Inherent Risk is the part of any sport and is assumed by participants when undertaking the activity.

A ski trunk just beneath the surface of fresh snow is an inherent risk of skiing in Wyoming.

Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

State: Wyoming, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Thomas A. Standish, IV; Meghan Keiter

Defendant: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Loss of Consortium

Defendant Defenses: Inherent Risk as identified under the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act

Holding: For the Defendant Ski Area

Year: 2021

Summary

While skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (“Jackson Hole”) to recover for his injuries.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precludes liability. We agree with that conclusion. Thus, exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

Facts

In January 2017, California residents Thomas Standish and his then-fiancée, Megan Keiter, traveled to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as part of a “bucket list” ski trip. From January 8 through 10-the three days prior to Standish’s arrival-Jackson Hole had received about 27 inches of new snow, and on the morning of January 11, Jackson Hole received an additional 18 inches of snow. Over these four days, the mid-mountain depth of the snow increased from 56 to 80 inches.

On January 11, the couple purchased ski passes for Jackson Hole. The backs of these “J Cards” bear language indicating that the pass-holder “acknowledges that participation in any and all winter recreation activities at [Jackson Hole], including . . . skiing . . . involves SUBSTANTIAL AND INHERENT RISKS, HAZARDS, AND DANGERS THAT MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY, DEATH or damages to property.” Aplt. App. 41. The couple first skied a few groomed runs. They then ventured down an off-piste run near the Thunder Chairlift line, with Standish-the more experienced skier-leading the way. “Off-piste” is a term for a ski run or area that is ungroomed and left in its natural state. See Roberts v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 884 F.3d 967, 970 (10th Cir. 2018). About halfway down the mountain, Standish’s right ski hit the top of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree stump that was covered with about two inches of fresh snow. His ski came off on impact, and he broke multiple bones in his right leg.

Standish underwent surgery, receiving fourteen screws, two metal plates, and a bone graft. After returning to California a few days later, Standish suffered a pulmonary embolism, a common complication resulting from serious fractures. This required anti-coagulation injections in his abdomen for several months. Because of Standish’s long recovery, he and Keiter pushed their wedding back from June to September 2017. They also sold their business because Standish was unable to work during his recovery.

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

This is a simple case that explains the issues between the two major types of risk as identified under the law, inherent and non-inherent risks. The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act defines for Wyoming what is an inherent risk.

“Inherent risk” with regard to any sport or recreational opportunity means those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity;

An inherent risk is a risk that if removed from the activity, would change the activity such that it would not be the same. Or looking at inherent risks another way, remove the inherent risks and the sport would not really exist.

Hitting things under the snow, no matter how they look when the snow is gone, is an inherent risk of skiing.

When a statute defines the inherent risks of an activity, the judge is able to determine in advance if the defendant owes a duty to the injured plaintiff. If the inherent risks are not defined by statute, then a jury decides whether the risk incurred by the plaintiff was inherent, unless the risk is obviously inherent.

Most states that have specific statutes covering outdoor recreation activities do so by listing the risks of the activity and by law makes those inherent so an injured party cannot sue for their injuries. As an example, the Colorado Skier Safety Act has a long list of what is an inherent risk of skiing in Colorado.

(3.5) “Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, jumps, and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities. The term “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” does not include the negligence of a ski area operator as set forth in section 33-44-104 (2). Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the liability of the ski area operator for injury caused by the use or operation of ski lifts.

Obviously, since jumps, machine made snow, extreme terrain, lift towers, signs, posts, fences, hydrants, etc. are natural and only on the slope because of the acts of man, those risks are not naturally, inherent. However, since the act defines them as inherent, they now are and cannot be used by an injured plaintiff to make a claim.

The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act covers a multitude of sports, not just skiing and does not list the risks that are inherent. Consequently, the act does not do anything to provide any greater protection than existed in the common law. Therefore, each judge or jury makes the determination if the risk complained of by the plaintiff was inherent in the sport.

Under Wyoming law and the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act removes any duty, the first element to prove negligence, of the defendant to the plaintiff if the risk is inherent.

In other words, because the WRSA provides that a participant has assumed certain risks that are inherent to the activity, the recreational provider typically owes no duty for inherent risks of an activity. In sum, a recreational “provider has no duty to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks of an activity, and any person who chooses to take part in a sport or recreational opportunity assumes all inherent risks [that] are associated with that opportunity.”

Under the WRSA, a reasonableness standard is applied to determine if the risk complained of is inherent.

I]f reasonable minds cannot differ as to whether or not a given set of factual circumstances involve an ‘inherent risk’ of skiing (in this particular instance, we are concerned with skiing, or fill in the blank as the case might be), then the protections of the [W]RSA apply, and the litigation of that controversy must come to an end.

Applying that reasonableness standard, the courts looked at the uncontested facts.

Here, the operative facts are undisputed. The mountain had received 45 inches of fresh snow in the four days prior to the accident. The accident took place in an off-piste-and therefore ungroomed-area. Standish’s injury was caused by a collision with the top of the stump, which was lightly covered with the fresh snow and thus not visible to Standish. The stump had been cut to a height of six-and-a-half feet at some point in the past to mitigate some problem.

The court found that the stump was an inherent risk of skiing “…we conclude that encountering a snow-covered stump in an ungroomed area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing.”

A key component of this analysis was the run was off-piste and ungroomed. If the stump was located on a groomed run, the review and conclusion would have been different. The conclusion would have also been different if an employee of the defendant had told the plaintiff’s that the run was safe or free from hazards.

The court concluded:

Standish’s accident was the result of an unfortunate confluence of a stump, an ungroomed run, and the spectacular snow levels of the previous days. The combination of these factors is an inherent risk of skiing, a sport as thrilling as it can be risky. And the WRSA reflects this by limiting the duty owed by an entity offering access to such a sport. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jackson Hole on the basis of the WRSA.

So Now What?

The great thing about this article is the courts clear expression of what constitutes an inherent risk. If the risk is inherent, you cannot sue the defendant because you automatically assume those risks when you engage in the sport.

The second is the risk might not have been inherent if the run was not off-piste. The risk would definitely not have been inherent if the plaintiff had been told by an employee of the defendant that there were no risks.

This second issue is, the cause of many lawsuits when the statements of the employee changes or removes any risk management issues the defendant has in place. Marketing makes promises Risk Management has to pay for.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

Thomas A. Standish, IV; Meghan Keiter, Plaintiffs – Appellants,

v.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, Defendant-Appellees.

No. 20-8045

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

May 14, 2021

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WYOMING (D.C. NO. 1:19-cv-00004-KHR)

Gary L. Shockey, Gary Shockey Law, Casper, Wyoming, for Appellants.

James K. Lubing (Nathan D. Rectanus with him on the brief), Lubing Law Group, Jackson, Wyoming, for Appellee.

Before TYMKOVICH, KELLY, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

While skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (“Jackson Hole”) to recover for his injuries.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precludes liability. We agree with that conclusion. Thus, exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

I. Background

In January 2017, California residents Thomas Standish and his then-fiancee, Megan Keiter, traveled to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as part of a “bucket list” ski trip. From January 8 through 10-the three days prior to Standish’s arrival-Jackson Hole had received about 27 inches of new snow, and on the morning of January 11, Jackson Hole received an additional 18 inches of snow. Over these four days, the mid-mountain depth of the snow increased from 56 to 80 inches.[ 1]

On January 11, the couple purchased ski passes for Jackson Hole. The backs of these “J Cards” bear language indicating that the pass-holder “acknowledges that participation in any and all winter recreation activities at [Jackson Hole], including . . . skiing . . . involves SUBSTANTIAL AND INHERENT RISKS, HAZARDS, AND DANGERS THAT MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY, DEATH or damages to property.” Aplt. App. 41. The couple first skied a few groomed runs. They then ventured down an off-piste run near the Thunder Chairlift line, with Standish-the more experienced skier-leading the way. “Off-piste” is a term for a ski run or area that is ungroomed and left in its natural state. See Roberts v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 884 F.3d 967, 970 (10th Cir. 2018). About halfway down the mountain, Standish’s right ski hit the top of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree stump that was covered with about two inches[ 2] of fresh snow. His ski came off on impact, and he broke multiple bones in his right leg.

Standish underwent surgery, receiving fourteen screws, two metal plates, and a bone graft. After returning to California a few days later, Standish suffered a pulmonary embolism, a common complication resulting from serious fractures. This required anti-coagulation injections in his abdomen for several months. Because of Standish’s long recovery, he and Keiter pushed their wedding back from June to September 2017. They also sold their business because Standish was unable to work during his recovery.

In January of 2019, Standish and Keiter brought this diversity suit in the District of Wyoming against Jackson Hole, alleging negligence and loss of consortium, respectively. During discovery, the parties were unable to ascertain when, why, or by whom the tree had been cut. In a deposition, Jackson Hole’s risk safety and environmental manager agreed that the stump had been cut at some point in the past, but no individuals or departments he talked to had any recollection or knowledge of cutting that tree. When asked why it was cut in the way it had been-that is, over six feet high-the manager suggested “it had been cut down during the winter to mitigate a hazard, like the tree blowing over or growing in a particular way that may have been identified to be a hazard.” Aple. App. 63. In October 2019, the stump was cut down completely, apparently as a result of the accident and the ongoing litigation.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The district court concluded that Wyoming law provided immunity from the inherent risks of skiing, including unmarked objects on ungroomed runs-even objects like trees that have been partially cut.

II. Analysis

Standish makes two arguments about why the district court erred in granting summary judgment. First, he contends that the question of whether a subsurface, cut tree in an off-piste area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing should have been submitted to a jury. Second, Standish argues the district court improperly considered inadmissible facts in granting summary judgment. We address each in turn.

A. Inherent Risk

1. Standard of Review

We review a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 971. Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

Because this diversity suit arises out of Wyoming, we “must ascertain and apply state law to reach the result the Wyoming Supreme Court would reach if faced with the same question.” Cooperman v. David, 214 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 2000). In doing so, “we rely foremost on decisions of the Wyoming Supreme Court, and then on ‘other state court decisions, federal decisions, and the general weight and trend of authority.'” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972 (quoting Sapone v. Grand Targhee, Inc., 308 F.3d 1096, 1100 (10th Cir. 2002)). We review the district court’s determination of state law de novo. Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1164.

2. The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act

Common-law tort principles typically guide our analysis of personal-injury claims brought on the basis of negligence. When bringing a negligence claim, a plaintiff must sufficiently assert that “(1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to conform to a specified standard of care; (2) the defendant breached the duty of care; (3) the breach proximately caused injury to the plaintiff; and (4) the injury is compensable by money damages.” Dimickv. Hopkinson, 422 P.3d 512, 521 (Wyo. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted).

But in enacting the WRSA, the Wyoming legislature chose to insulate recreational providers from some types of personal-injury claims. In relevant part, the WRSA[ 3] provides that [a]ny person who takes part in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for any and all damage, injury or death to himself or other persons or property that results from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(a). And a recreational provider “is not required to eliminate, alter or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(b).

a. Duty Under the WRSA

The WRSA limits the first negligence element: duty. Specifically, the WRSA “codifies the common-law concept of primary assumption of the risk,” which limits the recreational provider’s duty to a participant. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972; see also Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 565 (Wyo. 1995) (“[T]he assumption-of-risk terminology [in the WRSA] is intended to limit the duty which a provider owes to a participant.”). “When primary assumption of the risk applies, as it does under the WRSA, ‘the legal result is that the defendant is simply relieved of the duty which would otherwise exist.'” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972 (quoting W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 481 & n.lO (5th ed. 1984)). In other words, because the WRSA provides that a participant has assumed certain risks that are inherent to the activity, the recreational provider typically owes no duty for inherent risks of an activity. In sum, a recreational “provider has no duty to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks of an activity, and any person who chooses to take part in a sport or recreational opportunity assumes all inherent risks [that] are associated with that opportunity.” Halpern, 890 P.2d at 565.

