West Virginia Supreme Court upholds a release signed to obtain a season pass at a ski area

The plaintiff’s inability to produce any evidence to support his allegations also went a long way in defeating his claims.

Citation: Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353 (W. Va. 2013)

State: West Virginia, Supreme Court of West Virginia

Plaintiff: Glen Addis and Pamela Addis

Defendant: Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and Release

Holding: For the Defendants

Year: 2013

Summary

Injury received by experienced season pass holder and former ski instructor was barred by the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and a release he had signed when he bought his season pass.

Facts

Plaintiff was a former ski instructor and a season pass holder at Snowshoe Mountain ski area in Southern West Virginia. On the second run on Lower Shay’s revenge, a double black diamond, he fell, slid into some trees and was severely injured. His argument was based on the idea that the snow making equipment was shooting water rather than snow because of the temperature creating extremely icy conditions.

On the first run down Lower Shay’s Revenge, he noticed the icy conditions, but he did not notify anyone of the conditions.

The plaintiff lost at the trial court level after the defendant Snowshoe Mountain filed a motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first looked at the application of the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act to this incident. The plaintiff argued:

…respondent lost the protection of the Act by failing to monitor weather information, failing to stop malfunctioning snowmaking equipment, failing to train ski patrol, and failing to mark hazards.

(Respondent meaning the ski area.) This argument was predicated on the temperatures that day being above freezing. The snow making equipment was shooting water rather than snow according to the plaintiff.

Central to each of petitioners’ assertions is their supposition that the air temperature was warmer than 32 degrees Fahrenheit at key times on the days around the petitioner’s accident, causing respondents snowmaking equipment to blow water, rather than snow, which created ice on the trail.

The court throughout the weather argument because the plaintiff did not produce any exhibits or evidence that proved the weather that day caused the issues or that the ski area’s snow making equipment malfunctioned because of the temperatures.

The only evidence of the temperature, however, is a three-page climate data report of the National Weather Service setting out the minimum and maximum daily area temperatures for the month of January of 2009. While that report shows that the maximum temperature reached 42 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of petitioner’s accident, there is no evidence that respondent’s equipment malfunctioned as a result of that temperature, or that the equipment was improvidently used.

The court found the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act protected the defendant ski area, because the plaintiff could not prove the resort’s equipment malfunctioned.

The second argument was the release should fail. West Virginia has a history of finding releases void for narrow reasons. In fact, I’ve listed West Virginia as a state where releases are suspect. See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.

Here the plaintiff argued because the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act had been violated, the release was void. A negligence per se argument that a release cannot protect against violation of a rule, regulations or statute designed to protect someone. Since the court found the statute had not been violated, the Supreme Court upheld the release.

Their sole argument before this Court is that the circuit court failed to recognize, based on Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc, that exculpatory clauses do not provide immunity to operators who violate a statutory safety standard. Inasmuch as we have determined herein that there is no evidence of respondents acting contrary to its duty set forth in the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, petitioners cannot prevail on this ground.

So Now What?

What makes this case so interesting is the decision by the WV Supreme Court to uphold a release. In numerous release cases that have come before the court over the past decades, the court has uniformly found the releases void.

Of course, it helps if the plaintiff fails to place into evidence any information or facts that can support his or her case.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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States that do not Support the Use of a Release

The most changes in this form have occurred in the last year over the last ten years.

Assumption of the risk is your best defense in these states

These states do not allow a recreational business or program to use a release to stop litigation.

State

Citation

Issues/Article

Releases are Void

Louisiana

C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.

Montana

MCA § 27-1-701

Liability for negligence as well as willful acts. Except as otherwise provided by law, everyone is responsible not only for the results of his willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property or person except so far as the latter has willfully or by want of ordinary care brought the injury upon himself.

Virginia

Johnson’s Adm’x v. Richmond and Danville R.R. Co., 86 Va. 975, 11 S.E. 829 (1890)

Except for Equine Activities Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited

Oregon

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

Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.

Use of a Release is Restricted

Arizona

Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53

 

New Mexico

Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332;2002 NMCA 60;48

P.3d 70;2002 N.M. App. 39;41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25

State created Equine Liability Statute so no need for release

West Virginia

Kyriazis v. University of West Virginia; 192 W. Va. 60; 450 S.E.2d 649;

1994 W. Va. LEXIS 161

 

Use of Releases is Probably Void

Connecticut

Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) and Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, Et Al., 280 Conn. 153; 905 A.2d 1156; 2006

Conn. LEXIS 330

 

Mississippi

Turnbough v. Ladner, 754 So. 2d 467; 1999 Miss. LEXIS 375

Mississippi Supreme Court makes it almost impossible to write a release that is enforceable because the court does not give direction as to what it wants.

