Decisive Supreme Court Decision on the Validity of Releases in Oklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oklahoma looked at the question in two parts:

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

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

The court responded this way: “

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

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

Summary of the case

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

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

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

(3) enforcement of these clauses must never

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

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

The court then described what clear and unambiguous intent was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

 

Plaintiff: Elizabeth M. Schmidt

 

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

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence in the original Federal Action

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

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

<rel=”author” link=” https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112453188060350225356/” />

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, Recreational Lawyer, Fitness Lawyer, Rec Lawyer, Challenge Course Lawyer, Ropes Course Lawyer, Zip Line Lawyer, Rock Climbing Lawyer, Adventure Travel Lawyer, Outside Lawyer, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #FitnessLawyer, #RecLawyer, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #RopesCourseLawyer, #ZipLineLawyer, #RockClimbingLawyer, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #OutsideLawyer, Oklahoma, OK, Elizabeth M. Schmidt, United States of America, Artillery Hunt Riding Stables, Fort Sill, Equine, Horse, Stable, Trail Ride, Release,

WordPress Tags: Decisive,Supreme,Court,Decision,Releases,Oklahoma,Schmidt,States,America,Okla,LEXIS,Case,District,Western,Federal,clarification,decisions,plaintiff,Artillery,Hunt,Stables,Fort,Sill,Army,defendant,leader,horse,negligence,Both,opinion,information,Whether,clause,injury,Rental,Agreement,entrustment,preconditions,enforcement,policy,clauses,fraud,violation,Summary,difference,health,morals,confidence,administration,provision,omissions,person,extent,agent,servant,contemplation,Courts,factors,assumption,importance,agreements,individuals,purpose,exoneration,tort,category,recovery,actor,requirement,requirements,attorney,Elizabeth,Claims,Action,Defenses,Release,Sent,determination,Leave,FaceBook,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,Email,Google,RecreationLaw,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,James,Moss,Authorrank,author,Outside,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Areas,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,Colorado,managers,helmet,accidents,Lawyer,Paddlesports,Recreational,Line,RecreationalLawyer,FitnessLawyer,RecLawyer,ChallengeCourseLawyer,RopesCourseLawyer,ZipLineLawyer,RockClimbingLawyer,AdventureTravelLawyer,OutsideLawyer,Equine,Stable,Trail,Ride,upon,exculpatory,enforceable,three,futuro,tortfeasor


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

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

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

97-06400

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

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

April 13, 1998, Argued

May 18, 1998, Decided

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

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

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

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

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

OPINION

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

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

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

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

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

WordPress Tags: Tedesco,Triborough,Bridge,Tunnel,LEXIS,Appellant,Respondent,Third,Action,SUPREME,COURT,YORK,APPELLATE,DIVISION,SECOND,DEPARTMENT,April,PRIOR,HISTORY,injuries,plaintiffs,Kings,Hutcherson,defendant,judgment,complaint,DISPOSITION,COUNSEL,Sullivan,Liapakis,John,Nash,Stephen,Glaser,appellants,Wallace,Gossett,Brooklyn,Lawrence,Heisler,JUDGES,Friedmann,Goldstein,Florio,Luciano,OPINION,plaintiff,bicycle,Bike,borough,American,Youth,Hostels,participation,entities,Wells,Shearson,Lehman,Metropolitan,Transportation,offices,Public,Authorities,Contrary,contention,General,Obligations,Verrazano,Narrows,amusement,recreation,contentions,hereinafter


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

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

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

WD 55070

COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT

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

March 31, 1999, Opinion Filed

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

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

DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

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

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

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

OPINION BY: ALBERT A. RIEDERER

OPINION

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

Factual and Procedural Background

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

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

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

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

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

Standard of Review

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

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

I. Duty of the Possessor of Land

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

A. Duty Owed To A Business Invitee

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Assumption of Risk

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

A. Express Assumption of Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Implied Assumption of Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Release

