Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

Douglas E. Ferbet, Appellant,

v.

Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc., Respondents.

No. ED108495

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

December 15, 2020

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 18SL-CC00050 Honorable Mary Elizabeth Ott.

James M. Dowd, P.J., Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., J., and Robin Ransom, J.

James M. Dowd, Presiding Judge.

Introduction

Appellant Douglas Ferbet’s recreational outing with his family on January 25, 2013 to Respondents’ snow tubing hill in Eureka, Missouri ended abruptly when as he slid down the hill seated on a large rubber inner tube, his dangling right foot engaged with a crevice in the sliding surface of the slippery slope breaking his leg in two places. Now, Ferbet appeals the trial court’s summary judgment entered in favor of Respondents Hidden Valley and Peak Resorts (Hidden Valley) on Ferbet’s negligence claim in which he alleged that his injuries were caused by Hidden Valley’s negligent maintenance of the tubing hill. Hidden Valley sought summary judgment based on release-of-liability language in an agreement Hidden Valley required Ferbet to sign before selling snow tubing tickets to him and his family just before they headed to the hill.

The trial court found the agreement enforceable and therefore that Ferbet had released Hidden Valley from his negligence claim based on the document’s references both to specific risks involved in snow tubing and that Ferbet was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for injuries including those caused by Hidden Valley’s own negligence.

We affirm the judgment, but our legal rationale is somewhat different than the trial court’s. We agree with the trial court that while exculpatory clauses like the one here that purport to release a party from its own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited by Missouri public policy, and to the extent Ferbet has adequately pled a negligence claim, the language of this agreement is sufficiently specific to encompass Ferbet’s claim and, importantly, it also clearly and conspicuously states that even claims resulting from Hidden Valley’s negligence are released. We also affirm because to the extent that the risk Ferbet claims caused his injury was a known and understandable inherent risk of snow tubing for which Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty, his claim is without merit under the doctrine of assumption of the risk.

Background

Hidden Valley’s snow tubing operation, located on a hillside adjacent to its ski resort, consists of a series of parallel and adjacent lanes descending down the hill. Customers slide down the lanes while perched on rubber inner tubes provided to them by Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley maintains the surface of the lanes covered in snow and ice and separates the lanes from each other by raised rows of packed snow and ice.

At all relevant times, customers, in order to be permitted to buy tickets, were required to read and sign the following document, which we reproduce verbatim here, purporting to identify certain general and specific injury risks posed by snow tubing. The document also contains language that purports to release Hidden Valley from liability for injuries sustained while snow tubing including for claims arising from Hidden Valley’s own negligence: POLAR PLUNGE SNOW TUBING HIDDEN VALLEY SKI-TUBE-RIDE AREA, WILDWOOD, MISSOURI ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISK AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE THIS IS A CONTRACT! * * * * * * * * * * PLEASE READ! 1. I understand and acknowledge that snow tubing is a dangerous, risky sport and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport and that all of these risks can cause serious and even fatal injuries. 2. I understand that part of the thrill, excitement and risks of snow tubing is that the snow tubes all end up in a common, run-out area at various times and speeds and that [sic] is my responsibility to try to avoid hitting another snow tuber, and it is also my responsibility to try to avoid being hit by another snow tuber, but that notwithstanding these efforts by myself and other snow tubers, there is a risk of collisions. 3. I acknowledge that the risks of snow tubing include, but are not limited to, the following: • Variations in the steepness and configuration of the snow tubing chutes and run-out area; • Variations in the surface upon which snow tubing is conducted, which can vary from wet, slushy conditions to hard packed, icy conditions and everything in between; • Fence and/or barriers at or along portions of the snow tubing area, the absence of such fence and/or barriers and the inability of fences and/or barriers to prevent or reduce injury; • Changes in the speed at which snow tubers travel depending on surface conditions, the weight of snow tubers and the inter-linking of snow tubers together to go down the snow tubes runs; • The chance that a patron can fall out, be thrown out or otherwise leave the snow tube; • The chance that a snow tube can go from one run to another run, regardless of whether or not there is a barrier between runs, and the chance that a snow tube can go beyond the run-out area; • The chance that a snow tube can go up the run-out hill and then slide in the general run-out area; • Collisions in the run-out area and other locations of the snow tubing facility, with collisions happening between snow tubes, between a snow tube and another patron, between a snow tube and a snow tubing facility attendant, between a snow tubing patron who may or may not be in or on a snow tube at the time of the collision and other sorts of collisions; collisions with fixed objects, obstacles or structures located within or outside of the snow tube facility; • The use of the snow tubing carpet lift or tow, including falling out of a tube, slipping backwards, becoming entangled with equipment, railing and fencing, slipping and falling on the carpet lift and/or the adjacent deck and other risks. 4. I also acknowledge and understand that I am accepting AS IS the snow tube and any other equipment involved with the snow tubing activity, including lifts and tows, and further acknowledge and understand that NO WARRANTIES are being extended to me with respect to any aspect of the snow tubing facility. 5. I agree and understand that snow tubing is a purely voluntary, recreational activity and that if I am not willing to acknowledge the risk and agree not to sue, I should not go snow tubing. 6. I agree to allow the use of my image or likeness incidental in any photograph, live recorded video display or other transmission or reproduction of the event in any form to which this agreement admits me. 7. IN CONSIDERATION OF THE ABOVE AND BEING ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SPORT OF SNOWTUBING, I AGREE THAT I WILL NOT SUE AND WILL RELEASE FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY, HIDDEN VALLEY GOLF AND SKI, INC. OR PEAK RESORTS, INC., THEIR OWNERS, OPERATIONS, LESSORS, LESSEES, OFFICERS, AGENTS, AND EMPLOYEES IF I OR ANY MEMBER OF MY FAMILY IS INJURED WHILE USING ANY OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITIES OR WHILE BEING PRESENT AT THE FACILITIES, EVEN IF I CONTEND THAT SUCH INJURIES ARE THE RESULT OF NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITY. 8. I further agree that I WILL INDEMNIFY AND HOLD HARMLESS HIDDEN VALLEY GOLF AND SKI, INC. AND PEAK RESORTS, INC. THEIR OWNERS, OPERATORS, LESSORS, LESSEES, OFFICERS, AGENTS, AND EMPLOYEES from any loss, liability, damages or cost of any kind that it may incur as the result of any injury to myself or to any member of my family or to any person for whom I am explaining that meaning of this agreement, even if it is contended that any such injury was caused by the negligence on the part of the snow tubing facility. 9. I understand and agree that this Agreement is governed by the laws of the State of Missouri. I further agree that if any part of this Agreement is determined to be unenforceable, all other parts shall be given full force and effect. 10. I have read and understand the foregoing Acknowledgement of Risks and Agreement Not to Sue. I understand by reading this that I may be giving up the rights of my child and spouse to sue as well as giving up my own right to sue.

On January 25, 2013, when Ferbet arrived with his family at the ticket window, he was presented with this one-page, single-spaced, form agreement. He signed and dated the agreement in the spaces designated at the bottom, purchased tickets, and then proceeded to the tubing hill. Hidden Valley provided Ferbet an inner tube to use to slide down any of the tubing lanes he chose. And during what would turn out to be Ferbet’s last slide of the day, his right foot lodged into a crevice in the sliding surface fracturing his tibia and fibula when his momentum carried the rest of his body forward.

On December 27, 2018, Ferbet filed suit alleging that his injuries and damages were caused by Hidden Valley’s negligent maintenance and operation of the tubing hill, specifically with respect to the dangerous condition of the sliding surface that he claims caused his injuries. After some discovery took place, Respondents filed their motion for summary judgment on the sole basis that Ferbet had released his claim against them by signing the above agreement.

In his response, Ferbet asserted that the release was unenforceable as against public policy. He also alleged that amusement park and recreational area operators such as Hidden Valley should be considered common carriers and therefore held to the highest degree of care, as opposed to ordinary care, and that an exculpatory clause should be unenforceable when the highest degree of care is owed.

After a June 7, 2019 hearing on the motion, the trial court granted summary judgment based on its findings that the facts were undisputed that Ferbet had signed the agreement; that the agreement was enforceable and not against public policy; that its operative release language clearly and explicitly exonerated Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing Ferbet’s injuries; and that Hidden Valley is not a common carrier subject to the highest degree of care. This appeal follows.

Standard of Review

On appeals from summary judgment, our review is essentially de novo and we review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). Missouri Supreme Court Rule 74.04 governs summary judgment procedures. The trial court shall grant summary judgment “[i]f the motion, the response, the reply and the sur-reply show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Rule 74.04(c)(6); See also, Id. at 378. The trial court and this Court look to the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file together with any affidavits to determine whether the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Miller v. River Hills Development, 831 S.W.2d 756, 757 (Mo. App. E.D. 1992). But “[t]he key to a summary judgment is the undisputed right to a judgment as a matter of law; not simply the absence of a fact question.” Birdsong v. Christians, 6 S.W.3d 218, 223 (Mo. App. S.D. 1999) (quoting Southard v. Buccaneer Homes Corp., 904 S.W.2d 525, 530 (Mo. App. S.D. 1995)).

Where the defending party is the movant, it may establish a right to judgment by showing: (1) facts negating any one of the non-movant’s elements; (2) that the non-movant, after an adequate period of discovery, has not been able and will not be able to produce evidence sufficient to allow the trier of fact to find the existence of any one of the non-movant’s elements; or (3) that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support the movant’s properly-pleaded affirmative defense. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381.

Here, since Hidden Valley has asserted the release as an affirmative defense, we review de novo the legal and fact questions (1) whether the release before us is enforceable to release Ferbet’s claims as a matter of law, and (2) whether Hidden Valley has established as a matter of undisputed fact that the injury-causing negligent conduct alleged by Ferbet is within the purview of this release. Alack v. Vic Tanny Intern. of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 337 (Mo. banc 1996); see also Abbott v. Epic Landscape Prods., L.C., 361 S.W.3d 13, 19 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011), as modified (Jan. 31, 2012).

Hidden Valley also asserted assumption of the risk as an affirmative defense. Although it did not seek summary judgment on that basis nor did the trial court rely on assumption of the risk in its grant of summary judgment here, our review is de novo and we may do so. See ITT Commercial, 854 S.W.2d at 387-88 (summary judgment may be “affirmed in this Court on an entirely different basis than that posited at trial”). In fact, for the reasons we provide below, we find it necessary to employ Hidden Valley’s assumption of the risk affirmative defense in addition to the release in order to resolve this case.

Discussion

1. In Missouri, exculpatory clauses are disfavored but not void as against public policy.

In his first point, Ferbet alleges the trial court failed to address his affirmative avoidance that the exculpatory clause before us violates public policy and is therefore unenforceable. While we may agree and acknowledge that there continue to be strong policy arguments why these anticipatory releases are problematic, e.g., the party best positioned to prevent the harm is relieved of liability and instead the burden of loss is placed upon the party least able to prevent it, the public policy implications of such releases have been litigated, analyzed, and largely decided by our Supreme Court. See Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334 (“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.”) In short, that public policy ship has sailed aboard the S.S. Alack.

Thus, our initial analysis is whether the release here complies with the dictates of Alack and its progeny to which we now turn. It is a “well-established rule of construction that a contract provision exempting one from liability for his or her negligence will never be implied but must be clearly and explicitly stated.” Id. (citing Poslosky v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., 349 S.W.2d 847, 850 (Mo. 1961)). In doing so, courts must ensure that the exculpatory clause complies with the bright-line test established in Alack, the seminal case on this question, requiring that the words “negligence” or “fault” or their equivalents be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337.[ 1]

Moreover, this Court has already considered this exact same release in Guthrie v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc., 407 S.W.3d 642 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (Van Amburg, J., dissenting), in which a divided panel of this Court affirmed summary judgment in Hidden Valley’s favor and found that the language in paragraph 7 releasing Hidden Valley from its future negligence was sufficiently clear and conspicuous. Id. at 648. There, Guthrie’s foot was broken when another snow tuber collided with him in the run-out portion of the hill, the area where all of the snow tubers end their runs. Id. at 646. So, Guthrie differs somewhat from this case because of the mechanism of injury which was a collision with another snow tuber, a risk the release covered repeatedly and extensively in paragraph 2 and again in the 8th bullet point of paragraph 3, while here the injury was allegedly caused by the condition of the premises.

i. Paragraph 7’s release language satisfies Alack’s bright-line test.

Nevertheless, we abide by our previous holding in Guthrie that the release language here satisfies Alack’s conspicuity requirement. Paragraph 7, located three quarters down the one-page agreement, provides in all capital letters that snow tubing participants agree to release Hidden Valley for claims if injured while using or being present at the snow tubing facility “even if … such injuries are the result of negligence on the part of” Hidden Valley.

ii. The word “negligence” is necessary, but we still construe the whole contract.

But our inquiry does not end with the mere inclusion of the word “negligence.” If that was the case, Hidden Valley could have simply presented its customers with a 9-word declaration to sign: “I release Hidden Valley for all claims including negligence.” Alack instructs that doing so would be insufficient because the agreement must not only pass the bright-line conspicuity test by employing the word “negligence” or its equivalent, but it also must notify the participant of the specific nature of the claims he or she is releasing. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337.

Hidden Valley seems to concede this by virtue of its 850-word agreement here in which it endeavors to comprehensively identify the risks associated with, inherent to, or that may arise during snow tubing. And while paragraph 7 sets forth the release language on which Hidden Valley relies, paragraph 7 does not stand alone in this contract. In fact, with its opening phrase “[i]n consideration of the above…,” paragraph 7 incorporates the preceding six numbered paragraphs, the first four of which specifically address the types and nature of the risks involved in snow tubing.[ 2] In this way, Hidden Valley has sought to define and identify the risks of injury from snow tubing for which it not only seeks to obtain a release from its customers but also requests its customers to assume those risks.

Since this is a contract, we apply our rules of contract interpretation to determine whether the language of the agreement should be construed to encompass Ferbet’s specific claim of negligence and whether Hidden Valley is released from that claim. The Supreme Court in Alack framed the issue thusly: “There must be no doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to an exculpatory clause actually understands what future claims he or she is waiving.” Id. at 337-38. “Because standardized contracts address the mass of users, the test for reasonable expectations is objective, addressed to the average member of the public who accepts such a contract, not the subjective expectations of an individual adherent.” Woods v. QC Fin. Servs., Inc., 280 S.W.3d 90, 95 n.1 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008) (citations and quotations omitted).

The cardinal principle of contract interpretation is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intent. Dunn Indus. Group, Inc. v. City of Sugar Creek, 112 S.W.3d 421, 428 (Mo. banc 2003). The terms of a contract are read as a whole and are given their plain, ordinary, and usual meaning. Id.; Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337-38. Courts prefer a contract construction that gives meaning to all contract provisions and we avoid construing the contract so as to leave portions meaningless and inexplicable. Storey v. RGIS Inventory Specialists, LLC, 466 S.W.3d 650, 655 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). Under the doctrine of contra proferentem, the language of the contract is construed against the drafting party. Burns v. Smith, 303 S.W.3d 505, 509 (Mo. banc 2010). And this doctrine is enhanced in this case because we strictly construe contracts that seek to exonerate a party from acts of future negligence against the party claiming the benefit of that provision. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334.

Here, our task is to determine whether a reasonable person would clearly understand and be put on notice that he or she was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for a claim arising from an injury suffered as a result of Hidden Valley negligently maintaining in a dangerous condition the surface of the sliding area so that parts of the body extending from the tube would not become lodged in the sliding surface and cause injury.

The first three numbered paragraphs are the focus of our attention. In paragraph 1, Hidden Valley very broadly and generally puts customers on notice that snow tubing is dangerous and risky and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the activity that can cause injury or death. Paragraph 2 explains in detail the risk of collisions during snow tubing. And in paragraph 3 with its nine subparts, Hidden Valley identifies and notifies customers of a myriad of the risks they might face.

iii. Assumption of the risk – the nature of the risk determines whether a duty exists.

Hidden Valley’s reference to “inherent risks” of the sport of snow tubing[ 3] presents an important legal concept that requires our attention because the extent to which the risk that caused Ferbet’s injuries is an inherent risk to snow tubing will determine whether the release here even applies. Unfortunately, while Hidden Valley tells its customers in paragraph 1 that “there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport . . .” it does not identify or define in the contract which risks are inherent and which are the “other risks.”

Our Supreme Court has defined a risk that is “inherent” to an activity as something “structural” or involving the “constitution or essential character” of the activity. Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., 437 S.W.3d 184, 202 (Mo. banc 2014). And, generally, a participant is deemed to have assumed the risk of injury from the inherent risks of an activity that are known and understood, and the defendant is not liable for injuries stemming from such inherent risks because no duty is owed as to those risks. Id. at 197.

In the Coomer opinion, which doubles as an ode to the national pastime, Judge Wilson expounded on the history and current state of Missouri law regarding assumption of the risk. Coomer identified three types of assumption of the risk, “express assumption of the risk,” “implied primary assumption of the risk,” and “implied secondary assumption of the risk.” Id. at 192. For our purposes, implied primary assumption of the risk and express assumption of the risk are helpful to illustrate the concept of inherent risks raised by Hidden Valley in the participation agreement with Ferbet and the impact of assumption of the risk on duty. Implied primary assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovery when the plaintiff has knowingly and voluntarily encountered risk that is inherent in the nature of the defendant’s activity. Id. at 192. In express assumption of the risk, which is directly applicable to this case, the plaintiff makes an express statement that he is voluntarily accepting a specified risk and is barred from recovering damages for an injury resulting from that risk. Id. at 191. The plaintiff’s consent relieves the defendant of any duty to protect the plaintiff from injury and as a result, the defendant cannot be negligent. Id. at 193.