The district court generally decides whether the defendant owed a duty as a matter of law, see Halpern, 890 P.2d at 565, but the jury typically decides whether a particular risk is an inherent one, see Beckwith v. Weber, 277 P.3d 713, 722 (Wyo. 2012). In the context of whether a hazard is an inherent risk, the “level of factual specificity required . . . will often but not always preclude summary judgment on the duty question.” Creel v. L &L, Inc., 287 P.3d 729, 737 (Wyo. 2012). So “when genuine issues of material fact exist, it is proper to present the issue to the jury of whether a risk is inherent to a particular activity.” Halpern, 890 P.2d at 566. But in the absence of genuine issues of material fact, “the district court may decide as a matter of law that the provider does not owe a duty to the participant.” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 973 (quoting Halpern, 890 P.2d at 566); see also Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp. v. Rohrman, 150 P.3d 167, 168 (Wyo. 2006) (“If the court can say that, given that evidence, this is an ‘inherent risk’ and reasonable minds cannot differ about that, then summary judgment is appropriate.”).

b. Inherent Risk

The central question here is whether the plaintiff’s injury was the result of an inherent risk of a particular activity. If the injury was caused by an inherent risk, then the recreational provider owes no duty to “eliminate, alter, or control it[, ]” and the entry of summary judgment is appropriate. Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 168.

The WRSA defines “inherent risk” as “those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-122; see also Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1166 (discussing definitions of “characteristic,” “intrinsic,” and “integral”). But the WRSA-unlike some other states’ recreational liability statutes-does not list examples of inherent risks. Rather, “[w]hat an ‘inherent risk’ means in any given set of circumstances is a variable that the Wyoming Legislature included in the statute by design.” Muller v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 139 P.3d 1162, 1166 (Wyo. 2006), opinion after certified question answered sub nom. Muller v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 210 Fed.Appx. 792 (10th Cir. 2006).

In order to determine what is an inherent risk under the WRSA, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explained a “reasonableness” inquiry should guide courts. Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170. So, the “central concern … is what ‘reasonable persons’ will view as inherent risks.” Id. “[I]f reasonable minds cannot differ as to whether or not a given set of factual circumstances involve an ‘inherent risk’ of skiing (in this particular instance we are concerned with skiing, or fill in the blank as the case might be), then the protections of the [W]RSA apply, and the litigation of that controversy must come to an end.” Id.

The Wyoming Supreme Court has pointed to several sources of guidance for determining what reasonable persons would view as inherent risks of an activity. One is, of course, jury deliberations on the particular facts of a case. See Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170. Others are safety experts and experienced skiers.[ 4]Id. But the sources most discussed by the Court in this context are analogous statutes from similarly-situated states. See Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170-72; Muller, 139 P.3d at 1166-67. In Rohrman, the Court held that reference to analogous statutes-for example, from Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah-is “a meaningful source of guidance in explaining the inherent risks of skiing to any fact finder.” Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 172.

The explicit citation to these statutes, and the reference to other similar state statutes, is meant to be an expansive guide for courts considering the inherent risk question. For one, the texts of all three analogous state statutes included in Rohrman have non-exhaustive lists of inherent risks of skiing. Each of the three has broad language that includes, for example, trees and forest debris, subsurface conditions, and man-made structures. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5) (2021); N.M. Stat. § 24-15-10 (2021); Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402 (2021). For another, the court expressly did not constrain itself to these lists, stating “those statutes are not the exclusive source of guidance and the factual variations are, in some senses, infinite.” Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 172.[ 5]

In particular, the court’s reference to analogous statutes is significant at the summary judgment stage. In situations with novel or contested facts, of course, the question of reasonableness-that is, whether reasonable minds cannot differ over what is an inherent risk-is appropriate for consideration by the fact-finder, not for determination as a matter of law by the court. But when there are no genuine disputes of material fact, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explicitly held that “[u]nder Wyoming’s statutory construct, which is much broader than that of Colorado, such items as those included in Colorado’s statute may, as a matter of law, be inherent risks of the recreational activity of skiing.” Muller, 139 P.3d at 1167 (emphasis added). “[I]n such cases[, ] a trial court may grant a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment based on the [W]RSA.” Id. In other words, a court may look to the enumerated inherent risks in Colorado’s statute to hold that a particular risk is an inherent one as a matter of law. 3. The Risk to Standish

The district court determined that skiing into an unmarked six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree on an off-piste run-which had been previously altered by Jackson Hole and which was submerged and made invisible by recent, heavy snow fall-was an inherent risk of skiing. We agree with both the framing of the inherent risk and the district court’s conclusion.

With regard to the risk’s framing, we have previously acknowledged “we can not look at the risk in a vacuum.” Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1167. Rather, “we must evaluate the risk at the greatest level of specificity permitted by the factual record.” Id. Here, the operative facts are undisputed. The mountain had received 45 inches of fresh snow in the four days prior to the accident. The accident took place in an off-piste-and therefore ungroomed-area. Standish’s injury was caused by a collision with the top of the stump, which was lightly covered with the fresh snow and thus not visible to Standish. The stump had been cut to a height of six-and-a-half feet at some point in the past to mitigate some problem. The district court’s inherent-risk framing did not employ any disputed facts and accurately captures the facts of the case. Neither party appears to contest this framing on appeal. We therefore adopt this framing of the risk.

With this specific factual scenario in mind, we conclude that encountering a snow-covered stump in an ungroomed area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing. Everyone familiar with the sight of the intertwining runs of a ski area knows that cutting and otherwise managing trees is necessary for the runs’ creation and upkeep. The vast majority of ski-able terrain simply could not exist in the first instance without the ministrations of sawyers and forest managers. And the forested setting of ski areas means that trees may sometimes fall or otherwise present hazards. As the risk safety and environmental manager for Jackson Hole indicated in his deposition, trees can be altered or “removed for various reasons.” Aple. App. 63. These can include creating more space for skiing in a particular run or glade or mitigating a hazard, such as a “tree blowing over or growing in a particular way that may have been identified to be a hazard.” Aple. App. 63. The height at which the tree in this case was cut could have been a function of a high snow-level during winter, or it could have resulted from a decision to cut just below a particular hazard in any season (i.e., the tree broke or became unstable above that height). Whatever the reason, the ability to act to mitigate hazards and cut trees that pose a risk to skiers-or to create new runs or vary the terrain-is essential to effectively managing a ski area.

Moreover, this accident occurred in an off-piste area, in which unmarked obstacles are frequent and inevitable. “[W]e cannot ignore the nature of the run on which he encountered [the stump] and the inherent risks that run presents.” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976 (discussing an accident in an off-piste area). And a changing level of the snow-which here was, by chance, just enough to render the stump invisible-is another inherent risk of skiing. Variable snow conditions are intrinsic to the mountainous setting of ski resorts in the American West. See, e.g., Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Mgmt., LLC, 981 F.Supp.2d 936, 945 (D. Mont. 2013) (“Skiing presents a multitude of dangers and hazards. Notwithstanding an operator’s efforts to tame it, skiing takes place on essentially wild terrain, on a mighty mountain, with fluctuation in weather and snow conditions that constantly change.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Consequently, all reasonable people understand that the combination of encountering the remnant stumps of forest-management practices and of changing snow levels at a ski area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing.

Furthermore, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explicitly held that because the WRSA is a broader statutory scheme than Colorado’s analogous law, “such items as those included in Colorado’s statute may, as a matter of law, be inherent risks of the recreational activity of skiing.” Muller, 139 P.3d at 1167 (emphasis added). Colorado’s statute expressly includes stumps-whether snow-covered or not-as inherent risks. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5) (‘”Inherent dangers and risks of skiing’ means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including . . . surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects . . . .”).[ 6] And other states include subsurface stumps or forest debris as inherent risks in their analogous statutes, including Utah, see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402 (stumps); New Mexico, see N.M. Stat. § 24-15-10 (“trees or other forms of forest growth or debris”); Idaho, see Idaho Code § 6-1106 (2021) (same); and Montana, see Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702 (2021) (stumps).[ 7]

Similarly, Colorado’s statute-as well as, for example, Utah’s, Idaho’s, and Montana’s-also includes changing snow conditions and levels as inherent risks. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103; Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702; Utah Code § 78B-4-402; Idaho Code § 6-1106; see also Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corp., 372 P.3d 349, 351 (Colo. 2016) (holding an in-bounds avalanche qualifies as an inherent risk of skiing because it is a “changing condition” of snow). The depth of the snow in this case is as integral to the accident as the height of the stump. Any less snow, and the stump would have been visible; any more, and Standish would have passed over the top unharmed. Given that there are no genuine disputes of material facts in this case, holding that a snow-covered stump in an off-piste area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing comports with Wyoming Supreme Court precedent.

This conclusion aligns with both our precedent and public policy. In Cooperman, a Tenth Circuit panel considered whether a slipping saddle that was loosely cinched by the recreational provider is an inherent risk of horseback riding. See Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1168. Cinching a saddle, explained the panel, “is done by hand, and not with scientific precision,” so “a provider must make a judgment call as to how tight or loose to cinch the saddle.” Id. “This imprecision in the cinching of the saddle is characteristic or typical of and therefore inherent in the sport of horseback riding.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The same is true for managing forests. Ski-area managers must make judgment calls about whether and how to cut a tree that has become a hazard. In winter, the height at which a tree is cut is as imprecise and judgment-based as cinching a saddle: it can be cut too tall or too short, and the risk of its being covered lightly with the next snow fall-or being exposed by snow melt-is characteristic of ever-changing mountain conditions at ski areas. So, too, in the summer: a tree could be cut at any height to mitigate a hazard, and a forest manager could decide to leave the stump remnant for a variety of reasons (e.g., impossibility of removal based on terrain, concerns about slope destabilization or damage, or ecological concerns about surrounding flora or fauna). Forest management, just as the saddle-cinching in Cooperman, is based on best practices-not exact practices-and the resulting risks are inherent to skiing in a forested ski area.

In a more recent case, this court held that encountering subsurface boulders-and the gaps between them-in an off-piste ski area in changing snow conditions is an inherent risk of skiing. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976. The panel in Roberts noted that a “critical distinction has emerged in the case law between a provider’s failure to control inherent risks (which is no longer actionable)[] and actions that affirmatively enhance existing risks (which remain actionable).” Id. at 975. Because subsurface boulders are an inherent risk of skiing in an off-piste area, and because Jackson Hole had done nothing to affirmatively enhance the existing risk of the boulders, the panel reasoned, the WRSA limited Jackson Hole’s liability, and summary judgment was appropriate. See id. at 977.

To reach this conclusion, the Roberts panel relied on Creel and Dunbar. See id. at 975-76. The outcomes in both Creel and Dunbar rest on the actions of the employees or agents of the recreational provider affirmatively enhancing existing risks. In Creel, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the danger of being struck with a golf ball is an inherent risk of attending a golf tournament-but the employee who encouraged the golfer to hit despite the golfer’s concern about spectators in the way affirmatively enhanced the existing risk of stray golf balls. See Creel, 287 P.3d at 739. In Dunbar, the Tenth Circuit panel concluded encountering a half-pipe in a terrain park is an inherent risk of skiing-but the “delphic statements” of the employee on how to safely exit the terrain park affirmatively enhanced the existing risks posed by the terrain park features. Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 392 F.3d 1145, 1153 (10th Cir. 2004).

