeds to encounter a known risk imposed by the defendant’s breach of duty. Id. In implied secondary assumption of the risk cases, the question is whether the plaintiff’s action is reasonable or unreasonable. Id. If the plaintiff’s action is reasonable, he is not barred from recovery. Id. If the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering a known risk is unreasonable, it is to be considered by the jury as one element of fault. Id. This case involves implied primary assumption of the risk.

Appellants claim the trial court erred when it ruled, “the court finds that the Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by skiing on the Defendant’s ski slope and that Plaintiff’s injuries were of a type inherent to the sport of skiing and that this incident involves dangers so obvious that the Defendant does not owe a duty to the Plaintiff and therefore is not required to warn the Plaintiff of such danger.” Respondent argues that the Appellants are barred by [**16] implied primary assumption of risk because by engaging in the sport of skiing, they impliedly assumed the risk of falling on the ice.

“Generally, [HN18] assumption of risk in the sports context involves primary assumption of risk because the plaintiff has assumed certain risks inherent in the sport or activity.” Id.

[HN19] Under comparative fault, if the plaintiff’s injury is the result of a risk inherent in the sport in which he was participating, the defendant is relieved from liability on the grounds that by participating in the sport, the plaintiff assumed the risk and the defendant never owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from that risk. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff’s injury is the result of negligence on the part of the defendant, the issue regarding the plaintiff’s assumption of that risk and whether it was a reasonable assumption of risk, is an element of fault to be compared to the defendant’s negligence by the jury.

Id. at 263-64. [HN20] The basis of implied primary assumption of risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk. Id. “If the risks of the activity are perfectly obvious or fully comprehended, plaintiff has consented to [**17] them and defendant has performed [*396] his or her duty.” Martin v. Buzan, 857 S.W.2d 366, 369 (Mo. App. 1993).

[HN21] As a “defending party,” Respondent may establish a right to summary judgment by showing that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support its properly pleaded affirmative defense and that those factors show Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381. In order for Respondent to have established its right to summary judgment based upon implied primary assumption of the risk, Respondent had to show that there was no genuine dispute that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of falling on ice, and that ice was a risk inherent in the sport of skiing. While there is no question that the Appellants’ injuries were a result of falling on ice, there is a genuine dispute regarding whether encountering the ice in this case is an inherent risk of skiing. Respondent notes that many states including Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia have all enacted statutes which codify assumption of the risk as is pertains to the sport [**18] of snow skiing. However, there is no such statute in Missouri, and this court is not willing to say, as a blanket rule, that all ice encountered on Respondent’s property is an inherent risk in the sport of snow skiing. There is a genuine dispute as to the nature of the ice. Was it “large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow on the ski slopes,” as the Appellants claim, or was it ice on the slopes that the Appellants had been over several times prior to falling. These are questions which must be answered by a fact-finder. [HN22] While the basis of implied primary assumption of the risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk, the plaintiff must be aware of the facts that create the danger and they must appreciate the danger itself. Shepard, 904 S.W.2d at 264. Thus, the standard is a subjective one: “what the particular plaintiff in fact sees, knows, understands and appreciates.” Id. Here, the record does not include evidence that the Appellants were aware of the facts that created the danger or that they appreciated the danger itself. In fact, there was only evidence to the contrary, that the Appellants did not know, understand or appreciate [**19] the ice because it was under snow.

Therefore, we find that summary judgment cannot, on this record, be based upon express or implied primary assumption of the risk.

III. Release

Respondent argues on appeal that the “Rental Form” operated as a release. Respondent did not plead release as an affirmative defense in its answer. [HN23] Release is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded in an answer. Rule 55.08. Failure to plead an affirmative defense constitutes a waiver of the defense. Leo’s Enterprises, Inc. v. Hollrah, 805 S.W.2d 739, 740 (Mo. App. 1991). Since Respondent did not plead the affirmative defense of release, summary judgment would not be proper based upon the theory of release.

Artificial Snow

We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on Count III of the Appellants’ petitions. The Appellants state in Count III of their petitions that Respondent created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow and dispersing it on the ski slope and that Respondent owed a duty to them as business invitees not to create dangerous conditions on the premises. The trial court was correct in granting Respondent’s summary judgment [**20] on Count III, because [HN24] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id. Respondent could be liable only if it was not reasonable [*397] for it to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk and to take reasonable precautions. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. Artificial snow at Snow Creek is an open and obvious condition, and it is reasonable for Respondent to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk of artificial snow and to take appropriate precautions.

Conclusion

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed as to Count III of each of the petitions. It is reversed and remanded for further proceedings on counts I, II, & IV.

Albert A. Riederer, Judge

Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

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Ohio adopts the requirement that a skier assumes the risk of a collision with another skier.

Horvath Et Al., v. Ish Et Al., 2012 Ohio 5333; 2012 Ohio LEXIS 2872

In order to recover in a collision on the ski slope the plaintiff must prove the defendant’s actions were reckless or intentional.

This case is between an injured adult and a young snowboarder. The snowboarder and his friends were on the same slope as the adult and his friends. The snowboarders went through the terrain park and upon exiting collided with the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued for his injuries. The trial court dismissed the complaint based on the assumption of the risk. The plaintiff appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court agreeing with the plaintiffs that the Ohio statute created liability on the part of skiers and boarders for any collision.

The Ohio Supreme Court also sent the case back to the trial court but only to determine if the actions of the defendant snowboarder were reckless or intentional. The Supreme Court found that the statute in question, Ohio R.C. 4169.08 or 4169.09 only applied to the ski areas and did not apply to skiers and boarders.

So?

Once the Supreme court held that the statute did not apply, the legal issue was easily decided. The statute in question stated that skiing was a hazardous sport regardless of the safety measures that could be taken.

Under Ohio’s law on sports had held that:

[w]here individuals engage in recreational or sports activities, they assume the ordinary risks of the activity and cannot recover for any injury unless it can be shown that the other participant’s actions were either reckless or intentional

In Ohio, primary assumption of the risk means that a “defendant owes no duty whatsoever to the plaintiff.” The assumption is limited to those risks directly associated with the activity. “To be covered under the [primary-assumption-of-the-risk] doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.”

The court then held:

Accordingly, we hold that skiers assume the ordinary risks of skiing, which include collisions with other skiers, and cannot recover for an injury unless it can be shown that the other skier’s actions were reckless or intentional.

So Now What?

Ohio joins most other states with ski areas that require more than simple negligence on the part of the defendant for the plaintiff to recover for a collision on the slopes.

Without this standard of care, the risk of the sport would be totally removed, and skiers and boarders would enter a turnstile before they could enter the slope.

All sports have risk and if you are not willing to accept the risk of the sport then you should search for a sport that has risks that are what you can deal with. Checkers or chess are what I would suggest, although you could be hit by an angry knight if your opponent loses their temper.

 

Ski Area: Boston Mills Ski Area

Plaintiffs: Angel Horvath and Eugene Horvath

Defendants: David Ish, Tyler Ish and their cousins

Plaintiff Claims: Plaintiff had acted negligently, carelessly, recklessly, willfully, and wantonly in causing the collision with Defendant

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: Reversed and sent back to determine if the defendant acted intentional or recklessly when he collided with the plaintiff.

 

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Brookner v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., et al., 2008 NY Slip Op 4638; 51 A.D.3d 841; 858 N.Y.S.2d 348; 2008 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4393

Brookner v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., et al., 2008 NY Slip Op 4638; 51 A.D.3d 841; 858 N.Y.S.2d 348; 2008 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4393

[*1] Larry Brookner, Appellant, v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., et al., Respondents. (Index No. 2902/06)

2007-02310, 2007-02712

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

2008 NY Slip Op 4638; 51 A.D.3d 841; 858 N.Y.S.2d 348; 2008 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4393

May 20, 2008, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Appeal denied by Brookner v. N.Y. Roadrunners Club, Inc., 11 NY3d 704, 894 NE2d 1198, 2008 N.Y. LEXIS 2654, 864 NYS2d 807 (N.Y., Sept. 9, 2008)

HEADNOTES

Release–Scope of Release

COUNSEL: David A. Kapelman, P.C., New York, N.Y. (Richard H. Bliss of counsel), for appellant.

Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale, LLP, New York, N.Y. (Steven Rosenfeld and Carmen Nicolaou of counsel), for respondents.

JUDGES: ANITA R. FLORIO, J.P., HOWARD MILLER, MARK C. DILLON, WILLIAM E. McCARTHY, JJ. FLORIO, J.P., MILLER, DILLON and McCARTHY, JJ., concur.

OPINION

[**841] [***348]

In an action to recover damages for personal injuries, the plaintiff appeals (1) from an order of the Supreme Court, Kings County (Ambrosio, J.), dated December 18, 2006, which, in effect, granted that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (5) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against the defendant New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., and (2), as limited by his brief, from so much of an order of the same court dated February 8, 2007, as, in effect, granted that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (5) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against the defendant City of New York.

Ordered that the order dated December 18, 2006, is affirmed; and it is further,

[***349] Ordered that the order dated February 8, 2007, is affirmed insofar as appealed from; and it is further,

Ordered that one bill of costs is awarded to the defendants.

The plaintiff commenced this action to recover damages after he allegedly sustained injuries while participating in the 2004 ING Marathon in New York City. Prior to the event, the plaintiff signed a waiver and release, which unambiguously stated his intent to release the defendants from [*2] any liability arising from ordinary negligence (see Bufano v National Inline Roller Hockey Assn., 272 AD2d 359, 359-360, 707 NYS2d 223 [2000]; cf. Gross v Sweet, 49 NY2d 102, 109-110, 400 NE2d 306, 424 NYS2d 365 [1979]; Doe v Archbishop Stepinac High School, 286 AD2d 478, 479, 729 NYS2d 538 [2001]). In light of this waiver and release, [**842] the Supreme Court properly granted those branches of the defendants’ motion which were to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (5) insofar as asserted against the defendants New York Road Runners Club, Inc. (hereinafter NYRRC) and City of New York (see Fazzinga v Westchester Track Club, 48 AD3d 410, 851 NYS2d 278 [2008]; see also Booth v 3669 Delaware, 92 NY2d 934, 703 NE2d 757, 680 NYS2d 899 [1998]; Lee v Boro Realty, LLC, 39 AD3d 715, 716, 832 NYS2d 453 [2007]; Koster v Ketchum Communications, 204 AD2d 280, 611 NYS2d 298 [1994]).

Contrary to the plaintiff’s contentions, General Obligations Law § 5-326 does not invalidate the release, since the entry fee the plaintiff paid to the NYRRC was for his participation in the marathon, and was not an admission fee allowing him to use the City-owned public roadway over which the marathon was run (see Stulweissenburg v Town of Orangetown, 223 AD2d 633, 634, 636 NYS2d 853 [1996]). Further, the public roadway in Brooklyn where the plaintiff alleges he was injured is not a “place of amusement or recreation” (Tedesco v Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Auth., 250 AD2d 758, 673 NYS2d 181 [1998]; see Fazzinga v Westchester Track Club, 48 AD3d 410, 851 NYS2d 278 [2008]).

The plaintiff’s remaining contentions are without merit. Florio, J.P., Miller, Dillon and McCarthy, JJ., concur.

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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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Cotty v Town of Southampton, et al., 2009 NY Slip Op 4020; 64 A.D.3d 251; 880 N.Y.S.2d 656; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3919

Cotty v Town of Southampton, et al., 2009 NY Slip Op 4020; 64 A.D.3d 251; 880 N.Y.S.2d 656; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3919

[*1] Karen Cotty, plaintiff-respondent, v Town of Southampton, et al., defendants-appellants-respondents, Suffolk County Water Authority, defendant-appellant- respondent/fourth-party plaintiff-respondent, Elmore Associates Construction Corp., defendant third-party plaintiff, et al., defendant; Peter Deutch, third-party defendant/fourth-party defendant-appellant, et al., fourth-party defendant. (Index No. 20312/03)

2007-08536

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

2009 NY Slip Op 4020; 64 A.D.3d 251; 880 N.Y.S.2d 656; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3919

May 19, 2009, Decided

NOTICE:

THE LEXIS PAGINATION OF THIS DOCUMENT IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE PENDING RELEASE OF THE FINAL PUBLISHED VERSION. THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND SUBJECT TO REVISION BEFORE PUBLICATION IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS.