The rule that a defendant is not liable because it owes no duty for the known and understandable inherent risks of an activity “extends only to those risks” that the defendant “is powerless to alleviate without fundamentally altering” the activity. Id. But the defendant “still owes a duty of reasonable care not to alter or increase such inherent risks.” Id. at 197-198. Coomer illustrates this point with two examples. The first is the baseball spectator injured by a foul ball which he claimed he was prevented from seeing because he was being repeatedly jostled and distracted by the team’s dinosaur mascot. Id. at 198 (citing Lowe v. California League of Professional Baseball, 56 Cal.App.4th 112, 65 Cal.Rptr.2nd 105 (1997)). While getting hit by a foul ball is an inherent risk to attending a baseball game for which implied primary assumption of the risk precludes recovery because the team owes no duty of care, the jury may hold the team liable if the negligence of the mascot altered or increased that otherwise inherent risk and that negligence causes the plaintiff’s injuries. Coomer, at 198.

The second example Coomer cites is from Sheppard v. Midway R-1 Sch. Dist., 904 S.W.2d 257 (Mo. App. W.D. 1995), which involved a high school long-jumper injured during a competition by a bad landing in the landing pit. Id. at 259. The court held that even though the student cannot sue the school district for a bad landing because that is an inherent risk to long-jumping, the jury may hold the school district liable when that inherent risk is altered or increased by the defendant’s negligence in preparing the landing pit. Id. at 264.

Application of these principles to this case illustrates the circumstances to which the release here applies and those to which it may not and also the extent to which assumption of the risk principles may apply. It is for that reason that we have incorporated into our legal rationale these assumption of the risk principles even though the trial court relied solely on the release for its grant of summary judgment. Disposition of this case requires application of the release and of assumption of the risk.

Thus, if Ferbet’s injury resulted from a known and understandable risk deemed to be inherent to the sport of snow tubing, and Hidden Valley did not negligently enhance or increase that inherent risk, then the release language in paragraph 7 is not relevant nor applicable because Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty with respect to risks inherent to snow tubing. But if Hidden Valley negligently enhanced or increased that inherent risk, then the release language in the agreement is applicable and operative and we would look to the agreement as a whole to determine whether that enhanced risk was covered by the release. In addition, if Ferbet’s injury was not the result of an inherent risk, but was the result of negligence on the part of Hidden Valley, then we apply the release and our analysis is whether that “other risk” was adequately covered by the release such that Ferbet was on notice that he was releasing Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing or creating the risk which resulted in his injury.

iv. The risks created by an uneven sliding surface on Hidden Valley’s snow tubing hill are inherent to the activity of snow tubing.

We turn now to the crevice in the sliding surface that caused Ferbet’s injury and we find that an uneven sliding surface and the potential risks it creates for snow tubers are inherent risks of snow tubing because they are “structural” to the activity and involve the “essential character” of snow tubing. Coomer, 437 S.W.3d at 202. The packed snow and ice surface is outdoors at the mercy of both the changing meteorological conditions and the continual battering from plunging snow tubes and tubers. As with traditional snow sledding, an uneven surface and its impact on the participant’s experience and enjoyment seems to be part of the “essential character” of snow tubing.

But how uneven can the surface be and still be considered an inherent risk? Unfortunately, the record below is largely silent. We know little about the size or configuration of the spot on the surface in which Ferbet’s foot became lodged. Ferbet described it as an area of riprap which seemed to be along the raised rows of packed snow and ice that separated the individual lanes. The agreement, for its part, not only identified these rows but mentioned that snow tubers may slide up and over these rows into the next lane. We also know little about Hidden Valley’s care and maintenance of the surface and whether Hidden Valley was aware of the danger of body parts becoming lodged in crevices in the surface or whether there had been any, and if so, how many prior similar instances like Ferbet’s.

As the Supreme Court in Coomer recognized, a risk that is deemed inherent may become actionable if the risk is altered or enhanced by the negligence of the activity operator. Id. at 198. So, an uneven area that simply adds to snow tubers’ thrill by pitching them up, and perhaps occasionally out, of the tube is one thing. But a divot that repeatedly and unexpectedly catches and fractures customers’ limbs may go beyond being an inherent risk and become actionable because it is no longer a known and understandable risk that is part of the structure and essence of the activity.

While the paucity of this record certainly limits the concreteness of our factual findings, it does not prevent us from reaching the following legal conclusions and holdings, each of which ends in the demise of Ferbet’s appeal: First, to the extent the crevice was merely a known and understandable risk inherent to snow tubing, then Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty and the release is inapplicable and irrelevant because there is no claim to release; Second, if the record had demonstrated that the crevice was so big and dangerous that it went beyond what would be deemed an inherent risk to snow tubing and instead would constitute a negligently maintained surface, then Hidden Valley would owe Ferbet a duty and in that circumstance, the release would be triggered. Looking to the contract, specifically, paragraph 3, we find it adequately notified Ferbet that there could be “[v]ariations in the surface upon which snow tubing is conducted, which can vary from wet, slushy conditions to hard packed, icy conditions and everything in between.” As a result, we find that to the extent the particular variation that resulted in Ferbet’s injury was the result of Hidden Valley’s negligence, then this release extinguished that claim.

Before we turn to Ferbet’s remaining points, we briefly address paragraph 4 in which Hidden Valley seeks to exonerate itself by having the participant accept the snow tubing facility “AS IS” and that “NO WARRANTIES” are being made with respect to the snow tubing facility. These are terms of art with specific meanings in the context of the sale of goods and the sale of real estate. Davis Indus. Sales, Inc. v. Workman Const. Co., Inc., 856 S.W.2d 355, 359 (Mo. App. S.D. 1993); Harper v. Calvert, 687 S.W.2d 227, 230 (Mo. App. W.D. 1984). But these concepts have no role in this case involving a business inviting a customer onto their premises for a fee to participate in a recreational activity. Hidden Valley’s customers are not buyers and there is little if any opportunity for them to inspect the snow tubing facility before executing the release and paying their money or even before plunging down the hill.

In light of the above, we deny Ferbet’s first point.

2. Hidden Valley was not a common carrier in that its tubing hill was not a commercial ride for hire.

Ferbet asserts that because they operate rides and slides, recreation area operators such as Hidden Valley should be considered common carriers and should therefore be held to the highest degree of care. Ferbet then alleges without citation to any authority that such a degree of care is inconsistent with the enforcement of an exculpatory clause. We disagree.

Missouri law applies a heightened degree of care only to a very small number of well-defined activities including common carriers, such as railroads, buses, commercial airlines, streetcars, and elevator operators; electric companies; users of explosives; users of firearms; and motor vehicle operators. Chavez v. Cedar Fair, LP, 450 S.W.3d 291, 296 (Mo. banc 2014). Otherwise, the applicable standard is the ordinary degree of care. Id. (citing Lopez v. Three Rivers Elec. Co-op., Inc., 26 S.W.3d 151, 158 (Mo. banc 2000)) (“The common law ordinary negligence rule requires a defendant to exercise the degree of care of a reasonable person of ordinary prudence under similar circumstances, now commonly referred to as the ‘ordinary degree of care.'”).

In Missouri, neither the common carrier designation nor the application of the highest degree of care has ever been extended to amusement parks or recreation areas such as ski resorts or snow tubing hills. Id. at 296; see also McCollum v. Winnwood Amusement Co., 332 Mo. 779, 59 S.W.2d 693, 697 (1933) (holding the operator of a place of public amusement operating has a duty of ordinary care to its patrons); Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388, 392 (Mo. App. W.D. 1999) (applying a duty of ordinary care when skiers were injured due to icy conditions). And, since this activity resembles both skiing and an amusement park ride, we decline Ferbet’s invitation to do so. Hidden Valley owed Ferbet a duty of ordinary care in connection with its operation and maintenance of its snow tubing hill.

Point two is denied.

3. The summary judgment entered in this case fully disposed of Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances and did not violate Ferbet’s due process rights.

Ferbet claims the trial court’s grant of summary judgment violated his due process rights because the court failed to address his numerous affirmative avoidances. We have reviewed Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances and find they fall into two groups. The first group attacks the formation of the agreement here by raising such issues as duress and that Ferbet had not actually read or understood the document before signing it. The second group of affirmative avoidances broadly attacks the exculpatory clause on public policy grounds. And we conclude from our review of the record and in our opinion here that Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances have been fully considered and resolved.

With respect to Ferbet’s attacks on the contract’s formation, the trial court’s enforcement of the agreement necessarily signifies that the trial court found as a matter of law that this was a properly formed agreement when Ferbet signed it and dated it. Austin v. Brooklyn Cooperage Co., 285 S.W. 1015, 1017 (Mo. App. 1926) (“It has been uniformly held that a person who can read, and is in no way prevented from reading a written contract before he signs it, is bound by its terms, and cannot void it on the ground that he did not know its contents when he signed it.”). Ferbet testified that nothing prevented him from reading the document.

As for Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances regarding the public policy considerations relevant to exculpatory clauses, we discussed at length above that Missouri case law is settled that though disfavored, exculpatory clauses are not prohibited as against public policy. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334. In effect, Ferbet’s public policy arguments have been baked into the controlling precedent by Alack and its progeny. We decline Ferbet’s invitation to ignore that precedent.

Point three is denied.

Conclusion

The trial court’s grant of summary judgment is affirmed.

Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., J. and Robin Ransom, J. concur.

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Notes:

[ 1] We also note that Alack sought to distinguish between ordinary negligence and gross negligence in the context of exculpatory clauses with the former being disfavored but enforceable and the latter void as against public policy. Id. at 337 (“there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence[.]” (emphasis added)). However, in Decormier v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Group, Inc., the Supreme Court erased this distinction because “Missouri courts do not recognize degrees of negligence at common law.” 446 S.W.3d 668, 671 (Mo. banc 2014). Decormier permits exculpatory clauses to shield parties from negligence but holds exculpatory clauses provide no protection for reckless conduct or for intentional torts. Id. Here Ferbet’s claims against Hidden Valley were for ordinary negligence.

[ 2] But even if paragraph 7 had not included the phrase “[i]n consideration of the above…”, our rule of contract interpretation require us to consider paragraph 7 in conjunction with the remaining portions of the contract including the paragraphs that seek to identify the risks involved in snow tubing.

[ 3] Hidden Valley refers to snow tubing as a sport. We need not decide whether this is the case, or whether riding a roller coaster is a sport, whether descending the log flume at Six Flags is a sport or, for that matter, whether golf is a sport.

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Release valid to stop a claim for an injury on a tubing hill in Iowa

Attempt to reclassify a tubing hill as a carnival or amusement ride also failed by the plaintiff.

Lathrop vs. Century, Inc., 2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

State: Iowa

Plaintiff: Pamela J. Lathrop, Individually and as Next Friend of D. Scott Lathrop, a Minor, and Sarah N. Lathrop, a Minor

Defendant: Century, Inc., d/b/a Mt. Crescent

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2002

The opportunity to analyze an outdoor recreation case in Iowa is rare. Writing about one concerning a tubing hill is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.

A mother and her two children went tubing at the defendant’s tubing hill. Before entering the premises “they” signed a release. Later, the court clarified this and stated the mother and two children signed the release.

After taking several trips down the hill, the mother went down going faster than she expected. She went over a bump and was thrown from the tube landing on her back and head.

All three signed the form. They entered, and took several trips up and down the hill. After they had been snow tubing for roughly an hour, Pamela, on a trip down the hill, traveled faster than she expected. She went over a bump at a high speed, became airborne and was thrown from the snow tube. She landed on her back and hit her head on the ramp. She was later diagnosed with a compression/explosion fracture of L2 with canal compromised.

The mother on her own behalf and on behalf of her two children filed a lawsuit. The district court granted the defendant tubing hill’s motion to dismiss, and this appeal followed.

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

The plaintiff’s appeal was based on six allegations. The appellate court took each allegation and through it out with simple response. The first allegation was the release was ambiguous.

The ambiguity in the release was based on the use of the terms “event” and “restricted area.” However, the trial court and the appellate court found there was no ambiguity in the release.

Lathrop entered a restricted area, as defined by the release, when she entered the tubing park. She was not allowed to enter until she paid the admission price and signed the release and the area was therefore restricted from the general public. We find no error with the district court’s conclusion that the release applied to Lathrop.

The second argument was the plaintiff’s lack of awareness about the risks of tubing should void the release. Under Iowa law, the parties to a release must not have known of the precise circumstances leading to the injury to the plaintiff, only that there could be a broad range of accidents that could occur. She argued a jury should have the right to decide if she contemplated the injury she received.

The court did not agree with this argument.

We conclude a reasonable juror could not find the Lathrop’s assertion of ignorance plausible. One need not be an experienced snow tuber to anticipate that, while sliding down a snow-covered hill at a fast rate on an inflated tube, one might be thrown from the tube. Accordingly, we find no error on this issue by the district court.

The third argument of the plaintiff was the Iowa Amusement or Carnival statute. The statute requires carnivals to carry liability insurance. Therefore, the plaintiff argued the use of a release is against public policy.

However, the court found that the statute referred did not refer to tubing hills. As such, there was no need to determine if the statute and public policy prevented the use of a release.

We agree with the ruling of the district court that the Mt. Crescent snow tubing facilities do not fall under the definition of carnival or amusement ride or device in Iowa Code section 88A. We therefore need not decide whether the provisions of this code chapter implicitly preclude the use of releases of liability by such facilities.

The fourth argument was the specific release fell within an exception to the general enforceability of releases. There could not be an exception to the rule, “unless there preservation of the general public welfare imperatively so demands.”

While the court in Baker does not provide a precise framework for analyzing the appropriateness of a public policy exception in a specific situation, it does suggest, as an example, that a professional providing a service of great importance to the public would not be allowed to contract to avoid liability for negligence. We conclude snow tubing, a purely recreational activity, is not of such great importance to the public as to justify an exception to the general rule. The district court did not err by failing to recognize a public policy exception to the general enforceability of releases of liability in this case.

The fifth argument was if the release was enforceable, it only released the defendant from unavoidable and inherent risks of tubing and not from unnecessarily dangerous conditions or general negligence. The plaintiff could find no legal support for this claim, and the appellate court dismissed it with the statement: “The appellate courts of this state have consistently upheld the validity of broadly worded releases.”

The final argument was the minor’s claims could not be waived because a parent could not waive a minor’s claims. However, due to technical requirements, the issue was not properly addressed, and the error was not preserved for appeal.

The appellate court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the claims.

So Now What?

The only issue of interest raised in the appeal was whether or not the injured plaintiff could understand the risks she was signing away. However, the court looked at this not as a requirement the release lists all the possible injuries a plaintiff could suffer, but only that the plaintiff has a general knowledge that she could be injured.

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Lathrop vs. Century, Inc., 2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

Lathrop vs. Century, Inc., 2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

Pamela J. Lathrop, Individually and as Next Friend of D. Scott Lathrop, a Minor, and Sarah N. Lathrop, a Minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants, vs. Century, Inc., d/b/a Mt. Crescent, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 2-243 / 01-1058

COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA

2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

October 30, 2002, Filed

NOTICE:

NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE ON PUBLICATION OF THIS OPINION. THE OPINION IS SUBJECT TO MODIFICATION OR CORRECTION BY THE COURT AND IS NOT FINAL UNIL THE TIME FOR REHEARING OR FURTHER REVIEW HAS PASSED. AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION MAY BE CITED IN A BRIEF; HOWEVER, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS SHALL NOT CONSTITUTE CONTROLLING LEGAL AUTHORITY.

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Timothy O’Grady, Judge. The plaintiffs appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

 

COUNSEL: James E. Harris and Britany S. Shotkoski of Harris Feldman Law Offices, Omaha, Nebraska, and Laura Laubenthal Pattermann of Law Offices of Gallner & Pattermann, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellants.

John M. McHale of Peters Law Firm, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellee.

JUDGES: Heard by Hecht, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Eisenhauer, JJ.

OPINION BY: HECHT

OPINION

HECHT, P.J.

The plaintiffs appeal from a district court order granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

On December 30, 1999, Pamela Lathrop and her two minor children, Scott and Sarah, visited the Mt. Crescent tubing park. Before they were allowed to enter the premises, [*2] they signed a form entitled “Release and Waiver of Liability Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement.” Key portions of the release read as follows.

In consideration of being permitted to compete, officiate, observe, work for, or participate in any way in the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, skiing, snowboarding), being permitted to enter for any purpose any RESTRICTED AREA (defined as any area requiring special authorization, credentials, or permission TO enter or an area to which admission by the general public is restricted or prohibited), EACH OF THE UNDERSIGNED, for himself, his personal representatives, heirs, and next of kin:

. . . .

2. HEREBY RELEASES, WAIVES, DISCHARGES AND COVENANTS NOT TO SUE the . . . operators, owners, officials . . . of premises used to conduct the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) . . . FROM ALL LIABILITY TO THE UNDERSIGNED, his personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin FOR ANY AND ALL LOSS OR DAMAGE, AND ANY CLAIM OR DEMANDS THEREOF ON ACCOUNT OF INJURY TO THE PERSON OR PROPERTY OR RESULTING IN DEATH OF THE UNDERSIGNED ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THE EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) WHETHER CAUSED [*3] BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE.

. . . .

4. HEREBY ASSUMES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY RISK OF BODILY INJURY, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGE arising out of or related to the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) whether caused by the NEGLIGENCE OF RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE.

5. HEREBY acknowledges that THE ACTIVITIES OF THE EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) ARE VERY DANGEROUS and involve the risk of serious bodily injury and/or death and/or property damage. . . .