Wisconsin

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy

Wisconsin

Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Company, et al., 2016 WI 20; 2016 Wisc. LEXIS 121

Wisconsin Supreme Court voids another release because it violates public policy. Public Policy as defined in Wisconsin requires the ability to bargain before signing the release.

Vermont

Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd, 164 Vt 329; 670 A.2d 795; 1995 Vt. Lexis 127

 

Specific uses of Releases are Void

Alaska

Sec. 05.45.120(a).  Use of liability releases

A ski area operator may not require a skier to sign an agreement releasing the ski area operator from liability in exchange for the right to ride a ski area tramway and ski in the ski area. A release that violates this subsection is void and may not be enforced.

Hawaii

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511 (D. Haw. 2004)

Found that Hawaii statute § 663-1.54. Recreational activity liability prevented the use of a release

New York

General Obligation Law § 5-326. Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

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

 

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More than allegations and plaintiff’s testimony to sustain a motion for summary judgment for a binding defect in West Virginia

Failure of the plaintiff to keep the broken binding or have any other proof the binding broke would have changed the outcome of the case.

Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

State: West Virginia

Plaintiff: Daniel Mrotek

Defendant: Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., d/b/a Elk River Outfitters, d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Appellees, and Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., v. Skis Dynastar, Inc., d/b/a Dynastar and Adidas America Incorporated, d/b/a Salomon North American, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and product liability

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff did not produce any evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant. Alternatively, the court found that plaintiff signed a valid release.

Year: 2003

Holding: for the defendant

The plaintiff from Florida with a group of friends went to Snowshoe Ski Area in West Virginia for four days of skiing. He first rented skis from the defendant. While renting he signed a release.

While skiing he fell. He claimed the toe piece of one of the bindings came off. Both the plaintiff and one of his friends testified they through the toe piece away.

The plaintiff exchanged the skis for another pair with the defendant. The defendant testified the skis were in good condition and rented out the next day. The plaintiff did not report the ski binding failed nor did he report an accident to anyone.

Upon the plaintiff’s return to Florida, he was suffering head aches and blurred vision. He eventually needed four surgeries and had a permanent shunt placed in his head.

The plaintiff sued the defendant rental business. The rental business filed claims against the ski and binding manufacturer as third party defendants. The trial court, called a Circuit Court in West Virginia dismissed the claims of the plaintiff against the defendant. By doing so the third party claims are also dismissed against the third party defendants. The plaintiff appealed.

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

The basis of the court’s ruling in favor of the defendant was the plaintiff “failed to identify any act or omission allegedly committed by EMO, which in any way caused or contributed to the alleged skiing accident.” In a negligence claim, the negligence must be proved, it cannot be imputed or presumed.  

Self-serving assertions without factual support in the record will not defeat a motion for summary judgment.”

After examining all the evidence the court found” The only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence is that Mr. Mrotek fell while skiing.”

The defendant had no evidence of a broken ski or binding. The plaintiff had not told the defendant the binding was broken and had not registered a claim. No third party saw the broken binding other than the friend who testified it had been thrown away.

The party opposing summary judgment must satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere ‘scintilla of evidence,’ and must produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving party’s favor.

In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence in West Virginia, it must be shown that the defendant has been guilty of some act or omission[.]”). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate under the facts of this case.

So Now What?

This case would have been totally different if the plaintiff had kept the toe piece, photographed it or pointed out the problem to a third party or the defendant; anything to support his claim other than his statements.

The main reason for this statement is releases in West Virginia have been disfavored whenever they reach the West Virginia Supreme Court. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.)

The defendant did the correct thing by following the protocol set up by the ski rental industry. The ski was examined, and nothing was found to be defective so the ski and binding were rented out the next day. If necessary, the defendant could have brought in the rental receipts showing the ski and bindings had been rented and how often after the plaintiff’s incident.

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#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, West Virginia, Ski Area, Snowshoe, Binding, Ski Rental, Toe Piece, Product Liability, Negligence, Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., Elk River Outfitters, Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., Elk Mountain Outfitters, Appellees, Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., Skis Dynastar, Inc., Dynastar, Adidas America Incorporated, Salomon North American, Inc.,

 


Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

Daniel Mrotek, an Individual, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., d/b/a Elk River Outfitters, d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Defendants below, Appellees, and Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., A Corporation, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Below, Appellees, v. Skis Dynastar, Inc., d/b/a Dynastar and Adidas America Incorporated, d/b/a Salomon North American, Inc., Third-Party Defendants Below, Appellees.