Not so here. Had a Jackson Hole employee represented to Standish that this particular run was groomed or free of obstacles, Jackson Hole might have created a jury question that the resort somehow enhanced the risk of an accident. See, e.g., Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976 (The plaintiff “was not directed to [the area where the accident occurred] by an employee offering ‘delphic statements’ about its safety; in fact advanced skiers in search of fresh untracked and unconsolidated powder are attracted to off-piste terrain . . . because it is ungroomed, untamed, and provided the types of natural obstacles that distinguish such runs from those frequented by less talented skiers.” (quoting Dunbar, 392 F.3d at 1153; emphasis in original)).

But there are no facts in this case to suggest anything of the sort. “[T]here is a difference between the consequences of conduct chosen by [the skier], and risks that are inherent to that choice.” Dunbar, 392 F.3d at 1151. Standish knew that unmarked obstacles could and would exist in this off-piste area, and he chose to proceed down this more-advanced run. Nor did Standish present any evidence that cutting the tree at this particular height affirmatively enhanced the risk or took it “outside the realm of inherent risk.” Creel, 287 P.3d at 737. What made the stump’s height hazardous was the snow level on January 11-and changing snow levels are undoubtedly an inherent risk of mountain recreation. Consequently, the district court properly found that Jackson Hole did not enhance the already-existing risk of the stump.

The outcome in Roberts further supports our decision here. In that case, Roberts’s expert-who had concluded that subsurface boulders were not an inherent risk of off-piste skiing-“put the cart before the horse” by faulting Jackson Hole for not placing warning signs above the area. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976-77′. But this targeted the element of breach without establishing the existence of a duty in the first place. Id. at 977. Conclusory statements that the boulders that had caused Roberts’s injuries were not inherent risks of skiing were insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Id.

The same is true of the expert testimony Standish presents. As the district court noted, Standish’s expert addressed how Jackson Hole breached the duty it supposedly owed Standish by not removing the remnant stump. But a snow- covered stump is itself an inherent risk of alpine skiing, and the expert’s testimony does not address what action by Jackson Hole takes the stump “outside the realm of inherent risk.” Creel, 287 P.3d at 737. The expert’s claim that “[t]he act of removing the top part of the tree was an affirmative act by the Resort which created the risk encountered by Mr. Standish” is unavailing. Aplt. App. 33. If that were true, then every tree cut by Jackson Hole’s forest managers would present a non-inherent risk to skiing-depending on the snow level on a particular day. And the expert’s claim that Jackson Hole’s “failure to finish the job . . . substantially enhanced the risk created by the Resort” improperly imposes a duty on Jackson Hole to remove completely the stumps made by its forest management. Neither the Wyoming legislature nor any court has imposed such a duty on ski areas. And given the Wyoming Supreme Court’s express embrace of the inherent risks in Colorado’s statute, including stumps, the expert testimony fails to preclude summary judgment.[ 8]

This conclusion also aligns with public policy. To hold that Jackson Hole has a duty to cut trees to a particular level or to remove stumps entirely would disincentivize recreational managers from attempting to mitigate hazards for their guests. If a fallen tree in an off-piste area is an inherent hazard of skiing, and cutting it off below the break creates a non-inherent risk, a ski area manager might decide to simply leave the fallen tree so as not to potentially incur liability. The WRSA is meant to limit the liability of recreational providers so that they can, in their judgment, both manage and offer sometimes-risky recreational opportunities.

Moreover, the standard that would arise from the opposite conclusion here would be untenable. Suppose a tree falls in an off-piste ski area during the winter and needs to be cut. The tree is cut to just above the current snow level, 70 inches. For the next week, the snow melts, leaving about 10 inches of the stump exposed and clearly visible to skiers. But then 11 inches of fresh snow falls, just covering the exposed stump. To conclude that the ski area is then liable for a skier’s collision with that stump would expose the ski area to liability the WRSA is clearly meant to limit. In other words, to hold that the WRSA does not preclude liability in this case would impose a duty on ski areas to never allow a tree stump be the same height as the current level of the snow-even in off-piste areas. We decline to reach such a conclusion.

* * *

Standish’s accident was the result of an unfortunate confluence of a stump, an ungroomed run, and the spectacular snow levels of the previous days. The combination of these factors is an inherent risk of skiing, a sport as thrilling as it can be risky. And the WRSA reflects this by limiting the duty owed by an entity offering access to such a sport. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jackson Hole on the basis of the WRSA.

B. Consideration of Inadmissible Facts

Standish also argues that, in evaluating the motion for summary judgment, the district court improperly considered facts that would be inadmissible before a jury. His argument is based on the district court’s discussion of the factual context of analogous and precedential cases-including, for example, Creel, Dunbar, Cooperman, and Roberts. See Aplt. Br. at 12-14.

While we review a district court’s evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion, see, e.g., Wright-Simmons v. City of Oklahoma City, 155 F.3d 1264, 1268 (10th Cir. 1998), we review a district court’s findings of law and entry of summary judgment de novo. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 971. It is true that a district court may consider only admissible evidence from a record in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. See Johnson v. Weld Cty., Colo., 594 F.3d 1202, 1209 (10th Cir. 2010) (“[I]t is well settled in this circuit that we can consider only admissible evidence in reviewing an order granting summary judgment.” (quoting Wright-Simmons, 155 F.3d at 1268)).

But in discussing these cases, the district court here was not making an evidentiary ruling about whether the facts of cases like Creel and Cooperman would be presented to a jury at trial. Rather, it was making a determination of law. In discussing the facts of these analogous cases, the district court was engaging in classic legal analysis: comparing the facts of Standish’s case with the factual context of other inherent-risk cases under the WRSA. See, e.g., Aplt. App. 54 (discussing the facts of Roberts to evaluate Standish’s claims); Aplt. App. 58 (discussing Dunbar to determine Standish’s claim of risk-creation).

To have erred here, the district court would have had to consider facts about Standish ‘s case that were not in the record or would have been otherwise inadmissible before a jury. The district court did not do so, and we reject Standish’s argument.

III. Conclusion

Thomas Standish’s injuries from his accident were severe and painful. This case provides a somber reminder of skiing’s risks to those who enjoy the sport. But Wyoming law does not provide recourse against Jackson Hole for Standish’s accident. We therefore AFFIRM the district court’s entry of summary judgment.

———

Notes:

[ 1] Though the numbers do not add up precisely, this fact is undisputed. The discrepancy may be due to the variance in measurements between lift-base depth and mid-mountain depth, as well as other environmental factors like wind.

[ 2] The district court came to this number by subtracting the height of the tree (78 inches) from the approximate depth of snow (80 inches). Neither party contests this finding on appeal.

[ 3] On July 1, 2017, Wyoming’s Ski Safety Act went into effect. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (2020). This Act takes ski-area skiing out of the purview of the WRSA. In other words, now the Ski Safety Act, rather than the WRSA, sets out the statutory scheme for actions based on skiing at a ski area. But as the district court found, the parties in this case agree the Ski Safety Act is inapplicable to this case because the accident occurred before the law became effective.

[ 4] Though the WRSA is not limited to skiing, many of the precedential cases in this context are results of skiing accidents. Any reference in this opinion to skiing, as opposed to other recreational activities, is merely a reflection of this body of precedent and the particular facts of this case.

[ 5] Though Wyoming’s recent Ski Safety Act is not applicable to this case, see note 3, the Wyoming legislature, in passing the Act, has since provided a definition of “inherent risks” of skiing in a ski area. In doing so, Wyoming’s law now more closely resembles these analogous state statutes. The Ski Safety Act provides that “Inherent risk” with regard to skiing in a ski area means those dangers or conditions which are part of the sport of skiing, including: (A) Changing weather conditions; (B) Falling or surface snow conditions, whether natural or man-made, as they exist or change; (C) Surface or subsurface conditions including bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, trees or other natural objects; (D) Collisions or impacts with natural objects such as the objects specified in subparagraph (C) of this paragraph including encounters with wildlife; (E) Impact with ski lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes or other man-made structures and their components . . .; (F) Variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of ski trail or feature design, or snowmaking or grooming operations such as roads, freestyle terrain, jumps and catwalks or other terrain modifications; and (G) Collisions with other skiers.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (2020) (emphasis added).

[ 6] While the other items in this list are all generally natural, the plain meaning of stump indicates a tree that has been cut. See, e.g., Stump, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stump (defining “stump” as “the part of a plant and especially a tree remaining attached to the root after the trunk is cut”); Stump, Oxford English Dictionary, https://www.oed.com/view/ Entry/192144 (defining “stump” as “[t]he portion of the trunk of a felled tree that remains fixed in the ground; also, a standing tree-trunk from which the upper part and the branches have been cut or broken off). And the remainder of Colorado’s inherent-risks list includes man-made items, including “impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components,” and “terrain modifications.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5).

[ 7] So, too, does Wyoming’s new Ski Safety Act, which went into effect about six months after Standish’s accident. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (including “stumps” as inherent risks of skiing).

[ 8] Standish’s argument that the expert represented the views of at least “one reasonable person” and thus precluded summary judgment, is similarly unavailing. The reasonableness inquiry to determine whether something is an inherent risk of an activity requires, of course, consideration of the inherent risk itself. But, again, Standish’s expert does not discuss or espouse any non-conclusory opinion on the inherent risk of a subsurface stump in an off-piste area; rather, his conclusion is based on Jackson Hole’s failure to remove it. This merely assumes that such a stump is not an inherent risk. Further, the mere existence of a contrary expert opinion-particularly a conclusory expert opinion-does not preclude summary judgment. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 977.


Want a Job Working on the River? USFS has 6 River Ranger Positions Open on Snake River!

Seasonal hiring started earlier this year for Forest Service seasonal workforce for Summer 2019. The Application period open day on September 10, 2018 and close at midnight EST October 10, 2018

Jackson Ranger District will be hiring up to 6 Forestry Technician “River Ranger” in Jackson, Wyoming on the Snake River ranger from GS-04 to GS-06.. The GS-06 will be serve as the crew lead.

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End of the ski season, lots of resorts have pond skimming events. Here one kid failed to make the other side and his friend skied over him slicing his ankle, so his parents sued the resort.

Releases are good in Wyoming, you can assume the risk in Wyoming and being stupid is probably a defense in Wyoming.

And there of course is video of the accident. The claims in the article and maybe the lawsuit, don’t even get the nature of a body bleeding in cold water right.

Read the article for yourself.

Pond skim injury suit is headed to discovery

Doyle family claims Snow King negligence.

A teenager has permanent injuries from an accident he was in during a pond skim event at Snow King Mountain, according to a complaint filed by his parents.

Doug and Elizabeth Doyle, through their attorney, Jerry Bosch, claim Snow King was negligent.

The complaint was filed against Snow King Holdings LLC and claims their son “WDD” was severely and permanently injured as a result of the condition of the defendant’s premises and defendant’s negligence in designing, creating and conducting a “pond skim” event.

The Doyles’ son was injured in March 2017, after he and some other teenagers skied across a pool of water at the base of the mountain and one of the other skier’s edges cut WDD’s leg.

Video of the accident shows one of the teen’s friends skiing over him in the pool, and the water becomes stained with blood.

“WDD suffers significant and life-changing injuries including permanent nerve damage that results in what is commonly referred to as drop-foot,” Bosch wrote in the complaint.

In the complaint the plaintiffs say the accident happened on land under the control of Snow King through a lease agreement with the town of Jackson.

“Sometime prior to March 11, 2017, defendants construct a pond at the bottom of the mountain adjacent to the Summit and Cougar chairlifts and tube park,” Bosch wrote. “The pond skim is an event where individuals ski down a gradual slope for about 100 yards or less to gather speed to attempt to skim across the water of the pond on their skis or snowboards.”

Bosch stated that Snow King advertised the event leading up to it as “one you don’t want to miss” and “a rite of passage” and “a bit rowdy.”

Plaintiffs claim there was no one controlling the event when it started.