6. HEREBY agrees that this Release and Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement extends to all acts of negligence by the Releasees . . . and is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the law of the County or State in which the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow tubing, snowboarding, skiing) is/are conducted and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full legal force and effect.

I HAVE READ THIS RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY, ASSUMPTION OF RISK AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT, FULLY UNDERSTAND ITS TERMS, UNDERSTAND THAT I HAVE GIVEN UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS BY SIGNING IT, AND HAVE SIGNED IT FREELY [*4] AND VOLUNTARILY WITHOUT ANY INDUCEMENT, ASSURANCE, OR GUARANTEE BEING MADE TO ME AND INTEND MY SIGNATURE TO BE A COMPLETE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL LIABILITY TO THE GREATEST EXTENT ALLOWED BY LAW.

All three signed the form. They entered, and took several trips up and down the hill. After they had been snow tubing for roughly an hour, Pamela, on a trip down the hill, traveled faster than she expected. She went over a bump at a high speed, became airborne and was thrown from the snow tube. She landed on her back and hit her head on the ramp. She was later diagnosed with a compression/explosion fracture of L2 with canal compromised.

Pamela, individually and on behalf of her two children, filed a lawsuit against Mt. Crescent alleging negligence. Mt. Crescent moved the court for summary judgment. The district court granted this motion and dismissed the case on June 18, 2001. Plaintiffs appealed, alleging the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

[HN1] A grant of summary judgment is reviewed for correction of errors of law. Wright v. American Cyanamid Co., 599 N.W.2d 668, 670 (Iowa 1999). “Summary [*5] judgment is only appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. “We review the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and the moving party carries the burden of showing the absence of a material fact issue.” Id. (citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

Lathrop makes six allegations of error by the district court in granting summary judgment. We will address each in turn.

A. The release is ambiguous. Lathrop argues that the language of the release is ambiguous. Specifically, she contends the references in the release to “EVENT” and “RESTRICTED AREA” are subject to differing interpretations. For example, she argues “EVENT” can be understood to refer to a competition or special occurrence, and that she never participated in a competition while at Mt. Crescent. She also argues that “RESTRICTED AREA” is ambiguous and that she at no time entered any restricted areas, as she understood them. She contends then, that the district court erred by applying the terms of the release to her. We, however, find no error by the district court. The two terms Lathrop [*6] points to are defined in the release. An “EVENT” is defined as “snow tubing, snowboarding, [or] skiing” and “RESTRICTED AREA” is defined as “any area requiring . . . permission . . . to enter or an area to which admission by the general public is restricted or prohibited.” There is no doubt that Lathrop participated in snow tubing. Lathrop entered a restricted area, as defined by the release, when she entered the tubing park. She was not allowed to enter until she paid the admission price and signed the release and the area was therefore restricted from the general public. We find no error with the district court’s conclusion that the release applied to Lathrop.

B. Lathrop’s lack of awareness of the risks involved in snow tubing rendered the release void. Lathrop acknowledges that Korsmo v. Waverly Ski Club, 435 N.W.2d 746 (Iowa Ct. App. 1988) provides the guiding principles when determining the applicability of releases. [HN2] “Parties need not have contemplated the precise occurrence which occurred as long as it is reasonable to conclude the parties contemplated a similarly broad range of accidents.” Id. at 749. Lathrop, however, contends [*7] she was unaware of the risks involved in snow tubing because she had never snow tubed before. She argues that she could not, and did not, contemplate the accident that occurred while she was snow tubing at Mt. Crescent. She contends then that the district should have permitted a jury to decide whether this type of accident was within her contemplation. We conclude a reasonable juror could not find the Lathrop’s assertion of ignorance plausible. One need not be an experienced snow tuber to anticipate that, while sliding down a snow-covered hill at a fast rate on an inflated tube, one might be thrown from the tube. Accordingly, we find no error on this issue by the district court.

C. The release is contrary to applicable provisions of Iowa Code chapter 88A and is void and unenforceable. Lathrop argues Mt. Crescent is a carnival and the tubing sponsored by Mt. Crescent is an amusement device or ride as contemplated by Iowa Code chapter 88A (2001). Because the statute requires carnivals to carry liability insurance, Lathrop argues it is against public policy to allow them to waive their liability in a release.

Mt. Crescent contends Lathrop failed to preserve error on this [*8] issue. Lathrop first raised this issue in her supplemental resistance to Mt. Crescent’s motion for summary judgment, presented to Mt. Crescent a mere four days before the scheduled hearing. It was argued in the hearing, and the district court ruled on it. We conclude the issue was preserved for our review.

Iowa Code section 88A.1 defines a carnival as [HN3] “an enterprise offering amusement or entertainment to the public in, upon, or by means of amusement devices or rides or concession booths.” Clearly, Mt. Crescent offers entertainment and amusement. The question, then, is whether it accomplishes this by means of amusement devices or rides. [HN4] An amusement device is “any equipment or piece of equipment, appliance or combination thereof designed or intended to entertain or amuse a person.” Iowa Code § 88A.1 (2001). An amusement ride is “any mechanized device or combination of devices which carries passengers along, around, or over a fixed or restricted course for the purpose of giving its passengers amusement, pleasure, thrills or excitement.” Iowa Code § 88A.1. The [HN5] snow tubing runs at Mt. Crescent are not mechanized [*9] and do not carry its passengers over a fixed or restricted course. We agree with the ruling of the district court that the Mt. Crescent snow tubing facilities do not fall under the definition of carnival or amusement ride or device in Iowa Code section 88A. We therefore need not decide whether the provisions of this code chapter implicitly preclude the use of releases of liability by such facilities.

D. This release falls within a public policy exception to the general enforceability of releases. [HN6] “Contracts exempting a party from its own negligence are enforceable, and are not contrary to public policy.” Huber v. Hovey, 501 N.W.2d 53, 54 (Iowa 1993). Despite this clear statement from our supreme court, Lathrop argues the Mt. Crescent release falls within a public policy exception to this rule. Lathrop relies upon language found in Bashford v. Slater, 250 Iowa 857, 96 N.W.2d 904 (Iowa 1959) and Baker v. Stewarts’ Inc., 433 N.W.2d 706 (Iowa 1988). Both of these cases acknowledge the possibility of an exception to the general enforceability of releases in Iowa, but neither case finds a public policy exception [*10] applicable. Baker provides guidance for the recognition of a public policy exception. [HN7] “We will not ‘curtail the liberty to contract by enabling parties to escape their valid contractual obligation on the ground of public policy unless the preservation of the general public welfare imperatively so demands.'” Id. at 707 (quoting Tschirgi v. Merchants Nat’l Bank of Cedar Rapids, 253 Iowa 682, 113 N.W.2d 226, 231 (Iowa 1962). While the court in Baker does not provide a precise framework for analyzing the appropriateness of a public policy exception in a specific situation, it does suggest, as an example, that a professional providing a service of great importance to the public would not be allowed to contract to avoid liability for negligence. See id. We conclude [HN8] snow tubing, a purely recreational activity, is not of such great importance to the public as to justify an exception to the general rule. The district court did not err by failing to recognize a public policy exception to the general enforceability of releases of liability in this case.

E. If the release is enforceable, it only releases Mt. Crescent from unavoidable and inherent [*11] risks of snow tubing. Lathrop argues that if the exculpatory contract is enforceable, it only releases Mt. Crescent from unavoidable and inherent risks of snow tubing and not from unnecessarily dangerous conditions or general negligence. However, Lathrop cites no controlling authority for the proposition that broad exculpatory contracts which purport to release the drafters from “all liability … for any and all loss or damage … arising out of snow tubing … whether caused by the negligence of releasees or otherwise” should not be interpreted as written. [HN9] The appellate courts of this state have consistently upheld the validity of broadly worded releases. See Huber, 501 N.W.2d at 55; Bashford, 96 N.W.2d at 909-910; Weik v. Ace Rents, 249 Iowa 510, 87 N.W.2d 314, 317 (Iowa 1958); and Korsmo, 435 N.W.2d at 748. We find no error by the district court for applying the clear language of the release.

F. The children’s claims cannot be dismissed because a parent cannot waive a child’s future cause of action. The final claim of district court error urged by Lathrop is that the district court erred by dismissing [*12] Lathrop’s children’s causes of action. She argues that a parent cannot waive a child’s right to bring a future cause of action. However, as Lathrop acknowledges in her brief, the [HN10] district court did not address this issue in its ruling. Lathrop did not move the court to enlarge its findings under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2). Therefore, Lathrop has failed to preserve error on this issue and cannot raise it now on appeal. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Pflibsen, 350 N.W.2d 202, 206-207 (Iowa 1984).

IV. CONCLUSION

We conclude the district court committed no legal error in granting Mt. Crescent’s motion for summary judgment, and therefore affirm.

AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff fails to prove a product liability claim because she can’t prove what tube was the result of her injury.

Issues of why the plaintiff was standing up and not getting out of the way on a tubing hill was not discussed in the appellate decision.

Buckel v. Tube Pro Inc., 2016 IL App (1st) 150427-U; 2016 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 638

State: Illinois, Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

Plaintiff: Susan Buckel

Defendant: Tube Pro Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence (based on a product liability claim)

Defendant Defenses: No proof the allegedly defective product was theirs

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2016

The defendant is a snow tubing operation at a city park in Illinois. The plaintiff was tubing when something sticking out of the bottom of the tube slowed her down and stopped her. While stopped on the hill the plaintiff was struck by another tuber and was injured.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment saying the plaintiff could not prove her case because she could not identify what tube, let alone whose tube, (manufactured by whom), was the defective tube. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

There was also exculpatory language on the back of the lift ticket the plaintiff purchased. It was raised by the defendant and discussed in one paragraph in the decision, but was not used by the court to reach its conclusion.

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

The court started its decision by looking at the testimony from the plaintiff used to describe the tube she was riding. Her testimony of the color of the tube did not match the receipts from the tubing hill that showed the tubes that were purchased from the defendant. The tubes purchased from the defendant was also purchased ten years prior to the accident so very few if any of them were still in operation with the tubing hill.

Defendant attached the deposition of plaintiff, who testified that the colors of the tubes at Villa Olivia on the date of her accident were “red, green, and blue.” Defendant also relied on the deposition of plaintiff to establish that the snow tube she used at the time of her accident was red. Plaintiff testified, “I believe it was red.”

Defendant also attached the deposition transcript of William Pawson, who testified that the snow tubes purchased by Villa Olivia from defendant were red and blue. William Pawson testified that he believed “those [were] the only two colors that we sold them.” Defendant also relied on William Pawson’s testimony that Villa Olivia purchased Tough Tube snow tubes that were “a mix of red, blue, maybe some green and plum, I would imagine, but red and blue for sure.” Defendant argued that the evidence showed that defendant was just one of the possible manufacturers which may have sold the red snow tube in question.

The defendants also introduced evidence showing that at the time tubes were purchased from the defendant, tubes were also purchased from another tube manufacturer.

The tubes sold by the defendant also had a plastic bottom, and the plaintiff testified her inner tube had a regular rubber bottom.

The court then looked at how a product liability claim based on negligence needed to be proven under Illinois’s law.

“A product liability claim [based] in negligence is concerned with both defendant’s fault and the condition of the product.” To succeed in a products liability claim based on negligence, a plaintiff must prove: (1) the existence of a duty; (2) a breach of that duty; (3), an injury that was proximately caused by that breach, and (4) damages. “‘A manufacturer has a nondelegable duty to produce a product that is reasonably safe for all intended uses.'” “A plaintiff must show that the manufacturer knew or should have known of the risk posed by the design at the time of the manufacture to establish that the manufacturer acted unreasonably based on the foreseeability of harm.” Moreover, in a products liability action asserting a claim based in negligence, “[t]he plaintiff must show that the manufacturer breached his duty to design something safer for the user because the quality of the product in question was insufficient.”

However, the most important issue is the plaintiff must identify the manufacturer of the defective product and establish a relationship between the injury and the product. The identification of the manufacturer must be more than speculation.

Most importantly, “the plaintiff must identify the manufacturer of the product and establish a causal relationship between the injury and the product.” While the plaintiff may prove these elements by direct or circumstantial evidence, “liability cannot be based on mere speculation, guess, or conjecture.”

Because the tube described by the plaintiff was different from what was sold by the manufacturer and because the plaintiff did not have the actual tube, the appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court.

She testified that a photograph of a snow tube used by her son showed a red-colored tube, but did not indicate the manufacturer’s name on it. Without the snow tube itself or any examination of it, plaintiff cannot establish or raise a genuine issue of material fact that defendant was the manufacturer. Without the snow tube itself or any photographs of it, or an examination of the snow tube to determine if the accident was a result of a preexisting defect, plaintiff cannot prove a prima facie products liability case against the defendant.

So Now What?

Simple but very lengthy decision because the court bent over backwards to prove why it could not rule for the plaintiff. Yet this decision is instructive because you have to have more than an injury to ask for money in a lawsuit or claim.

There must be a relationship with what caused you the injury, and the person you are claiming caused the injury and a relationship with you. Lacking one of those it does not matter if you signed a release or assumed the risk because you can’t prove negligence.

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Buckel v. Tube Pro Inc., 2016 IL App (1st) 150427-U; 2016 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 638

Buckel v. Tube Pro Inc., 2016 IL App (1st) 150427-U; 2016 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 638

Susan Buckel, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Tube Pro Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 1-15-0427

APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FIFTH DIVISION

2016 IL App (1st) 150427-U; 2016 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 638

March 31, 2016, Decided

NOTICE: THIS ORDER WAS FILED UNDER SUPREME COURT RULE 23 AND MAY NOT BE CITED AS PRECEDENT BY ANY PARTY EXCEPT IN THE LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOWED UNDER RULE 23(e)(1).

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 L 116. The Honorable Kathy M. Flanagan, Judge, presiding.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

JUDGES: JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court. Presiding Justice Reyes and Justice Lampkin concurred in the judgment.

OPINION BY: GORDON

OPINION

JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court.

Presiding Justice Reyes and Justice Lampkin concurred in the judgment.

ORDER

[*P1] Held: Where plaintiff did not and cannot produce the allegedly defective snow tube involved in her snow tubing accident or produce any photographs of the snow tube itself, and where the subject snow tube was never retrieved or examined for defects, plaintiff cannot establish a genuine issue of material fact that defendant was the manufacturer and thus the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of defendant.

[*P2] Plaintiff Susan Buckel brought this products liability action based on a negligence theory against defendant Tube Pro Inc., seeking damages for injuries she sustained during a snow tubing accident at the Villa Olivia ski facility in Bartlett, Illinois, on January 17, 2011. Plaintiff alleges that she was injured as a result of a defective snow tube manufactured by defendant. Defendant moved [**2] for summary judgment, claiming that plaintiff provided insufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the identity of the manufacturer of the snow tube in question. Defendant further argued that, without the claimed defective snow tube, plaintiff could not prove the necessary elements to establish a prima facie case of products liability against defendant. The trial court granted defendant’s motion, and plaintiff now appeals.

[*P3] For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant.

[*P4] BACKGROUND

[*P5] I. Pleadings

[*P6] A. Complaint

[*P7] On January 4, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants: (1) Daniel Corrado; Greater Chicago Distribution Corporation, individually and doing business as Villa Olivia; and Villa Olivia1; (2) Tube Pro; (3) “Unknown Snow Tube Manufacturer”; and (4) “Unknown Owners and Non-Record Claimants.”

1 On July 24, 2013, the trial court granted plaintiff’s motion to voluntary dismiss without prejudice, Daniel Corrado, Greater Chicago Distribution Corporation, individually and doing business as Villa Olivia. The record does not contain a copy of plaintiff’s motion, but includes the trial court’s order [**3] granting it.

[*P8] In her complaint, plaintiff made the following allegations:

[*P9] Plaintiff alleged that she was at Villa Olivia on January 17, 2011, and purchased a ticket to snow tube on the premises of Villa Olivia. Villa Olivia provided her with a snow tube to use, which was manufactured by defendant. As she descended down the hill using the snow tube provided by Villa Olivia, a sharp object stuck out of the tube, dug into the ground, and caused the snow tube to stop on the hill. While her snow tube was stopped on the hill, she was struck by another snow tube from behind and was injured. Plaintiff alleged her snow tube was defective.

[*P10] Only count II of plaintiff’s complaint, which is entitled “Negligence,” is directed at defendant. Plaintiff alleged that the snow tube she used at Villa Olivia was designed, manufactured, assembled, distributed, and sold by defendant. Plaintiff further alleged that defendant negligently designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold the snow tube equipment without appropriate safeguarding and an adequate warning label. Plaintiff also contended that defendant failed to adequately warn users of the dangers of the snow tube, to design and manufacture the snow tube [**4] safely, or to properly inform or instruct the purchaser of the snow tube’s use. Plaintiff alleged that defendant negligently tested and inspected or failed to test, inspect, and heed the test results of the subject snow tube involved in her accident. Plaintiff claimed that, as a result of defendant’s “careless and negligent acts and omissions,” she “was severely and permanently injured both internally and externally.”

[*P11] B. Answer

[*P12] On April 18, 2013, defendant filed its “Answer and Affirmative Defense” to plaintiff’s complaint. Defendant admitted that it manufactured snow tubes, including certain snow tubes used at Villa Olivia and that, on or before January 17, 2011, it engaged in the business of designing, manufacturing, assembling, distributing, and selling snow tubes. Defendant answered that it had no knowledge regarding the truth or falsity of plaintiff’s statement that the snow tube she used at Villa Olivia was designed, manufactured, assembled, distributed, or sold by defendant. Defendant denied it had negligently designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold snow tube equipment without appropriate safeguarding and an adequate warning label. Defendant also denied plaintiff’s allegation [**5] that it failed to adequately warn users of the dangers of the snow tube, to design and manufacture the snow tube safely, or to properly inform or instruct the purchaser of the snow tube’s use. Defendant also denied that it negligently tested and inspected or failed to test, inspect, and heed the test results of the subject snow tube involved in plaintiff’s accident.