No. 31395

SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA

214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

November 18, 2003, Submitted

December 3, 2003, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County. Honorable James J. Rowe, Judge. Civil Action No. 99-C-37.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syllabus point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

2. “Summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.” Syllabus point 4, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

COUNSEL: Larry E. Losch, William A. McCourt, Jr., Summersville, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellant.

William J. Hanna, Robert P. Lorea, Flaherty, Sensabaugh & Bonasso, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellee, Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc.

Rob J. Aliff, Jackson & Kelly, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellee, Skis Dynastar.

Robert M. Steptoe, Jr. [***2] , Steptoe & Johnson, Clarksburg, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellee, Adidas American, Inc.

M. Hance Price, Steptoe & Johnson, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Attorney for Adidas American, Inc.

OPINION

[*491] [**684] Per Curiam:

This appeal was filed by Daniel Mrotek, appellant/plaintiff below (hereinafter referred to as “Mr. Mrotek”), from an order of the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County granting summary judgment in favor of Coal River Canoe, Ltd., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as “EMO”), appellee/defendant below. Mr. Mrotek filed an action against EMO alleging that he sustained injuries as a result of his use of an allegedly defective ski that he rented from EMO. The circuit court granted summary judgment on two alternative grounds. The circuit court found that Mr. Mrotek did not produce any evidence of negligence on the part of EMO. Alternatively, the court found that Mr. Mrotek signed a valid release of his right to sue EMO for any injury caused by its equipment. In this appeal, Mr. Mrotek contends that genuine issues of material fact are in dispute as to whether EMO supplied him with a defective ski and that the release from liability he signed was unenforceable. [***3] Upon review of the briefs and record in this case, we affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Mrotek is a resident of Florida. On December 28, 1997, Mr. Mrotek and a group of seven friends came to Snowshoe, West Virginia, for a four day skiing vacation. Upon their arrival, Mr. Mrotek and some of his companions rented skiing equipment from EMO. As part of the rental transaction, EMO required all customers to read and execute a document releasing EMO from any harm caused by its equipment. Mr. Mrotek signed the release.

Shortly after renting the ski equipment, Mr. Mrotek and his companions ventured off to engage in night skiing. During the first run of the evening Mr. Mrotek fell and apparently hit his head. A skiing companion, Herman Serpa, saw Mr. Mrotek fall and came to his aid. Mr. Serpa states that he noticed that a toe binding on Mr. Mrotek’s right ski was missing. Mr. Serpa states that he found the toe binding with three rusty screws protruding from it. The toe binding was allegedly thrown away by either Mr. Serpa or Mr. Mrotek. However, neither man appears to have recalled who threw away the toe binding.

Mr. Serpa allegedly returned the defective ski and received [***4] a replacement. Mr. Mrotek did not report the incident to EMO even though, as a result of the fall, he allegedly “became very dizzy, sick at his stomach with vomiting along with severe headaches.”

Upon returning to Florida, Mr. Mrotek sought medical treatment for blurred vision, nausea and exhaustion. A medical examination revealed Mr. Mrotek suffered from Papilledema, i.e., fluid on the brain caused by a damaged ventricle. On February 16, 1998, Mr. Mrotek underwent surgery to place a shunt in his skull to drain the excess fluid. Due to complications, Mr. Mrotek eventually underwent three more surgeries. Although Mr. Mrotek has recovered from the problems caused by the excess fluid, he must permanently have “a small tube running underneath his skin from his brain down his neck and into his heart to maintain the pressure and stability inside his skull.”

Mr. Mrotek filed this action against EMO [**685] [*492] in 1999, 1 alleging EMO supplied him with a defective ski which caused him to fall and sustain a head injury. 2 After a period of discovery, EMO moved for summary judgment. By order entered June 17, 2002, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of EMO. 3 This appeal is a result [***5] of the circuit court’s ruling.

1 The record submitted on appeal is extremely sparse and does not contain the pleadings.

2 EMO filed a third-party complaint against the suppliers of the ski, Skis Dynastar, Inc. and Salomon North American, Inc., for indemnity or contribution.