COUNSEL: Thomas C. Sledjeski, PLLC (Anita Nissan Yehuda, P.C., Roslyn Heights, N.Y., of counsel), for defendant-appellant-respondent Town of Southampton.

Shayne, Dachs, Corker, Sauer & Dachs, LLP, Mineola, N.Y. (Norman H. Dachs and Jonathan A. Dachs of counsel), for defendant-appellant-respondent/fourth-party plaintiff-respondent Suffolk County Water Authority and defendant-appellant-respondent CAC Contracting Corp (one brief filed).

Loccisano & Larkin, Hauppauge, N.Y. (Robert X. Larkin of counsel), for third-party [*2] defendant/fourth-party defendant-appellant Peter Deutch.

Rosenberg & Gluck, LLP, Holtsville, N.Y. (Andrew Bokar of counsel), for plaintiff-respondent.

JUDGES: PETER B. SKELOS, J.P., MARK C. DILLON, FRED T. SANTUCCI, RUTH C. BALKIN, JJ. DILLON, SANTUCCI and BALKIN, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: SKELOS

OPINION

[**252] [***658] APPEAL by the defendant Town of Southampton, in an action to recover damages for personal injuries, as limited by its brief, from so much of an order of the Supreme Court (Robert W. Doyle, J.), dated August 6, 2007, and entered in Suffolk County, as denied its motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted against it; SEPARATE APPEAL by the defendants Suffolk County Water Authority and CAC Contracting Corp., as limited by their brief, from so much of the same order as denied their motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted against them; and SEPARATE APPEAL by the fourth-party defendant Peter Deutch, as limited by his brief, from so much of the same order as denied that branch of his separate cross motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the fourth-party complaint and all related cross claims insofar as asserted against him. Justice Dillon has been substituted for former Justice Lifson (see 22 NYCRR 670.1[c]).

OPINION & ORDER

SKELOS, J.P. [HN1] When a person voluntarily participates in certain sporting events or athletic activities, an action to recover damages for injuries resulting from conduct or conditions that are inherent in the sport or activity is barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. In this case, where the plaintiff was injured while riding a bicycle on a paved public roadway, we confront the threshold question of whether the plaintiff was engaged in an activity that subjected her to the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.

Beginning on July 24, 2002, pursuant to a contract with the defendant Suffolk County Water Authority (hereinafter SCWA), the defendant CAC Contracting Corp. replaced the asphalt in a trench that had been dug along the edge of Deerfield Road in Southampton for the purpose of installing a conduit for a water [**253] main. Two layers of asphalt were to be laid to fill the trench and bring it level with the preexisting roadway, but at the time of the subject accident, only one layer of asphalt had been laid, leaving a “lip” approximately one inch deep, parallel to the length of the road, where the preexisting roadway and the newly paved section met. At the site of the accident, the lip was not marked by any barricades or traffic cones.

On July 27, 2002, the plaintiff, a member of a bicycle club which engaged in long-distance rides, was the last bicyclist in one of several groups of eight riders cycling on Deerfield Road during a 72-mile ride. The plaintiff testified at a deposition that the road “was not perfectly smooth,” and contained potholes. She had previously ridden on the subject road approximately 20 to 30 times, as recently as two to four weeks before the accident, and was aware of construction activity on various portions of the road. The road had no shoulder, and the plaintiff was riding approximately one to two feet from the edge of the road, and approximately 1 to 11/2 wheel lengths behind the fourth-party defendant, Peter Deutch, at a maximum speed of 17 to 18 miles per hour. The bicyclists in the front of the line began a “hopping” maneuver with their bicycles to avoid the “lip” in the road. Deutch unsuccessfully attempted the hopping maneuver, and fell in the plaintiff’s path. Seeking to avoid Deutch, the plaintiff swerved and slid into the road where she collided with an oncoming car, sustaining injuries.

The plaintiff commenced this personal injury action against, among others, the Town of Southampton, the SCWA, and CAC Contracting Corp. (hereinafter collectively the defendants), and the SCWA impleaded Deutch. The defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted against each of them, and Deutch cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the fourth-party complaint and all related cross claims insofar as asserted against him. The defendants and Deutch (hereinafter collectively the appellants) contended, inter alia, that the plaintiff had assumed the risks commonly associated [***659] with bicycle riding. The Supreme Court denied the appellants’ motions.

[HN2] Under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, a person who voluntarily participates in a sporting activity generally consents, by his or her participation, to those injury-causing events, conditions, and risks which are inherent in the activity (see Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421; Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d 432, 439, 502 N.E.2d 964, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49). Risks inherent in a sporting [**254] activity are those which are known, apparent, natural, or reasonably foreseeable consequences of the participation (see Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d at 484; Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d at 439). Because determining the existence and scope of a duty of care requires “an examination of plaintiff’s reasonable expectations of the care owed him by others” (Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d at 437), the [*3] plaintiff’s consent does not merely furnish the defendant with a defense; it eliminates the duty of care that would otherwise exist. Accordingly, when a plaintiff assumes the risk of participating in a sporting event, “the defendant is relieved of legal duty to the plaintiff; and being under no duty, he cannot be charged with negligence” (id. at 438, quoting Prosser and Keeton, Torts § 68, at 480-481 [5th ed]).

The policy underlying the doctrine of primary assumption of risk is “to facilitate free and vigorous participation in athletic activities” (Benitez v New York City Bd. of Educ., 73 NY2d 650, 657, 541 N.E.2d 29, 543 N.Y.S.2d 29). Without the doctrine, athletes may be reluctant to play aggressively, for fear of being sued by an opposing player. [HN3] As long as the defendant’s conduct does not unreasonably increase the risks assumed by the plaintiff, the defendant will be shielded by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk (see Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d at 485; Benitez v New York City Bd. of Educ., 73 NY2d at 658; Muniz v Warwick School Dist., 293 AD2d 724, 743 N.Y.S.2d 113).

[HN4] The doctrine also has been extended to the condition of the playing surface. If an athlete is injured as a result of a defect in, or feature of, the field, court, track, or course upon which the sport is being played, the owner of the premises will be protected by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk as long as risk presented by the condition is inherent in the sport (see Trevett v City of Little Falls, 6 NY3d 884, 849 N.E.2d 961, 816 N.Y.S.2d 738; Sykes v County of Erie, 94 NY2d 912, 728 N.E.2d 973, 707 N.Y.S.2d 374; Ribaudo v La Salle Inst., 45 AD3d 556, 846 N.Y.S.2d 209). If the playing surface is as safe as it appears to be, and the condition in question is not concealed such that it unreasonably increases risk assumed by the players, the doctrine applies (see Fintzi v New Jersey YMHA-YWHA Camps, 97 NY2d 669, 765 N.E.2d 288, 739 N.Y.S.2d 85; Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d at 439; Rosenbaum v Bayis Ne’Emon, Inc., 32 AD3d 534, 820 N.Y.S.2d 326; Joseph v New York Racing Assn., 28 AD3d 105, 108, 809 N.Y.S.2d 526).

The Court of Appeals has had no occasion to expound upon the threshold question of what type of activity qualifies as participation in a sporting event for purposes of applying the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. In Turcotte v Fell, for [**255] example, the Court had little difficulty in concluding that the doctrine applied to the plaintiff, a professional jockey riding in [***660] a horse race at a track owned and operated by the New York Racing Association. Here, had the plaintiff been a professional athlete involved in a bicycle race on a track or a closed course, the doctrine of primary assumption of risk clearly would apply (cf. Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d at 486; Joseph v New York Racing Assn., 28 AD3d at 108-109). This case, however, presents different circumstances.

[HN5] In determining whether a bicycle rider has subjected himself or herself to the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, we must consider whether the rider is engaged in a sporting activity, such that his or her consent to the dangers inherent in the activity may reasonably be inferred. In our view, it is not sufficient for a defendant to show that the plaintiff was engaged in some form of leisure activity at the time of the accident. If such a showing were sufficient, the doctrine of primary assumption of risk could be applied to individuals who, for example, are out for a sightseeing drive in an automobile or on a motorcycle, or are jogging, walking, or inline roller skating for exercise, and would absolve municipalities, landowners, drivers, and other potential defendants of all liability for negligently creating risks that might be considered inherent in such leisure activities. Such a broad application of the doctrine of primary assumption of risk would be completely disconnected from the rationale for its existence. The doctrine is not designed to relieve a municipality of its duty to maintain its roadways in a safe condition (see Sykes v County of Erie, 94 NY2d at 913 [“the doctrine of assumption of risk does not exculpate a landowner from liability for ordinary negligence in maintaining a premises”]), and such a result does not become justifiable merely because the roadway in question happens to be in use by a person operating a bicycle, as opposed to some other means of transportation (see Caraballo v City of Yonkers, 54 AD3d 796, 796-797, 865 N.Y.S.2d 229 [“the infant plaintiff cannot be said, as a matter of law, to have assumed risk of being injured by a defective condition of a pothole on a public street, merely because he was participating in the activity [*4] of recreational noncompetitive bicycling, and using the bicycle as a means of transportation”] [citations omitted]).

In prior decisions involving injuries sustained by bicycle riders, this Court has concluded that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies in some situations, but not in others. For example, in Calise v City of New York (239 AD2d 378, [**256] 657 N.Y.S.2d 430), the plaintiff was thrown from a mountain bike, which he was riding on an unpaved dirt and rock path in a park, when the bike struck an exposed tree root. This Court held that the plaintiff’s action was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, reasoning that “[a]n exposed tree root is a reasonably foreseeable hazard of the sport of biking on unpaved trails, and one that would be readily observable” (id. at 379; see Rivera v Glen Oaks Vil. Owners, Inc., 41 AD3d 817, 820-821, 839 N.Y.S.2d 183 [doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to plaintiff who was injured when his bicycle struck a hole in a dirt trail located in a wooded area]; Restaino v Yonkers Bd. of Educ., 13 AD3d 432, 785 N.Y.S.2d 711 [doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to plaintiff whose bicycle struck “a pothole or rut in the closed parking lot/driveway area of a public school”]; Goldberg v Town of Hempstead, 289 AD2d 198, 733 N.Y.S.2d 691 [doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to plaintiff who was injured when her bicycle struck a hole in the [***661] ground as she rode on a dirt base path of a baseball field]).

By contrast, in both Vestal v County of Suffolk (7 AD3d 613, 776 N.Y.S.2d 491) and Moore v City of New York (29 AD3d 751, 816 N.Y.S.2d 131), this Court held that the plaintiffs, who were injured while riding their bicycles on paved pathways in public parks, ” cannot be said as a matter of law to have assumed risk of being injured as a result of a defective condition on a paved pathway merely because [they] participated in the activity of bicycling’” (Moore v City of New York, 29 AD3d at 752, quoting Vestal v County of Suffolk, 7 AD3d at 614-615; see Caraballo v City of Yonkers, 54 AD3d at 796-797; Berfas v Town of Oyster Bay, 286 AD2d 466, 729 N.Y.S.2d 530 [defendant failed to establish, as a matter of law, that action by plaintiff, who was thrown from his bicycle when he hit a rut in a paved road, was barred by primary assumption of risk doctrine]). Significantly, this Court reached the same conclusion in Phillips v County of Nassau (50 AD3d 755, 856 N.Y.S.2d 172), holding that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk did not apply to a plaintiff who was injured when his bicycle struck a raised concrete mound on a public roadway, even though the plaintiff, like the plaintiff in the instant case, was “an avid bicyclist” and was participating in “a noncompetitive, recreational bicycle ride with about eight or nine other riders” (id. at 756).