[*P13] Defendant also asserted the affirmative defense of comparative negligence, claiming plaintiff was negligent in failing to observe and avoid the snow tube which allegedly struck her and was negligent in failing to move from the middle of the hill, when she knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known, that other snow tubes were descending down the hill. Defendant also claimed plaintiff was negligent in failing to properly inspect the subject snow tube prior to riding in it and was negligent in failing to keep a proper lookout. Defendant also alleged plaintiff was inattentive and unobservant to surrounding conditions and was the sole proximate cause of her alleged injuries and damages.

[*P14] C. Plaintiff’s Reply

[*P15] In response to defendant’s affirmative defense of comparative negligence, plaintiff denied she was negligent [**6] in failing to observe and avoid the snow tube which allegedly struck her or negligent in failing to move from the middle of the snow tube hill. Plaintiff also denied that she was negligent in failing to properly inspect the subject snow tube prior to riding it or that she was negligent in keeping a proper lookout. Plaintiff denied she was inattentive or unobservant to surrounding circumstances.

[*P16] D. Amended Complaint and Answer

[*P17] On July 8, 2013, plaintiff filed an amended complaint against defendant, naming as additional defendants “Village of Bartlett and the Bartlett Park District.”2 The allegations of count II, which were directed at defendant, remained substantially the same.

2 On October 28, 2013, plaintiff filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss, without prejudice, the Village of Bartlett, which the trial court granted on November 1, 2013. 735 ILCS 5/2-1009 (West 2010). Additionally, on November 1, 2013, the trial court granted defendant Bartlett Park District’s section 2-619(a)(5) motion to dismiss count V of plaintiff’s amended complaint, without prejudice. 735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(5) (West 2010). Tube Pro is the only remaining defendant on appeal.

[*P18] On July 12, 2013, defendant filed its “Answer and Affirmative Defense to Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint,” [**7] which asserted the same affirmative defenses and denied the same allegations.

[*P19] On March 25, 2014, defendant filed a motion for leave to file an amended answer and affirmative defenses, which included the defense of comparative negligence pled in its prior answer plus additional affirmative defenses. Defendant raised the additional affirmative defense of joint and several liability and further contended that the exculpatory clause included on the snow tubing ticket plaintiff purchased from Villa Olivia barred plaintiff’s cause of action against defendant. Defendant also raised as an affirmative defense that the negligent act of the snow tube rider who struck plaintiff was an intervening or superseding cause of her accident, which barred recovery against defendant. The trial court granted the motion on March 25, 2014.

[*P20] On April 30, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file answers to defendant’s amended affirmative defenses to plaintiff’s amended complaint.3

3 There is no order in the record indicating whether the trial court granted plaintiff’s motion for leave to file answers to defendant’s amended affirmative defenses to plaintiff’s amended complaint.

[*P21] While plaintiff admitted that [**8] she paid for a ticket to engage in snow tubing at Villa Olivia, she denied defendant’s allegation that, by purchasing the snow tubing ticket, she agreed to the terms and conditions of the exculpatory clause contained on the ticket. Plaintiff denied the allegation that the parties to the exculpatory clause intended that the terms and conditions of the exculpatory clause apply to defendant. Plaintiff further denied that defendant was a thirdparty beneficiary of the exculpatory clause and that the exculpatory clause included on the snow tubing ticket plaintiff purchased from Villa Olivia barred plaintiff’s cause against defendant.

[*P22] As to defendant’s additional affirmative defense of joint and several liability, plaintiff denied the allegation that the sole proximate cause of plaintiff’s accident was the negligent acts or omissions, or intentional, reckless, willful, and wanton acts or omissions, of other persons or entities not presently parties to the lawsuit, including, but not limited to, Bartlett Park District and the snow tube rider who struck her. Plaintiff further denied defendant’s allegation that, pursuant to section 2-1117 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, any fault, which it specifically denied, was less than 25% of the [**9] total fault. 735 ILCS 5/2-1117 (West 2010).

[*P23] Plaintiff denied defendant’s affirmative defense that the negligent act or omission of the snow tube rider who struck her was an intervening or superseding cause of her accident, which barred recovery against defendant. Plaintiff also denied defendant’s allegation that the intervening or superseding negligent acts or omissions of the snow tube rider who struck her barred her recovery against defendant.

[*P24] On May 23, 2013, defendant filed answers to plaintiff’s interrogatories. Defendant named its president and co-founder, William Pawson, and its cofounder, Annie Pawson, as witnesses who would testify to the design, manufacture, and sale of snow tubes by defendant. Defendant also stated that William Pawson and Annie Pawson would testify that defendant manufactures snow tubes for sale and does not inspect or maintain products subsequent to sale to a customer.

[*P25] Plaintiff filed answers to defendant’s interrogatories.4 Plaintiff named certain of defendant’s employees as witnesses who would testify regarding their knowledge of the occurrence alleged in her complaint, including their observations and the policies of defendant. The witnesses included William Pawson, Annie [**10] Pawson, Victor Clark, Rick Root, Jennifer Huras, and Abby Pawson.5

4 Exhibit “A” to defendant’s motion for authorization regarding mental health records, subpoenas, and testimony contains plaintiff’s answers to defendant’s interrogatories, but it does not provide a date of filing.

5 The record does not contain a copy of the depositions of Victor Clark, Rick Root, Jennifer Huras, and Abby Pawson.

[*P26] On December 10, 2013, the trial court ordered party depositions to be completed by January 28, 2014. The depositions of William Pawson6 and Annie Pawson7 were discovery depositions.

6 Plaintiff attached an excerpt of William Pawson’s deposition in her response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and defendant attached the entire transcript of William Pawson’s deposition in its motion for summary judgment.

7 Plaintiff attached the entire transcript of Annie Pawson’s deposition as Exhibit “D” to her response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

[*P27] II. Motion for Summary Judgment

[*P28] A. Defendant’s Motion

[*P29] On September 15, 2014, defendant moved for summary judgment, claiming that plaintiff provided insufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the identity of the manufacturer [**11] of the snow tube in question. In its motion, defendant claimed that, because the snow tube was never inspected or retained after the accident, plaintiff could not prove the necessary elements to establish a prima facie case of product liability against defendant.

[*P30] In support of its motion for summary judgment, defendant relied on invoices indicating that Villa Olivia purchased snow tubes from two different companies: (1) defendant; and (2) Tough Tube Manufacturing Inc. (Tough Tube). An invoice showed that in September 2000, Villa Olivia purchased 100 snow tubes from Tough Tube. Another invoice showed that in December 2012, Villa Olivia purchased 14 refurbished snow tube covers from defendant. The invoices also showed that in 2008, Villa Olivia purchased 5 red snow tubes, 1 navy blue snow tube, and 10 refurbished snow tube covers from defendant. The invoices showed that in 2009, Villa Olivia purchased 10 royal blue snow tubes and 36 refurbished covers from defendant.

[*P31] Defendant attached the deposition of plaintiff, who testified that the colors of the tubes at Villa Olivia on the date of her accident were “red, green, and blue.” Defendant also relied on the deposition of plaintiff to [**12] establish that the snow tube she used at the time of her accident was red. Plaintiff testified, “I believe it was red.”

[*P32] Defendant also attached the deposition transcript of William Pawson, who testified that the snow tubes purchased by Villa Olivia from defendant were red and blue. William Pawson testified that he believed “those [were] the only two colors that we sold them.” Defendant also relied on William Pawson’s testimony that Villa Olivia purchased Tough Tube snow tubes that were “a mix of red, blue, maybe some green and plum, I would imagine, but red and blue for sure.” Defendant argued that the evidence showed that defendant was just one of the possible manufacturers which may have sold the red snow tube in question.

[*P33] William Pawson also testified that defendant never experienced any reports that its snow tubes were defective. William Pawson testified that he was not sure “how” or “why” a protruding object could come out of plaintiff’s snow tube. He testified that: “There is just the inner tube. It’s the only accessory item inside the actual tube cover. And the valve is welded to the tube itself. So I don’t understand. I’m not sure how that could occur.”

[*P34] Defendant further relied [**13] on plaintiff’s deposition that the snow tube involved in her accident did not have a plastic bottom. Plaintiff testified that the type of material she observed on the bottom of her snow tube “[was] not plastic,” but a normal inner tube material, which she assumed was rubber. Defendant also referenced William Pawson’s testimony to show that the bottom of defendant’s snow tubes were plastic. He testified that one of defendant’s component parts for its snow tubes is a “plastic bottom.”

[*P35] Defendant cited plaintiff’s deposition to show that she could not say for certain who the manufacturer of the snow tube was. Plaintiff testified that “[she] did not look at the markings on the tube” she used at the time of her accident and, therefore, was uncertain as to its manufacturer. Plaintiff testified, while looking at photographs that showed different snow tubes in use at Villa Olivia “before her accident,” she could not say for certain that they showed the name of defendant. Plaintiff testified:

“I can’t tell you the exact letters; but I can tell you how when you blow it up that it looks like two words, okay. And I can kind of make out certain letters; but could I clearly say it was a T or a P or [**14] a B or what, no.”

Plaintiff also testified she did not take any photographs of the exact snow tube involved in her accident.

[*P36] In sum, defendant argued that it was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law because the snow tube involved in plaintiff’s accident was no longer available and, therefore, plaintiff could not identify the manufacturer of the snow tube nor support a reasonable inference that defendant manufactured the snow tube she used at the time of her tubing accident. In addition, defendant argued plaintiff could not prove a prima facie case without the allegedly defective snow tube.

[*P37] B. Plaintiff’s Response

[*P38] On December 1, 2015, plaintiff filed a response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment. In her response, plaintiff argued both: (1) that defendant was the manufacturer of the plaintiff’s defective snow tube; and (2) that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether defendant’s defective snow tube was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

[*P39] Plaintiff alleged that her snow tube was defective. Attaching excerpts of her deposition transcript, plaintiff described the defect as follows:

“DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: When is the first occasion you had to look [**15] at the tube after the accident?”

PLAINTIFF: The minute I came to a stop.

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: While you were on the hill?

PLAINTIFF: While I’m on the hill.

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: What did you see?

PLAINTIFF: I wanted to know why I was stuck. So I lifted up the tube, and I could see a 5-inch slash and this hard spiky thing sticking out of the tube *** It was a solid, a sharp object.”

Plaintiff further described the defect as follows:

“DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: Before the operator came up to you and upon you, did you look at the tube?

PLAINTIFF: Yes.

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: And this–whatever you observed on the bottom of the tube, was it the material of the bottom of the tube?

PLAINTIFF: It looked like the insides of the tube.

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: Well, the tube you told me was kind of like, in your mind at least, a standard rubber inner tube, correct?

PLAINTIFF: Well, I kind of remember–it could have been–I don’t recall the exact material of the tube, the outside of the tube; but the frozen object looked like it was coming out of the tube.

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: This frozen object, was it part of the material of the tube or some foreign object?

PLAINTIFF: I thought maybe it was a metal piece or something, [**16] and it wasn’t. It was the innards of the tube, and I couldn’t even move it with my glove. It was shaped as if it was, like, a knifish form coming out.

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: And how long was this shape?

PLAINTIFF: I know that the slash in the tube was about that big (indicating), so 5 inches, and then this item was coming out of it.”

[*P40] Plaintiff also attached the deposition transcript of Villa Olivia employee, Michael Conrardy, who worked on the snow tube hill for multiple winter seasons. Conrardy testified that during the 2010-2011 winter season, he found one snow tube in their “tube shack” that had a crack in it. Conrardy testified:

“DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: Did you ever become aware of cracking, cracks in the bottom of any snow tubes?

CONRARDY: Yeah, that was one thing that I noticed when I was working. I was bringing out the tubes out of the tube shack in the morning and there was quite a decent crack in the bottom.”

Conrardy further described the snow tube as follows:

“PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: In as much detail as you can, can you describe to me first where the slit was?

CONRARDY: It was like the side. I don’t remember if it was the side near to where the rope connected or not, but it was just [**17] on the general like circumference of it, you know, and it was like a rounded slit that went–it was about eight inches long, and it wasn’t protruding in. It was more protruding out.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: Okay.

CONRARDY: So if someone went down the hill, as a safety issue, if it was protruding out and they caught an edge they could just flip ***.”

[*P41] Plaintiff highlighted Conrardy’s testimony where he stated that “It would have caught snow and that’s what I’m saying. It wouldn’t protrude into the tube where it could hurt the person, like their bottom. It would literally protrude down and out.” Conrardy further stated that the slit “was on the bottom plastic part like right at the edge.” Conrardy recalled the tube with the slit “was just one of the ordinary tubes.”

[*P42] Plaintiff also attached the deposition transcript of Edward Jorens, Villa Olivia superintendant of golf and skiing, who was involved in the initial procurement and purchase of snow tubes for the facility. Jorens testified that “once in a while there’s cracks” in the plastic bottoms of the snow tubes. Jorens also testified that cracks “bigger than 2 or 3 inches or so” on the bottom of the snow tubes would “[t]o a certain degree” affect [**18] the speed of the tube going down the hill. Jorens also testified that he discussed the cracking at the bottom of the tubes with defendant and that “Annie [Pawson] [was] usually the person I talked to from Tube Pro.”

[*P43] In her response, plaintiff attached the deposition of Annie Pawson, who testified that defendant receives yearly complaints “in general” from customers about the bottom of their snow tubes being cracked. Annie Pawson testified that she has personally seen a bottom of a defendant snow tube being cracked and described it “as a slit, like a little slit, a scoring, just a little slit.” Annie Pawson also testified, “I don’t recall specifically my customer mentioning cracks, per se. I just recall them requesting that we refurbish some of their old stock that they had purchased in the past.”

[*P44] Plaintiff further claimed in her response that it was highly unlikely that Tough Tubes were being used at Villa Olivia at the time of her accident. In support of this claim, plaintiff attached testimony by Jorens, who testified that “an average of four or five” snow tubes were stolen per year. Jorens further testified:

“DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: With regard to the 100 tubes purchased from Tough [**19] Tube in September 2000, by the time you retired in December of 2010, do you know how many of those tubes were still left at Villa Olivia?

JORENS: Not very many. I’m sure of that.

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: Why do you say that?

JORENS: Well, in other words, every year we’d send them back to get refurbished. Probably anywhere from I’m guessing 10, 10 of the tubes.”

DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: Did you send tubes to be refurbished to any company other than Tube Pro?

JORENS: No.”

[*P45] Plaintiff also relied on Jorens’s testimony to show that more defendant snow tubes were being used at Villa Olivia at the time of her accident than Tough Tube snow tubes. Jorens testified that, from 2000 to when he retired in 2010, Villa Olivia continued to purchase snow tubes from defendant. Jorens did not believe Villa Olivia purchased snow tubes from any other company from 2000 to 2010. Plaintiff also attached invoices showing that, from 2002 to 2009, Villa Olivia purchased 60 refurbished snow tube covers from defendant. The invoices also show that Villa Olivia purchased “5 red snow tubes,” “1 double rider snow tube,” “10 royal blue snow tubes,” and 27 inner tubes from defendant in the same period. Plaintiff also relied on [**20] Annie Pawson’s testimony and a “Customer Sales Ordering Info Sheet” to show that, in November 2002, defendant purchased 30 defendant snow tubes with Pepsi logos on them. Pawson testified as follows:

“PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: Okay. And then the number of tubes, 30 and it has Pepsi. Do you know what the word next to Pepsi–is that tubes?

ANNIE PAWSON: Tubes, yes sir.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: Is that a purchase by Villa Olivia, 30 new Pepsi tubes?

ANNIE PAWSON: Yes, it is.”

[*P46] Plaintiff also argued in her reply that “she was not an expert on materials or plastics” and therefore, her testimony about how her tube did not have a plastic bottom was immaterial in determining the identity of the manufacturer. Plaintiff relies on Conrardy’s testimony to show that he, too, was uncertain as to what the material of the tube bottoms were. Plaintiff points out that Conrardy testified that he believed the bottom of the tube was made of rubber, but then said it could be made of plastic after defendant counsel “raised the possibility of the bottom being plastic.” Conrardy testified:

“DEFENDANT’S ATTORNEY: And is it possible that the bottom may have been plastic as opposed to rubber, if you know?

CONRARDY: Actually, [**21] yeah, that’s a good point. I could see it being plastic because it just seemed more hard and thicker than the inside, so that actually makes sense because the inside was more cushiony than the bottom.”

[*P47] Plaintiff also attached an excerpt of William Pawson’s deposition transcript where he described Tough Tube and defendant as both having plastic bottoms. Pawson testified that they both had the “same sewing design premise whereby you have a sewn canvas top that’s pleated into the plastic bottom with the seatbelt based trim.”

[*P48] Finally, in her response, plaintiff claimed that she could still prove a prima facie case without the defective snow tube because the defect at issue was known to defendant.