3 The circuit court’s order also dismissed EMO’s third-party complaint.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard for our review of an order granting summary judgment is well established. [HN1] “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). Insofar as “‘appellate review of an entry of summary judgment is plenary, this Court, like the circuit court, must view the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.'” Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Bennett, 199 W. Va. 236, 238, 483 S.E.2d 819, 821 (1997) (quoting [***6] Asaad v. Res-Care, Inc., 197 W. Va. 684, 687, 478 S.E.2d 357, 360 (1996)). We have made clear that [HN2] “summary judgment is appropriate [only] if ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Pritt v. Republican Nat’l Comm., 210 W. Va. 446, 452, 557 S.E.2d 853, 859 (2001) (quoting W. Va.R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Further, [HN3] “summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.” Syl. pt. 4, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). With these standards as our guide, we now address the issues asserted on appeal.

III.

DISCUSSION

The dispositive issue in this case is the determination by the circuit court that Mr. Mrotek “failed to identify any act or omission allegedly committed by EMO which in any way caused or contributed to the alleged skiing accident.” [HN4] This Court has observed that “it is an elementary principle [***7] of law that negligence will not be imputed or presumed. The bare fact of an injury standing alone, without supporting evidence, is not sufficient to justify an inference of negligence.” Walton v. Given, 158 W. Va. 897, 902, 215 S.E.2d 647, 651 (1975). 4 Moreover, [HN5] “negligence . . . is a jury question when the evidence is conflicting or the facts are such that reasonable men may draw different conclusions from them.” Burgess v. Jefferson, 162 W. Va. 1, 3, 245 S.E.2d 626, 628 (1978).

4 Mr. Mrotek contends that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should be applied to the facts of this case to overcome summary judgment. [HN6] “Pursuant to the evidentiary rule of res ipsa loquitur, it may be inferred that harm suffered by the plaintiff is caused by negligence of the defendant when (a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; (b) other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence; and (c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.” Syl. pt. 4, Foster v. City of Keyser, 202 W.Va. 1, 501 S.E.2d 165 (1997). Clearly, under the Foster formulation of [HN7] res ipsa loquitur, the doctrine simply has no application to falling while skiing–which is an extremely frequent incident that can occur without any negligence. See Syl. pt. 2, Farley v. Meadows, 185 W.Va. 48, 404 S.E.2d 537 (1991) [HN8] (“The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur cannot be invoked where the existence of negligence is wholly a matter of conjecture and the circumstances are not proved, but must themselves be presumed, or when it may be inferred that there was no negligence on the part of the defendant. The doctrine applies only in cases where defendant’s negligence is the only inference that can reasonably and legitimately be drawn from the circumstances.”).

[***8] The primary evidence relied upon by Mr. Mrotek was the deposition [**686] testimony of Mr. Serpa. Mr. Mrotek presented the deposition [*493] testimony of Mr. Serpa to show that the toe binding on the right ski came loose. Mr. Serpa testified that he found a piece of the binding with three rusty screws protruding from it. There was also testimony by Mr. Serpa that he returned the defective ski to EMO and was given a replacement. There was also evidence to show that the skis rented by Mr. Mrotek were not tested for weakness by EMO prior to 1997-98 ski season.

EMO took the position that nothing happened to the skis that were rented to Mr. Mrotek. According to EMO’s records the skis rented to Mr. Mrotek were returned in good condition and were rented out again the day after Mr. Mrotek returned them. EMO presented an affidavit from its management employee, Charlie McDaniels. Mr. McDaniels indicated that the bindings used on the skis rented by EMO were made of aluminum or were galvanized and would not rust.

In looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Mrotek, we do not find a material issue of fact in dispute. EMO presented evidence to establish that no defect existed in the skis rented [***9] to Mr. Mrotek. In fact, there was evidence that Mr. Mrotek examined the skis before renting them and found nothing wrong. EMO also established that they had no record to show that Mr. Serpa or Mr. Mrotek turned in a broken ski. Mr. Mrotek presented bare testimonial evidence to show that a toe binding broke loose from the right ski. No actual evidence was introduced showing the defective ski or the parts that were allegedly broken from the ski. See Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W. Va. 52, 61 n.14, 459 S.E.2d 329, 338 n.14 (1995) [HN9] (“Self-serving assertions without factual support in the record will not defeat a motion for summary judgment.”). The only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence is that Mr. Mrotek fell while skiing. [HN10] The mere fact of falling while skiing is not actionable negligence. See Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 192-93, 451 S.E.2d 755, 758-59 (1994) [HN11] (“The party opposing summary judgment must satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere ‘scintilla of evidence,’ and must produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving party’s favor.”); Syl. pt.1, in part, Parsley v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 167 W. Va. 866, 280 S.E.2d 703 (1981) [***10] [HN12] (“In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence in West Virginia, it must be shown that the defendant has been guilty of some act or omission[.]”). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate under the facts of this case. 5

5 Because we affirm the circuit court’s initial reason for granting summary judgment, we need not address the issue involving the release signed by Mr. Mrotek.