These decisions recognize that [HN6] riding a bicycle on a paved public roadway normally does not constitute a sporting activity for purposes of applying the primary assumption of risk doctrine. By contrast, mountain biking, and other forms of off-road [**257] bicycle riding, can more readily be classified as sporting activity. Indeed, the irregular surface of an unimproved dirt-bike path is “presumably the very challenge that attracts dirt-bike riders as opposed to riding on a paved surface” (Schiavone v Brinewood Rod & Gun Club, Inc., 283 AD2d 234, 237, 726 N.Y.S.2d 615).

Of course, the distinction between using a bicycle to engage in a sporting activity and using a bicycle for some other purpose will sometimes be elusive. It is important to draw that line, however, because “[e]xtensive and unrestricted application of the doctrine of primary assumption of risk to tort cases generally represents a throwback to the former doctrine of contributory negligence, wherein a plaintiff’s own negligence barred recovery from the defendant'” (Trupia v Lake George Cent. School Dist., 62 A.D.3d 67, 875 N.Y.S.2d 298, 2009 NY Slip Op 01571, [3d Dept 2009], quoting Pelzer v Transel El. & Elec. Inc., 41 AD3d 379, 381, 839 N.Y.S.2d 84). That tendency is illustrated by the appellants’ briefs in this case, which repeatedly emphasize that the plaintiff was riding too closely behind Deutch. That argument is misplaced, since the issue of whether the plaintiff was following too closely, or otherwise acted negligently, is a matter of [HN7] comparative fault, which must be determined by the factfinder at trial and not as a matter of law at the summary judgment stage (see CPLR 1411; Roach v Szatko, 244 AD2d 470, 471, 664 N.Y.S.2d 101; Cohen v [*5] Heritage Motor Tours, 205 AD2d 105, 618 N.Y.S.2d 387).

In sum, [HN8] it cannot be said, as a matter of law, that merely by choosing to operate a bicycle on a paved public roadway, or by engaging in some other form of leisure activity or exercise such as walking, jogging, or roller skating on a paved public roadway, a plaintiff consents to the negligent maintenance of such roadways by a municipality or a contractor. Adopting such a rule could have the arbitrary effect [***662] of eliminating all duties owed to participants in such leisure or exercise activities, not only by defendants responsible for road maintenance, but by operators of motor vehicles and other potential tortfeasors, as long as the danger created by the defendant can be deemed inherent in such activities. We decline to construe the doctrine of primary assumption of risk so expansively.

For the foregoing reasons, the appellants failed to make a prima facie showing that the primary assumption of risk doctrine is applicable to the activity in which the plaintiff was engaged at the time of her accident. Thus, the Supreme Court properly denied the defendants’ motions for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted [**258] against them and Deutch’s cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the fourth-party complaint and all related cross claims insofar as asserted against him as barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.

Moreover, the defendants failed to establish as a matter of law that the unbarricaded lip created by the road construction was not a “unique and . . . dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent” (Owen v. R.J.S. Safety Equipment, Inc.., 79 N.Y.2d 967, 970, 591 N.E.2d 1184, 582 N.Y.S.2d 998) in the activity of bicycle riding on a paved roadway (see Vestal v County of Suffolk, 7 AD3d 613, 614, 776 N.Y.S.2d 491 [plaintiff did not assume risk of being injured while riding bicycle on defective paved pathway where there were “no signs, chains, or barriers” present “to indicate that it was not suitable for bicycling“]; see also Phillips v County of Nassau, 50 AD3d 755, 856 N.Y.S.2d 172; Berfas v Town of Oyster Bay, 286 AD2d 466, 729 N.Y.S.2d 530).

The appellants’ remaining contentions are without merit.

Accordingly, we affirm the order insofar as appealed from.

DILLON, SANTUCCI and BALKIN, JJ., concur.

ORDERED that the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, with one bill of costs payable by the appellants appearing separately and filing separate briefs.


Gregorie v. Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20275

Gregorie v. Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20275

Daniel Gregorie, in his individual capacity and as Successor In Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, and Margaret Gregorie, in her individual capacity and as Successor In Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, Plaintiffs, v. Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation, a California Corporation and Powder Corp., a Delaware Corporation, Defendants.

NO. CIV. S-08-259 LKK/DAD

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20275

February 9, 2011, Decided

February 10, 2011, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Gregorie v. Alpine Meadows Ski Corp., 405 Fed. Appx. 187, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 26328 (9th Cir. Cal., Dec. 7, 2010)

COUNSEL: [*1] For Daniel Gregorie, in his individual capacity and as Successor in Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, Margaret Gregorie, in her individual capacity and as Successor in Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, Plaintiffs: Alisha M. Louie, Melvin D. Honowitz, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Constance J. Yu, Sideman and Bancroft, LLP, San Francisco, CA.

For Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation, a California corporation, POWDR Corporation, a Delaware corporation, Defendants: Jill Haley Penwarden, John E. Fagan, Michael L. Reitzell, Duane Morris LLP, Truckee, CA.

JUDGES: LAWRENCE K. KARLTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SENIOR JUDGE.

OPINION BY: LAWRENCE K. KARLTON

OPINION

ORDER

Before the court is defendant’s bill of costs. For the reason described below, the court awards some and denies some costs sought by defendant.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual background

Plaintiffs brought an action in wrongful death as the parents and successors in interest of decedent, Jessica Gregorie. Gregorie, a twenty-four year old woman and experienced snowboarder, died while snowboarding at defendant Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation’s (“Alpine Meadows”) ski resort on February 5, 2006. Gregorie had signed a waiver in conjunction with a season pass she purchased from [*2] Alpine Meadows, which provided her agreement to assume all risks of skiing beyond the area boundary, and releasing defendants from liability.

On the date of her death, decedent went snowboarding with her friend Joe Gaffney. Gregorie passed two signs posted at the base of the lift, warning of potential danger. While hiking the “High Beaver Traverse” to reach the “Beaver Bowl” area, Gregorie slipped due to the icy snow conditions. Gregorie was unable to stop, and slid past a large tree with a sign stating “Ski Area Boundary.” A helicopter transported Gregorie to Washoe Medical Center in Reno where she died later that day.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs Daniel and Margaret Gregorie commenced this action on February 1, 2008 against Alpine Meadows and Powdr Corporation. In their first and fourth causes of action, plaintiffs alleged premises liability. Their second cause of action alleged misrepresentation of risk of harm. Their third cause of action alleged negligence. Their fifth cause of action alleged breach of the season pass contract entered between Jessica Gregorie and Alpine Meadows. The sixth and eighth causes of action sought recision of that contract on the basis of fraud in the [*3] inducement. The seventh cause of action sought declaratory relief regarding Gregorie’s and defendant’s respective rights and duties under the contract. In addition to declaratory relief, plaintiff’s sought damages, punitive damages, and costs.

On May 29, 2009 defendants moved for summary judgement or adjudication on the basis that the plaintiffs were barred by the doctrines of primary and express assumption of risk and on the basis that Powdr Corporation is not a proper defendant. On August 6, 2009 this court entered an order granting summary judgment as to all causes of action in favor of defendants.

Defendants then submitted a Bill of Costs totaling $72,515.36 on August 7, 2009. Bill of Costs Submitted, Doc. No. 134 (August 14, 2009). Plaintiffs filed objections to the defendants’ Bill of Costs pursuant to Local Rule 54-292(c) and request a hearing.1 Objections, Doc. No. 136 (Aug. 24, 2009). In response to the objections, defendants withdraw their request for taxation of fees for the Clerk in the amount of $350.00, duplicate fees for invoice costs in the amount of $1,974.98, and fees for service of process to Randall Heiken. Response to Objection, Doc. No. 143, (Sept. 15, 2009). Costs [*4] for service of process to Jack Palladino and the California Ski & Snowboard Association, for the deposition transcript of Jack Palladino, the continued deposition transcript of Stanley Gale (Vol. 2), and the continued deposition transcript of Daniel Gregorie (Vol. 3) remain in dispute. Additionally, costs for the videographic recording of those depositions for which the stenographic transcript will also be taxed remain disputed. These include the depositions of Jack Palladino, Stanley Gale, Daniel Gregorie, Billy Martin, Joe Gaffney, Brian Martinezmoles, and Mike Leake.

1 The court finds that a hearing is not necessary in this matter.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Taxation of Costs Generally

[HN1] Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) and Eastern District Local Rule 292(f) govern the taxation of costs, other than attorney’s fees, awarded to the prevailing party in a civil matter. The Supreme Court has interpreted Rule 54(d)(1) to require that district courts consider only those costs enumerated in 28 U.S.C. § 1920. See Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 441-42, 107 S. Ct. 2494, 96 L. Ed. 2d 385 (1987). Section 1920 provides that

[HN2] [a] judge or clerk of the court may tax the following:

(1) Fees of the clerk and marshal;

(2) [*5] Fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case;

(3) Fees and disbursements for printing and witnesses;

(4) Fees for exemplification and the costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are necessarily obtained for use in the case;

(5) Docket fees under section 1923 of this title

(6) Compensation of court appointed experts, compensation of interpreters, and salaries, fees, expenses, and costs of special interpretation services under section 1828 of this title.

A bill of costs shall be filed in the case and, upon allowance, included in the judgment or decree.

28 U.S.C. § 1920.

[HN3] Rule 54(d)(1) provides that costs, “other than attorney’s fees shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs.” Fed R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1). This provision establishes a presumption that costs will be awarded to the prevailing party, but allows the court discretion to decide otherwise. Association of Mexican American Educators v. State of California, 231 F.3d 572, 591-92 (9th Cir. 2000). Courts may also interpret the meaning of the items listed in § 1920. Alflex Corp. v. Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., 914 F.2d 175, 177 (9th Cir. 1990); [*6] BDT Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc., 405 F.3d 415, 419 (6th Cir. 2005). But see In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litigation, 221 F.3d 449, 459, 461 (4th Cir. 2000) (asserting plenary review of the District Court’s interpretation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1)).

[HN4] Courts may deny an award of full costs when they state a sound basis for doing so. Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1038-39 (11th Cir. 2000). The losing party bears the burden of showing that an award is inequitable under the circumstances. Paoli 221 F.3d at 462-63. Among many factors, a prevailing party’s bad conduct is relevant to the determination of whether or not to tax if such conduct is responsible for excessive costs. Id. at 463.

Here, plaintiffs objects to several items on defendants’ bill of costs. They are addressed in turn.

B. Deposition Transcripts

[HN5] In deciding whether a copy of a deposition is taxable as a cost, the court must determine whether it was “necessarily obtained for use in the case” under 28 U.S.C. § 1920. “The court has great latitude in determining whether an award of deposition costs is warranted.” Allen v. United States Steel Corporation, 665 F.2d 689, 697 (5th Cir. 1982); See [*7] also 10 Wright, Miller, & Kane Federal Practice and Procedure § 2676 (3d ed. & Supp. 2010). If the depositions are for investigatory or for discovery purposes only, rather than for presentation of the case, courts have found that they are not taxable. Wright, Miller, Kane supra, § 2676. Where a motion for summary judgment is granted, “whether [the cost of a deposition] can be taxed is generally determined by deciding whether the deposition reasonably seemed necessary at the time it was taken.” Wright, Miller, Kane supra, § 2676.

i. Deposition of Jack Palladino

Jack Palladino is the family attorney of plaintiff Daniel Gregorie and private investigator to the law firm Siderman & Bancroft, LLP, plaintiffs’ counsel in this action. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 3 (Aug. 24, 2009). Plaintiffs object to taxation of the costs incurred in the deposition of Palladino, especially for two days. They claim that the deposition was not necessary because of plaintiffs good faith effort to provide investigative reports of Palladino and because much of the testimony is protected by attorney-client privilege. Further, they contend that defendants deposed Palladino as a “fishing expedition and [for] harassment [*8] purposes only.” Id. at 3. The court now determines that under the circumstances, at least in part, the deposition of Palladino was conceivably taken for use in the case.