“There are no warning signs about the risk of undertaking this activity,” the complaint states. “Specifically, there are no warnings about the dangers of more than one person attempting to pond skim at the same time. Defendants built the pond and then simply allowed anyone to use it as they saw fit without control or warning.”

The complaint says the ski blade cut through WDD’s skin, blood vessels, tendons and nerves.

“WDD immediately begins bleeding profusely as a result of the nature of the cut and cold water,” the complaint states. “Some bystanders jump in the water to help WDD, getting him out of the water and on the snow where a tourniquet stops the bleeding.”

The plaintiffs haven’t indicated how much they’ll seek in damages if the case moves past the liability stage, but it’s more than $50,000.

“The medical bills are substantially more than that,” Bosch told the News&Guide.

Bosch said his clients “exhausted all other options” before deciding to take legal action.

The original complaint was filed before Wyoming’s new Skier Safety Act went into effect.

The law is designed to protect ski areas from lawsuits.

Before that, the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act stated that “inherent risk with regard to any sport or recreational opportunity means those dangers or conditions are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.”

The Doyles will have to prove that WDD’s risk was not inherent.

It’s unclear if 2017 pond skim participants signed liability waivers.

“I don’t have any information right now that they were having people sign waivers,” Bosch said.

But Jeff Moran emceed the last few pond skims at Snow King and said he remembers waivers being signed.

“In all the years that I emceed the pond skim, they always had a waiver,” Moran said.

Snow King Manager Ryan Stanley could not be reached for comment.

The mountain did not host a 2018 pond skim, but it’s unclear if that’s because of the pending lawsuit.

Snow conditions in 2018 varied greatly from 2017, and some events like the Town Downhill race were moved to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The issue of liability waivers has not been brought up in WDD’s case.

Plaintiffs and defendants are working on discovery ahead of a jury trial. A scheduling conference was scheduled for later this week.

Or you can read the article here.

I don’t make this stuff up, I just find it or you send it to me. Thanks!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Well written decision from Wyoming defines release law and how releases should be written.

This case is interesting because one of the attempts to remove the release from the decision was a claim the plaintiff was at the defendant gym working out because he was told to by a physician, and the gym was owned by a different physician.

Massengill, v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

Plaintiff: James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill

Defendant: S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence, loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

The plaintiff was injured when a pin in a lat-pull-down machine that secured the weights came out, and he fell backwards injuring his wrist. The plaintiff sued, and the defendant raised the defense of release.

The plaintiff was told by his physician to exercise more. One day while at a drugstore, he had met an owner of the defendant gym, a physician, who talked to him about the gym.

The plaintiff and his wife went to the gym. They were given a release and told to take it home and read it. Three days later the plaintiff’s came back, signed the release and began to use the facilities.

The plaintiff had not asked for instructions on the lat-pull-down machine and did not ask for any because he had used one previously. He had been using the particular machine for a month and had noticed that the pin did not appear to fit when he was injured.

The trial court ruled the release was valid and barred the claims of the plaintiffs, dismissing the case. The plaintiff’s appealed. This case is based in Wyoming, which only has trial courts and the Wyoming Supreme Court, in intermediate appellate courts.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the language of the release, to determine if the language was clear and unequivocal.

Our reading of the Agreement and Release convinces us that the intention of S.M.A.R.T., and the Massengills is expressed in clear and unequivocal language. The language clearly assigns the risk to members who agree to be liable for any and all risks. The Agreement and Release continues with an unequivocal statement that S.M.A.R.T. shall not be liable for any injuries or damages to any member or the member’s property, including those caused by the negligence of S.M.A.R.T.

The court found the language was clear and unequivocal as well as broad and specially released the defendant from claims and actions for negligence.

The court then examined the release based on contract law. Releases are contracts and are interpreted using traditional contract principles. The entire document is examined as a whole.

The language of the Agreement and Release is clear in manifesting an intention to release S.M.A.R.T. and those involved with the facility from liability; it specifically states that S.M.A.R.T. will not be held liable for “those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents.”

Wyoming has four factors to examine to determine if a release is valid.

(1) whether a duty to the public exists;

(2) the nature of the service performed;

(3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and

(4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language

The court found the release in question was properly reviewed by the trial court, and the release met all four tests. The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims the release violated public policy. Under Wyoming law, a duty to the public exists “if the nature of the business or service affects the public interest, and the service performed is considered an essential service.” A release that affecting a public interest giving rise to a duty to the public is one that:

“concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it * * *. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.”

In Wyoming, this list of businesses would be “common carriers, hospitals and doctors, public utilities, innkeepers, public warehousemen, employers, and services involving extra-hazardous activities.”

A health club or gym is recreational in nature and do not meet the requirements and do not qualify as a business suitable for public regulation. A gym or health club is not essential.

The services offered by S.M.A.R.T. to its members were those of a private recreational business which did not qualify as suitable for public regulation because they did not affect the public interest nor could they be considered as necessary or essential….

Then court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims that he was at the gym for medical reasons. However, the court could find no evidence that the plaintiff was at the gym engaging in rehabilitation.

The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claim that there was a disparity of bargaining power between the parties which should void the release. However, this argument also failed.

Since membership in a private recreational facility such as S.M.A.R.T. is purely optional and does not qualify as an essential service, no decisive bargaining advantage exists. “A disparity of bargaining power will be found when a contracting party with little or no bargaining strength has no reasonable alternative to entering the contract at the mercy of the other’s negligence.

The plaintiff’s raised one final argument that claimed the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123:

…creates a statutory duty on the part of providers of a sport or recreational opportunity because it preserves actions based upon negligence if damage or injury is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity.

The court called this a convoluted argument and did not agree with the argument.

The final argument was based on the wife’s claim for loss of consortium. The court held there were two different ways this claim also failed. The first was the wife signed a release at the same time as her husband; the plaintiff and the release stopped her suit. Also because her claim of loss of consortium is derivative, meaning only can exist if the original claim exists, then her claim fails also.

The record reflects that Massengill’s participation was purely recreational and S.M.A.R.T. did not owe him a public duty. S.M.A.R.T. is not engaged in a type of business generally thought suitable for public regulation, and Massengill was engaged in a recreational activity not an activity pursuant to a physician’s order.

The court upheld the trial courts dismissal of the claims.

So Now What?

This is a great decision to assist in writing a release in Wyoming. Of interest was the fact the court pointed out, the plaintiffs were given three days to review the release before signing.

The four requirements for a release are similar to most other states. How you deal with the issue of someone at your facility for health or rehabilitation reasons might present a problem.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Massengill, v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

Massengill, v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., Appellee (Defendant).

No. 98-150

SUPREME COURT OF WYOMING

996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

February 14, 2000, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County. The Honorable Nicholas G. Kalokathis, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: Representing Appellants: Robert A. Hampe, Cheyenne, Wyoming (Withdrew pursuant to an Order of Suspension Upon Consent entered in the Wyoming Supreme Court on June 18, 1999.)

Representing Appellee: John I. Henley of Vlastos, Brooks, Henley & Drell, P.C., Casper, Wyoming.

JUDGES: Before LEHMAN, C.J., and THOMAS, MACY, GOLDEN, and TAYLOR, * JJ.

* Retired November 2, 1998.

OPINION BY: THOMAS

OPINION

[*1132] THOMAS, Justice.

The only issue in this case is whether a waiver of liability in a contract between S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C. (S.M.A.R.T.) and James Massengill (Massengill) is enforceable under the standards adopted in Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057 (Wyo. 1986) and followed in later cases. Massengill was using a lat-pull-down machine at S.M.A.R.T. when a pin used to secure the weights fell out. Apparently the pin did not fit properly in the machine, and when the pin fell out, Massengill fell over backwards injuring his wrist. In various statements of the [*1133] issues, Massengill attacks the validity of the waiver of liability on the grounds [**2] that it violated public policy; the business of S.M.A.R.T. is suitable for public regulation; the use of the premises at the time of injury by Massengill is not material; the question of duty is one that must be determined by a trier of fact; and S.M.A.R.T. owed a statutory duty to Massengill which invalidates the waiver. Our review of the record and legal precedent in Wyoming persuades us that the district court ruled correctly that there is no genuine issue of material fact in this case, and S.M.A.R.T. is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is affirmed.

In the Appellants’ Supreme Court Brief, filed on behalf of James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill (collectively the Massengills), these issues are stated:

Issue I

Did the district court error [sic] in validating the “waiver of liability” in the “sports specific training and advanced rehab agreement and release[“] due to the fact that:

(A) The release violated public policy,

(B) The business operated by appellee is suitable for public regulation, and

(C) Plaintiff J. Massengill was engaged in non therapeutic activities on the premises of [**3] the medical clinic has no bearing on whether the release should be validated or not?

Issue II

Is the duty issue in this case purely a question of law where the basic facts are undisputed or is the duty issue one which can only be determined by the trier of fact?

Issue III

Did appellee owe a statutory duty of care to appellant which would invalidate the waiver incorporated in the sports specific training and advanced rehabilitation agreement & release?

In the Brief of Appellee S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., the issues are stated in this way:

Was the waiver of liability executed by the Appellants valid[?]

(i) Was the Appellee’s waiver language inclusive and unambiguous as required by prior Wyoming Supreme Court case law; [or]

(ii) Is the waiver language of the Appellee contrary to public policy[?]

One evening James Massengill engaged in a conversation at a Cheyenne drugstore with the equity owner of S.M.A.R.T., a physician in Cheyenne. Massengill knew that S.M.A.R.T. had a weight room, and had seen recent advertisements to the effect that the facility offered personal trainers to assist members. In the course of a brief [**4] conversation, Massengill mentioned his interest in S.M.A.R.T.’s facilities, and the physician suggested he come over and try it out. A month or two following the conversation, Massengill went to S.M.A.R.T. and toured the facilities. The purpose of his initial visit was to assure himself that the equipment met his need, which was to get in better condition.

After he had been shown the facilities and the equipment, Massengill was given a Sports Specific Training and Advanced Rehabilitation Agreement and Release (Agreement and Release) to take home and review. Three days later, both Massengill and his wife executed the Agreement and Release, and they began using the facilities. Massengill was present at S.M.A.R.T. almost every day, and he had been using the lat-pull-down machine for nearly a month prior to his injury. He had not asked any questions about using the machine because he had used one previously. On March 13, 1996, Massengill was warming up on the machine, and he noticed that the pin holding the weights was shaped like a “T” rather than the longer “I” usually used. When Massengill pulled the bar down, the pin holding the weights popped out, and he fell over backwards, hitting [**5] his left hand and injuring his wrist.

On May 29, 1997, the Massengills filed their Complaint for Negligence and Damages. The first count of the Complaint for Negligence and Damages was couched in terms of alleged negligence causing injury to James Massengill, and the second count was couched in terms of recovery by Kaylea Massengill [*1134] for loss of consortium based upon her husband’s injuries. Various procedural steps, including discovery, followed the Answer by S.M.A.R.T., which included the affirmative defense of waiver and the affirmative defense that Kaylea Massengill’s claims were derivative of James Massengill’s claim. On October 3, 1997, there was filed by facsimile a Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment accompanied by a Memorandum in Support of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Additional procedural steps ensued, and on February 2, 1998, the district court entered an Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

The district court ruled that the exculpatory clause, including the release and waiver, was not ambiguous and was enforceable. Since the premise for the grant of the summary judgment by the district court was the language contained in the Agreement [**6] and Release, the district court ruled implicitly that any other issues of fact, genuine or not, were not material. The Massengills have appealed from the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

In Mercado v. Trujillo, 980 P.2d 824, 825-26 (Wyo. 1999), we summarized our rules with respect to review of summary judgments:

“‘When [HN1] a motion for summary judgment is before the supreme court, we have exactly the same duty as the district judge; and, if there is a complete record before us, we have exactly the same material as did he. We must follow the same standards. The propriety of granting a motion for summary judgment depends upon the correctness of a court’s dual findings that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the prevailing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This court looks at the record from the viewpoint most favorable to the party opposing the motion, giving to him all favorable inferences to be drawn from the facts contained in affidavits, depositions and other proper material appearing in the record.'” Reno Livestock Corporation v. Sun Oil Company (Delaware), Wyo., 638 P.2d 147, 150 (1981). [**7] See also, Blackmore v. Davis Oil Company, Wyo., 671 P.2d 334, 336 (1983).