IV.

CONCLUSION

In view of the foregoing, the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of EMO is affirmed.

Affirmed.


States that do not Support the Use of a Release

Assumption of the risk is your best defense in these states

These states do not allow a recreational business or program to use a release to stop litigation.

State

Citation

Issues

Releases are Void

Louisiana

C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.

Montana

MCA § 27-1-701

Liability for negligence as well as willful acts. Except as otherwise provided by law, everyone is responsible not only for the results of his willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property or person except so far as the latter has willfully or by want of ordinary care brought the injury upon himself.

Virginia

Johnson’s Adm’x v. Richmond and Danville R.R. Co., 86 Va. 975, 11 S.E. 829 (1890)

Except for Equine Activities Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited

Use of a Release is Restricted

Arizona

Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53

 

New Mexico

Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332;2002 NMCA 60;48

P.3d 70;2002 N.M. App. 39;41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25

 

West Virginia

Kyriazis v. University of West Virginia; 192 W. Va. 60; 450 S.E.2d 649;

1994 W. Va. LEXIS 161

 

Use of Releases is Probably Void

Connecticut

Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) and Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, Et Al., 280 Conn. 153; 905 A.2d 1156; 2006

Conn. LEXIS 330

 

Oregon

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

Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.

Wisconsin

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy

Vermont

Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd, 164 Vt 329; 670 A.2d 795; 1995 Vt. Lexis 127

 

Specific uses of Releases are Void

Alaska

Sec. 05.45.120(a).  Use of liability releases

A ski area operator may not require a skier to sign an agreement releasing the ski area operator from liability in exchange for the right to ride a ski area tramway and ski in the ski area. A release that violates this subsection is void and may not be enforced.

Hawaii

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511 (D. Haw. 2004)

Found that Hawaii statute § 663-1.54. Recreational activity liability prevented the use of a release

New York

General Obligation Law § 5-326. Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

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

 

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Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353

Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353

Glen Addis and Pamela Addis, Plaintiffs Below, Petitioners vs Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, Defendant Below, Respondent

No. 12-1537

SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA

2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353

November 22, 2013, Filed, Issued

NOTICE:

Memorandum decisions are subject to the rehearing procedures set forth in Revised Rule 25. Unless otherwise provided, the memorandum decision is not final until the Court has issued a mandate under Rule 26. SEE WEST VIRGINIA RULE 21 OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE FOR CITATION OF MEMORANDUM OPINIONS.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

(Pocahontas County 10-C-69).

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS: skier, skiing, ski, trail, ski area, summary judgment, snow, snowmaking, collision, sport, ice, terrain, temperature, West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, variations, lift, spots, ski resort, exculpatory clauses, subsurface, inasmuch, surface, warning, resort, forest, debris, times, rocks, bare, weather

JUDGES: CONCURRED IN BY: Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin, Justice Robin Jean Davis, Justice Margaret L. Workman, Justice Menis E. Ketchum, Justice Allen H. Loughry II.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioners Glen and Pamela Addis, by counsel John F. McCuskey, Roberta F. Green, and Heather B. Osborn, appeal the order of the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County, entered November 28, 2012, granting summary judgment in favor of Respondent Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. Respondent appears by counsel Robert M. Steptoe, Amy M. Smith, and Matthew B. Hansberry.

This Court has considered the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Petitioners filed a complaint and amended complaint in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County based on injuries Petitioner Glen Addis received after skiing over and slipping [*2] on ice on a double black diamond trail called Lower Shay’s Revenge at respondent’s ski resort.1 The civil action was transferred to the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County upon the court’s grant of respondent’s motion to dismiss for improper venue, or in the alternative, transfer. Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment after the close of discovery, and the circuit court granted the motion by order entered November 28, 2012, on the grounds that petitioners’ claims are barred by the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and by release and waiver language contained in an agreement signed by petitioner.2 Petitioners appealed the grant of summary judgment to this Court.

1 The “double black diamond” designation indicates that the trail is “extremely difficult” and is intended for “advanced” skiers.

2 The sole claim of Petitioner Pamela Addis was loss of consortium. The circuit court correctly noted that it was entirely derivative of her husband’s claims.