Although the parties initially disputed whether to conduct this deposition, the defendants withdrew their motion to compel the deposition. This suggests that the parties agreed to the conditions of the deposition which did occur. Motion to Compel, Doc. #64 (May 19, 2009); Withdrawal of Motion to Compel, Doc. #66 (May 21, 2009). In the parties’ Joint Statement Regarding Discovery Disagreement, defendants state that they “believe Mr. Palladino has crucial evidence as to statements made by eyewitnesses very shortly after the accident occurred” and that he has “likely interviewed additional witnesses and conduct [sic.] further inquiry into the facts and circumstances” surrounding the accident. Joint Statement, Doc. No. 65 at 5 (May 19, 2009). This suggests that at least in part the deposition was taken for investigative purposes. It is also true that the Magistrate Judge overruled several of the plaintiffs’ privilege-based objections. Exhibit G to Penwarden Declaration, Doc. No. 151 (Sept. 15, 2009). It is difficult for [*9] the court to parse the circumstances and make a certain judgement as to what percentage of the deposition was reasonably believed to be necessary for trial and what percentage was for other purposes. It appears clear, however, that at least one motivation was to piggyback on Palladino’s investigation. The court determines that one half the cost of the deposition of the stenographically recording of this deposition is taxable.

ii. Continued Deposition of Daniel Gregorie (Vol. 3)

Daniel Gregorie is the plaintiff in this action. Plaintiffs concede that defendants were justified in deposing Daniel Gregorie, but contend that questioning directed to Gregorie in his capacity as founder of the California Ski & Snowboard Association (CSSO), during the second and third days of the deposition, was not warranted. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 4 (Aug. 24, 2009). However, the Magistrate Judge appears to have ordered Gregorie to answer questions directed to his CSSO activities. Minutes, Doc. #57 (April 3, 2009). The Magistrate Judge apparently found that this line questioning was likely to lead to admissible evidence. While the length appears excessive, the Magistrate Judge’s judgment appears sufficient [*10] to dispose of the issue, and the costs of this deposition will be taxed.

iii. Continued Deposition of Stan Gale (Vol. 2)

Stan Gale was designated by plaintiffs as an expert in ski safety. In their objection, plaintiffs maintain that there was no reasonable basis to depose Stan Gale for the full second day of deposition, during which he was questioned in his capacity as a percipient witness. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 3, 4 (Aug. 24, 2009).

However, the plaintiffs agreed to the questioning of Mr. Gale in his capacity as a percipient witness at the time of the deposition. Objections, Doc. 136, at 4 (Aug. 24, 2009). The defendants were reasonable in believing that testimony obtained from a percipient witness would produce admissible evidence or information useful in presentation of the case. Therefore, the deposition was reasonably necessary at the time it was taken, and stenographic transcription of the full second day of Mr. Gale’s testimony is taxable.

C. Taxing the costs of both stenography and videography for the same deposition.

[HN6] The Ninth Circuit has not addressed the issue of taxation for both stenographic and videographic costs of the same deposition. Several Circuits have expressly [*11] approved of the practice.2 Little v. Mistubishi Motors North America, Inc., 514 F.3d 699, 702 (7th Cir. 2008); BDT Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc., 405 F.3d 415, 420 (6th Cir. 2005); Tilton v. Capital/ABC, Inc., 115 F.3d 1471, 1478 (10th Cir. 1997); Morrison v. Reichhold Chemicals, Inc., 97 F.3d 460, 465 (11th Cir. 1996). The Tenth and Fourth Circuits have gone further by stating that ordinarily a “stenographic transcript of a videotaped deposition will be necessarily obtained for the case” because the deposing party will be required to provide the transcript in a variety of circumstances. Tilton, 115 F.3d at 1478-79 (internal quotations omitted); Little, 514 F.3d at 702.3

2 Defendants cite an unreported case from the Northern District of California allowing taxation of both stenographic and videographic recording of a deposition. MEMC Electronic Materials, No. C-01-4925 SBA, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29359, 2004 WL 5361246, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 22, 2004). It is worth noting that MEMC Electronic Materials, the losing party had requested that the depositions be videotaped. 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29359, [WL] at *5.

3 This rationale presumes as valid taxation of the videographic recording in the first place, focusing on the question of stenography [*12] as an additional cost.

In 2008, after the above circuit cases were decided, Congress amended a relevant portion of 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Subsection (2) of the statute, which once allowed taxation of “fees of the court reporter for all or any part of the stenographic transcript necessarily obtained for use in the case.” [HN7] The statute now allows taxation of simply “fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case.” 28 U.S.C. § 1920 (emphasis added). See also EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., No. 07-CV-95-LRR, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11125, 2010 WL 520564, at *5 (N.D. Iowa Feb. 9, 2010). In Boot, the district court held that the amended language justified taxation of “either stenographic transcription or videotaped depositions-not both.” CRST Van Expedited, Inc., [WL] at *5. The court agrees with the reasoning on Boot, and declines to tax the videotaped depositions.4

4 The court notes that there may be some unusual circumstance where both a transcription and a video deposition may be taxed because both are necessary. This case does not present such an exceptional circumstance.

F. Service of Process

[HN8] Fees for service of process are properly taxed under section 1920. Alflex Corp. v. Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., 914 F.2d 175, 177 (9th Cir. 1990). [*13] The district court regularly taxes costs for service of process. Avila v. Willits Environment, No. C 99-03941 SI, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130416, 2009 WL 4254367, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 24, 2009); Campbell v National Passenger R.R. Corp., 718 F. Supp. 2d 1093, 1106-07 (N.D. Cal. 2010). The question is whether these subpoenas were necessary for use in the case.

i. Jack Palladino

According to plaintiffs, the cost of service of process to Jack Palladino should not be taxed because Palladino was voluntarily available for a deposition. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 5 (Aug. 24, 2009). However, Palladino’s voluntary availability was subject to conditions, limitations, and claims of privilege. Defendant’s point out that the Magistrate Judge ruled that some of these limitations were “baseless.” Exhibit G to Penwarden Declaration, Doc. #151 at 19 (Sept. 15, 2009). The Magistrate Judge’s order requiring the plaintiff to answer questions, which he would not answer voluntarily, is sufficient to support this court’s finding that the cost of service of process was necessary for the defendants’ use in the case. Accordingly this cost will be taxed.

ii. CSSO

Plaintiffs object to the costs for service of process to the California Ski & Snowboard [*14] Association (CSSO), an organization founded by plaintiff, Dr. Daniel Gregorie. Defendants note that Dr. Gregorie refused to answer questions during his deposition about the CSSO, and that counsel invited the defendants to subpoena the CSSO to obtain responses. Bill of Costs Submitted, Doc. No. 143, at 10 (Sept. 15, 2009). Because plaintiffs do not show why service of process pursuant to their own suggestion was unreasonable, this cost will be taxed.

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the court ORDERS as follows:

(1) Plaintiffs SHALL BE TAXED in the amount of $51,042.76.

(2) Plaintiffs SHALL NOT BE TAXED for the costs of videotaping any depositions, for half the cost of the transcript of Palladino’s deposition, and for the costs withdrawn by defendants.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: February 9, 2011.

/s/ Lawrence K Karlton

LAWRENCE K. KARLTON

SENIOR JUDGE

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

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Bernstein v Wysoki et al., 77 A.D.3d 241; 907 N.Y.S.2d 49; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6579; 2010 NY Slip Op 6475; 244 N.Y.L.J. 43

Bernstein v Wysoki et al., 77 A.D.3d 241; 907 N.Y.S.2d 49; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6579; 2010 NY Slip Op 6475; 244 N.Y.L.J. 43

Jordan Bernstein, an Infant, by His Mother and Natural Guardian, Malka Bernstein, et al., Respondents, v Randee Wysoki et al., Appellants, et al., Defendants. (Index No. 20686/07)

2008-06606, 2008-09740

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

77 A.D.3d 241; 907 N.Y.S.2d 49; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6579; 2010 NY Slip Op 6475; 244 N.Y.L.J. 43

August 24, 2010, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeals from orders of the Supreme Court, Nassau County (Thomas P. Phelan, J.), entered June 13, 2008 and September 30, 2008. The order entered June 13, 2008, insofar as appealed from, denied that branch of the cross motion of defendants Randee Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell and Gregory Scagnelli to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on a forum selection clause. The order entered September 30, 2008, insofar as appealed from, upon reargument, adhered to the original determination and denied that branch of the cross motion of defendant Julie Higgins which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause.

Bernstein v. Wysoki, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10774 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Sept. 26, 2008)

Bernstein v. Wysoki, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 9483 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., June 10, 2008)

COUNSEL: [***1] Martin Clearwater & Bell, LLP, New York City (William P. Brady, Timothy M. Smith and Stewart G. Milch of counsel), for appellants.

Napoli Bern Ripka, LLP, New York City (Denise A. Rubin of counsel), for respondents.

JUDGES: REINALDO E. RIVERA, J.P., HOWARD MILLER, THOMAS A. DICKERSON, SHERI S. ROMAN, JJ. RIVERA, J.P., MILLER and ROMAN, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: DICKERSON, J.

OPINION

[*243] [***2] [**51] Dickerson, J.

Factual Background and the Camp Contract

On or about June 25, 2007 the plaintiff Malka Bernstein (hereinafter Malka) entered into a contract (hereinafter the Camp Contract) with the defendant Camp Island Lake (hereinafter the Camp) for her then 13-year-old son, the plaintiff Jordan Bernstein (hereinafter Jordan), to attend the Camp during summer 2007. The Camp is located in Starrucca, Wayne County, Pennsylvania, where it also maintains a summer office. The Camp maintains a winter office in New York City.

The second paragraph of the Camp Contract provided:

“If it is necessary to obtain off-camp medical/surgical/dental services for the camper, such expenses shall be paid by the parent except the portion supplied by the camp medical staff. Authority is granted without limitation to the camp/assigns in all medical matters to hospitalize/treat/order injections/anesthesia/surgery for the camper. The parent is responsible for all pre-existing medical conditions, out of camp medical/surgical/hospital/pharmaceutical/allergy expenses and for providing [*244] adequate quantities [***3] of necessary medications and allergy serums to camp in pharmacy containers with doctor’s instructions. The parent(s) or legal guardian(s) hereby states that the camper is in good, normal health and has no abnormal physical, emotional, or mental handicaps” (emphasis added).

The Camp Contract also contained a forum selection clause. The sixth paragraph of the Camp Contract provided:

“Enclosed with this agreement is $ 1000 per child enrolled in program. Payments on account of tuition (less $ 100 registration fee) will be refunded if requested before January 1st. Cancellations of sessions will not be accepted after January 1st. Thereafter, no refunds will be made. All refunds will be made on or about May 1st. Installments on the balance will be due on January 1st, March 1st, & May 1st. A returned check fee of $ 25 will be applied to all returned checks. These rates are subject to change without notice. Any outstanding balance precludes admission to camp. The [***4] venue of any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party shall be either the local District Justice Court or the Court of Common Pleas, Wayne County, Pennsylvania” (emphasis added).

The eighth and final paragraph of the Camp Contract provided, in part, “[t]he parent represents that he/she has full authority [**52] to enroll the camper/to authorize participation in activities/medical care and to contract the aforesaid.”

On or about August 8, 2007, while enrolled at the Camp, Jordan developed a pain in his lower abdomen. The defendants Randee Wysoki and Jill Tschinkel, who were the doctor and registered nurse, respectively, working at the Camp at the time, allegedly cared for Jordan at the Camp before taking him to the defendant Wilson Memorial Regional Medical Center (hereinafter Wilson Memorial), in Johnson City, Broome County, New York, in the vicinity of the Camp. While at Wilson Memorial from August 8, 2007 through August 10, 2007, Jordan allegedly received care and treatment from the defendants Dina Farrell, M.D., Michael Farrell, M.D., Gregory Scagnelli, M.D., Julie Higgins, R.P.A., Patricia Grant, R.N., and [***5] William Kazalski, R.N. Allegedly due to the failure of the defendants to timely recognize and properly care for and treat Jordan’s condition, he sustained various injuries.