[*P49] C. Trial Court’s Ruling

[*P50] On January 21, 2015, the trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment. In its five-page memorandum opinion, the trial court held that defendant was entitled to summary judgment because “[p]laintiff [could not] establish, or even raise a question of fact that, defendant was the manufacturer of the subject snow tube.” The trial court noted that the “subject snow tube [was] no longer in existence” and, therefore, plaintiff could not “meaningfully identify the specific [**22] snow tube” that “she rode on the day of the accident.” The trial court stated that: “[n]either the Plaintiff nor any other evidence in the record can identify anything about the subject snow tube which distinguishes it from others in such a way that a reasonable inference can be made that defendant was the manufacturer of it.” The trial court found:

“[T]he evidence does not show that the specific defective condition complained of-that the tube bottom contained a 4 to 5 inch hard and sharp protrusion poking through a 5 inch slash which caused the tube to completely stop while going down the hill was known to be a common defect in a Tube Pro snow tube.”

The trial court reasoned: “The circumstantial evidence here may raise a possibility that defendant was the manufacturer of the snow tube, but it does not justify an inference of a probability that it was the manufacturer.” (Emphasis in original.) Based upon the foregoing, the trial court found that defendant was entitled to summary judgment.

[*P51] On February 12, 2015, plaintiff filed a notice of appeal, and this appeal followed.

[*P52] ANALYSIS

[*P53] In this direct appeal, plaintiff appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant. Plaintiff argues [**23] that the evidence demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact about whether defendant was the manufacturer of the snow tube that caused her injuries. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.

[*P54] I. Standard of Review

[*P55] Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits and exhibits, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2014). When determining if the moving party is entitled to summary judgment, the court construes the pleadings and evidentiary material in the record strictly against the movant. Happel v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 199 Ill. 2d 179, 186, 766 N.E.2d 1118, 262 Ill. Dec. 815 (2002). We review a trial court’s decision on a motion for summary judgment de novo. Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill. 2d 90, 102, 607 N.E.2d 1204, 180 Ill. Dec. 691 (1992). De novo consideration means the reviewing court performs the same analysis that a trial judge would perform. Khan v. BDO Seidman, LLP, 408 Ill. App. 3d 564, 578, 948 N.E.2d 132, 350 Ill. Dec. 63 (2011).

[*P56] “Summary judgment is a drastic measure and should only be granted if the movant’s right to judgment is clear and free from doubt.” Outboard Marine Corp., 154 Ill. 2d at 102. “Mere speculation, conjecture, or guess is insufficient to withstand summary judgment.” Sorce v. Naperville Jeep Eagle, Inc., 309 Ill. App. 3d 313, 328, 722 N.E.2d 227, 242 Ill. Dec. 738 (1999). The party [**24] moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of proof. Nedzvekas v. Fung, 374 Ill. App. 3d 618, 624, 872 N.E.2d 431, 313 Ill. Dec. 448 (2007). The movant may meet its burden of proof either “by affirmatively showing that some element of the case must be resolved in its favor” or by “‘establishing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.'” Nedzvekas, 374 Ill. App. 3d at 624 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986)). To prevent the entry of summary judgment, the nonmoving party must present a bona fide factual issue and not merely general conclusions of law. Caponi v. Larry’s 66, 236 Ill. App. 3d 660, 670, 601 N.E.2d 1347, 176 Ill. Dec. 649 (1992)). Therefore, while the party opposing the motion is not required to prove her case at the summary judgment stage, she must provide some factual basis to support the elements of her cause of action. Illinois State Bar Ass’n Mutual Insurance Co. v. Mondo, 392 Ill. App. 3d 1032, 1036, 911 N.E.2d 1144, 331 Ill. Dec. 914 (2009); Ralston v. Casanova, 129 Ill. App. 3d 1050, 1059, 473 N.E.2d 444, 85 Ill. Dec. 76 (1984). On a motion for summary judgment, the court cannot consider any evidence that would be inadmissible at trial. Brown, Udell & Pomerantz, Ltd. v. Ryan, 369 Ill. App. 3d 821, 824, 861 N.E.2d 258, 308 Ill. Dec. 193 (2006). Thus, the party opposing summary judgment must produce some competent, admissible evidence which, if proved, would warrant entry of judgment in her favor. Brown, Udell & Pomerantz, 369 Ill.App.3d at 824. Summary judgment is appropriate if the nonmoving party cannot establish an element of her claim. Willett v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 366 Ill. App. 3d 360, 368, 851 N.E.2d 626, 303 Ill. Dec. 439 (2006).

[*P57] We may affirm on any basis appearing in the record, whether or not the trial court relied on that basis, and even if the trial court’s reasoning was incorrect. Ray Dancer, Inc. v. DMC Corp., 230 Ill. App. 3d 40, 50, 594 N.E.2d 1344, 171 Ill. Dec. 824 (1992).

[*P58] II. Plaintiff’s [**25] Claim Against Defendant

[*P59] Plaintiff sued defendant under a products liability claim based on a theory of negligence. Blue v. Environmental Engineering, Inc., 215 Ill. 2d 78, 89, 828 N.E.2d 1128, 293 Ill. Dec. 630 (2005) (discussing the differences between a products liability case based on a negligence theory and a strict products liability case). Plaintiff alleged that defendant committed one or more of the following careless and negligent acts or omissions: (1) designed, manufactured, distributed and sold the snow tube equipment without appropriate safeguarding and an adequate warning label; (2) failed to adequately warn users of the dangers of the snow tube; (3) failed to design and manufacture the snow tube safely; (4) failed to properly inform or instruct the purchaser of the snow tube’s use; and (5) negligently designed, manufactured, tested, inspected (or failed to test and inspect), and heeded the test results of the subject snow tube involved in her accident.

[*P60] “A product liability claim [based] in negligence is concerned with both defendant’s fault and the condition of the product.” Sobczak v. General Motors Corp., 373 Ill. App. 3d 910, 923, 871 N.E.2d 82, 312 Ill. Dec. 682 (2007) (citing Coney v. J.L.G. Industries, Inc., 97 Ill. 2d 104, 117, 454 N.E.2d 197, 73 Ill. Dec. 337 (1983)). To succeed in a products liability claim based on negligence, a plaintiff must prove: (1) the existence of a duty; (2) a breach of that duty; (3), an injury that was proximately caused [**26] by that breach, and (4) damages. Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co., 2011 IL 110096, ¶ 82, 955 N.E.2d 1138, 353 Ill. Dec. 327 (citing Heastie v. Roberts, 226 Ill. 2d 515, 556, 877 N.E.2d 1064, 315 Ill. Dec. 735 (2007)). “‘A manufacturer has a nondelegable duty to produce a product that is reasonably safe for all intended uses.'” Sobczak , 373 Ill. App. 3d at 923 (quoting Hansen v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 198 Ill. 2d 420, 433, 764 N.E.2d 35, 261 Ill. Dec. 744 (2002)). “A plaintiff must show that the manufacturer knew or should have known of the risk posed by the design at the time of the manufacture to establish that the manufacturer acted unreasonably based on the foreseeability of harm.” Sobczak v. General Motors Corp., 373 Ill. App. 3d at 923 (citing Calles v. Scripto-Tokai Corp., 224 Ill. 2d 247, 255, 864 N.E.2d 249, 309 Ill. Dec. 383 (2007)). Moreover, in a products liability action asserting a claim based in negligence, “[t]he plaintiff must show that the manufacturer breached his duty to design something safer for the user because the quality of the product in question was insufficient.” Blue, 345 Ill. App. 3d at 463 (citing Rotzoll v. Overhead Door Corp., 289 Ill. App. 3d 410, 419, 681 N.E.2d 156, 224 Ill. Dec. 174 (1997)).

[*P61] Most importantly, “the plaintiff must identify the manufacturer of the product and establish a causal relationship between the injury and the product.” Zimmer v. Celotex Corp., 192 Ill. App. 3d 1088, 1091, 549 N.E.2d 881, 140 Ill. Dec. 230 (1989) (citing Schmidt v. Archer Iron Works, Inc., 44 Ill. 2d 401, 405-06, 256 N.E.2d 6 (1970), cert. denied 398 U.S. 959, 90 S. Ct. 2173, 26 L. Ed. 2d 544). While the plaintiff may prove these elements by direct or circumstantial evidence, “liability cannot be based on mere speculation, guess, or conjecture.” Zimmer, 192 Ill. App. 3d at 1091. Therefore, when circumstantial evidence is relied on, the circumstances must justify an inference of probability as distinguished from mere possibility.” (Emphasis added.) Naden v. Celotex Corp., 190 Ill. App. 3d 410, 415, 546 N.E.2d 766, 137 Ill. Dec. 821 (1989); Mateika v. LaSalle Thermogas Co., 94 Ill. App. 3d 506, 508, 418 N.E.2d 503, 49 Ill. Dec. 649 (1981); Zimmer, 192 Ill. App. 3d at 1091.

[*P62] III. Parties’ Arguments

[*P63] A. [**27] Plaintiff’s Arguments

[*P64] On appeal, plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment because she raised a genuine issue of material fact about whether defendant was the manufacturer of the snow tube. Plaintiff argues that, since the court is to consider the evidence strictly against defendant and liberally in favor of her, summary judgment was not a proper disposition here. Plaintiff argues that the record, including invoices and witness testimony, shows that fair minded persons could draw different conclusions about whether defendant was the manufacturer.

[*P65] Specifically, plaintiff argues that according to the testimony of Jorens, Villa Olivia’s superintendent of golf and skiing, four to five snow tubes were stolen each year between 2000 to 2011 and that the majority of defendant snow tubes purchased by Villa Olivia occurred in 2008 and 2009. According to plaintiff, this figure equates to potentially 44 to 55 Tough Tubes being stolen prior to plaintiff’s injury. Plaintiff also relies on invoices that show Villa Olivia purchased 60 refurbished snow tube covers from defendant. Plaintiff argues that, given the refurbishment of these 60 snow tubes [**28] and the approximately 44 to 55 Tough Tubes stolen each year between 2000 to 2011, it was highly unlikely that Tough Tubes were still being used at Villa Olivia at the time of plaintiff’s accident. Plaintiff also relies on the testimony of Jorens to show that more defendant snow tubes than Tough Tube snow tubes were being used at Villa Olivia in January 2011.

[*P66] Plaintiff also claims that witness testimony raises questions of material fact as to whether the defect identifies defendant as the subject manufacturer. Plaintiff claims that defendant was aware of alleged defects in its snow tubes at Villa Olivia prior to her accident. Annie Pawson testified that she had observed defective defendant snow tubes before and that Villa Olivia employee Conrardy described the defective snow tube he observed as having a protruding crack. Additionally, plaintiff relies on her own testimony when she described the alleged defect “like a knife had gone through the ice, sharp object had gone through the ice.” Jorens testified that he discussed the cracking plastic defect with defendant, and that the plastic cracking would decrease speed on a hill. Plaintiff also observes that, prior to January 2011, defendant [**29] had received yearly complaints regarding the cracking of the plastic bottoms.8 Based on this evidence, plaintiff argues that she can prove a prima facie case without the snow tube because the defect at issue was known to defendant.

8 In her brief, plaintiff claims that, prior to January 2011, defendant received yearly complaints regarding the plastic bottoms cracking, without citing to the record.

[*P67] B. Defendant’s Arguments

[*P68] Defendant, on the other hand, argues that the evidence presented to the trial court shows that plaintiff could not identify anything about the subject snow tube which distinguished it from other tubes such that a reasonable inference could be drawn that defendant manufactured the allegedly defective snow tube. Defendant claims that, without the snow tube, plaintiff has failed to present evidence on a critical element in her product liability claim based on negligence. Since plaintiff did not and could not produce the snow tube, she could not introduce the alleged defect into evidence. Consequently, defendant argues that plaintiff has failed to show and cannot show that any defect existed at the time the snow tube left defendant’s control. Hence, without the tube itself [**30] or photos of it, defendant asserts that a jury could only speculate about whether plaintiff’s injuries were caused by a defect in the tube, and whether the defect was present when the snow tube allegedly left defendant’s control, and whether defendant even manufactured the snow tube. Under such circumstances, defendant argues that the trial court properly entered summary judgment in its favor.

[*P69] IV. Failure to Cite Authority

[*P70] First, we observe that plaintiff’s appellate brief fails to comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h)(7), which requires a proponent to cite supporting authority; and the failure to do so results in waiver. Ill. S. Ct. R. 341(h)(7) (eff. Feb. 6, 2013). Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h)(7) provides that an appellant’s brief must “contain the contentions of the appellant and the reasons therefor, with citation of the authorities and the pages of the record relied on.” (Emphasis added.) Ill. S. Ct. R. 341(h)(7) (eff. Feb. 6, 2013). The purpose of this rule is to provide “[a] court of review” with “clearly defined” issues and cites to “pertinent authority.” People v. Trimble, 181 Ill. App. 3d 355, 356, 537 N.E.2d 363, 130 Ill. Dec. 296 (1989) (discussing the provisions of former Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(e)(7), which is now numbered as Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h)(7), and its importance to the appellate court). A reviewing court “is not a depository in which the appellant may dump the burden of argument and research.” Trimble, 181 Ill. App. 3d at 356. The appellate [**31] court stated in Trimble:

“To ignore such a rule by addressing the case on the merits would require this court to be an advocate for, as well as the judge of the correctness of, defendant’s position on the issues he raises. On the other hand, strict compliance with the rules permits a reviewing court to ascertain the integrity of the parties’ assertions which is essential to an accurate determination of the issues raised on appeal.” Trimble, 181 Ill. App. 3d at 356-57.

[*P71] In the instant case, plaintiff failed to cite a single substantive case in support of her argument that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment in favor of defendant. The cases that plaintiff cites in the argument section of her brief merely establish general principles of law regarding summary judgment and a products liability action. In Part A of the argument section of her brief which discusses how the evidence justifies an inference of probability that defendant was the manufacturer of the subject snow tube, plaintiff cites only Black’s Law Dictionary and fails to cite any precedent in furtherance of her argument. Furthermore, in Part B of the argument section of her brief, plaintiff fails to cite any legal authority supporting her argument [**32] that she can prove a prima facie case without the defective tube since the defect at issue was known to defendant.9 Accordingly, because plaintiff has failed to comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h)(7), the plaintiff has waived consideration of her claim that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment in favor of defendant.

9 Plaintiff mentions Wiesner v. Fontaine Trailer Co., No. 06-CV-6239, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81672, 2010 WL 3023398 (N.D. Ill. 2010), an unreported case discussed in defendant’s motion for summary judgment. However, we will not cite an unreported case. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Progressive Northern Insurance Co., 2015 IL App (1st) 140447, ¶ 101, 391 Ill. Dec. 170, 30 N.E.3d 440 (“We will not cite an unreported case.”); Skokie Castings, Inc. v. Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund, 2012 IL App (1st) 111533, ¶ 15, 964 N.E.2d 1225, 358 Ill. Dec. 203 (“an unreported case” is “not binding on any court”); People v. Moore, 243 Ill. App. 3d 583, 584, 611 N.E.2d 1246, 183 Ill. Dec. 598 (1993) (“the decision was unreported and of no precedential value”). “Unreported decisions have no precedential value, and this is even more true for decisions from foreign jurisdictions.” American Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Plunkett, 2014 IL App (1st) 131631 ¶ 38, 383 Ill. Dec. 393, 14 N.E.3d 676; Burnette v. Stroger, 389 Ill. App. 3d 321, 329, 905 N.E.2d 939, 329 Ill. Dec. 101 (2009); West American Insurance Co. v. J.R. Construction Co., 334 Ill. App. 3d 75, 82, 777 N.E.2d 610, 267 Ill. Dec. 807 (2002) (a “foreign, unreported decision” is of no precedential value”). Specifically, with respect to unpublished federal cases, this court has held that they do not carry any authority before an Illinois court. Lyons v. Ryan, 324 Ill. App. 3d 1094, 1107 n.11, 756 N.E.2d 396, 258 Ill. Dec. 414 (2001) (“unreported federal court orders” are not “any kind of authority before an Illinois court”); Sompolski v. Miller, 239 Ill. App. 3d 1087, 1093, 608 N.E.2d 54, 180 Ill. Dec. 932 (1992) (“we decline” to follow “an unreported Federal district court decision”).

[*P72] V. No Prima Facie Case

[*P73] However, even if plaintiff did not waive her claims regarding summary judgment, [**33] plaintiff still could not prove a prima facie case without the allegedly defective snow tube. The facts in Shramek v. General Motors Corp., 69 Ill. App. 2d 72, 216 N.E.2d 244 (1966), cited by defendant, are similar to the present case. In Shramek, the plaintiff was injured when the automobile in which he was riding crashed after one of the tires suffered a blowout. Shramek, 69 Ill. App. 2d at 74. He filed both a negligence claim and a breach of implied warranty claim against the tire and auto manufacturers claiming a defect was in the tire at the time it left the control of the manufacturer or seller. Shramek, 69 Ill. App. 2d at 75. The tire, however, was never examined for a defect and could not be located. Shramek, 69 Ill. App. 2d at 78. The trial court granted the automobile and tire manufacturers’ motions for summary judgment, and this court affirmed. Shramek, 69 Ill. App. 2d at 77. The appellate court held that summary judgment was required because the record conclusively demonstrated that the plaintiff could not prove, either by direct or circumstantial evidence, that the accident was caused by a defective tire. Shramek, 69 Ill. App. 2d at 77. The court noted that the mere occurrence of a blowout does not establish a manufacturer’s negligence or that the tire was defective, since blowouts can be attributed to a myriad of causes. Shramek, 69 Ill. App. 2d at 78. The court stated:

“[A]side from a superficial inspection of the damaged car [**34] and tire after the accident by plaintiff and his cousin, the tire in question was never subjected to an examination which would reveal that the blowout was due to a pre-existing defect. Thus, without any examination of the tire designed to elicit the cause of the blowout and without the tire itself or any hope or expectation for its recovery, plaintiff could never prove, directly or inferentially, a case of negligence, breach of warranty or strict liability.” Shramek, 69 Ill. App. 2d at 78.