“A [HN2] summary judgment should only be granted where it is clear that there are no issues of material facts involved and that an inquiry into the facts is unnecessary to clarify the application of law. Johnson v. Soulis, Wyo., 542 P.2d 867 (1975). A material fact is one which has legal significance. Johnson v. Soulis, supra. It is a fact which would establish a defense. Wood v. Trenchard, Wyo.[,] 550 P.2d 490 (1976). [HN3] After the movant establishes a prima facie case the burden of proof shifts to the opposing party who must show a genuine issue of material fact, Gennings v. First Nat’l Bank of Thermopolis, Wyo., 654 P.2d 154 (1982), or come forward with competent evidence of specific facts countering the facts presented by the movant. Matter of the Estate of Brosius, Wyo., 683 P.2d 663 (1984). The burden is then on the nonmoving party to show specific facts as opposed to general allegations. 10 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 2727, p. 538. The material presented must be admissible evidence [**8] at trial. Conclusory statements are not admissible. Bancroft v. Jagusch, Wyo., 611 P.2d 819 (1980). We give the party defending the motion the benefit of any reasonable doubt.” Roth v. First Security Bank of Rock Springs, Wyoming, Wyo., 684 P.2d 93, 95 (1984).

Nowotny v. L & B Contract Industries, 933 P.2d 452, 455 (Wyo.1997) (quoting Thomas by Thomas v. South Cheyenne Water and Sewer Dist., 702 P.2d 1303, 1304 (Wyo.1985)).

More specifically and succinctly, with respect to this case, when review is sought of a summary judgment this Court must determine that there is no genuine issue of a material fact and the party prevailing in the district court is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Utilization of summary judgment serves the purpose of eliminating formal trials where only questions of law are involved. [HN4] In accomplishing the review of a summary judgment resting upon a question [*1135] of law, our review is de novo and affords no deference to the district court’s ruling on that question. E.g., Roberts v. Klinkosh, 986 P.2d 153, 156 (Wyo. 1999); Gray v. Norwest Bank Wyoming, N.A., 984 P.2d 1088, 1091 (Wyo. 1999); [**9] Ahrenholtz v. Time Ins. Co., 968 P.2d 946, 949 (Wyo. 1998).

Our reading of the Agreement and Release convinces us that the intention of S.M.A.R.T. and the Massengills is expressed in clear and unequivocal language. The language clearly assigns the risk to members who agree to be liable for any and all risks. The Agreement and Release continues with an unequivocal statement that S.M.A.R.T. shall not be liable for any injuries or damages to any member or the member’s property, including those caused by the negligence of S.M.A.R.T. It continues with this language:

1. Any member using S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS facility shall undertake any and all risks. The member shall also be liable for any and all risks. S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS shall not be liable for any injuries or damage to any member, or the property of the member, or be subject to any claim, demand, injury or damages whatsoever, including, without limitation, those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents. The member, for himself/herself and on behalf of his/her executors, administrators, heirs, assigns, and assignees and successors, does hereby expressly forever [**10] waive, release and discharge S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its owners, officers, employees, agents, assigners and successors from all such claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions or causes of action.

The language of the Agreement and Release is broad, and specifically releases S.M.A.R.T. from claims and actions for negligence. Indeed, the Massengills do not assert that the agreement does not apply to this action; instead, their contention is that the agreement is not enforceable. In the absence of any genuine issue of a material fact with respect to the language of the Agreement and Release, the issue is a pure question of law with respect to whether the district court invoked and correctly applied the pertinent rules of law.

In Shepard v. Top Hat Land & Cattle Co., 560 P.2d 730, 732 (Wyo. 1977), the applicable rule was summarized:

[HN5] If the language of the contract is plain and unequivocal that language is controlling and the interpretation of the contractual provisions is for the court to make as a matter of law. The meaning of the instrument is to be deduced only from its language if the terms are plain and unambiguous. Mauch v. Ballou, Wyo., 499 P.2d 591 (1972); [**11] Craig v. Gudim, Wyo., 488 P.2d 316 (1971); Chandler-Simpson, Inc. v. Gorrell, Wyo., 464 P.2d 849 (1970); Flora Construction Company v. Bridger Valley Electric Association, Inc., Wyo., 355 P.2d 884 (1960); Barlow v. Makeeff, 74 Wyo. 171, 284 P.2d 1093 (1955).

This rule first was alluded to by this Court in Horvath v. Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co., 58 Wyo. 211, 230, 131 P.2d 315, 321 (1942), and it has been consistently applied over the years, appearing most recently in Saulcy Land Co. v. Jones, 983 P.2d 1200, 1202 (Wyo. 1999).

[HN6] Exculpatory clauses or releases are contractual in nature, and we interpret them using traditional contract principles and considering the meaning of the document as a whole. Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063, 1065 (Wyo. 1988); Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 712 (Wyo. 1987); Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1059; Kelliher v. Herman, 701 P.2d 1157, 1159 (Wyo. 1985). The language of the Agreement and Release is clear in manifesting an intention to release S.M.A. [**12] R.T. and those involved with the facility from liability; it specifically states that S.M.A.R.T. will not be held liable for “those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents.” And, just as in Boehm, 748 P.2d at 712, “[a] plain reading of the language in the context of the entire membership application evidences no other rational purpose for which it could have been intended.”

The Massengills endeavor to avoid the release and waiver articulated in the Agreement and Release by arguing that it is not valid as a matter of public policy because the business of S.M.A.R.T. is appropriate for [*1136] public regulation, and the nature of the use of the equipment by Massengill is not material to the public policy or public regulation determination. We said in Fremont Homes, Inc. v. Elmer, 974 P.2d 952, 956 (Wyo. 1999):

[HN7] In Wyoming, a contract limiting liability for negligence may be enforced only if it does not contravene public policy. Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057, 1059-60 (Wyo.1986); Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 710 (Wyo. 1987); Brittain v. Booth, 601 P.2d 532, 535 (Wyo.1979). [**13]

In Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060, this Court adopted from Colorado a four-part test for evaluating a negligence exculpatory clause. [HN8] The factors the court considers are: “(1) whether a duty to the public exists; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” A comparison of Massengill’s claim with these factors leads to the ineluctable conclusion that the district court’s decision was correct as a matter of law.

We said in Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066, “[ [HN9] a] duty to the public exists if the nature of the business or service affects the public interest and the service performed is considered an essential service.” We then adopted from California [HN10] a definition of a release agreement affecting the public interest, giving rise to a public duty, which is that it

“concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for [**14] some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it * * *. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.” (Emphasis added and footnotes omitted.) Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 445-46, 6 A.L.R.3d 693 (1963).

Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066. We also adopted a [HN11] list of examples of services which are typically subject to public regulation and which demand a public duty or are considered essential. The list includes common carriers, hospitals and doctors, public utilities, innkeepers, public warehousemen, employers, and services involving extra-hazardous activities. Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066.

Schutkowski was a case involving a sky diving injury, and we held that [HN12] a private recreational business does not qualify as one that owes a special duty to the public nor are its services of a special, highly [**15] necessary nature. Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060. The services offered by S.M.A.R.T. to its members were those of a private recreational business which did not qualify as suitable for public regulation because they did not affect the public interest nor could they be considered as necessary or essential, and there was no greater duty to the public than existed in Schutkowski, Boehm or Milligan. The district court in its Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment cites and relies upon decisions from other jurisdictions which have held that [HN13] exculpatory clauses in health club contracts do not violate public policy. Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 926 (Minn. 1982); Shields v. Sta-Fit, Inc., 79 Wn. App. 584, 903 P.2d 525, 528 (1995). We are persuaded that the approach of the courts in Minnesota and Washington is the correct rule.

Massengill further maintains that he joined S.M.A.R.T. pursuant to a doctor’s order, and as such was receiving an essential service; therefore, S.M.A.R.T. owed him a public duty that is subject to regulation. A casual conversation, at a drugstore one evening, with the doctor/equity [**16] owner of the S.M.A.R.T. facility hardly qualifies as a prescription. The doctor was not Massengill’s treating physician nor was he acting in that capacity; he engaged in the conversation as the owner of the facility and not a physician. Moreover, the record is devoid of evidence showing that on the day he was injured, Massengill was engaging in a rehabilitation program. He admitted joining S.M.A.R.T. to [*1137] get into better physical condition. That was the purpose of his membership at S.M.A.R.T., and it qualifies as a recreational activity and not a practical necessity. Based on Massengill’s own testimony, his membership was purely recreational and not pursuant to a doctor’s order. There is no genuine issue of material fact as to the purpose or nature of Massengill’s use of the S.M.A.R.T. facility that needs to be resolved.

The third factor in the Schutkowski test is whether the contract was fairly entered into. Since membership in a private recreational facility such as S.M.A.R.T. is purely optional and does not qualify as an essential service, no decisive bargaining advantage exists. “A disparity of bargaining power will be found when a contracting party with little or no bargaining [**17] strength has no reasonable alternative to entering the contract at the mercy of the other’s negligence.” Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066. Similar to the releases in Milligan, which involved an optional ski race, and Schutkowski, which involved sky diving, no evidence suggests that Massengill was unfairly pressured into signing the agreement or was deprived of the opportunity to understand its implications. In fact, after Massengill initially toured the facilities, he was given the Agreement and Release to take with him, which he filled out at home and returned three days later.

In determining that the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment should be considered under principles of contract law, we held that the last factor of the Schutkowski test is satisfied in this case. The intent of the parties was clearly expressed in clear and unambiguous language. [HN14] We interpret exculpatory clauses or releases using traditional contract principles, and consider the meaning of the document as a whole. Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1067. Just as in Boehm, 748 P.2d at 712, “[a] plain reading of the language in the context of the [**18] entire membership application evidences no other rational purpose for which it could have been intended.”

In a further effort to avoid the Agreement and Release, the Massengills present an argument that the Recreation Safety Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123 (Lexis 1999), creates a statutory duty on the part of providers of a sport or recreational opportunity because it preserves actions based upon negligence if damage or injury is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity. The Massengills rely upon Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 565 (Wyo. 1995), and the distinction drawn in that case between primary assumption of risk and secondary assumption of risk. The thrust of this rather convoluted argument is that, if the conduct of the defendant comes within the category of secondary assumption of risk, a statutory duty is created by the language that preserves actions based on negligence. The Massengills then contend that the Agreement and Release cannot be enforced because it is contrary to the statutory duty. No authority is cited for that precise proposition, and we are satisfied that [HN15] the Recreation Safety Act does not foreclose [**19] the invocation of a contractual release or waiver for negligent conduct that is not released by the assignment of the inherent risk to the person participating in the sport or recreational opportunity under the statute. Indeed, the limited reach of the statute would suggest that a contractual release in addition to the statute would be prudent.

With respect to the claim of Kaylea Massengill for loss of consortium, her cause of action was included in the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. She executed the same Agreement and Release that James Massengill signed. Furthermore, her claim for loss of consortium was derivative of James Massengill’s claim for injuries, and it fails when his claim fails. Verschoor v. Mountain West Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 907 P.2d 1293, 1301 (Wyo. 1995); Boehm, 748 P.2d at 708.