[*245] The Instant Action

In November 2007, Jordan and Malka, both as Jordan’s guardian and in her individual capacity, commenced the instant action, inter alia, to recover damages for medical malpractice in the Supreme Court, Nassau County, against, among others, the Camp, Wilson Memorial, “Randy ‘Doe,’ M.D.,” ” ‘Jane Doe’ R.N.,” Dina Farrell, and Michael Farrell. Thereafter, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to substitute Wysoki for the defendant Randy “Doe,” and to add Scagnelli as a defendant.

After joinder of issue, the Camp moved, inter alia, to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause in the Camp Contract.

The plaintiffs moved for leave to serve an amended summons and complaint to add Higgins and Jill Tschinkel, R.N., as defendants.

The defendants Grant, Kazalski, and Wilson Memorial jointly cross-moved to change the venue of the action from Nassau County to Broome County pursuant to CPLR 510 and 511 (a) on the grounds that the defendants [***6] Grant, Kazalski, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins worked and/or resided in, or within approximately 10 minutes of, Broome County, and also because Wilson Memorial was located in Broome County.

The defendants Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Scagnelli (hereinafter collectively the doctor defendants) jointly cross-moved, inter alia, to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause in the Camp Contract. The doctor defendants observed that, pursuant to the last paragraph of the Camp Contract, Malka represented that she had the authority to bind Jordan to the Camp Contract. The doctor defendants further pointed out that the Camp Contract “outlined the terms and conditions of [Jordan’s] attendance at the Camp, including any necessary medical care and treatment or care and treatment decisions for [Jordan].” In that regard, according to the doctor defendants, “as all the parties to the instant action either provided care and treatment to [Jordan] at the Camp or at [Wilson Memorial] based on the Camp’s decision as to what care and treatment [Jordan] needed to receive, any litigation [***7] between the parties in this matter is subject to the terms and conditions of the [Camp Contract].”

[*246] Specifically, the doctor defendants argued that Wysoki was covered by the Camp Contract because she “was the physician working at the Camp who sent [Jordan] to [Wilson Memorial]” and thus “is part of this lawsuit through her work at [**53] the Camp.” The doctor defendants further argued that Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Scagnelli were covered by the Camp Contract because they “treated [Jordan] at [Wilson Memorial] pursuant to the Camp’s decision as ‘in loco parentis’ and with the authority granted to the Camp . . . to have [Jordan] treated at a hospital” and thus “became involved in the care and treatment of [Jordan] based on the decision made of the Camp to take [Jordan] to [Wilson Memorial].”

The doctor defendants also argued that the Camp Contract contained a prima facie valid forum selection clause that should be enforced “absent a strong showing that it should be set aside.” The doctor defendants further argued that the forum selection clause, which by its terms applied to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents [***8] is a party,” applied to the instant action, since the plaintiffs’ tort claims depended on the existence of the Camp Contract. In that regard, the doctor defendants noted that “there would be no [tort claims] had [Jordan] not been a camper at the Camp during the Summer of 2007,” and that Jordan “would not have been a camper at the Camp without the terms and conditions of the [Camp Contract] being accepted and agreed to by [Malka].” Finally, the doctor defendants “noted that the Courts have held that [HN1] non-parties to an agreement containing a forum selection clause may be entitled to enforce a forum selection clause where the relationship to the signatory is sufficiently close or where the liability of a corporation and an officer is based on the same alleged acts” (citations omitted).

In an order entered June 13, 2008, the Supreme Court, inter alia, denied that branch of the Camp’s motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it based on the forum selection clause, denied that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them based on the forum selection clause, and granted the plaintiffs’ motion for [***9] leave to serve an amended summons and complaint (2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS, 9483, 2008 NY Slip Op 31711[U]).

The doctor defendants appeal, as limited by their brief, from so much of the foregoing order as denied that branch of their cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint based on the forum selection clause.

[*247] The Camp moved for leave to reargue that branch of its motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it based on the forum selection clause. The Camp argued that the Supreme Court “blurred the distinctions between [a parent’s] legal ability to bind an infant plaintiff to the terms of a forum selection clause as opposed to a release of liability,” and that, “contrary to a release of liability, the law permits a parent of a minor child who signs a contract with a forum selection clause to bind the minor child to the terms and agreements set forth by the forum selection clause.”

The doctor defendants moved, inter alia, for leave to reargue that branch of their cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them based on the forum selection clause. The doctor defendants argued that the Supreme Court erred in finding that Malka could not bind Jordan to the terms of the Camp Contract, [***10] including the forum selection clause, stating, “[t]he Courts have consistently held that non-signatory infants, who are the subject of and obtain benefit from an agreement signed by the parent, such as a camp enrollment contract, are considered to be third-party beneficiaries for the purpose of enforcing the terms of the contract.” Therefore, according to the doctor defendants, because Jordan “was a [**54] third-party beneficiary of the [Camp Contract] and as the forum selection clause in the [Camp Contract] is valid, the forum selection clause must be found to be applicable to [Jordan’s] claims as well as [Malka’s claims].”

The doctor defendants further argued that the Supreme Court erred in finding “that there was no factual predicate for the foreseeable enforcement [of the forum selection clause in the Camp Contract] by the non-signatory [doctor defendants].” Specifically, noting that the Camp Contract granted authority ” ‘without limitation to the camp/assigns in all medical matters to hospitalize/treat/order injections/anesthesia/surgery for the camper,’ ” the doctor defendants argued that the Camp “contract itself contemplated and provided the factual predicate for the medical treatment [***11] at issue.”

The doctor defendants argued that they “are exactly the ‘assigns’ that were contemplated by the [Camp Contract], as the same sentence in the contract states that the assigns may ‘hospitalize/treat’ [Jordan] and/or ‘order injections/anesthesia/surgery’ for [Jordan].” Thus, according to the doctor defendants, “the [Camp Contract] is the only mechanism by which [they as non-signatories] were able to ‘hospitalize/treat’ [Jordan] [*248] and, thus, the [Camp Contract] is the only mechanism by which there are claims for the non-signatory hospitalization and treatment at issue.”

The doctor defendants further argued that “there was a sufficiently ‘close relationship’ between the signatories to the [Camp Contract] and the non-signatory [doctor] defendants, to reasonably foresee that [the doctor defendants] or noted ‘assigns’ in the contract would seek to enforce the terms of the contract” (emphasis omitted).

Finally, regarding Wysoki in particular, the doctor defendants argued that the Supreme Court erred in finding “that the same acts are not alleged with regard to the claimed liability of the Camp and Dr. Wysoki.”

At some point in time, the plaintiffs served a supplemental summons and a second [***12] amended summons and complaint, inter alia, adding Higgins as a defendant. Higgins moved, inter alia, to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her based on the forum selection clause.

In an order entered September 30, 2008, the Supreme Court, inter alia, granted leave to reargue to both the Camp and the doctor defendants, and, upon reargument, adhered to its original determination denying the respective branches of the Camp’s motion and the doctor defendants’ cross motion which were to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them based on the forum selection clause (2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS,10774, 2008 NY Slip Op 33610[U]). The Supreme Court also denied that branch of Higgins’ motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her based on the forum selection clause.

The doctor defendants appeal from so much of the second order as, upon reargument, adhered to the original determination denying that branch of their cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint based on the forum selection clause, and Higgins jointly appeals from so much of the same order as denied that branch of her motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her based on the forum selection clause.

Discussion

[HN2] ” ‘A [***13] contractual forum selection clause is prima facie valid and enforceable unless it is shown by the challenging party to be unreasonable, unjust, in contravention of public policy, invalid due to fraud or overreaching, or it is shown that a trial in the [*249] selected forum would be so gravely difficult that the challenging party would, [**55] for all practical purposes, be deprived of its day in court’ ” (Stravalle v Land Cargo, Inc., 39 AD3d 735, 736, 835 NYS2d 606 [2007], quoting LSPA Enter., Inc. v Jani-King of N.Y., Inc., 31 AD3d 394, 395, 817 NYS2d 657 [2006]; see Harry Casper, Inc. v Pines Assoc., L.P., 53 AD3d 764, 765, 861 NYS2d 820 [2008]; Fleet Capital Leasing/Global Vendor Fin. v Angiuli Motors, Inc., 15 AD3d 535, 790 NYS2d 684 [2005]).

[HN3] ” ‘Absent a strong showing that it should be set aside, a forum selection agreement will control’ ” (Horton v Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc., 62 AD3d 836, 836, 878 NYS2d 793 [2009], quoting Di Ruocco v Flamingo Beach Hotel & Casino, 163 AD2d 270, 272, 557 NYS2d 140 [1990]).

The Forum Selection Clause Is Prima Facie Valid and Enforceable

In Horton v Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc. (62 AD3d 836-837, 878 NYS2d 793 [2009]), considering a forum selection clause under similar circumstances, we concluded,

“Here, the plaintiff failed to make the requisite ‘strong showing’ that the forum selection clause in her employment [***14] agreement, which requires disputes to be decided in the courts of the State of Missouri, should be set aside. Although the plaintiff averred that she is a single mother who resides with her teenaged daughter in Dutchess County, New York, this claim was insufficient, standing alone, to demonstrate that enforcement of the forum selection clause would be unjust. The plaintiff offered no evidence that the cost of commencing a wrongful discharge action in Missouri would be so financially prohibitive that, for all practical purposes, she would be deprived of her day in court. Moreover, the plaintiff did not allege that the inclusion of a forum selection clause in her employment contract was the product of overreaching, and she did not demonstrate that the clause is unconscionable.” (Citations omitted.)

[1] Similarly, here, the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the forum selection clause is unreasonable or unjust, or that a trial in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, would be so gravely difficult that, for all practical purposes, they would be deprived of their day in court. Moreover, the plaintiffs failed to allege, let [*250] alone demonstrate, that the forum selection clause was the [***15] result of fraud or overreaching. Under these circumstances, the plaintiffs failed to make any showing, let alone a strong showing, that the forum selection clause should be set aside on such bases (id.; see Trump v Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Ams., 65 AD3d 1329, 1331-1332, 887 NYS2d 121 [2009]; compare Yoshida v PC Tech U.S.A. & You-Ri, Inc., 22 AD3d 373, 803 NYS2d 48 [2005] [the Supreme Court properly declined to enforce a contractual forum selection clause fixing Tokyo as the forum for any litigation between the parties, since the plaintiff made “a strong showing that a trial in Tokyo would be so impracticable and inconvenient that she would be deprived of her day in court”]).

The Forum Selection Clause Applies to this Action

[2] Further, the forum selection clause applies to the instant tort action. Notwithstanding the placement of the forum selection clause in the sixth paragraph of the Camp Contract, which otherwise pertains to fees, tuition, and refund policies, the applicability of the forum selection clause does not turn on the type or nature of the dispute between the parties. Rather, by its express language, the forum selection clause applies to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the [***16] parties to which the camp or its agents is a party” (see [**56] Tourtellot v Harza Architects, Engrs. & Constr. Mgrs., 55 AD3d 1096, 1097-1098, 866 NYS2d 793 [2008] [rejecting the defendant’s claim that the subject forum selection clause in its agreement with the third-party defendant ” ‘was never intended to apply to third-party claims in personal injury and products liability actions such as . . . plaintiff’s action here,’ (since) under its broad and unequivocal terms, the applicability of the subject forum selection clause does not turn on the type or nature of the dispute between them; rather, it applies to ‘any dispute arising under or in connection with’ their agreement”]; see also Buhler v French Woods Festival of Performing Arts, 154 AD2d 303, 304, 546 NYS2d 591 [1989] [in a personal injury action to recover damages for negligence, the plaintiffs were bound by a forum selection clause in a camp enrollment contract which provided that “(t)he venue of any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party shall be either the Village of Hancock, N.Y. Justice Court or the County or State Supreme Court in Delaware County”]).