The material facts are not in dispute. Petitioner Glen Addis entered respondent’s resort the day of his accident using a season pass. In obtaining that pass, petitioner signed the following agreement:

I understand and accept the fact [*3] that skiing, snowboarding, bicycling, and golf in their various forms are INHERENTLY DANGEROUS AND HAZARDOUS sports that have many dangers and risks. I realize that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of these sports. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the resort’s facilities and premises, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death or property damage, and release Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. and its agents, employees, directors, officers, and shareholders from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises and facilities, the operations of the resort including, but not limited to, grooming, snowmaking, ski lift operations, trail maintenance, golf operations, the actions or omissions of employees or agents of Snowshoe or my participation in skiing or other activities in the area, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury of any kind which may result.

I further understand and accept that there may be exposure to other dangers or hazards including, but not limited to, the following: riding and disembarking [*4] the ski lifts, changing weather conditions, loss of balance or control, rocks, roots, stumps, trees, forest debris, creeks and streams, natural and manmade objects, bare spots, blind spots, reduced visibility (for any reason), and the actions of other guests or employees.

I, the undersigned, have read, understood, and agree to accept the terms of this RELEASE AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE. I am signing it freely and of my own accord realizing it is binding upon my heirs, my assigns, and myself. . . .

I shall support the Responsibility Code and understand that skiing, snowboarding, bicycling and golf are inherently dangerous sports and I freely and voluntarily accept all of the inherent risks and responsibilities associated with these sports.

Petitioner is an experienced skier and former ski instructor, and he had skied Lower Shay’s Revenge many times prior to the accident that is the subject of this claim. His fall occurred on his second run on that trail on the morning of January 24, 2009. On his earlier run, petitioner observed that the trail was not well-groomed, was icy, and had large mounds of snow.3 He did not, however, report the condition of the trail to ski patrol. Petitioner approached [*5] an icy mound on his second run, and his right ski became dislodged. He then stopped on a “very steep slope” and, while attempting to put his ski back on, he slipped on ice, over a drop-off, and into the nearby wooded area. Petitioner struck a tree, fracturing both femurs and his pelvis.

3 Petitioner was also aware, however, that other nearby trails were groomed, inasmuch as he had skied several earlier that morning.

On appeal, petitioners assert two assignments of error. First, they argue that the circuit court improperly construed the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act. Second, they argue that the circuit court misapplied West Virginia law on pre-injury exculpatory clauses and thereby violated their constitutional rights in granting summary judgment. “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syl. Pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). The non-moving party may only defeat a motion for summary judgment by offering some concrete evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict in his favor. See Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995). Mindful of this standard, we consider petitioners’ [*6] arguments.

The West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act provides in part:

§20-3A-3. Duties of ski area operators with respect to ski areas. Every ski area operator shall:

(8) Maintain the ski areas in a reasonably safe condition, except that such operator shall not be responsible for any injury, loss or damage caused by the following: variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees, other forms of forest growth or debris; collisions with pole lines, lift towers or any components thereof; or, collisions with snowmaking equipment which is marked by a visible sign or other warning implement in compliance with subdivision (2) of this section.

… §20-3A-5. Duties of skiers.

(a) It is recognized that skiing as a recreational sport is hazardous to skiers, regardless of all feasible safety measures which can be taken. Each skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury, loss or damage to person or property which results from participation in the sport of skiing including, but not limited to, any injury, loss or damage caused by the following: Variations in terrain including freestyle terrain; surface or subsurface snow [*7] or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees, other forms of forest growth or debris; collisions with pole lines, lift towers or any component thereof; or, collisions with snowmaking equipment which is marked by a visible sign or other warning implement in compliance with section three of this article. Each skier shall have the sole individual responsibility for knowing the range of his or her own ability to negotiate any ski slope or trail, and it shall be the duty of each skier to ski within the limits of the skier’s own ability, to maintain reasonable control of speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings, to ski only on a skiing area designated by the ski area operator and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of anyone. If while actually skiing, any skier collides with any object or person, except an obviously intoxicated person of whom the ski area operator is aware, the responsibility for such collision shall be solely that of the skier or skiers involved and not that of the ski area operator.

Petitioners argue that respondent lost the protection of the Act by failing to monitor weather information, failing to [*8] stop malfunctioning snowmaking equipment, failing to train ski patrol, and failing to mark hazards. We find no evidence in the record to support any such asserted failure, and petitioners direct our attention to none.4 Central to each of petitioners’ assertions is their supposition that the air temperature was warmer than 32 degrees Fahrenheit at key times on the days around petitioner’s accident, causing respondent’s snowmaking equipment to blow water, rather than snow, which created ice on the trail. The only evidence of the temperature, however, is a three-page climate data report of the National Weather Service setting out the minimum and maximum daily area temperatures for the month of January of 2009. While that report shows that the maximum temperature reached 42 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of petitioner’s accident, there is no evidence that respondent’s equipment malfunctioned as a result of that temperature, or that the equipment was improvidently used.