[*P74] The reasoning in Shramek has been cited with approval and applied in other cases (E.g., Scott v. Fruehauf Corp. 602 F. Supp. 207, 209 (S.D. Ill. 1985); Sanchez v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 237 Ill. App. 3d 872, 874, 604 N.E.2d 948, 178 Ill. Dec. 425 (1992); Phillips v. U.S. Waco Corp., 163 Ill. App. 3d 410, 417, 516 N.E.2d 670, 114 Ill. Dec. 515 (1987) (discussing and applying Shramek)). In Scott, the plaintiff sued a tire rim manufacturer and distributor, alleging he was injured while working on a tire rim. Scott, 602 F. Supp. at 208. As in Shramek, the allegedly defective product was unavailable. Scott, 602 F. Supp. at 209. The court held that, because the plaintiff could not produce the rim, he “could never prove his case” and, therefore, summary judgment was proper. Scott, 602 F. Supp. at 209. The Scott case held this, even though there were photographs of the rim. Scott, 602 F. Supp. at 209. However, the court found that even photographs were insufficient because the rim had never been examined by a qualified expert and was never made available to the defendant. Scott, 602 F. Supp. at 209. In the case at [**35] bar, plaintiff does not even have photographs of the tube, and the tube was certainly never examined by an expert or made available to defendant. Thus, pursuant to the reasoning of both Shramek and Scott, summary judgment was warranted.

[*P75] Similarly, in Sanchez v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 237 Ill. App. 3d 872, 872-73, 604 N.E.2d 948, 178 Ill. Dec. 425 (1992), the plaintiff brought a negligence and product liability action against defendant for improper installation of a tire and inner tube. The inner tube was unavailable and the plaintiff’s expert never examined the inner tube or took photographs of it. Sanchez, 237 Ill. App. 3d at 873. In affirming summary judgment, the appellate court held that the cause of the incident could only be left to speculation because the expert’s testimony indicated nothing more than a mere possibility that the inner tube was improperly installed. Sanchez, 237 Ill. App. 3d at 874; see also Scott, 602 F. Supp. at 209 (“the very fact that other factors could have caused the injury warranted granting of summary judgment motions since without the alleged[ly] defective product the plaintiff could never prove up his case”). Similarly, in the case at bar, without the tube, the cause of the incident could only be left to speculation.

[*P76] Lastly, in Phillips v. United States Waco Corp., 163 Ill. App. 3d 410, 417, 516 N.E.2d 670, 114 Ill. Dec. 515 (1987), the plaintiff brought a negligence and strict products liability claim against defendant for personal injuries he sustained [**36] when he fell from a scaffold manufactured by the defendant. As in Shramek, the plaintiff failed to produce the allegedly defective product involved in the accident or any photographs of it. Phillips, 163 Ill. App. 3d at 415. And as in Scott, the plaintiff failed to provide any expert testimony regarding the alleged defect in the product. Phillips, 163 Ill. App. 3d at 415. In affirming summary judgment, this court held that the plaintiff failed to present facts to support the elements of his products liability claims based in negligence and strict liability. Phillips, 163 Ill. App. 3d at 418. This court reasoned that, because the scaffold was never examined for the presence of preexisting defects, the plaintiff “could never prove, either by direct or circumstantial evidence, that the accident was caused by a defective scaffold, since he did not and could not produce the scaffold.” Phillips, 163 Ill. App. 3d at 418.

[*P77] Similar to the plaintiff in Phillips, plaintiff in this case did not and cannot produce the allegedly defective product involved in her accident. The subject snow tube was never retrieved or examined for defects. Plaintiff also has not produced any photographs of the snow tube itself or provided testimony by an eyewitness to the accident or its aftermath, other than plaintiff herself. Plaintiff testified [**37] that all of the photographs she took on the day of the accident were of different snow tubes in use at Villa Olivia and not of the tube involved in her accident. Plaintiff testified that the last time she saw the tube was when she left it with the Villa Olivia employees when she walked inside with the paramedic to report the accident. Plaintiff also testified that her basis for believing that defendant manufactured the tube in her accident was that she saw a different tube that had writing on it that said defendant’s name. She testified that a photograph of a snow tube used by her son showed a red colored tube, but did not indicate the manufacturer’s name on it. Without the snow tube itself or any examination of it, plaintiff cannot establish or raise a genuine issue of material fact that defendant was the manufacturer. Without the snow tube itself or any photographs of it, or an examination of the snow tube to determine if the accident was a result of a preexisting defect, plaintiff cannot prove a prima facie products liability case against defendant.

[*P78] Therefore, for the reasons stated above, we cannot find that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of defendant. [**38] Outboard Marine Corp., 154 Ill. 2d at 102 (discussing when summary judgment should be granted).

[*P79] CONCLUSION

[*P80] On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendant was the manufacturer of the snow tube that injured her. For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the manufacturer of the snow tube and thus the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of defendant.

[*P81] Affirmed.


What is Skiing? In New Hampshire, the definition does not include tubbing in 2004.

Definition of the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act in 2004 was not written broadly enough to include tubing.

Sweeney v. Ragged Mountain Ski Area, Inc., 151 N.H. 239; 855 A.2d 427; 2004 N.H. LEXIS 126

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: Alaina Sweeney

Defendant: Ragged Mountain Ski Area, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: New Hampshire Skier Safety Act

Holding: Reversed and Remanded, sent back to trial for the Plaintiff

Year: 2004

Colorado’s ski area statute uses the term skier to describe anyone on the resort property. That means the term skier also includes snowboarders, telemark skiers, bike skiers, Nordic skier and tubers.

The plaintiff went tubing at the defendant’s tubbing hill. The hill was only for tubing and did not allow skiing on the tubing hill. No employees were present at the tubing hill when the plaintiff was tubing. While tubing she crossed from one lane to the other and collided with another tuber.

She sued, and the ski area argued to the trial court that the New Hampshire Ski Area Safety Act defined skier to include tubers. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint.

The plaintiff appealed.

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

The New Hampshire Ski Area Safety Act has been amended since this case to include in the definition of skier a snow tuber. At the time of this case, the definition of skier, which is what the controlled was defined “A “skier” is defined as “a person utilizing the ski area under the control of a ski area operator for the purpose of utilizing the ski slopes, trails, jumps or other areas.”

A court look or examining a statute cannot broaden the definitions in the statute unless the statute specifically grants the court that right. Although the courts are the final arbiter of a statute, the review is limited to what the legislature put into the statute.

We are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. We first examine the language of the statute, and, where possible, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meanings to the words used. Id. When the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, we need not look beyond it for further indication of legislative intent.

When a statute such as this one changes the common law, the statute must be interpreted strictly. The presumption in a law like this is the statute took away rights, not created or added additional ones. Here the statute created immunity for ski areas, taking away the common law right to sue so the statute was to be interpreted strictly.

Accordingly, then, immunity provisions barring the common law right to recover are to be strictly construed. We have often stated that we will not interpret a statute to abrogate the common law unless the statute clearly expresses that intent.

The court then looked at how ski slopes, trails, jumps or other areas were defined in the act to see if that included tubing hills. However, that definition was also specific and narrow.

Ski slopes, trails and areas” are further defined as “only those areas designated by the alpine or nordic ski operator on trail boards or maps . . . to be used by skiers for the purpose of participating in the sport of skiing.

Again, tubing was not part of the definition of the act. “Thus, a “skier” is limited to one who “participates in the sport of skiing,” and, as such, the statutory references to “skiers” necessarily inform our interpretation of the “sport of skiing.”

The court then went back and examined other parts of the New Hampshire Ski Safety Act to see if any part of the act could be used to provide protection to the ski area. The declaration, the first part of the statute detailing why the statute was created and the value of the statute to the state did not include a reference to tubing, only to skiing.

It shall be the policy of the state of New Hampshire to define the primary areas of responsibility of skiers and other users of alpine (downhill) and nordic (cross country and ski jumps) areas, recognizing that the sport of skiing and other ski area activities involve risks and hazards which must be assumed as a matter of law by those engaging in such activities, regardless of all safety measures taken by the ski area operators.

The court found that based on the declaration, the purpose and focus of the statute was for alpine and Nordic ski area. Because the plaintiff was not utilizing an alpine or Nordic slope, the plaintiff was not a skier. As such there was no protection afforded by the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act because the act, at the time of the lawsuit, only protected ski areas from skiers.

The trial court dismissal was overthrown, and the case sent back to proceed to trial.

So Now What?

There is an old adage that says the law grinds slowly but grinds finely. Meaning the law works slowly but when it works to solve the problem. Here the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act was probably enacted prior to the interest in tubing. Many other states with skier safety statutes have broader definitions of a skier who in most cases includes tubing. In some cases, the definition of a skier is a person on the ski area for any purpose.

Here the act was written narrowly, the definitions were not broad enough to include tubing. Nor were the definitions able to be broadened because that power was not provided to the court by the legislature when it passed the act.

Of real interest is the idea that no employees were present on the tubing hill at the time of the accident. It does not say, but the tubing hill probably did not include a lift and people walked up hill pulling a tube.

Either way, if you are in doubt as to whether or not a statute may provide protection to you for the activity you are selling, you should use a release.

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Sweeney v. Ragged Mountain Ski Area, Inc., 151 N.H. 239; 855 A.2d 427; 2004 N.H. LEXIS 126

Sweeney v. Ragged Mountain Ski Area, Inc., 151 N.H. 239; 855 A.2d 427; 2004 N.H. LEXIS 126

Alaina Sweeney v. Ragged Mountain Ski Area, Inc.

No. 2003-719

SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

151 N.H. 239; 855 A.2d 427; 2004 N.H. LEXIS 126

May 6, 2004, Argued

July 15, 2004, Opinion Issued

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Released for Publication July 15, 2004.

PRIOR HISTORY: Merrimack.

DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL: Wiggin & Nourie, P.A., of Manchester (Peter E. Hutchins on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.

Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, P.L.L.C., of Manchester (Robert E. Murphy, Jr. on the brief and orally), for the defendant.

JUDGES: GALWAY, J. BRODERICK, C.J., and NADEAU, DALIANIS and DUGGAN, JJ., concurred.

OPINION BY: GALWAY

OPINION

[*240] [**428] GALWAY, J. The plaintiff, Alaina Sweeney, appeals an order of the Superior Court (Fitzgerald, J.) granting a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, Ragged Mountain Ski Area, Inc. (Ragged Mountain). We reverse and remand.

The relevant facts follow. On March 21, 2001, the plaintiff went snow tubing at Ragged Mountain, which operates, among other things, snow tube runs. The snow tube area was designated only for snow tubing, and was not used for alpine or nordic skiing. When the plaintiff went snow tubing, no employees of Ragged Mountain were present to instruct her on the proper use of the snow tube. The plaintiff made a few “runs” down the snow tube trail. On [***2] her last run, she crossed the center line between snow tube lanes, [**429] continued down the adjacent lane, and ultimately collided with another snow tuber.

The plaintiff brought a negligence claim against Ragged Mountain for injuries sustained as a result of the collision. Ragged Mountain moved to dismiss, alleging that RSA 225-A:24, I (2000) barred recovery because it precludes claims brought by those injured in the “sport of skiing,” which, Ragged Mountain argued, includes snow tubing. The plaintiff argued that the statute does not apply to snow tubers. The court granted Ragged Mountain’s motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the plaintiff first argues that RSA 225-A:24, I, does not bar her claim because it does not apply to snow tubers. Because we agree, we need not address her other arguments.

The plaintiff contends that pursuant to RSA 225-A:24, I, ski area operators are granted immunity from liability only when claims are filed by those who participate in the “sport of skiing.” She argues that because snow tubing is not the “sport of skiing,” RSA 225-A:24, I, does not preclude her [***3] recovery. Ragged Mountain disagrees, arguing that the “sport of skiing” includes snow tubing.

[HN1] “In reviewing the trial court’s grant of a motion to dismiss, our task is to ascertain whether the allegations pleaded in the plaintiff’s writ are reasonably susceptible of a construction that would permit recovery.” Rayeski v. Gunstock Area, 146 N.H. 495, 496, 776 A.2d 1265 (2001) (quotation omitted). “We assume all facts pleaded in the plaintiff’s writ are true, and we construe all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the plaintiff’s favor.” Id. “We then engage in a threshold inquiry that tests the facts in the complaint against the applicable law.” Id. (quotation omitted). If the facts fail to constitute a basis for legal relief, we will uphold the granting of [*241] the motion to dismiss. Cambridge Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Crete, 150 N.H. 673, 674-75, 846 A.2d 521, 523 (2004).

The question before us is one of statutory interpretation-whether RSA 225-A:24, I, grants immunity to ski area operators against claims for injuries brought by snow tubers. [HN2] We are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in [***4] the words of the statute considered as a whole. In the Matter of Jacobson & Tierney, 150 N.H. 513, 515, 842 A.2d 77 (2004). We first examine the language of the statute, and, where possible, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meanings to the words used. Id. When the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, we need not look beyond it for further indication of legislative intent. Id.

Furthermore, [HN3] “statutes in derogation of the common law are to be interpreted strictly.” 3 N. Singer, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 61:6, at 255 (6th ed. rev. 2001). While a statute may abolish a common law right, “there is a presumption that the legislature has no such purpose.” Id. § 61.1, at 222. If such a right is to be taken away, “it must be noted clearly by the legislature.” Id. at 222-23. Accordingly, then, immunity provisions barring the common law right to recover are to be strictly construed. We have often stated that we will not interpret a statute to abrogate the common law unless the statute clearly expresses that intent. See State v. Hermsdorf, 135 N.H. 360, 363, 605 A.2d 1045 (1992); see also Douglas v. Fulis, 138 N.H. 740, 742, 645 A.2d 76 (1994). [***5]

RSA 225-A:24, entitled, “Responsibilities of Skiers and Passengers,” states, in relevant part:

[HN4] It is hereby recognized that, regardless of all safety measures which may be taken by the ski area operator, skiing as [**430] a sport and the use of passenger tramways associated therewith may be hazardous to the skiers or passengers. Therefore:

I. Each person who participates in the sport of skiing accepts as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in the sport, and to that extent may not maintain an action against the operator for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards. The categories of such risks, hazards or dangers which the skier or passenger assumes as a matter of law include but are not limited to the following: variations in terrain, surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots; rocks, trees, stumps and other forms of forest growth or debris; . . . pole lines and plainly marked or visible snow making equipment; collisions with other skiers or other persons or with any of the categories included in this paragraph.

[*242] RSA 225-A:24, I (emphasis added). As we have previously [***6] held, RSA 225-A:24, I, [HN5] limits skiers’ recovery, thereby functioning as an immunity provision for ski area operators. See Nutbrown v. Mount Cranmore, 140 N.H. 675, 680-81, 671 A.2d 548 (1996). In enacting this provision, “the legislature intended to supersede and replace a skier’s common law remedies for risks inherent in the sport of skiing.” Berniger v. Meadow Green-Wildcat Corp., 945 F.2d 4, 7 (1st. Cir. 1991). The question we must answer today is whether that statute also replaces the plaintiff’s common law remedy. In answering this question, we need not precisely define the “sport of skiing,” nor list every activity encompassed within that phrase.

Because the phrase “sport of skiing,” is not specifically defined, we look to other provisions of the statutory scheme for guidance. [HN6] A “skier” is defined as “a person utilizing the ski area under the control of a ski area operator for the purpose of utilizing the ski slopes, trails, jumps or other areas.” RSA 225-A:2, II (2000). “Ski slopes, trails and areas” are further defined as “only those areas designated by the alpine or nordic ski operator [***7] on trail boards or maps . . . to be used by skiers for the purpose of participating in the sport of skiing.” RSA 225-A:2, IV (2000) (emphasis added). Thus, a “skier” is limited to one who “participates in the sport of skiing,” and, as such, the statutory references to “skiers” necessarily inform our interpretation of the “sport of skiing.”

We next look to the declaration of policy set forth at the beginning of the statutory scheme for guidance. See RSA 225-A:1 (2000). RSA 225-A:1 states, in part:

[HN7] It shall be the policy of the state of New Hampshire to define the primary areas of responsibility of skiers and other users of alpine (downhill) and nordic (cross country and ski jumps) areas, recognizing that the sport of skiing and other ski area activities involve risks and hazards which must be assumed as a matter of law by those engaging in such activities, regardless of all safety measures taken by the ski area operators.

(Emphasis added.) This provision indicates that the focus of the statutory scheme is upon those who utilize alpine and nordic areas. It further indicates that [***8] alpine areas are those used for downhill activities, while nordic areas are those used for cross country activities and ski jumps. While utilizing the alpine and nordic areas may not be the sole, defining characteristic of a skier, the policy provision indicates that it is an essential characteristic nonetheless.

Here, the plaintiff was not utilizing an alpine or nordic slope. Rather, as the trial court found, she was utilizing a snow tube run designated [*243] exclusively for snow tubing. Accordingly, we do not believe [**431] she was a skier, or other user of alpine or nordic areas, and, therefore, we cannot conclude that she “participated in the sport of skiing” as intended by the legislature in RSA 225-A:24, I.