Jurisdiction and Venue

[3] Moreover, the forum [***17] selection clause is enforceable as a general matter even though it does not include any language [*251] expressly providing that the plaintiffs and the Camp intended to grant exclusive jurisdiction to Pennsylvania. The forum selection clause relates to both jurisdiction and venue, and employs mandatory venue language, providing that the venue of any dispute arising out of the agreement or otherwise between the parties “shall be either the local District Justice Court or the Court of Common Pleas, Wayne County, Pennsylvania.” Accordingly, since the forum selection clause addresses jurisdiction and contains mandatory venue language, the clause fixing venue is enforceable (see Fear & Fear, Inc. v N.I.I. Brokerage, L.L.C., 50 AD3d 185, 187, 851 NYS2d 311 [2008]; John Boutari & Son, Wines & Spirits, S.A. v Attiki Importers & Distribs. Inc., 22 F3d 51, 52 [1994]).

Enforceability of Forum Selection Clause by Nonsignatories

Notwithstanding the fact that the forum selection clause is prima facie valid and enforceable and applicable to the instant tort action as a general matter, this Court must further determine whether the defendant doctors and Higgins, who are not signatories to the Camp Contract, may enforce the forum selection clause.

[HN4] As [***18] a general rule, “only parties in privity of contract may enforce terms of the contract such as a forum selection clause found within the agreement” (Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d 32, 38, 857 NYS2d 62 [2008]; see ComJet Aviation Mgt. v Aviation Invs. Holdings, 303 AD2d 272, 758 NYS2d 607 [2003]). However,

[HN5] “there are three sets of circumstances under which a non-party may invoke a forum selection clause: First, it is well settled that an entity or individual that is a third-party beneficiary of the agreement may enforce a forum selection clause found within the agreement. Second, parties to a ‘global transaction’ who are not signatories to a specific agreement within that transaction may nonetheless benefit from a forum selection clause contained in such agreement if the agreements are executed at the same time, by the same parties or for the same purpose. Third, a nonparty that is ‘closely related’ to one of the signatories can enforce a forum selection clause. The relationship between the nonparty and the signatory in such cases must be sufficiently close so that enforcement of the clause is foreseeable by [**57] virtue of the relationship between them.” (Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d at 38-39 [citations [*252] omitted]; see Direct Mail Prod. Servs. v MBNA Corp., 2000 US Dist LEXIS 12945, *8, 2000 WL 1277597,*3 [SD NY 2000]; [***19] cf. EPIX Holding Corp. v Marsh & McLennan Cos., Inc., 410 NJ Super 453, 463, 982 A2d 1194, 1200 [2009] [“It is clear that in certain situations, a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement may compel a signatory to arbitrate. Since arbitration agreements are analyzed under traditional principles of state law, such principles allow a contract to be enforced by or against nonparties to the contract through assumption, piercing the corporate veil, alter ego, incorporation by reference, third-party beneficiary theories, waiver and estoppel” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)].)

[4] Here, relying on the provision in the Camp Contract by which the plaintiffs granted authority to the Camp and to its “assigns” in all medical matters, inter alia, to hospitalize and treat Jordan, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins claim to have a sufficiently close relationship with the Camp such that enforcement of the forum selection clause by them was foreseeable to the plaintiffs by virtue of that relationship. Significantly, however, there is nothing in the Camp Contract indicating that the Camp intended to use Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins in particular in [***20] the event Jordan required “off-camp” medical services. In fact, there is nothing in the Camp Contract indicating that the Camp intended to use Wilson Memorial–located in a different state from the Camp–and its physicians and physician assistants in the event Jordan required medical services.

Under these circumstances, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins do not have a sufficiently close relationship with the Camp such that enforcement of the forum selection clause by them was foreseeable to the plaintiffs by virtue of that relationship (cf. Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d at 40-41 [“Even a cursory examination of these two agreements makes clear that (defendants) Lane Pendleton and Cairnwood Management had every reason to foresee that (plaintiff) Freeford would seek to enforce the forum selection clause against them”]; Dogmoch Intl. Corp. v Dresdner Bank, 304 AD2d 396, 397, 757 NYS2d 557 [2003] [“(a)lthough defendant was a nonsignatory to the account agreements, it was reasonably foreseeable that it would seek to enforce the forum selection clause given the close relationship between itself and its (signatory) subsidiary”]; Direct [*253] Mail Prod. Servs. v MBNA Corp., 2000 US Dist LEXIS 12945, *10-14, 2000 WL 1277597, *4-5 [***21] [where “a number of . . . clauses in the Agreement between (plaintiff) Direct Mail and (nonparty) MBNA Direct indicate that the signatories intended the contract to benefit related (nonsignatory defendant) MBNA companies,” MBNA Corporation and MBNA America Bank, N.A., were sufficiently closely related to MBNA Direct such that it was foreseeable that they would seek to enforce a forum selection clause contained in the subject agreement]).

[5] Conversely, however, we conclude that Wysoki, as an employee of the Camp, is entitled to enforce the forum selection clause despite her status as a nonsignatory to the Camp Contract. The forum selection clause itself applies to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party” (emphasis added). Moreover, we find that the [**58] Camp’s relationship with Wysoki, its on-site medical employee, was “sufficiently close so that enforcement of the clause [was] foreseeable by virtue of the relationship between them” (Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d at 39). Thus, Wysoki, despite being a nonsignatory to the Camp Contract, was entitled to enforce the valid forum selection clause. Accordingly, [***22] the Supreme Court should have granted that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Wysoki based on the forum selection clause.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court properly denied that branch of Higgins’ motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause. However, the Supreme Court improperly, upon reargument, adhered to its prior determination denying that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause.

Accordingly, the appeal from the order entered June 13, 2008 is dismissed, as that order was superseded by the order entered September 30, 2008, made upon reargument. The order entered September 30, 2008 is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof, upon reargument, adhering to the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008, denying that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) [***23] and 501 based on the forum selection clause and substituting therefor a provision, upon reargument, vacating the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008 denying that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint [*254] insofar as asserted against Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause and thereupon granting that branch of the cross motion. As so modified, the order entered September 30, 2008 is affirmed insofar as appealed from.

Rivera, J.P., Miller and Roman, JJ., concur.

Ordered that the appeal from the order entered June 13, 2008 is dismissed, without costs or disbursements, as that order was superseded by the order entered September 30, 2008, made upon reargument; and it is further,

Ordered that the order entered September 30, 2008 is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof, upon reargument, adhering to the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008, denying that branch of the cross motion of the defendants Randee Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Gregory Scagnelli which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Randee Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and [***24] 501 based on a forum selection clause and substituting therefor a provision, upon reargument, vacating the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008, denying that branch of the cross motion of the defendants Randee Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Gregory Scagnelli which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Randee Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on a forum selection clause and thereupon granting that branch of the cross motion; as so modified, the order entered September 30, 2008, is affirmed insofar as appealed from, without costs or disbursements.


Miglino, Jr., etc., v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., et al., 2011 NY Slip Op 9603; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9478

Miglino, Jr., etc., v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., et al., 2011 NY Slip Op 9603; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9478

[*1] Gregory C. Miglino, Jr., etc., respondent, v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., et al., appellants. (Index No. 7729/08)

2010-06556

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

2011 NY Slip Op 9603; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9478

December 27, 2011, Decided

NOTICE:

COUNSEL: [**1] Morrison Mahoney, LLP, New York, N.Y. (Demi Sophocleous of counsel), for appellants.

Scott E. Charnas (John V. Decolator, Garden City, N.Y., of counsel), for respondent.

JUDGES: PETER B. SKELOS, J.P., JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, LEONARD B. AUSTIN, SANDRA L. SGROI, JJ. SKELOS, J.P., LEVENTHAL and AUSTIN, JJ., concur.

OPINION

APPEAL by the defendants, in an action, inter alia, to recover damages for negligence, from an order of the Supreme Court (Jeffrey Arlen Spinner, J.), dated June 9, 2010, and entered in Suffolk County, which denied their motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action.

OPINION & ORDER

SGROI, J.On this appeal we consider whether General Business Law § 627-a, which mandates that certain health clubs in the State of New York provide an automated external defibrillator device, as well as a person trained in its use, also imposes an affirmative duty of care upon the facility so as to give rise to a cognizable statutory cause of action in negligence for failure to use the device. We conclude that such a cause of action is cognizable. We also conclude that the plaintiff stated a cause of action to recover damages for common-law negligence against the [**2] defendant Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc. (hereinafter Bally).

At around 7:00 A.M. on March 26, 2007, Gregory Miglino, Sr. (hereinafter the decedent), was playing racquetball at a club located in Lake Grove (hereinafter the gym), owned and operated by Bally, when he suddenly collapsed. According to an affidavit submitted by Kenneth LeGrega, a Bally employee working at the gym that morning, “a gym member informed the front desk” that the decedent had collapsed and a 911 emergency call was then immediately placed. According to the affidavit, LaGrega was a personal trainer who had also completed a course in the operation of automated external defibrillator (hereinafter AED) devices, and had obtained a certification of completion of a course in the training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation provided by the American Heart Association. LaGrega’s affidavit further stated:

“I ran to assess the situation [and] [w]hen I arrived at the scene, I observed the decedent lying on his back with his eyes open, breathing heavily and with normal color. I checked for and found a faint pulse at that time. When I later returned to the scene, [another employee] was on the scene and had brought [**3] the club’s AED to the decedent’s side. Additionally, a medical doctor and medical student were attending to the decedent.”

[*2]

The report of the ambulance crew that responded to the 911 call stated, inter alia, that the emergency call was received at 6:59 A.M., the emergency medical services crew arrived at the gym at 7:07 A.M., and the ambulance arrived at Stony Brook Hospital at 7:45 A.M. The report further indicated that the decedent was “unconscious and unresponsive . . . on arrival [and] fine V-fib shocked.” The decedent could not be revived and he was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital.

In early 2008 the plaintiff, Gregory C. Miglino, Jr., as executor of the decedent’s estate, commenced an action against Bally and Bally Total Fitness Corporation seeking, inter alia, to recover damages for negligence. The complaint alleged two causes of action, one against each defendant. Each cause of action sounded in negligence and was based upon the defendants’ failure to use an AED on the decedent. The complaint alleged, in part, as follows:

“[On the date of the incident Bally] was required by New York State statute to have in attendance at all times during business hours, at least one [**4] employee . . .who held a valid certification of completion of a course in the study of the operation of AED’s and a valid certification of completion of a course in the study of cardiopulmonary resuscitation provided by a nationally recognized organization . . . [Bally] negligently failed to use the AED on plaintiff’s decedent and/or failed to use said AED within sufficient time to save his life, and was otherwise negligent in regard to its failure to employ or properly employ life-saving measures regarding plaintiff’s decedent.”

Before any discovery had taken place, the defendants moved pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. The defendants argued that the branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation should be granted because it had no ownership or management interest in the gym. The defendants further argued that the branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally should be granted because it was “immune from liability arising out of the lack of success of emergency response efforts by virtue of . . . Public Health Law § 3000-a [**5] [which provides] that a person who voluntarily renders emergency treatment outside of a hospital or other location is not liable for injuries to or death of the person receiving the emergency treatment.” The defendants further argued that Bally’s employees had no affirmative duty to use the available AED upon the decedent after he collapsed.

In opposition, the plaintiff argued, inter alia, that the gym was required, by statute, to have an AED on its premises, and a person trained to use such device, and that Bally could not rely upon the Good Samaritan statutes (General Business Law § 627-a[3]; Public Health Law § 3000-a) to insulate itself from liability. The plaintiff did not oppose that branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation, and conceded that “[said] entity apparently does not own, operate or manage the [gym].”

The Supreme Court denied the defendants’ motion, stating simply that “the pleadings maintain causes of action cognizable at law.” This appeal by the defendants ensued.

We begin our analysis with a summary of the statutes relevant to the issues raised herein.