4 Petitioners’ citations to their own pleadings or arguments below, rather than specific testimony or evidence, to establish the events giving rise to this action is insufficient.

Petitioners liken their situation to Hardin v. Ski Venture, Inc., 848 F.Supp. 58 (N.D. W.Va. 1994), [*9] a case in which a defendant ski resort was denied summary judgment because there was evidence that defendant’s malfunctioning snowmaking equipment blew “excessively wet snow” into plaintiff’s goggles, obstructing his vision and ultimately causing the collision that rendered him quadriplegic.5 But here, where petitioners have made only broad accusations of “failure,” and offered unsupported conjecture, petitioners have presented no facts to significantly distinguish this case from Pinson v. Canaan Valley Resorts, Inc., 196 W.Va. 436, 473 S.E.2d 151 (1996), wherein a plaintiff sued a ski resort for injuries she received while skiing on ungroomed, natural snow. In that case, we ultimately determined that “skiers, rather than ski area operators, are responsible for injuries caused by ‘variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions’ and that such variations or conditions . . . caused the injury to” that plaintiff. Similarly, we find that petitioner is responsible for his injury, inasmuch as the evidence shows only that it was caused by conditions of the terrain.

5 In their reply brief, petitioners state that they, like the Hardin plaintiffs, “had retained an expert who [*10] was prepared to identify the operator’s failures that led to the injuries alleged.” They further explain that it was that expert testimony in Hardin that created a factual dispute concerning the cause of the accident. The Court has been unable to find such expert testimony in the appendix record for this case.

Petitioners’ second assignment of error is that the circuit court misapplied our law on pre-injury exculpatory clauses. Their sole argument before this Court is that the circuit court failed to recognize, based on Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc., 186 W.Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991), that exculpatory clauses do not provide immunity to operators who violate a statutory safety standard. Inasmuch as we have determined herein that there is no evidence of respondent’s acting contrary to its duty set forth in the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, petitioners cannot prevail on this ground.

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm.

Affirmed.

ISSUED: November 22, 2013

CONCURRED IN BY:

Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin

Justice Robin Jean Davis

Justice Margaret L. Workman

Justice Menis E. Ketchum

Justice Allen H. Loughry II


Another trade associations confuses marketing and law: if you don’t understand the legal meaning of a word don’t use it like you do

ATTA article promotes goals for guides worldwide by calling them standards which in the US are the legally lowest possible acceptable level of acting.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association recently posted an article showing their research indicated that no standards existed for guides. Those standards were promoted by the association as needed to promote quality.

We view standards as critical to the future of the adventure travel industry’s success. As it is growing radically in participation numbers, it’s key that the operators expanding and joining the industry be of the best quality.

Their research is slightly flawed. Several states have laws regarding guiding, Colorado, West Virginia, Montana and California. Furthermore, the UIAA control and create guide standards in Europe, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation. In Europe, these guide standards are the law in some countries.

The person who promoted the idea for the ATTA gave reasons for the need for standards.

“Why do we need a more universal standard?” asked Moore, “Because the adventure travel sector is growing, because tour operators around the world are demanding it, and because destinations need it to legitimately promote adventure activities”

The idea is to create standards in a proposed group in five areas. Those areas include medical care and technical knowledge.

Based on the article clearly the ATTA is attempting to create qualifications for being a good guide. The unanswered question is, is this being done for safety reasons or for marketing reasons?

No matter the reason, the attempt will create legal problems. Legally, standards are the proof of the poorest quality not the best. A legal standard is the lowest acceptable level of care. If you fall below the legal standard, you have breached a duty of care you may owe to someone. Three examples of this are:

New Jersey Model Jury Instructions state:

5.10A            NEGLIGENCE AND ORDINARY CARE – GENERAL

To summarize, every person is required to exercise the foresight, prudence and caution which a reasonably prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.  Negligence then is a departure from that standard of care.

The Restatement of Torts is a compendium of the law.

Restatement Second of Torts, section 282, defines negligence as “conduct which falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.”

Colorado Jury Instructions, the law given to a jury when they go to the jury room to make their decisions about a case defines standard as:

CJI-Civ. 9:9 (CLE Ed. 2009)

Jury instructions define “standard of care” as “a duty to use that degree of care which a person of similar age, experience and intelligence would ordinarily use under the same or similar circumstances.”

If you fall below the standard of care and there is an injury you have breached a duty of care to a guest. You are on your way to helping the injured guest prove you are negligent.