Although Ragged Mountain looks to the same statutory provisions we have referenced for support, we believe those provisions are consistent with our more narrow interpretation of RSA 225-A:24, I. [HN8] Nothing in those provisions clearly expresses a legislative intent to preclude a snow tuber, injured while sliding down a run used exclusively for snow tubing, from recovering for her injuries. See Hermsdorf, 135 N.H. at 363. [***9]

Ragged Mountain first relies upon the statutory definition of “skier,” RSA 225-A:2, II, to support its position. Given that the statute broadly defines “skier,” Ragged Mountain argues that the “sport of skiing” must be similarly broadly defined. We disagree. Ragged Mountain errs in reading the definition of “skier” in isolation. As explained above, [HN9] when that definition is read in conjunction with RSA 225-A:2, IV and RSA 225-A:1, it appears that a “skier” does not include a person snow tubing on a track designated solely for snow tubing. At the very least, we cannot conclude that the statute “clearly expresses” an intent to abrogate the common law right to recover of a snow tuber injured while using a track designated solely for snow tubing. Hermsdorf, 135 N.H. at 363.

Ragged Mountain also relies upon RSA 225-A:1, the policy provision prefacing the statutory scheme, to support its claim. It argues that because the policy provision of the statute “clearly encompasses more than traditional downhill skiing,” the “sport of skiing” must include snow tubing.

[HN10] To the extent [***10] that RSA 225-A:1 contemplates winter sports activities other than skiing, it is concerned only with winter sport activities that occur on alpine and nordic slopes. See RSA 225-A:1. The plaintiff in the instant case was not utilizing an alpine or nordic slope, but rather was injured while utilizing a snow tube on a track designated solely for snow tubing. Nothing in the policy provision, then, clearly expresses the legislative intent to extinguish the common law claims of snow tubers injured on a track designated solely for snow tubing.

Because Ragged Mountain cannot point to a statutory provision that clearly expresses a legislative intent to abrogate the plaintiff’s common law right to recover, we conclude that the plaintiff’s claim is not precluded by RSA 225-A:24, I. See Hermsdorf, 135 N.H. at 363. We reverse the trial court’s order granting Ragged Mountain’s motion to dismiss and remand [*244] for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. In light of our opinion, we need not address the plaintiff’s remaining arguments on appeal.

Reversed and remanded.

BRODERICK, C.J., and [***11] NADEAU, DALIANIS and DUGGAN, JJ., concurred.


$2.1 M award after jury trial for snow tubing injury in PA.

The way the plaintiff arrived at the hill with tickets unintentionally skirted the release & risk management procedures in this case. The rest of the mistakes were just dumb. Appeal should follow.

This is an article from Pennsylvania written after a jury verdict. It is before an appeal, if any. Do not rely on it for any law, but it is full of interesting risk management issues.

Please read the article: Berks jury awards $2.1M to man in snow tubing crash

A Pennsylvania verdict against a ski area with a tubing hill was for $2.1 million. The plaintiff was part of a group. After skiing all day a friend in the group gave him tubing tickets. He went tubing without signing the release because he already had tickets.

Risk Management Issue Number 1: how do you sell tickets and get release signed

The plaintiff went down the run and hit the stop at the bottom incurring some injuries along the way. Before he could get out of the way, another tuber hit him either increasing his injuries or creating new, worse injuries.

Risk Management Issue Number 2: how do you design a run so that the tubers are not “stopped” but slow to a gentle stop?

Risk Management Issue Number 3: how do you make sure tubers don’t run into each other?

Risk Management Issue Number 4: how do you create a safe exit from the tubing hill

The lawsuit was based on failure to warn which then brings up how many signs can you have posted or should you just put up a drive through screen to have everyone watch for an hour.

I knew a raft company that required people to hand in their release to get their PFD. No PFD you could not get on the bus to go raft.

What else could you do?

Do Something

This case is the perfect example of a combination of “errors” and an injury lead to a massive payout.

This is a great example of holes in a program. How many you can afford to fill is the biggest question. Also remember that the article was based on what the reporter figured out from attending the trial and what he was told by the plaintiff at the end of the trial. The facts might be different.

How knows what the ending may be or where this is going, we probably will never know.

Read the article: Berks jury awards $2.1M to man in snow tubing crash

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Bad release and prepped plaintiff defeat motion for summary judgment filed by ski area

Rich et. al., vs. Tee Bar Corp. et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

Plaintiff argued she was “flung” with all employees and to the court, even though she had no proof except her own testimony.

Plaintiff, her husband and two children went to the defendant resort in New York. At the resort, she skied and tubed. During tubing, she was riding with her daughter in a double tube for several runs. She later switched to a single tube.

After riding to the top on the tube she claims she heard the lift attendants at the top talking about trying to get tubers to hit the back of the run out. She then claimed the lift attendant grabbed the rope attached to her tube, ran her back to the back of the top of the landing and ran forward flinging her down the hill. The plaintiff’s tube went through the deceleration area and struck the backstop at the back of the deceleration area causing her injury.

Plaintiff claims that, without warning, Frisher took the rope attached to her tube, ran her back towards the woods, then turned and ran her to the top of the hill and “flung” her down the hill. McDermott does not remember the incident at all and denies ever seeing a coworker “fling” a tuber down the hill. Frisher does not remember the incident and denies ever seeing anyone “fling” a tuber down the hill. Plaintiff struck the barrier at the top of the deceleration ramp.

After her injury, the plaintiff walked with a resort employee to the ski shop. She sat there for 10 minutes and refused additional medical care. She then went to her room. A resort employee and a nurse went to her room and suggested the plaintiff go to a hospital, but she declined. The next day she skied with her family and stayed at the resort until her reservation ended.

While she was at the resort, after her injury, the plaintiff allegedly told three resort managers about the incident, and that she had been flung down the tubing hill. Some of the resort managers remember talking to her, but most do not remember her stating that she was flung down the hill.

The court went through the work done by the resort to slow down tubers in the deceleration area. The resort uses rubber mats and straw to slow down tubers. The runs are checked by resort employees before they are opened to the public and are monitored during the runs. If guests are going too far through the tubing deceleration area, additional measures are taken to slow tubers down.

The plaintiff filed this complaint in federal district court in New York. The court stated the complaint was based on diversity jurisdiction meaning the plaintiff was not a resident of New York; however, that information is not stated in the opinion.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to restrict medical testimony. The court ruled there was sufficient testimony to send to a jury, and the motion for summary judgment was denied.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the defense of assumption of the risk. Under New York law, a person engaging in a sport assumes the inherent risk of the activity that flow from participation. A participant does not assume the risk that are not inherent or a risk increased by the defendant.

However, a participant does not assume risks that are the result of reckless or intentional conduct, risks “concealed or unreasonably increased” or risks that result in a “dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in the activity.”

In New York, whether the plaintiff assumes the risk is a question for the jury.

Generally, whether the plaintiff assumed a risk by participating in a sport is a question for the jury; dismissal of the complaint is appropriate only when the proof before the court reveals no triable issue of fact.

Here the plaintiff was able to create a triable issue of fact that the resort had increased her risk by flinging her down the slope. A triable issue of fact is one that there are issues or different versions of the facts from the plaintiff and defendant. The court cannot, is not allowed to decide, which one is correct so the issue must go to trial. Creating a triable issue of fact is the easiest way to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Because the facts are at issue, it does not matter what law is applied so the motion cannot be granted.

It may seem odd that a judge may eventually make the decision which he or she could not make earlier. At trial, each side is on equal footing and all the rules of trial are at play. Prior to that point in time, the footing may not be equal. As such for one party to win prior to trial, there must be nothing the other side can show that would change the decision. A triable issue of fact is one where one side is able to show there is an issue, and it must go to a full blow hearing of a trial and be reviewed by the trier of fact. The trier of fact in most cases is a jury, but if not jury, then the judge.

One interesting argument on the assumption of risk issue was the warning signs at the tubing hill. The plaintiff claims she never saw any warning signs. She also said she never saw the Willy Bags, padding at the tubing hill also.

The next argument was the plaintiff signed a release. The court quickly dismissed this argument because the release was poorly written. Under New York law, a release “must be plain and precise that the limitation of liability extends to negligence or the fault of the party attempting to shed its ordinary responsibility.” The court found the opposite in this case.

The waiver makes no reference to “negligence” and does not mention the specific risks inherent in snow tubing. Thus, the waiver is insufficient to protect defendants from liability for the subject occurrence. Moreover, having never been made aware of the risks involved in the activity, the claimant cannot be considered to have assumed them.

The next argument is rare to find in cases. The defendant argued that the injuries of the plaintiff were not proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant. Remember negligence has four requirements to be proved.

·        A Duty

·        Breach of the Duty

·        Injury proximately caused by the breach of duty

·        Damages

For the plaintiff to recover the injury she received must have been due to the breach of duty. In this case, her injuries had to have been caused because the defendant’s employee “flung” her down the hill. That means there must be a connection between her injury and what the defendant did.

The basis of the defense was the resort had tried to recreate the incident which caused the plaintiff’s injuries and could not. The plaintiff rebutted this argument with an expert witness who argued based on the facts as stated by the plaintiff; she could have slid to the back wall of the deceleration area. The court sort of looked at the test done by the resort as lame.

The argument made by the defendant was not supported by the defendant in its motion.

The court also looked at the defendant’s arguments that certain medical information should be precluded from the trial; however, that will not be covered here.

So Now What?

Warning Signs: Put into your release that the plaintiff agrees to read and understand all warning signs. Signs must also be placed in a position you cannot help but see them. Signs should be along the path from where you sign in and pay to the lift or from where you pick up your tube to the lift. Places where you cannot argue, you did not see the signs.

You also need to prove the signs were there. Just like the log books of lift attendants, have the tubing lift attendants check for and log that all the signs were up and readable before the hill was open.

Although the facts helped argue assumption of the risk, the plaintiff had equal arguments that the risk was changed or increased by the defendant. As I have stated in the past, the best way to prove assumption of the risk is to have it in writing or video and prove the writing with a signature. Here the release was specifically cited by the court as not having any assumption of risk language in it.

The release was just plain bad.

If you want to recreate the events giving rise to a lawsuit, you cannot do it yourself. You must hire competent outside experts to do it. Here the court looked at the test by hardly even commented on it meaning it had no validity.

The major issue is to spot a lawsuit coming at you. Here the plaintiff, although not suffering any major injuries, went out of her way to talk to all the managers she could find. Although her claims and allegations may seem to be preposterous, she repeatedly made them to anyone and everyone she could. That is a warning sign, you have an upset guest.

No matter how wild the allegations, the other warning signs mean you need to take the complaint as valid and deal with it. More importantly, deal with the complaining guests. Although her allegations are beyond belief and would not be done by your staff, you have a guest who is obviously willing to do anything to get something out of you.

Finally, you must caution your staff about making any statement that could be interpreted by a guest as a risk, threat, or an attempt to create injuries. Although probably, if at all plausible, a joke, it was interpreted or could be interpreted by the plaintiff as the reason for her injuries.

Plaintiff: Donna Rich and Mark Rich

 

Defendant: Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk, Release,

 

Holding: Defendants Summary Judgment motion denied and sent for trial.

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Rich et. al., vs. Tee Bar Corp. et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

Rich et. al., vs. Tee Bar Corp. et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

Donna Rich and Mark Rich, Individually and as Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs, vs. Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp., Defendants.

1:10-CV-1371 (MAD/CFH)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

January 28, 2013, Decided

January 28, 2013, Filed

CORE TERMS: tube, snow, summary judgment, guest, flung, attendant, top, evening, tuber, tubing, rope, pushed, deceleration, temperature, daughter, ski, issue of material fact, citation omitted, introducing, deposition, genuine, sport, conversation, double, ramp, tow, ran, credibility, causally, test runs

COUNSEL: [*1] For Plaintiffs: John W. Liguori, Esq., OF COUNSEL, Rehfuss, Liguori & Associates, P.C., Latham, NY.

For Defendants: Matthew J. Kelly, Esq., OF COUNSEL, Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, Albany, NY.

JUDGES: Mae A. D’Agostino, U.S. District Judge.

OPINION BY: Mae A. D’Agostino

OPINION

Mae A. D’Agostino, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs commenced the within action against Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp. (“defendants” or “Ranch”) seeking monetary damages for pain and suffering and loss of consortium as a result of an accident that occurred on February 6, 2009. Plaintiffs allege that defendants’ negligence resulted in injury to plaintiff, Donna Rich. Presently before the Court is defendants’ motion summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. In the alternative, defendants seek an order precluding plaintiffs from presenting medical evidence at trial with respect to certain injuries that defendants claim were not causally related to the accident. (Dkt. No. 28). Plaintiffs opposed the motion and cross-moved for an order pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 403 precluding certain evidence offered by defendants on the motion. (Dkt. No. 31). [*2] This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

FACTS1

1 Defendants filed a Statement of Material Facts and plaintiffs properly responded. Plaintiffs also set forth additional facts. Defendants have not responded to these additional assertions in the reply submission. To the extent that the “facts” asserted by plaintiffs in the Statement of Material Facts are supported by the record, the Court will consider them in the context of the within motion. The background set forth in this section is taken from: (1) defendants’ Statements of Material Facts and plaintiff’s responses therein; (2) the exhibits and evidence submitted by defendants in support of the motion for summary judgment; and (3) the exhibits and evidence submitted by plaintiffs in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. The facts recited are for the relevant time period as referenced in the complaint.

The facts in this case, unless otherwise noted, are undisputed. Rocking Horse Ranch is a family-owned resort in Highland, New York that provides a variety of activities for guests including horseback riding, water activities, entertainment, skiing and snow tubing. Plaintiff, Donna Rich (“plaintiff” or “D. Rich”), [*3] went to the Rocking Horse Ranch with her husband, Mark Rich (“plaintiff” or “M. Rich”) and their two children. Plaintiffs checked in on February 6, 2010 and stayed until Sunday, February 8, 2010.

The ski area and tube run at the Ranch are inspected by the New York State Department of Labor. The Ranch receives a permit from the State to operate the lift at the snow tube hill. The snow tube hill has been in continuous operation at the Ranch since 1994 or 1995. On a given day, approximately 1000 tubes will go down the snow tube hill. The snow tubing hill at the Ranch consists of a single tow rope and either one or two lanes for snow tubers. Guests hook their tubes to the tow rope and ride up the hill. Guests then ride their tubes to the bottom. Ranch employees assist with each step, including giving a “gentle” nudge in order to get the guests started down the hill. Guests may ride in single tubes alone or in double tubes with another person. The snow tube hill ends in a flat area covered with hay and then continues into a deceleration ramp – an uphill section designed to further slow riders. “Willy bags” and hay bales are set up to “create a horseshoe for protection” around the deceleration [*4] ramp.2

2 The parties disagree on whether Willy bags were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.

Generally, because the speed of the tubes is affected by changeable conditions, the snow tube run is tested by the employees before it opens. If tubers are traveling too far up the deceleration ramp, staff members will add additional deceleration mats – rubber mats used to slow the riders – and they will add additional hay at the base of the deceleration ramp, stretching it out so that tubers hit the hay sooner and slow down. Ranch employees test both the single and double tubes before opening the snow tube hill to guests.3 Typically, the double tubes will go farther than the single tubes. Generally, because the conditions are changeable, Ranch employees constantly monitor the distance guests are traveling, and they make adjustments to the hay and mats as needed, even after the hill has opened to guests.4

3 The parties dispute whether these procedures were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.

4 The parties dispute whether these procedures were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.

On the evening of February 6, 2010, plaintiff and her family went snow tubing at the [*5] Ranch. The highest temperature was 26 degrees Fahrenheit with a low temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit.5 Plaintiff knew that snow-tubing involved risks and that there were no brakes on the tube and that she was unable to steer the tube. Plaintiff took approximately three or four trips down the hill with her daughter on a double tube. Each time they would ride to the top of the hill using the tow rope. An attendant at the top of the tow rope would unhook their tube after they climbed off of it, and they would wait in line for their turn to go down the hill. Each time plaintiff rode down the hill with her daughter, she came to a complete stop on the hay at the bottom of the hill. After taking three or four trips down the hill with her daughter, plaintiff switched to a single tube. Plaintiff rode to the top of the hill in her single tube and found the same two attendants working at the top of the hill. Plaintiff believed the attendants’ names were “Tim” and “Sal”.6 Plaintiff claims that the two attendants were talking to each other about trying to get tubers to strike the back of the wall at the end of the tube run. Plaintiff claims that McDermott pushed a girl in a tube, and she [*6] went down the hill “at a good pace” and then stopped on the hay.

5 See Affidavit of Paul F. Cooney, annexed to defendants’ motion for summary judgment as Exhibit P. The affidavit contains certified meteorological records from the National Climatic Data Center. The parties do not object to the authenticity of those records. The records will be considered by the Court on the within motion.

6 The record indicates that the names were Tim McDermott (“McDermott”) and Sal Frisher (“Frisher”).

McDermott helped plaintiff’s daughter into a tube and pushed her down the hill. Plaintiff then got into her tube. Plaintiff claims that, without warning, Frisher took the rope attached to her tube, ran her back towards the woods, then turned and ran her to the top of the hill and “flung” her down the hill. McDermott does not remember the incident at all and denies ever seeing a coworker “fling” a tuber down the hill. Frisher does not remember the incident and denies ever seeing anyone “fling” a tuber down the hill. Plaintiff struck the barrier at the top of the deceleration ramp. Amanda Odendahl (“Odendahl”), a Ranch employee, was working at the snow tube hill on the evening of plaintiff’s accident and testified [*7] that she, “remember[ed] a woman coming down and hitting the back of the wall, rolling out of her tube”. At the time of plaintiff’s accident, the temperature was between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ranch employees assisted plaintiff from the hill. Jack Barnello (“Barnello”), a first aid provider and the manager on duty, examined plaintiff. Barnello walked plaintiff to the ski shop area so that she could sit down. They stayed in the ski shop area for approximately ten minutes, but plaintiff wanted to go back to her room to lie down. Plaintiff returned to her room and Barnello brought another employee, a nurse, to check on plaintiff in her room. Plaintiff complained of a headache. Barnello and the nurse suggested that plaintiff get checked at the hospital, but plaintiff refused to go. Barnello completed an accident report regarding the incident.7 Plaintiff claims that she told Barnello that she was “flung” down the hill. Barnello denies the conversation. The accident report indicates that the accident occurred at 8:00 p.m. at the “bottom of tube run”. In the section of the report entitled “Description of Incident, Statements, Witness(es), Address of Witness(es), Barnello wrote:

Guest [*8] struck her head (left side) on the back wall of the tube run. She was in a single tube, she was thrown into the back wall when tube hit the back wall.