“General Business Law § 627-a: automated [**6] external defibrillator requirements:

“1. Every health club [with more than 500 members] shall have . . . at least one [AED], and shall have in attendance, at all times during staffed business hours, at least one individual performing employment . . . who holds a valid certification of completion of a course in the study of the operation of AEDs and a valid certification of the completion of a course in the training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation provided by a nationally recognized organization or association.

[*3]

“2. Health clubs and staff[s] pursuant to subdivision one of this section shall be deemed a public access defibrillation provider’ as defined in [Public Health Law § 3000-b[1]] and shall be subject to the requirements and limitation[s] of such section.

“3. Pursuant to [Public Health Law §§ 3000-a and 3000-b], any public access defibrillation provider, or any employee . . . of the provider who, in accordance with . . . this section, voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders emergency medical or first aid treatment using an AED which has been made available pursuant to this section, to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured, shall be liable only pursuant [**7] to [Public Health Law § 3000-a].

“Public Health Law § 3000-a: Emergency medical treatment:

“1. [A]ny person who voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation, renders first aid or emergency treatment . . . outside a hospital, doctor’s office or any other place having proper and necessary medical equipment, to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured, shall not be liable for damages . . . for the death of such person alleged to have occurred by reason of an act or omission in the rendering of such emergency treatment unless it is established that such injuries [or death] was caused by gross negligence on the part of such person.

“2. (i) An [entity that makes available an AED as required by law], or (ii) an emergency health care provider under a collaborative agreement pursuant to [Public Health Law § 3000-b] with respect to an AED . . . shall not be liable for damages arising either from the use of that equipment by a person who voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders first aid or emergency treatment at the scene of . . . a medical emergency or . . .; provided that this subdivision shall not limit the person’s or entity’s . . . or emergency [**8] health care provider’s liability for his, her or its own negligence, gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

“Public Health Law § 3000-b: Automated external defibrillators

“1. Definitions . . . (b) Emergency health care provider’ means (i) a physician . . . or (ii) a hospital . . . (c) Public access defibrillation provider’ means a person . . . or other entity possessing or operating an [AED] pursuant to a collaborative agreement under this section.

“2. Collaborative agreement. A person . . . or other entity may purchase, acquire, possess and operate an [AED] pursuant to a collaborative agreement with an emergency health care provider. The collaborative agreement shall include a written agreement and written practice protocols, and policies and procedures that shall assure compliance with this section. The public access defibrillation provider shall file a copy of the collaborative agreement with the department and with the appropriate regional council prior to operating the [AED].

“3. Possession and operation of [AED] No person may operate an [AED without proper training]. However, this section shall not [*4] prohibit operation of an [AED] by a person who operates the [AED] other than [**9] as part of or incidental to his employment or regular duties, who is acting in good faith, with reasonable care, and without expectation of monetary compensation, to provide first aid that includes operation of an [AED]; nor shall this section limit any good samaritan protections provided in section [3000-a] of this article.”

This Court has not previously interpreted any of these statutes under circumstances such as those presented by this case. The only other Appellate Division case which has addressed similar factual circumstances is Digiulio v Gran, Inc. (74 AD3d 450, affd 17 NY3d 765), wherein the plaintiff’s decedent suffered an apparent heart attack while exercising at a health club facility. In the Digiulio case, the plaintiff commenced an action against the health club owner and then moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability based on common-law negligence, or pursuant to a theory of negligence per se based upon an alleged violation of General Business Law § 627-a. The defendants opposed the motion and cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s motion and granted the defendants’ motion. On appeal, the [**10] Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed, stating, in part:

“We agree with the motion court that plaintiff has not established a common-law negligence claim . . . After the heart attack, the club’s employees more than fulfilled their duty of care by immediately calling 911 and performing CPR, had no common-law duty to use the AED, and could not be held liable for not using it . . . Turning to the statutory claim, we reject plaintiff’s argument that [GBL] § 627-a implicitly obligated the club to use its AED to treat [the decedent]. While the statute explicitly requires health clubs to have AEDs and people trained to operate them on their premises, it is silent as to the club’s duty, if any, to use the devices” (Digiulio v Gran, Inc., 74 AD3d at 453).

While the Digiulio case involved a motion for summary judgment, the First Department’s reasoning suggests that there is no viable cause of action against a health club based upon the failure to use an available AED.

Thereafter, the plaintiff in Diguilio was granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. In a decision dated June 14, 2011, the Court decided as follows:

“Assuming arguendo that General Business Law § 627-a implicitly created [**11] a duty for defendants to use the [AED] the section required them to provide at their facility, plaintiff cannot recover because she failed to raise a triable issue of fact demonstrating that defendants’ or their employees’ failure to access the AED was grossly negligent (see General Business Law § 627-a[3]; Public Health Law § 3000-a). Defendants did not breach any common-law duty to render aid to the decedent” (DiGiulio v Gran, Inc., 17 NY3d 765, 767).

The Court of Appeals left open the question of whether General Business Law § 627-a creates a duty upon a health club to use the AED which it is required to provide. We conclude that there is such a duty.

The risk of heart attacks following strenuous exercise is well recognized, and it has also been documented that the use of AED devices in such instances can be particularly effective if defibrillation is administered in the first few minutes after the cardiac episode commences (see e.g. Balady, Chaitman, Foster, Froelicher, Gordon & Van Camp, Automated External Defibrillators in Health/Fitness Facilities, Circulation Journal of the American Heart Association 2002, available at http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/105/9/1147 full; Senate [**12] Introducer Mem in Support, Bill jacket, L 1998, ch 552, at 4 [“Sudden cardiac arrest is a major unresolved health problem. Each year, it strikes more than 350,000 Americans–nearly 1,000 per day. More than 95% of these people die because life-saving defibrillators arrive on the scene too late, if at all. The American Heart Association estimates that close to 100,000 deaths nationwide could be prevented each year if automated external defibrillators . . . were more widely distributed.”]). It is also clear that the [*5] Legislative intent behind General Business Law § 627-a was to make AED devices readily available for use in gyms. Indeed, the 2004 Legislative Memorandum in support of General Business Law § 627-a states the following as “[j]ustification” for the statute:

“This [bill] would ensure a higher level of safety for thousands of individuals who belong to health clubs. According to the American Heart Association, 250,000 Americans die every year due to sudden cardiac arrest. A quarter of these deaths could be avoided if an [AED] is on hand for immediate use at the time of emergency . . . Because health clubs are places where individuals raise their heart rates through physical exercise, [**13] the chance of cardiac arrest increases. Having an AED on hand could save lives” (NY Assembly Mem in Support, Bill Jacket, L 2004, ch 186, at 4).

Accordingly, the laudatory purpose of the statute was to increase the number of lives that could be saved through the use of available AED devices at health club facilities. Although the statute does not contain any provision that specifically imposes an affirmative duty upon the facility to make use of its required AEDs, it also does not contain any provision stating that there is no duty to act (cf. Public Health Law § 1352-b, which provides for the mandatory posting in public eating establishments of instructions to aid in choking emergencies, but also contains a provision entitled “no duty to act”). Moreover, it is illogical to conclude that no such duty exists. We are aware that ” legislative enactments in derogation of [the] common law, and especially those creating liability where none previously existed,’ must be strictly construed” (Vucetovic v Epsom Downs, Inc., 10 NY3d 517, 521, quoting Blue Cross & Blue Shield of N.J., Inc. v Philip Morris USA Inc., 3 NY3d 200, 206; see McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 301[c]). Nevertheless, [**14] such strict construction should not be utilized to eviscerate the very purpose for which the legislation was enacted. “A court should avoid a statutory interpretation rendering the provision meaningless or defeating its apparent purpose” (State of New York v Cities Serv. Co., 180 AD2d 940, 942; see Matter of Industrial Commr. of State of N.Y. v Five Corners Tavern, 47 NY2d 639, 646-647; see also Zappone v Home Ins. Co., 55 NY2d 131, 137; McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 145). “It is the spirit, the object, and purpose of the statute which are to be regarded in its interpretation” (Westchester County Socy. for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v Mengel, 266 App Div 151, 154-155, affd 292 NY 121).

Applying these principles, and inasmuch as there is no dispute that General Business Law § 627-a requires certain health club facilities to provide an AED on the premises, as well as a person trained to use such device, it is anomalous to conclude that there is no duty to use the device should the need arise. Stated differently, why statutorily mandate a health club facility to provide the device if there is no concomitant requirement to use it? This conclusion is further buttressed [**15] by the fact that the Legislature deemed it appropriate to partially immunize the health clubs from liability, which may arise from their use of the AED, by including language within General Business Law § 627-a that referenced the “Good Samaritan” provisions of the Public Health Law (see General Business Law § 627-a [3]; Public Health Law § 3000-a). Such “protection” could be considered superfluous if the statute did not also impose a duty upon the health clubs to use, or attempt to make use of, the device, depending upon the circumstances of the particular medical emergency. In addition, pursuant to General Business Law § 627-a, as defined by Public Health Law § 3000-b(1)(b), (c), and § 3000-b(2), the gym was a “public access defibrillation provider” and, thus, was required to have in place a “collaborative agreement” with an emergency health care provider (i.e., cardiac emergency doctor or hospital providing emergency care) (Public Health Law §§ 3000-a, 3000-b). Again, the requirement of such an agreement could be viewed as unnecessary if there were no obligation upon the health club facility to attempt to use the AED if the circumstances warranted such use.

In the case at bar, it [**16] is undisputed that, at the time the decedent collapsed, the gym had an available AED on its premises and there was an employee present who had been trained in the use of the device. Indeed, it was this individual, LaGrega, who initially responded to the decedent. LaGrega also stated in his affidavit that “the club’s AED [had been brought] to the decedent’s side.” However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the gym’s AED device was never used on the decedent. LaGrega’s affidavit suggests that he perhaps deferred to the medical doctor who responded to the internal announcement which had been made in the gym, seeking the [*6] assistance of anyone with medical training. Hence, it may be that the doctor decided that the AED was contraindicated. However, based upon the record before us, such a conclusion would amount to mere speculation.

In any event, unlike the procedural posture of Digiulio v Gran, Inc. (74 AD3d 450), which involved motions for summary judgment, the defendants herein seek dismissal for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7). In determining a motion for failure to state a cause of action, the court must “accept the facts as alleged in the complaint [**17] as true, accord plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory” (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88; see Nonnon v City of New York, 9 NY3d 825). “Whether [the] plaintiff can ultimately establish [his] allegations is not part of the calculus in determining a motion to dismiss [made pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7)]” (ECBI, Inc. v Goldman, Sachs & Co., 5 NY3d 11, 19; see Ginsburg Dev. Cos., LLC v Carbone, 85 AD3d 1110). Accordingly, in light of the facts as alleged by the plaintiff, coupled with our conclusion that General Business Law § 627-a imposes an inherent duty to make use of the statutorily required AED, we conclude that the complaint states a cognizable cause of action to recover damages based upon Bally’s failure to use its AED upon the decedent.

To the extent that the defendants argue that the complaint should have been dismissed insofar as asserted against Bally because it is immune from liability under the Good Samaritan provisions of General Business Law § 627-a, that argument is misplaced. The issue at bar is not whether Bally was negligent in the course of its use of the AED. [**18] Instead, as set forth in the beginning of this opinion, our focus is whether General Business Law § 627-a gives rise to a statutory cause of action sounding in negligence based upon the failure to use the device. While General Business Law § 627-a does incorporate the provision of the Good Samaritan law requiring a showing of gross negligence when the statutorily required AED is used, where, as here, the cause of action is based on the failure to employ the device, as opposed to the manner in which it was employed, the gross negligence standard is not applicable.