The only pertinent issue in this case was whether the exculpatory clause should be held to violate public policy and not enforced for that reason. The record reflects that Massengill’s participation was purely recreational and S.M.A.R.T. did not owe him a public duty. S.M.A.R.T. is not engaged in a type of business generally [**20] thought suitable for public regulation, and Massengill was engaged in a recreational activity not an activity pursuant to a physician’s order. The case [*1138] is correctly resolved as a matter of law under principles relating to contract, and the contractual language being clear and unambiguous, there are no genuine issues of material fact. The case is controlled by Schutkowski and the later cases that followed it. We affirm the district court’s Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.


Wyoming Recreational Safety Act

Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123

§ 1-1-121.Recreation Safety Act; short title.

This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Recreation Safety Act”.

§ 1-1-122.  Definitions.

(a)  As used in this act:

(i)   “Inherent risk” with regard to any sport or recreational opportunity means those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity;

(ii)  “Provider” means any person or governmental entity which for profit or otherwise, offers or conducts a sport or recreational opportunity. This act does not apply to a cause of action based upon the design or manufacture of sport or recreational equipment or products or safety equipment used incidental to or required by the sport or recreational opportunity;

(iii) “Sport or recreational opportunity” means commonly understood sporting activities including baseball, softball, football, soccer, basketball, swimming, hockey, dude ranching, nordic or alpine skiing, mountain climbing, river floating, hunting, fishing, backcountry trips, horseback riding and any other equine activity, snowmobiling and similar recreational opportunities;

(iv) “Equine activity” means:

(A) Equine shows, fairs, competitions, performances or parades that involve any or all breeds of equines;

(B) Any of the equine disciplines;

(C) Equine training or teaching activities, or both;

(D) Boarding equines;

(E) Riding, inspecting or evaluating an equine belonging to another, whether or not the owner has received some monetary consideration or other thing of value for the use of the equine or is permitting a prospective purchaser of the equine to ride, inspect or evaluate the equine;

(F) Rides, trips, hunts or other equine activities of any type however informal or impromptu;

(G) Day use rental riding, riding associated with a dude ranch or riding associated with outfitted pack trips; and

(H) Placing or replacing horseshoes on an equine.

(v)  Repealed by Laws 1996, ch. 78, § 2.

(vi) “This act” means W.S. 1-1-121 through 1-1-123.

§ 1-1-123.  Assumption of risk.

(a)  Any person who takes part in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for any and all damage, injury or death to himself or other persons or property that results from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

(b)  A provider of any sport or recreational opportunity is not required to eliminate, alter or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity.

(c)  Actions based upon negligence of the provider wherein the damage, injury or death is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity shall be preserved pursuant to W.S. 1-1-109.

 


Wyoming Ski Area Statute

WYOMING STATUTES ANNOTATED

Title 6  Crimes and Offenses

Chapter 9  Miscellaneous Offenses

Article 2.  Other

GO TO CODE OF WYOMING ARCHIVE DIRECTORY

Wyo. Stat. § 6-9-201  (2012)

§ 6-9-201.  Trespass on closed or unsafe areas within ski areas; penalty; exceptions.

  (a) A person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars ($100.00) if he:

   (i) Skis on a slope or trail that has been posted as “closed”;

   (ii) Knowingly enters upon public or private lands from an adjoining ski area when the lands have been closed by the owner and posted as closed by the owner or by the ski area operator; or

   (iii) Intentionally enters state or federal land leased and in use as a ski area, knowing:

      (A) The lessee of the premises has designated the land as an unsafe area; or

      (B) The land has been posted with warning signs, prohibiting entry, which are reasonably likely to come to the attention of the public.

 (b) This section does not apply to peace officers, national park or forest service officers, or persons authorized by the lessee of the premises.

HISTORY: (Laws 1982, ch. 75, § 3; 1989, ch. 202, § 1.)

NOTES: Law reviews.

For article, “Recreational Injuries and Inherent Risks: Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act: An Update,” see XXXIII Land & Water L. Rev. 249 (1998).

Am. Jur. 2d, ALR and C.J.S. references.

Liability for injury or death from ski lift, ski tow or similar device, 95 ALR3d 203.

Ski resort’s liability for skier’s injuries resulting from condition of ski run or slope, 55 ALR4th 632.

   HIERARCHY NOTES:

   Tit. 6 Note

   Tit. 6, Ch. 9 Note

Wyo. Stat. § 6-9-301  (2012)

§ 6-9-301.  Skier safety; skiing while impaired; unsafe skiing; collisions; penalties.

  (a) No person shall move uphill on any passenger tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person’s ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or by the use of any illicit controlled substance or other drug as defined by W.S. 35-7-1002.

(b) No person shall ski in reckless disregard of his safety or the safety of others.

(c) No skier involved in a collision with another person in which an injury results shall leave the vicinity of the collision before giving his name and current address to an employee of the ski area operator or a member of the ski patrol except for the purpose of securing aid for a person injured in the collision, in which event the person leaving the scene of the collision shall give his name and current address as required by this subsection within twenty-four (24) hours after securing aid.

(d) Any person violating this section is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than twenty (20) days, a fine of not more than two hundred dollars ($200.00), or both.

HISTORY: (Laws 1989, ch. 202, § 2.)

NOTES: Law reviews.

For article, “Recreational Injuries and Inherent Risks: Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act: An Update,” see XXXIII Land & Water L. Rev. 249 (1998).

Am. Jur. 2d, ALR and C.J.S. references.

Products liability: skiing equipment, 76 ALR4th 256.

Skier’s liability for injuries to or death of another person, 75 ALR5th 583.

   HIERARCHY NOTES:

   Tit. 6 Note

   Tit. 6, Ch. 9 Note

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Summer 2013 Commercial Fatalities 8/26/13

This list is not guaranteed to be accurate. The information is found from web searches and news dispatches. Those references are part of the chart. If you have a source for information on any fatality please leave a comment or contact me. Thank you.

If this information is incorrect or incomplete please let me know.  This is up to date as of August 14, 2013. Thanks.

Rafting, Mountaineering and other summer sports are probably still safer than your kitchen or bathroom. This information is not to scare you away from any activity but to help you understand the risks and to study.

Red is a probable death due to medical issues.

Dark blue is a death of an employee while working.

Date Activity State Location What Age Sex Home Ref
5/27 Whitewater Rafting AK

Kenai Peninsula’s Six Mile Creek, Zig Zag Rapid

washed out of a boat filled with clients and a guide as they entered rapid

47 M Cambridge, UK

http://rec-law.us/12iqD0n

6/8 Whitewater Rafting TN Chattooga River boat flipped 58 M Nashville, TN

http://rec-law.us/11GgUSN & http://rec-law.us/14qmZ7N

6/20 Mountaineering WY Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton slipped on snowfield and slid 55 M Colorado Springs, CO

http://rec-law.us/11wr9wp

7/3 Summer Camp CA Camp Tawonga Tree fell 21 F Santa Cruz, CA http://rec-law.us/16RpK3K & http://rec-law.us/124h7TI
7/6 Whitewater Rafting PA Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle State Park Foot entanglement with rope 22 M Lancaster, PA http://rec-law.us/12dNcIz & http://rec-law.us/1btCuRC
7/9 Summer Camp UT Mt. Dell Scout Ranch, UT Run over by flat bed truck 14 M Cedar Hills, UT http://rec-law.us/159p1tz
8/14 Whitewater Rafting WV New River, WV washed out of boat into “meat grinder” area 16 M Germany http://rec-law.us/1dfgQl8
8/24 Whitewater Rafting TN Ocoee River, TN fell out in Grumpy’s rapid 52 F Rex, GA http://rec-law.us/17fRPnc & http://rec-law.us/1dJZYTU
8/25 Whitewater Rafting TN Ocoee River, TN fell out in Grumpy’s rapid 36 F Smyrna, TN http://rec-law.us/17fRPnc & http://rec-law.us/12FJFmh

Our condolences go to the families of the deceased. Our thoughts extend to the families and staff at the areas who have to deal with these tragedies.

Overall it has been a low fatality year! 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 25807

Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 25807

Camie R. Dunbar and Douglas Dunbar, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, a Wyoming Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 03-8057

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 25807

December 14, 2004, Filed

Prior History: [*1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. (D.C. No. 02-CV-123D).

Disposition: Reversed.

Counsel: Robert E. Schroth Sr. (Robert E. Schroth Jr. and W. Keith Goody, with him on the briefs), Jackson, Wyoming, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Mikel L. Moore (James K. Lubing, Jackson, Wyoming, with him on the brief), Christensen, Moore, Cockrell, Cummings & Axelberg, P.C., Kalispell, Montana, for Defendant-Appellee.

JUDGES: Before SEYMOUR, HENRY, and LUCERO, Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: LUCERO

OPINION: LUCERO, Circuit Judge.

While skiing at the Jackson Hole Mountain Ski Resort, Camie Dunbar fell approximately twelve feet into a snowboard half-pipe, suffering severe injuries for which she alleges negligence on the part of Jackson Hole. At the time of her accident, Dunbar was attempting to exit a specially designated ski and snowboard terrain park. Finding that Jackson Hole did not owe Dunbar a duty of care for risks inherent to her chosen recreational activity under the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act, the district court granted summary judgment for the resort. Dunbar now appeals, arguing that the risks inherent to alpine skiing do not include the risk of falling into the side of a snowboard [*2] half-pipe when following a Jackson Hole employee’s instructions on how to exit the terrain park. We exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and REVERSE.

I

In March 2001, Camie Dunbar suffered the stated injuries when she skied off a snow ledge in a specially designed “terrain park” at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A 33-year-old self-described intermediate skier from South Florida, Dunbar skied into the terrain park area with other members of her group who were part of a promotional ski trip sponsored by her employer Clear Channel Communications.

Containing various man made features such as a table top jump and a snowboard half-pipe, the Jackson Hole terrain park is designed for advanced skiers and snowboarders who choose to recreate in a very challenging risk-filled environment. The terrain park is separated by a fence and a boundary rope from an intermediate ski run. To enter the terrain park, skiers must pass through a gate marked with a warning sign, alerting them that they are entering an advanced ski area where “serious injuries, death, and equipment damage can occur.” At the time of the accident, the terrain [*3] park had been relocated to its position in an intermediate ski run, and did not appear on the Resort’s trail maps.

On the last day of her trip, Dunbar, along with Dave Dresher and Mike Jennings, went up the mountain intending to “investigate” the terrain park. In proceeding down an intermediate ski run, they skied through an initial gate providing a warning sign that they were entering a double black diamond “terrain feature trail.” After stopping adjacent to a red tram car which served as the office for the “pipe and park” crew who were responsible for maintenance of the terrain park, Dunbar observed other skiers and snowboarders maneuver various features in the terrain park.

Based on their observations, Dunbar and her companions decided that they did not want to try any of the features. In her deposition, Dunbar attested to thinking “this is my last day [and] I want to go home in one piece.” She stated that she did not know that there was a snowboard half-pipe in the terrain park, and believed instead that the area included only the jumps she observed from the red gondola. There is no suggestion by either party that Dunbar intended to jump any of the terrain jumps or intended [*4] to try her hand at stunts as a skier in a snowboard half-pipe. Having decided that she did not want to ski any of the double-black diamond features, she asked a Jackson Hole employee how to exit that area “if you don’t want to take this terrain park.” She was told either to take off her skis and hike back to the gate through which she had entered or to proceed in the direction of a “catwalk” to which the employee pointed.

Unbeknownst to Dunbar, the “catwalk” led to a side entrance to the snowboard half-pipe.

Ms. Dunbar along with her companions skied along the “catwalk.” Although it is a matter of some dispute between the parties, in order to proceed down the catwalk, skiers had to pass warning signs indicating that they were approaching a snowboard half-pipe area. Both Dunbar and her companions claim not to have noticed the signs. Dunbar and Jennings went along the catwalk, up an incline, across a flat deck, and fell approximately twelve feet into the half-pipe.

