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.

———

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.

———


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

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Bagley, Oregon, Supreme Court, Release, Public Policy, Terrain Park, Jump, Paraplegic,

 


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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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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