In addition, the defendants were not entitled to dismissal of the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally for failure to state a cause of action based solely upon common-law negligence. It is settled that a duty of reasonable care owed by a tortfeasor to a plaintiff is elemental to any recovery in negligence (see Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781, 782; Palsgraf v Long Is. R.R. Co., 248 NY 339, 344). To prove a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of a duty of care owed to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, and that the breach of such duty was a proximate cause of his or her injuries (see [**19] Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781; Gordon v Muchnick, 180 AD2d 715; see also Akins v Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 NY2d 325,333). Absent a duty of care, there is no breach, and without a breach, there can be no liability (see Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781; Gordon v Muchnick, 180 AD2d 715). In addition, foreseeability of an injury does not determine the existence of duty (see Strauss v Belle Realty Co., 65 NY2d 399, 402; Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781). However, “[u]nlike foreseeability and causation, both generally factual issues to be resolved on a case-by-case basis by the fact finder, the duty owed by one member of society to another is a legal issue for the courts” (Eiseman v State of New York, 70 NY2d 175, 187, citing De Angelis v Lutheran Med. Center, 58 NY2d 1053, 1055).

Therefore, the question is whether Bally owed any duty to the decedent. Generally speaking, one does not owe a duty to come to the aid of a person in peril, whether the peril is medical or otherwise (see McDaniel v Keck, 53 AD3d 869, 872; Walsh v Town of Cheektowaga, 237 AD2d 947; see also Plutner v Silver Assoc., Inc, 186 Misc 1025; Chappill v Bally Total Fitness Corp., 2011 NY Slip Op 30146[U]). However, ” one [**20] who assumes a duty to act, even though gratuitously, may thereby become subject to the duty of acting carefully'” (Mirza v Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 2 AD3d 808, 809, quoting Nallan v Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 50 NY2d 507, 522).

In the case at bar, LaGrega assumed a duty by coming to the decedent’s assistance. By his own admission, LaGrega directed that a 911 emergency call be made, sought medical assistance within the club, and took the decedent’s pulse. However, he did not make use of the available AED, even though the device had been brought to the decedent’s side. It could be argued that since LaGrega was trained in the use of the AED, his failure to use the device was tantamount to not acting carefully. On the other hand, it may ultimately be proven that LaGrega acted reasonably under the circumstances, and that no liability can attach to the defendants for the decedent’s death. These are questions which cannot be resolved at this procedural juncture. Moreover, as noted in our above discussion regarding the statutory duty under General Business Law § 627-a, the issue of [*7] whether the plaintiff can ultimately prove his factual allegations also does not figure into the determination [**21] of whether the common-law negligence claim should be dismissed for failure to state a cause of action. Accordingly, we conclude that the separate cause of action based upon common-law negligence was not subject to dismissal for failure to state a cause of action (see CPLR 3211[a][7]; Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83). Therefore, the Supreme Court properly denied that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) which was to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action insofar as asserted against Bally.

As indicated, the plaintiff did not oppose that branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against the defendant Bally Total Fitness Corporation and, in fact, conceded that “[said] entity apparently does not own, operate or manage the subject health club.” Moreover, even on appeal, the plaintiff does not dispute the contention by Bally Total Fitness Corporation that it was entitled to dismissal of the complaint insofar as asserted against it. Accordingly, that branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against that defendant should have been granted.

The order is modified, on the law and the facts, [**22] by deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion; as so modified, the order is affirmed.

SKELOS, J.P., LEVENTHAL and AUSTIN, JJ., concur.

ORDERED that the order is modified, on the law and the facts, by deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion; as so modified, the order is affirmed, without costs or disbursements.

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Releases are legal documents and need to be written by an attorney that understands the law and the risks of your program/business/activity and your guests/members/clientele.

Wycoff v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832

The case is a little confusing to read because there was another case that was appealed by the same parties whom this case refers to. Additionally, the act of the trial court in reducing the damages is confusing. However, this case is a very clear example of how a badly written release is going to cost the church and its insurance company millions.

A church group had taken kids to a camp for a “Winterama 2005.” The church had rented the camp for the weekend. The plaintiff was 17 and not a member of the church. Her parents had paid a reduced fee for her to attend the activity. As part of that registration her mother signed a “Registration and information” form. One of the activities was pulling them behind an ATV on an inner tube on a frozen lake.

There was a large boulder embedded in the lake. On the second loop, the plaintiff’s inner tube hit the boulder breaking her back.

The plaintiff’s mother had signed the “Registration and Information” form. On the form was the following sentence.

I will not hold Grace Community Church or its participants responsible for any liability, which may result from participation.

The case went to trial, and the jury returned a $4M verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant and plaintiff appealed after the judge reduced the damages to the limits of the insurance policy of the church, $2M plus interest.

The appellate court first looked at Colorado case law on releases and the legislative history of § 13-22-107(3), C.R.S. 2010. That statute, C.R.S. § 13-22-107(3), was enacted to allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. The statute, and the decision in Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981), has a requirement that the parental decision must be “informed” and with the intent to release the [defendant] from liability. Jones v. Dressel was the first Supreme Court review of releases in the state of Colorado as they applied to recreational activities.

The court looked at the language in the “Registration and Information” form to see if it informed the parents of the activities and risks their child would be undertaking. The court looked at the language and found:

There is no information in Grace’s one-page registration form describing the event activities, nothing describing the associated risks. Stating that the children would participate in “Winterama 2005 and all activities associated with it” does not indicate what the activities would involve and certainly does not suggest they would include ATV-towed inner-tube excursions around a frozen lake.

The court also looked at prior decisions concerning releases and found that “in every Colorado Supreme Court case upholding an exculpatory clause. The clause contained some reference to waiving personal injury claims based on the activity being engaged in.”

The court concluded that:

Grace’s [the defendant’s] form made no reference to the relevant activity or to waiving personal injury claims. The operative sentence (the third one in a paragraph) states only that plaintiff will not hold Grace “responsible for any liability which may result from participation.” Surrounding sentences address other issues: the first gives permission to attend; the second consents to medical treatment; and the fourth agrees to pick up disobedient children.
… nowhere does the form provide parents with information allowing them to assess the degree of risk and the extent of possible injuries from any activity. The form is legally insufficient to release plaintiff’s personal injury claims.

The court then looked at the second major issue that has been surfacing in many outdoor recreation cases of late. The plaintiff sued claiming a violation of the duties owed by the landowner, a premises liability claim. That means that the landowner owed a duty to the plaintiff to warn or eliminate dangers, which the landowner failed to do.

The defendant argued that it was not the landowner; it had just leased the land for the weekend. However, the court found this argument lacking. The premise’s liability statute § 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2010, defines landowner to include someone leasing the property.

This places two very important burdens on anyone leasing land or using land.

  1. They must know and identify the risks of the land before bringing their clients/guests/members on the land.
  2. The release must include premise liability language.

The second one is relatively easy to do; however, the effectiveness is going to be difficult. The first places a tremendous burden on anyone going to a camp, park or other place they do not own for the day, weekend or week.

  • Your insurance policy must provide coverage for this type of claim.
  • You need to inspect the land in advance, do a due diligence to make sure you know of any risks or dangers on the land.
  • You must inform your guests/members/clients of those risks.

The final issue that might be of some importance to readers is the court reviewed the legal concept of charitable immunity. At one time, charities could not be sued because they “did good” for mankind. That has evolved over time so that in most states charitable immunity no longer exists. At present, and with this court decision, the assets of the charity held may not be levied by a judgment. What that means is after someone receives a judgment against a charity, the plaintiff with the judgment then attempts to collect against the assets of the charity. Some of the assets may not be recovered by the judgment creditor because they are part of the charitable trust.

What does that mean? If you are a charity, buy insurance.

Of note in this case is the plaintiffs are the injured girl and her insurance company: The opinion states “Plaintiff and her insurer, intervenor American Medical Security Life Insurance Company (insurer).” Although set forth in the decision, her insurance company is probably suing under its right in the subrogation clause. A subrogation clause in an insurance policy says your insurance policy has the right to sue under your name or its own name against anyone who caused your damages that the insurance company reimbursed.

So?

As I have said numerous times, your release must be written by an attorney that understands two things.

  1. Release law
  2. The activities you are going to engage in.
  3. The risks those activities present to your guests/members/clients.
  4. Any statutes that affect your activity and/or your guests/members/clients.

Any release should include a good review of the risks of the activities and a description of the activities so adults and parents can read and understand those risks. Any minor who can read and understand the risks should also sign the release as proof the child assumed the risk. Assumption of the risk works to win cases against minors when the release is thrown out or in those cases where a release cannot be used against a minor.

Find a good attorney that knows and understands your activities, those risks and the laws needed to write a release to protect you.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Four State Supreme Courts Reverse their Positions on Release

Releases are the foundation of most adventure outfitters program to prevent lawsuits. Dependent upon your base of operation and/or your area of operation a release or waiver is the best way to inform your guests of the risks and stop lawsuits. However, the law concerning releases has changed dramatically in four states over the past 18 months.

Changes started February of 2005 when the Wisconsin Supreme court overturned its law on releases. In a case involving a drowning at a

English: Seal of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

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health club, Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 the Wisconsin Supreme Court set up a series of requirements for releases which will be impossible to meet. Each of the requirements allows the guest to invalidate the release or takes the legal teeth out of the release. The final requirement is a bargain for exchange requirement. This means the outfitter must offer the guest the opportunity to take the trip without signing a release for an additional charge. The additional charge to enjoy the adventure without signing a release must only be a nominal amount; however that does not make economic sense. (For a more thorough analysis see the Outdoor Recreation Law Review
Wisconsin Supreme Court decision threatens businesses relying on releases.)

Arizona Supreme Court

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In Arizona, in a race car mishap, the Arizona Supreme Court took an approach to releases no other state has adopted. In Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53, the Arizona Supreme Court held that releases, written contracts, are only an acknowledgement of risk. As such, the trier of fact, normally the jury, must decided whether the injured patron understood the risk of the activity and the release is additional, but not substantive proof of the knowledge. As such, releases in Arizona are not just proof of acknowledgement of risk rather than a contract to prevent a lawsuit. In the future, a defendant relying upon a release will be forced to go to trial to prove the injured guest understood the risk of the activity that injured him. (See the Outdoor Recreation Law Review
Surprising Arizona Supreme Court Decision Further Endangers Release Language.)

The New Mexico Supreme Courtdetermined that a statute designed to protect the Equine industry prevented the use of a release by a stable.

New Mexico Supreme Court

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In Berlangieri et al. v. Running Elk Corporation, et al., 48 P. 3d 70 (N.M. App. April, 2002 the New Mexico Supreme Court stated the New Mexico Equine Liability act provided the only protection for equine outfitters and therefore it prevented the use of a release. This decision is limited to only equine activities; however a similar decision in West Virginia was the beginning of a series of decisions invalidating releases. This is an example of a statute that was meant to protect an industry doing more harm than good. (See the Outdoor Recreation Law Review
Release of Liability Found to Violate Public Policy.)

Connecticut Supreme Court

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The final decision is a Connecticut Supreme Court decision, Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corporation et al. 276 Conn. 314, 2005 Conn. LEXIS 500 that overruled a case with the identical fact situation six years earlier. In this case a patron at a tubing hill signed a release and was injured tubing. He sued and the Connecticut Supreme Court overruled itself stating releases were no longer valid in the state because it removed the incentive for the tubing operator to keep the premises safe. The Supreme Court held that releases for recreational activities violate public policy. Public policy is the protection the courts extend to the public to protect them when they cannot protect themselves. Those protections are normally limited to those necessities of live that the public cannot live without such as utilities or public transportation. (See the Outdoor Recreation Law Review Connecticut Supreme Court takes yet another bite out of releases with latest decision.)

All of these decisions are discouraging; however there are methods to change the results for a particular outfitter. The easiest and most important way is by using an effective Jurisdiction and Venue clause in a release. Jurisdiction means the law that will be applied and Venue means the location of the court that will hear the case. If you are operating in any of these four states, or another state that prohibits the use of a release, you can specify in the release the state where the case will be heard and the law that will be applied.

For Additional Analysis of these cases or to read the legal opinion, go to the Outdoor Recreation and Fitness Law Review.

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