7 The report is annexed to defendants’ motion as Exhibit “R”. Barnello identified the report during his deposition and plaintiffs do not object to the admissibility of the report. Accordingly, the Court will consider the report in the context of the within motion.

Plaintiff did not receive any medical treatment that evening. The next day, plaintiff skied for an hour or two with her family. While at the ski hill, plaintiff spoke with Anthony Riggio (“Riggio), the head of grounds at the Ranch, and claims that she told Riggio about the accident. Riggio denied that plaintiff told him that she had been “flung” down the hill. In the days after the accident, plaintiff claims that she spoke with Stanley Ackerman, the Ranch’s general manager. However, the parties do not agree on the substance of that conversation. M. Rich testified that plaintiff told him that she was “flung” [*9] down the hill. M. Rich did not see the accident occur and did not discuss the accident with any Ranch employees. Plaintiff took Advil and remained at the Ranch for the weekend.

DISCUSSION

I. DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A. Standard on Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 ( c ). Substantive law determines which facts are material; that is, which facts might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 258, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). If the Court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, determines that the movant has satisfied this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to adduce evidence establishing the existence of a disputed issue of material fact requiring a trial. See id. If the nonmovant fails to [*10] carry this burden, summary judgment is appropriate. See id. “A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and an issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. v. Hudson River–Black River Regulating Dist., 673 F.3d 84, 94 (2d Cir. 2012).

Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is only appropriate where admissible evidence in the form of affidavits, deposition transcripts, or other documentation demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and one party’s entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Viola v. Philips Med. Sys. of N. Am., 42 F.3d 712, 716 (2d Cir.1994). No genuinely triable factual issue exists when the moving party demonstrates, on the basis of the pleadings and submitted evidence, and after drawing all inferences and resolving all ambiguities in favor of the non-movant, that no rational jury could find in the non-movant’s favor. Chertkova v. Conn. Gen’l Life Ins. Co., 92 F .3d 81, 86 (2d Cir.1996) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 ( c ).

In applying this standard, the court should not weigh evidence [*11] or assess the credibility of witnesses. Hayes v. New York City Dep’t of Corr., 84 F.3d 614, 619 (2d Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). Credibility determinations and choices between conflicting versions of the events are generally matters for a jury and not for the court on summary judgment. Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing inter alia Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). While not argued by defendants, there is a very narrow exception to the rule as stated by the Second Circuit in Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553-55 (2d Cir. 2005). In Jeffreys, the Second Circuit held that summary judgment may be awarded in the rare circumstance where there is nothing in the record to support plaintiff’s allegations, other than his own contradictory and incomplete testimony, and even after drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court determines that “no reasonable person” could believe the plaintiff’s testimony. Id. at 554-55. In order for the Jeffreys exception to apply: (1) the plaintiff must rely “almost exclusively on her own testimony”; (2) the plaintiff’s testimony must be contradictory or incomplete; and (3) the plaintiff’s version [*12] of events must be contradicted by defense testimony. Jeffreys, 426 F.3d at 554.

B. Assumption of the Risk

Where jurisdiction is based upon diversity, the court must apply the substantive law of the forum state. Travelers Ins. Co. v. 633 Third Assocs., 14 F.3d 114, 119 (2d Cir. 1994); see also Ascher, 522 F. Supp. 2d at 452 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (citations omitted). A person who elects to engage in a sport or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation”. Morgan v. State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 (1997). A participant “may be held to have consented to those injury-causing events which are known, apparent and reasonably foreseeable”. Youmans v. Maple Ski Ridge, Inc., 53 A.D.3d 957, 958, 862 N.Y.S.2d 626 (3d Dep’t 2008) (citations omitted). However, a participant does not assume risks that are the result of reckless or intentional conduct, risks “concealed or unreasonably increased” or risks that result in a “dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in the activity.” Morgan, 90 N.Y.2d at 485; Huneau v. Maple Ski Ridge, Inc., 17 A.D.3d 848, 849, 794 N.Y.S.2d 460 (3d Dep’t 2005) (citations [*13] omitted). “Generally, whether the plaintiff assumed a risk by participating in a sport is a question for the jury; dismissal of the complaint is appropriate only when the proof before the court reveals no triable issue of fact.” Samuels v. High Braes Refuge, Inc., 8 A.D.3d 1110, 1111, 778 N.Y.S.2d 640 (4th Dep’t 2004) (citations omitted).

Here, defendants claim that they satisfied their duty to make conditions safe. Specifically, defendants assert that plaintiff was aware of the risks associated with snow tubing and that she rode down the hill three or four times before her accident occurred. Defendants also allege that summary judgment is warranted because there is no evidence corroborating plaintiff’s version of how the incident occurred. Plaintiffs claim that defendants’ employees engaged in reckless conduct.

Plaintiff testified that she rode down the hill three or four times on a double tube with her daughter. However, her accident occurred during her first run down in a single tube. Plaintiff testified that as she waited in line, “I heard one of the boys joking with the other about having people – – trying to get people to hit the wall”. (D. Rich EBT at p. 88-89). Plaintiff explained that the “boys” [*14] were the two attendants at the top of the hill and believed their names were “Tim” and “Sal”. When plaintiff was ready to move down the hill, she claims that Sal:

. . . took my rope, and he ran me back to the wooded line. And then he turned, and ran me to the tope of the hill and kind of flung my tube down.

Id. at 94.

Plaintiff testified that Sal ran backwards, “more than five feet”. Id. at 96. Plaintiff never saw Sal do this at any other time during the evening. Plaintiff also testified that the day after the incident, she told Jack Barnello, Anthony Riggio and Stanley Ackerman exactly how the accident occurred. Id. at 103-106. Plaintiff claims that Barnello told her that, “he knew something wasn’t right because of the groups behavior after the tube”. Id. at 112. Plaintiff also claims that Barnello told her that he, “addressed the boys, and that they had admitted to fooling around”. Id. at 114. Plaintiff cannot identify any witnesses to her accident. Id. at 115.

The defense witnesses provide different accounts of the events that transpired during the weekend. In some instances, the testimony of the defense witnesses contradict each other. Frisher was deposed and testified that he never [*15] saw plaintiff prior to the date of his deposition and that he had no recollection of working on Friday, February 6, 2009. In fact, Mr. Frisher testified that “I’m usually off on a Friday and Saturday”. In support of the within motion, McDermott provided an affidavit and states, “I do not have any specific memory of this incident”. Riggio testified that “Sal and Tim were mentioned to me as the attendants at the time” but admitted that he knew that from reviewing plaintiff’s deposition testimony. Moreover, Riggio, Ackerman and Barnello did not speak with Frisher or McDermott about the incident. Riggio stated he eventually spoke with Frisher but only after the lawsuit was commenced.

Riggio admitted that he had a brief conversation with plaintiffs in the presence of Stan Ackerman. However, Ackerman testified that he did not recall seeing plaintiff while she was at the facility. (Ackerman EBT at p. 13). According to Riggio, plaintiff never described how the accident occurred and the conversation involved how she was feeling and getting her daughter help on the rope tow. (Riggio EBT at p. 26). Riggio, Barnello and Ackerman testified that none of the Ranch employees were disciplined as a result [*16] of the incident. Ackerman stated that he did not recall telling plaintiff, in any subsequent telephone conversations, that the attendants on the snow tubing hill had been disciplined. (Ackerman EBT at p.34). Barnello testified that he completed an accident report but did not recall plaintiff ever telling him that she was “forcibly launched” down the hill. (Barnello EBT at p. 24).

Defendants also contend that plaintiffs did not read warning signs at the facility. However, plaintiff testified that she had no recollection of any kind of signs that were present at the facility. See D. Rich EBT at p. 72. During plaintiff’s deposition, she was shown photographs of signs and asked if she recalled seeing the signs at the Ranch. Plaintiff testified, “No”. The photographs are not part of the record herein.8 Moreover, there is no evidence with respect to what was posted on the signs, where the signs were located and whether the signs were present at the Ranch on the day of plaintiff’s accident.

8 The Court notes that there are photographs of signs annexed to Jim Engel’s, plaintiffs’ expert, affidavit. Mr. Engel reviewed the signs but does not state whether the signs were present on the day of plaintiff’s [*17] accident or where they were located at the Ranch. Therefore, the photographs are not in competent, admissible evidence and will not be considered by this Court on the within motion.

Based upon the record, the parties and witnesses present varying accounts of the accident and thus, genuine issues of fact exist requiring a trial in this matter. The Court finds that this case does not fall within the narrow Jeffreys exception. Plaintiff’s testimony is not contrary or incomplete. Moreover, plaintiff’s testimony is not contradicted by reliable defense witnesses. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, there are clear factual issues to be resolved by the jury including whether the attendants at the top of the hill unreasonably increased the risk of injury to plaintiff. See Huneau, 17 A.D.3d at 849.

The Court has reviewed the cases cited by defendants in support of the within motion and finds them factually distinguishable from the matter herein. In those cases, the plaintiffs described accidents with “foreseeable consequences” of snow tubing and did not prove that the defendants unreasonably enhanced the dangers. See Youmans, 53 A.D.3d at 959; Berdecia v. County of Orange, 15 Misc.3d 1102[A], 836 N.Y.S.2d 496, 2006 NY Slip Op 52582[U] [N.Y. Sup. 2006] [*18] (the plaintiff was “pushed” successfully on each of her three prior runs and voluntarily presented for a fourth run); Tremblay v. W. Experience, 296 A.D.2d 780, 745 N.Y.S.2d 311 (3d Dep’t 2002) (the risk of impacting the snow barrier was reasonably foreseeable).

C. Waiver

Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate because plaintiff signed an assumption of risk notification warning her of the risk of physical injury when using defendants’ facility. Plaintiff admits that she executed the waiver but contends that the waiver simply warned of weather-related conditions and changes in terrain and as such, plaintiff could not have assumed the risk of being launched down the run.9

9 The form is attached to defendants’ motion as Exhibit “S”. The document is not in competent, admissible form. However, plaintiffs do not dispute the authenticity of the document and thus, it will be considered by the Court on the motion.

An exculpatory agreement will be enforced when the language expresses in unequivocal terms the intention of the parties to relieve a defendant of liability for the defendant’s negligence. Walker v. Young Life Saranac Vill., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166057, 2012 WL 5880682, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. 2012) (citations omitted). “[T]he [*19] law frowns upon contracts intended to exculpate a party from the consequences of its own negligence”. Id. (citing Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 106, 400 N.E.2d 306, 424 N.Y.S.2d 365 (1979)). “It must be plain and precise that the limitation of liability extends to negligence or the fault of the party attempting to shed its ordinary responsibility.” 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166057, [WL] at *8. Further, an agreement that attempts to exempt a party from grossly negligent acts is wholly void. Gross, 49 N.Y.2d at 106.

On February 6, 2009, plaintiff executed a form entitled “Participants Responsibilities of Activities and Assumptions of Risk”. The form provides, inter alia:

Guest acknowledges that participation in riding, water skiing and other sports and activities listed but not limited to those in brochure, and/or available at Rocking Horse Ranch Resort are used at participants own risk and guest is of legal age and will advise others in his/her parties in inherent risks in partaking of such activities.

* * *

3. I acknowledge that ski area and riding trail conditions vary constantly because of weather and natural causes. I also understand that ice, variations in terrain, moguls, rocks, forest growth, debris and other obstacles and hazards, including other [*20] participants exist throughout the property. Therefore I acknowledge that participation in any sport or activity can be a hazardous activity and that I could suffer personal injury as a participant.

I hereby expressly acknowledge my understanding and acceptance of the foregoing and agree to assume the risk of any personal injuries which I may incur during my use of the Rocking Horse Facilities.

The waiver makes no reference to “negligence” and does not mention the specific risks inherent in snow tubing. Thus, the waiver is insufficient to protect defendants from liability for the subject occurrence. Moreover, having never been made aware of the risks involved in the activity, claimant cannot be considered to have assumed them. Long v. State, 158 A.D.2d 778, 780-781, 551 N.Y.S.2d 369 (3d Dep’t 1990). Thus, summary judgment based upon the waiver of liability is not appropriate.

D. Proximate Cause

Defendants also argues, in the alternative, that even assuming there is an issue of fact with respect to the assumption of the risk doctrine, defendants have demonstrated that being “flung” down the hill, in the manner plaintiff described, was not the proximate cause of the accident.

On February 11, 2012, at approximately [*21] 5:30 p.m., defendants conducted an experiment to determine the effects of being pushed and “flung” on the distance traveled at the snow tube hill. The highest temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit with a low temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time of the test runs, the temperature was approximately 28 degrees Fahrenheit. A Ranch employee who matched plaintiff’s physical characteristics, weighing approximately 200 pounds and standing approximately 5 feet 2 inches tall, took nine runs down the snow tube hill. On the first three runs, the employee was not pushed at all. On the next three runs, the employee was given a hard push on his back. On the final three runs, the employee was pulled backwards by the strap and then “flung” down the hill. In support of the motion, defendants offer the affidavit of Paul Engel, the owner of Sunburst Ski Area. Engel avers that he has engaged in “extensive analysis of the factors that affect speed and distance of snow-tubers”. However, Engel does not assert, nor is there any evidence, that he was present during the experiments that were conducted in February 2012. Rather, he states that he reviewed the video footage taken that evening and that [*22] he “reached several conclusions based on that footage and the associated case information”.

Plaintiffs’ expert, Paul F. Cooney, performed a series of calculations that allegedly led to the conclusion that being pushed or flung would cause a snow tuber to travel farther down the hill. According to plaintiffs’ expert’s calculations, it was possible for a snow tuber to hit the wall if he or she was flung down the hill.

The Court is wary of awarding summary judgment where there are conflicting expert reports. In re Omnicom Group, Inc. Sec. Litig., 597 F.3d 501, 512 (2d Cir. 2010); Rand v. Volvo Fin. N. Am., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33674, 2007 WL 1351751, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (“[i]t is not for the court to decide which expert opinion is more persuasive.”). “The conflicting opinions and statements of both parties’ experts on material factual issues . . . can only be determined by a trial on the merits”. Regent Ins. Co. v. Storm King Contracting, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16513, 2008 WL 563465, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). It would be improper for the Court to engage in an evaluation of Engel’s and Cooney’s opinions. The jury must make a determination regarding the credibility of all expert witnesses. See Scanner Techs. Corp. v. Icos Vision Sys. Corp., 253 F.Supp.2d 624, 634 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) [*23] (“The credibility of competing expert witnesses is a matter for the jury, and not a matter to be decided on summary judgment.”).

II. DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO PRECLUDE

In the alternative, defendants argue that plaintiffs should be precluded from introducing evidence that plaintiff’s herniations and surgeries were causally related to the accident at defendants’ facility.10 Defendants rely upon the lack of contemporaneous treatment records and the opinions of John T. Rigney, M.D., a radiologist retained by defendants to review plaintiff’s MRI films. Plaintiffs’ claim that the reports completed by plaintiff’s treating providers and surgeon indicate that her injuries are related to the accident.

10 On the motion, the parties present various “facts” with respect to plaintiff’s medical treatment. The Court will not recite these facts as they are irrelevant for the purposes of this motion.

As discussed in Part II, conflicting expert opinions preclude summary judgment. Moreover, evaluations of doctor’s testimony should be addressed by the factfinder. Augustine v. Hee, 161 F. App’x 77, 79 (2d Cir. 2005). The conflict in the medical opinions of the parties’ experts, is sufficient to raise an issue of [*24] material fact as to whether plaintiffs’s herniations and surgeries were causally related to the accident; thus, the claims may not be dismissed on summary judgment. See Shamanskaya v. Ma, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63814, 2009 WL 2230709, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. 2009). Defendants’ motion to preclude plaintiffs from introducing evidence related to this issue at trial is denied.

III. PLAINTIFFS’ CROSS MOTION

Plaintiffs cross move for an order precluding plaintiff from introducing the video of test runs from February 2011 on this motion. Based upon this Court’s decision above, plaintiffs’ cross-motion is denied as moot. Plaintiffs’ motion specifically seeks to preclude this evidence from consideration on this motion. The parties are advised that the Court takes no position on the admissibility of defendants’ video of test runs at trial.

CONCLUSION

It is hereby

ORDERED, that defendants motion for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint in its entirety (Dkt. No. 28) is DENIED; it is further

ORDERED that defendants motion to preclude plaintiff from introducing evidence at trial that plaintiff’s injuries were causally related to the accident (Dkt. No. 28) is DENIED; it is further

ORDERED, that plaintiffs’ motion to preclude [*25] defendants from introducing the video of the February 2011 test runs as evidence in support of defendants’ summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 31) is DENIED as moot.

ORDERED that a Settlement Conference is scheduled in this matter for April 2, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. in Albany. The parties are directed to appear at that time and make submissions in advance of the conference as directed in this Court’s Order Setting Settlement Conference which will be forthcoming.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: January 28, 2013

Albany, New York

/s/ Mae A. D’Agostino

Mae A. D’Agostino

U.S. District Judge

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