Jennings managed to maneuver his snowboard in such a way as to avoid injury.

Dunbar was not so fortunate. As a consequence of her fall into the half-pipe, she suffered severe injuries to her pelvis and thigh requiring surgery [*5] and intensive physical therapy. Dunbar testified that she will neither be able to return to her pre-injury range of motion, nor will she be capable of having a natural childbirth as a result of the injury to her hip.

Asserting that Jackson Hole’s negligence caused her injuries, Dunbar filed suit in district court. Jackson Hole filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to strike portions of Dunbar’s affidavits as attempts to create sham factual issues in order to survive summary judgment. The district court granted both motions for Jackson Hole on the basis that portions of Dunbar’s affidavit were inconsistent with her deposition testimony. Dunbar now appeals.

II

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same legal standards as the district court pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Chickasaw Nation v. United States, 208 F.3d 871, 875 (10th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled [*6] to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). We must look carefully to determine if existing factual disputes are material, because “only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). A court may not grant summary judgment when “a material fact is ‘genuine,’ that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. When the moving party has informed the district court of the basis for its motion, however, a nonmoving party may not stand merely on its pleadings, but must set forth “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). In our application of this standard, we view the evidence and draw reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Simms v. Oklahoma ex rel. Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Servs., 165 F.3d 1321, 1326 (10th Cir. 1999). [*7] Furthermore, as a federal court sitting in diversity, we must ascertain the applicable Wyoming law as announced by the Wyoming Supreme Court so that the substantive law applied in federal court does not differ from what would apply in state court. Wood v. Eli Lilly & Co., 38 F.3d 510, 512 (10th Cir. 1994).

A

To protect providers of recreational sports and activities from liability for alpine skiing, equine activities, and other outdoor pursuits in the state, the Wyoming legislature limited their duty of care by enacting the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-121 et. seq.; see Sapone v. Grand Targhee, Inc., 308 F.3d 1096, 1101 (10th Cir. 2002). As a matter of common law, in order to prevail in a negligence action, a plaintiff would first have to demonstrate that the defendant owed her a duty to act with reasonable care. See, e.g., Erpelding v. Lisek, 2003 WY 80, 71 P.3d 754, 757 (Wyo. 2003). The Safety Act is designed to limit the duty a provider of recreational sports and activities owes to participants.

Under the Safety Act, a provider of a recreational opportunity has no duty [*8] to protect participants from “inherent risks” of the particular sport or recreational opportunity. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123. In relevant part, the act provides:

(a) Any person who takes part in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for any and all damage, injury or death to himself or other persons or property that results from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

(b) A provider of any sport or recreational opportunity is not required to eliminate, alter or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity.

§ 1-1-123. Wyoming defines inherent risks as “those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-122(a)(i). Wyoming further defines “Sport or recreational opportunity” as meaning “commonly understood sporting activities,” which include “alpine skiing.” § 1-1-122(a)(iii). Thus, for example, a provider of an [*9] alpine skiing opportunity will not be liable for a duty of care with regard to dangers that are “characteristic of” or “intrinsic to” or “an integral part” of the sport of alpine skiing. However, the act does provide for a cause of action based on the negligence of the recreational opportunity provider when the injury is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity: “Actions based upon negligence of the provider wherein the damage, injury or death is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity shall be preserved.

. . .” § 1-1-123(c). Thus, whether a recreation provider owes its patrons a duty of care depends entirely on whether the specific risks can be characterized as inherent to the sport or activity.

What is inherent to a sport or activity, however, is far from self-evident. In Sapone, we defined “inherent” under the Wyoming Safety Act as either “’those risks which are essential characteristics of a sport and those which participants desire to confront,’ or they are undesirable risks which are simply a collateral part of the recreation activity.” Sapone, 308 F.3d at 1103 (citation omitted). We [*10] have further defined a risk that is not inherent as “a risk that was atypical, uncharacteristic, [and] not intrinsic to the recreational activity. . . .” Id. at 1104. Although equine activities are among those the Wyoming legislature clearly meant to protect, and although horseback riding indubitably involves inherent risks, we have concluded, following the Wyoming Supreme Court, that not all risks of horseback riding are inherent risks. Cooperman v. David, 214 F.3d 1162, 1167 (10th Cir. 2000); Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 566 (Wyo. 1995). Some risks may occur from the choices a recreation provider makes on behalf of the participant and from the conditions in which the recreational opportunity is provided. Thus, atypical or uncharacteristic risks can arise even in those specific sports the Wyoming legislature clearly intended to exempt from liability for inherent risks.

Following the Wyoming Supreme Court in Halpern, we have held that “where genuine issues of material fact exist, the determination of whether something is or is not an inherent risk is a factual question that must be sent to the jury for determination.” [*11] Sapone, 308 F.3d at 1102.

As a preliminary matter, what sport or activity characterizes Camie Dunbar’s behavior is a matter of considerable dispute. Most generally, she was engaged in alpine skiing – a sport clearly covered by the Safety Act. If we were to analyze the risk at this level of generality, then it would certainly appear that falling twelve feet into a trench in the middle of an intermediate ski-run would decidedly not constitute an inherent risk of alpine skiing. Such a level of generality, however, is not appropriate. To determine what risk is inherent to Dunbar’s activity, we must go beyond a broad characterization and inquire into the specific circumstances of both her actions and those of the recreation provider.

When the Cooperman court examined the risks of horseback riding in the context of the specific facts of that case, for example, it employed a different analytical framework than if it had merely asked the abstract question whether falling off a horse is an inherent risk of horseback riding. Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1167. Because a determination of what risks are inherent to a sport or activity may change by descriptive [*12] differences, we have stated that “when attempting to determine whether a risk is inherent to a sport, we can not look at the risk in a vacuum, apart from the factual setting to which the [participant] was exposed.” Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1167. Instead, we must analyze the risk “at the greatest level of specificity permitted by the factual record.” Id. As an example of this principle, we have explained:

If the only fact presented to the court is that the horse bucked while the rider was properly sitting on the horse, we would frame the duty question as whether a bucking horse is an inherent risk of horseback riding. However, if the facts established that the owner of the horse lit firecrackers next to the horse and the horse bucked, we would ask whether a horse bucking when firecrackers are lit next to the horse is an inherent risk of horseback riding. Id.

For instance, in Cooperman, we determined that the risk of a slipping saddle, in light of the lack of scientific precision in hand cinching, is inherent to horseback riding. Id. at 1168. However, in Sapone, we concluded that a child sustaining injuries when falling [*13] from the saddle during a trail-riding lesson was not an inherent risk when there was evidence that the horse was too large, that the instructions were inadequate, that no headgear was provided, and that the route was too dangerous. Sapone, 308 F.3d at 1104. Similarly, in Madsen v. Wyoming River Trips, Inc., 31 F. Supp. 2d 1321, 1329 (D. Wyo. 1999), the district court determined that the risks inherent to white-water rafting did not include risks of injury resulting from the recreation provider’s overcrowding the boat. See also Carden v. Kelly, 175 F. Supp. 2d. 1318, 1329 (2001) (finding a genuine issue of material fact whether, given the actions and inactions of the recreation provider, a horse’s stumbling and falling was an inherent risk of horseback riding).

In the present case, the district court’s order hinged on a determination of where Ms. Dunbar was located when she made her choice to proceed down the catwalk. Thus, not simply a question of alpine skiing, but of alpine skiing in a designated terrain park became the significant “factual setting” the district court used to examine the inherent risks to which Dunbar was exposed. [*14]

In its order granting Jackson Hole’s motion for summary judgment, the district court stressed, and Jackson Hole urges on appeal, the need to focus on the choices that Dunbar made when entering the terrain park. Reasoning that an inherent risk analysis could not properly be conducted without considering Dunbar’s choices, the district court focused on the facts of Dunbar’s conduct as the recreational participant. Central to the district court’s determination of inherent risk was the simple fact of Dunbar’s choice to enter the terrain park.

The court found that “a terrain feature such as a half-pipe located within a fenced terrain park is an inherent risk to a skier that voluntarily and knowingly enters that park.” Dunbar v. Jackson Hole, No. 02-CV-123-D, slip op. at 14-15 (D. Wyo. June 16, 2003). Furthermore, the court concludes that having entered the terrain park, Dunbar “decided to enter the [metaphorical] ‘rodeo’ and thus assumed the risk associated with that activity.” Id. at 15. We disagree.

First, we note that the plain language of the Safety Act focuses on “any person who takes part in any sport or recreational opportunity,” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123 [*15] , and does not mention the location of the sport or activity.

We fail to see how simply being present in the terrain park redefines the sport or activity in which Dunbar is engaged, especially absent further choices to take part in any of the terrain park features. No doubt location may have a bearing on how to characterize a participant’s activity, but it is not automatically determinative as the district court suggests. n1 Indeed, from the record, it is not clear whether the double black diamond designation applied to the area of the intermediate ski run from the putative entrance to the terrain park to the red tram car and from the tram car to the catwalk. There seems to be no dispute that in the areas Dunbar traversed a skier would not confront any unusual risks or features that differed from those elsewhere on the intermediate ski run (at least until the point where Dunbar fell into the half-pipe). Thus it would seem to be an open question whether the warning signs and double black designation properly applied to the area that Dunbar actually traversed or if they were limited to the physical space containing the dangerous terrain features. If the double black diamond designation [*16] applies only to the specific terrain features and if the warnings apply only to those skiers and snowboarders who attempt to maneuver over and among the trail features down the fall line of the mountain, then it may be difficult to conclude that Dunbar assumed a double black diamond risk simply by skiing across the fall line on an intermediate slope to the tram car and then proceeding, as directed, by way of the catwalk. Proper resolution of these factual questions concerning the impact of Dunbar’s specific location on Jackson Hole’s duty, however, are for a jury, not for the court, to decide.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n1 As to the issue of whether or not Dunbar had actually entered the park, we note that the district court is itself not descriptively clear, stating at one point that “she had misgivings about entering and asked a JHMR employee how to get out of the terrain park.” Dunbar, slip op. at 13. Of course, if she had not “entered” she could not ask how to “get out.” We conclude from this only that mere presence in the terrain park may be too fine a reed to hang a determination that Dunbar was engaged in a categorically different recreational activity which contained greater inherent risks than does ordinary alpine skiing.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [*17]

Second, we conclude that there is a difference between the consequences of conduct chosen by Dunbar, and risks that are inherent to that choice. It does not necessarily follow, as the district court finds, that having entered the terrain park, Dunbar also chose to confront all the features and conditions present within it. Although the district court emphasized the choices and conduct of the plaintiff in determining what risks she assumed, the court makes no distinction between the risks that are inherent to her actual choices – to ski into the terrain park area, but not to “take” any of the features – and risks that are inherent to choices one would make when actually intending to ski over the specific features.

Indeed, a reasonable person who entered the general area of the terrain park would stop first to view the features and decide whether or not to attempt to maneuver over or through any of them. In fact, Jackson Hole’s warning signs, the presence of which figure prominently in this dispute, direct skiers and snowboarders to “please observe terrain features, their risks, and their degree of difficulty before using.” That is precisely what Ms. Dunbar did. She chose to enter [*18] the area of the terrain park – if not the terrain park itself – but specifically chose not to “use” or “take” any of the terrain park features after doing exactly what Jackson Hole’s signs advised her to do: “observe . . . before using.” Presumably, Jackson Hole does not wish to claim that it operates like the Hotel California – where you can check in any time you like but you can never leave. Accordingly, it was error for the district court to conclude that having followed Jackson Hole’s instructions, having assessed the risks and decided not to use the terrain features, that there is no material issue of fact concerning whether a skier could leave without accruing those very risks. Having “entered” the terrain park, Dunbar did not “use” the terrain park as a terrain park—viz., she did not attempt to jump the table top jump nor did she attempt to do stunts in the snowboard half-pipe. She attempted to exit the terrain park without “taking” any of the features, and followed instructions from a Jackson Hole employee on how to exit the park. Given the specific factual setting of this case, what risks are associated with Dunbar’s actual choices and what duty Jackson Hole owed her are [*19] properly questions for the jury.

