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

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

Decided and Entered: December 11, 2003

93723

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

Memorandum and Order

Calendar Date: October 15, 2003

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

Lo Pinto, Schlather, Solomon & Salk, Ithaca

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

Nelson E. Roth, Cornell University, Ithaca, for

respondent.

Cardona, P.J.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORDERED that the order is affirmed, with costs.

Footnotes

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

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

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Decisive Supreme Court Decision on the Validity of Releases in Oklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oklahoma looked at the question in two parts:

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

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

The court responded this way: “

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

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

Summary of the case

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

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

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

(3) enforcement of these clauses must never

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

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

The court then described what clear and unambiguous intent was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

 

Plaintiff: Elizabeth M. Schmidt

 

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

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence in the original Federal Action

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

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

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

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

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

97-06400

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

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

April 13, 1998, Argued

May 18, 1998, Decided

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

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

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

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

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

OPINION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WD 55070

COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT

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

March 31, 1999, Opinion Filed

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

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

DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

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

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

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

OPINION BY: ALBERT A. RIEDERER

OPINION

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

Factual and Procedural Background

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

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

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

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

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

Standard of Review

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

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

I. Duty of the Possessor of Land

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

A. Duty Owed To A Business Invitee

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Assumption of Risk

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

A. Express Assumption of Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Implied Assumption of Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Release

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

Artificial Snow

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

Conclusion

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

Albert A. Riederer, Judge

Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So?

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

Under Ohio’s law on sports had held that:

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

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

The court then held:

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

So Now What?

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

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

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

 

Ski Area: Boston Mills Ski Area

Plaintiffs: Angel Horvath and Eugene Horvath

Defendants: David Ish, Tyler Ish and their cousins

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

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

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

 

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

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

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

2007-02310, 2007-02712

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT

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

May 20, 2008, Decided

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

HEADNOTES

Release–Scope of Release

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

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

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

OPINION

[**841] [***348]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO. 2:11-CV-171

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

April 30, 2012, Filed

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

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

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

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

OPINION BY: J. RONNIE GREER

OPINION

ORDER

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

FACTS

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

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

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

LEGAL STANDARD

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

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

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

ENTER:

/s/ J. RONNIE GREER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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