Remember negligence is:

·         Duty

·         Breach of that Duty

·         Injury proximately caused by the Breach of Duty

·         Damages

In order to determine if there was a breach of a duty, the jury must determine the standard of care which the defendant fell below. If a trade association lists the requirements for the standard of care, puts them on the Internet or in a book, then the association has helped put its members in a courtroom. The plaintiff instead of struggling to establish the care was below the acceptable level need only to refer to the trade association as proof of the association member’s negligence.

Standards are Not Goals or Minimum Levels of Knowledge or Skill

It is obvious from the article that the association believes the standards will be goals to which its membership will strive for its guides to attain. You can probably post on your door or website that your guides meet the standards as established by your trade association. If that happens, then no matter how much the word safety is thrown out there for proof of the reasoning, the actual reasoning is a marketing program.

Either one will still sink a member.

In effect, you are handing the attorney for an injured guest the keys to open your bank account or insurance policy and take out money by creating or having an association create standards for your industry.

If you want actual examples of this look at the Climbing Wall Association or the Association of Experiential Education. The Climbing Wall Association changed their standards to best practices, and the AEE is about gone. Is the AEE having problems a result of their “standards?” I don’t know. I do know that both organizations were big in creating standards, and their members were sued a lot. See Payouts in Outdoor Recreation

If you don’t have the time or ability or your standards are beat to a pulp in a courtroom then you starting writing meaningless crap for standards. “You should have adequate guides for the number of guests in your group.” That statement has no value and thankfully brings nothing to the courtroom, so why kill a tree by creating it?

Besides can you create one set of standards that work worldwide let along across state lines?

A medical standard is the easiest to use as an example. A standard is created based on US or UK realities. Advanced professional first aid care (EMS) is available within roughly a four-hour window. Your guides are trained in first aid based on that four-hour window.

These standards are then applied to an area where there is no EMS. Transportation to a hospital may take days, and the hospital may not come close to the idea an American may visualize when they think of hospitals.

If a US guest is injured in that area of the world will the standard apply? Yes, you agreed to the standard or the association created the standard. If nothing else the jury will see the standard as what they should use to measure the care the injured guest received.

Are you going to argue to a jury that the standards not to apply because you took the US or EU client to a third-world country? Then the jury may look at you and determine either you should have done something to ensure the safety, which you did not, or you should not have gone there. Why, because you can’t meet the standard of care, your organization created.

Look at a simple cut. On a mountain in Nepal, you would immediately stop the bleeding and bandage the wound. In some jungles of South America or South-East Asia, you may want the wound to bleed a little to help clean the wound of any bacteria or other nasty’s that entered through the cut.

How do you write the standard for Kilimanjaro where the first two days are hiking through a jungle, and the next days are spent on the mountain?

The easiest example was the classic mistake of the AEE’s first set of standards. The standards stated you must pee 100 yards from any water. In the Southwest on river trips, this may get you fined by the federal agency managing the river you are rafting. There you pee in the river. What do you do if your standard violates state or federal law? What if your standard violates a religion?

Time and Upkeep

The biggest issue with standards is upkeep. It takes months, sometimes years to create standards, how do you keep them up to date? You have navigated your way through the difference requirements of different countries, trips and laws and then a law changes, a technique improves or better first aid care becomes available.

How do you go back and re-write the standard? When do you re-write the standard? How do you communicate the new standard? How do you convince your members to change to the new standard after they have spent time training their employees on the old standard and invested money in meeting it?

If you are using the old standard after a new standard comes out do you have a grace period? (No, this was a trick question.)

Just create great ideas. Educate members and guests on what to look for in a good guide. Provide education so guides can get better.

Don’t hang a noose around your member’s necks and call it marketing.

See ATTA Advances Conversation on Adventure Guide Qualification and Performance Standards

For more articles on this topic see:

If you mix up your language, you will be held to the wrong standard in court

Marketing is marketing and Risk Management is not marketing

Can a Standard Impeded Inventions?

If you mix up your language, you will be held to the wrong standard in court

If your organization says you do something and you are a member of the organization you better do it or be able to explain why you did not

Words: You cannot change a legal definition

For articles on Association Standards have been used to sue members see:

ACA Standards are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp

Expert Witness Report: ACA “Standards” are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp

Industry standards are proof of gross negligence and keep defendant in lawsuit even with good release

Plaintiff uses standards of ACCT to cost defendant $4.7 million

So if you write standards, you can, then use them to make money when someone sues your competitors

Trade Association Standards sink a Summer Camp when plaintiff uses them to prove Camp was negligent

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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