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

Artificial Snow

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

Conclusion

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

Albert A. Riederer, Judge

Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

WordPress Tags:

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

Lewis,Creek,LEXIS,Carrie,Lesa,Moffatt,Appellants,Respondent,COURT,APPEALS,MISSOURI,WESTERN,DISTRICT,March,Opinion,SUBSEQUENT,HISTORY,Motion,Transfer,Supreme,June,Mandate,January,PRIOR,Appeal,Circuit,Platte,Honorable,Ward,Stuckey,Judge,DISPOSITION,COUNSEL,Fritz,Edmunds,Overland,Park,Thomas,Magee,Louis,JUDGES,Albert,Riederer,Lowenstein,Stith,judgments,plaintiffs,Pursuant,possessor,Appellant,assumption,judgment,Factual,Procedural,Background,Area,Rental,Form,owners,agents,employees,manufacturers,distributors,equipment,injury,death,person,selection,installation,maintenance,adjustment,negligence,theory,Both,Defendant,plaintiff,failure,bindings,premises,response,affidavit,Standard,Review,Lawrence,Bainbridge,Apartments,Commercial,Finance,Corp,America,Marine,inferences,fact,accordance,arguments,dangers,Second,Third,Fourth,Land,presence,danger,Invitee,status,Peterson,Summit,purpose,dealings,Harris,Niehaus,Restatement,Torts,exception,knowledge,Given,Thus,purposes,Rule,areas,landowner,accident,jury,Risk,determination,injuries,Sheppard,Midway,School,Recovery,addition,reference,clause,Although,clauses,policy,Alack,Tanny,International,Hornbeck,American,Indoor,Sports,emphasis,precedent,decisions,General,equivalents,waiver,Whether,paragraph,action,Here,Rodriguez,provision,resort,lexicon,categories,relationship,incident,context,Under,basis,Martin,Buzan,existence,factors,Colorado,Idaho,Maine,Michigan,Montana,Hampshire,Jersey,Mexico,Ohio,West,Virginia,statutes,statute,finder,Shepard,Release,Enterprises,Hollrah,Artificial,Count,precautions,Conclusion,proceedings,skis,hereby,upon,banc,invitees,skiers,exculpatory


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

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

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

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

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

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

So?

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

Under Ohio’s law on sports had held that:

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

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

The court then held:

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

So Now What?

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

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

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

 

Ski Area: Boston Mills Ski Area

Plaintiffs: Angel Horvath and Eugene Horvath

Defendants: David Ish, Tyler Ish and their cousins

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

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

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

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: blog@rec-law.us

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, Recreational Lawyer, Fitness Lawyer, Rec Lawyer, Challenge Course Lawyer, Ropes Course Lawyer, Zip Line Lawyer, Rock Climbing Lawyer, Adventure Travel Lawyer, Outside Lawyer, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #FitnessLawyer, #RecLawyer, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #RopesCourseLawyer, #ZipLineLawyer, #RockClimbingLawyer, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #OutsideLawyer,

 


 


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

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

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

2007-02310, 2007-02712

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

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

May 20, 2008, Decided

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

HEADNOTES

Release–Scope of Release

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

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

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

OPINION

[**841] [***348]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enhanced by Zemanta

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

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

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

NO. 2:11-CV-171

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

April 30, 2012, Filed

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

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

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

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

OPINION BY: J. RONNIE GREER

OPINION

ORDER

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

FACTS

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

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

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

LEGAL STANDARD

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

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

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

ENTER:

/s/ J. RONNIE GREER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Enhanced by Zemanta

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

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

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

2007-08536

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

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

May 19, 2009, Decided

NOTICE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPINION BY: SKELOS

OPINION

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

OPINION & ORDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The appellants’ remaining contentions are without merit.

Accordingly, we affirm the order insofar as appealed from.

DILLON, SANTUCCI and BALKIN, JJ., concur.

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