Accordingly, we conclude that the district court erred when it found that the risk of falling twelve feet into a snowboard half-pipe was an inherent risk of Dunbar’s alpine skiing when she had stopped and observed double diamond terrain features and had chosen not to “take” those features. When, as is here, genuine issues of material fact exist, it is properly a question for the jury to determine whether dangers that are “characteristic of” or “intrinsic to” or “an integral part” of the sport of alpine skiing evaluated under the specific factual circumstances of this case include those encountered by Dunbar in skiing from the main intermediate run to the tram car and from the tram car along the catwalk. Sapone, 308 F.3d at 1102 (“whether something is or is not an inherent risk is a factual question that must be sent to the jury for determination”); see also, Dillworth v. Gambardella, 970 F.2d 1113, 1123 (2d Cir. 1992) (holding under a Vermont statute similar to Wyoming’s, that determination of inherent danger “is a question of fact properly submitted to the jury”).

B

As we have observed, inquiry into what [*20] dangers constitute an inherent risk under the Safety Act is inextricably intertwined with an inquiry into what duty the recreation provider owes to the participant, and whether that question is properly one for the judge or jury. If Dunbar’s accident was not the product of an inherent risk of her recreational activity, then a question remains for the fact finder concerning what duty was owed her and whether Jackson Hole fulfilled that duty. We conclude that the district court improperly analyzed the issue of Jackson Hole’s duty.

When the issue of duty involves questions of fact, as is the case with “inherent risks,” the Wyoming Supreme Court has held that the question of a defendant’s duty should be resolved by a jury. Halpern, 890 P.2d at 565. However, in certain instances where no material questions of fact exist – e.g., if the risk is clearly one inherent to the sport – the district court may decide as a matter of law that a provider does not owe a duty to the participant under the Safety Act. Halpern, 890 P.2d at 566 (noting that “in appropriate cases where no genuine issues of material fact exist, the district court may decide as a matter of [*21] law that the provider does not owe a duty to the participant.“). Such was not the case here.

How the district court framed the statement of Jackson Hole’s duty is crucial to a proper disposition of this case. It has become something of a standard analysis in this line of cases for a district court to frame the question of duty, in addition to the question of inherent risk, in the form of a fact-specific inquiry. Indeed, as the district court noted in another Safety Act case, “the Court cannot stress how important it is to frame the duty question correctly. If the duty question is framed incorrectly, the legislature’s intent to allow a cause of action for negligence will be lost.” Madsen, 31 F. Supp. 2d. at 1329.

In the present case, the district court framed the question of duty as follows:

Whether Camie Dunbar’s injuries occurred as a result of the inherent risk of alpine skiing when this thirty-three year-old experienced skier knowingly entered a specially designated terrain park, skied past five warning signs, made the choice not to exit by way of the gate she entered understanding that she would encounter expert and double expert terrain features, [*22] skied up the visible half-pipe wall, and across a fourteen-foot platform.

Dunbar, slip op. at 14. We have already concluded that Dunbar’s mere presence in the entrance area of the terrain park does not give rise as a matter of law to a heightened risk above what is normal to alpine skiing. We now conclude that the question of Jackson Hole’s duty was improperly framed because it employs facts in dispute, and does not view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.

Specifically, the district court’s finding that Dunbar chose not to exit the terrain park area via the gate by which she entered understanding that she would encounter expert and double expert terrain features is itself a fact open to dispute. Whether or not her choice was made with that understanding is a disputed fact, and read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the district court improperly incorporated a disputed fact in a light favoring the defendant. Second, the district court frames the duty question by stating that Dunbar “skied up the visible half-pipe wall.” Id. Whether or not what she skied up was in fact visibly a half-pipe wall is itself a disputed fact, and inclusion [*23] of this fact in a light most favorable to the defendant was improper.

Finally, the district court states that Dunbar “skied past five warning signs,” which although perhaps true (though contested), shades the “duty question” in a way that ignores the factual issues of the content and import of each of those signs in the context of the Jackson Hole employee’s instructions on how to exit the park. Given the fact that we have previously held that the question of a provider’s duty is partially determined by a fact-specific framing of inherent risk, we conclude that the district court erred in making factual findings that are properly findings for a jury. See Sapone, 308 F.3d at 1102.

Finally, we note that whatever risks Dunbar assumed herself, it seems clear that she did not also assume the risk of needing to interpret the delphic statements of Jackson Hole’s employees. Both Jackson Hole and the district court focus on the issue of choices that Dunbar made, ignoring the choice that Jackson Hole made for her in directing her to exit the terrain park area by either hiking out the main entrance or skiing along the catwalk. We have made clear that a duty of care may arise [*24] from choices made for the participant by the recreation provider. Sapone, 308 F.3d at 1104; see also, Madsen, 31 F. Supp. 2d at 1328-29; Carden, 175 F. Supp. 2d. at 1328-29. Absent from the district court’s order is any recognition that once Dunbar asked a Jackson Hole employee how to exit the terrain park area without “taking” any of the features, Jackson Hole owed a duty to provide her with appropriate instructions, which might have included a specific warning to beware of the drop into the half-pipe at the end of the catwalk. Whether or not they fulfilled that duty is a question for the jury. Accordingly, the district court erred when it framed the question of Jackson Hole’s duty by incorporating facts in dispute and when it failed to submit the question of duty to the fact finder pursuant to Wyoming Supreme Court precedent.

On appeal, Dunbar also raises as error the district court’s granting Jackson Hole’s motion to strike portions of her affidavit as creating sham factual issues to survive summary judgment. Those supposed sham facts dealt with Dunbar ‘s understanding of whether she had entered the actual terrain park (the [*25] area including the jumps) when located at the tram car. Because we conclude that summary judgment was inappropriate, the issue of Dunbar’s affidavit is now moot.

III

For the reasons set forth above, we REVERSE the district court and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Colorado River Protection Coalition Intervenes Against Flaming Gorge Pipeline

Friends of the Poudre River!

Please see the press release below. We are working hard with great coalitions to protect the Poudre River as well as stop the ridiculous Flaming Gorge Pipeline. Please see Save the Poudre’s quote below:

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be a flaming disaster for Colorado,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “The Pipeline would be a devastating step backwards for water supply policy and river protection in Colorado and the Southwest U.S. — our coalition will work as long and hard as it takes to stop this project.”

Thank you for your amazing support!

For Immediate Release, December 15, 2011
Contacts:

  1. McCrystie Adams, Earthjustice, 303-623-9466
  2. Steve Jones, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-332-7031 ext 12
  3. Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, 928-310-6713
  4. John Spahr, Sierra Club, 307-732-0028
  5. Gary Wockner, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, 970-218-8310
  6. John Weisheit, Living Rivers – Colorado Riverkeeper, 435-259-1063
  7. Zach Frankel, Utah Rivers Council, 801-699-1856
  8. Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 307-742-7978
  9. Warren Rider, Rocky Mountain Wild, 970-385-9833
  10. Jane Whalen, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, 435-635-2133
  11. Michael Kellett, Glen Canyon Institute, 801-363-4450

Colorado River Protection Coalition Intervenes Against Flaming Gorge Pipeline
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Should Not Waste Resources On Unbuildable Scheme

Denver, CO – Today a coalition of 10 conservation groups from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona — the Colorado River Protection Coalition — moved to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) review of the Regional Watershed Supply Project (a.k.a., the “Flaming Gorge Pipeline”). FERC is currently evaluating a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline from Wyco Power and Water Inc. FERC allows members of the public with a stake in projects to intervene in preliminary permit proceedings, and the Colorado River Protection Coalition, represented by Earthjustice, has called upon FERC to deny the permit on numerous grounds.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States,” said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice, the Coalition’s lead attorney. “The Pipeline would devastate the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harm the Colorado River downstream.”

In its intervention comments, the Colorado River Protection Coalition asserted that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline is extremely unlikely to be permitted because it would likely violate the Endangered Species Act, would adversely affect four national wildlife refuges, and part of the project would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area. The Coalition also argued that the permit should be denied because the applicant failed to meet various requirements during a previous attempt at permitting a nearly identical project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Further, the Coalition asserted that the Pipeline is an extremely environmentally damaging water supply project that would irrevocably harm the Green and Colorado Rivers, not a “hydropower project,” and thus FERC is not the appropriate agency to lead federal review of the proposal.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would severely harm the Wyoming landscape it crosses,” said Steve Jones of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Our state’s heritage, wildlife, and economy are dependent on protecting roadless and wilderness areas.”

“Four endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, and bonytail chub — are dependent on the water this pipeline proposes to drain out of the Green and Colorado Rivers,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff, Arizona. “The pipeline would spell disaster for those fish and the river ecosystems we and they depend on. It’s a foolish proposal in the face of global warming and projected declines in river flows.”

“The Green River flows through Utah’s largest roadless area, provides 40 percent of the water entering the Colorado River at Lake Powell each year, and supports a world-famous trout fishery averaging 6,000 – 8,000 fish per mile” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. “This catastrophic proposal would not only mar these treasures, it would forever alter life in Utah.”

The applicant previously sought a permit for the Pipeline from a different federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). In July of 2011, the Corps terminated its review of the project because the applicant missed multiple deadlines and did not provide information requested by the Corps. A few months later, the applicant redesigned the project to include some incidental hydropower components and requested review through FERC. Despite the modifications, the project remains a huge energy hog — at least nine air-polluting natural gas-fired pumping stations would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Wyco’s president has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would use more energy than the project would create through hydropower.

“We know this project would burn more energy than it produces,” said John Spahr of the Sierra Club. “Claiming it is a hydropower project is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to make an end-run around federal law.”

Since its inception, the extremely controversial Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with great opposition in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Colorado is already a parched state with severely depleted rivers while the majority of the water in Colorado’s cities is used to keep lawns green for three months in the hot, dry summer across sprawling suburban landscapes.

Duane Short of Biodiversity Conservation Alliance noted, “The Coalition believes that Colorado and other western citizens are beginning to realize that unbridled consumption of water from our rivers and aquifers will leave our precious water resources depleted leading to even more severe water shortages for our children and grandchildren. We hope the public will work with us to prevent this shortsighted and irresponsible water grab.”

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be a flaming disaster for Colorado,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “The Pipeline would be a devastating step backwards for water supply policy and river protection in Colorado and the Southwest U.S. — our coalition will work as long and hard as it takes to stop this project.”

This Coalition’s intervention is one of several being filed by public interest groups and local communities. Over a hundred public comments urging FERC to deny the preliminary permit have already been filed before the Dec. 19th deadline. Comments are posted on FERC’s website here: http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/docket_search.asp (search for Docket Number: P-14263).

The Colorado River Protection Coalition’s comments are posted here: http://savethepoudre.org/documents/Sierra-Club-et-al-Motion-to-Intervene-FERC-Project-No-P-14263-000.pdf

A map of the pipeline’s proposed 550 mile route across Wyoming and down through Colorado is here: http://savethepoudre.org/documents/RWSP-Overview-map-12-15-2011.pdf

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Is your Release and Risk Management Program Up To Date?

It’s that time of year. If you are an outdoor recreation program, summer camp, challenge course or outfitter have you had your risk management program reviewed and ready for the summer? Is your release up to date? Have you had an attorney review your release to make sure it complies with the latest court decisions, changes in the law and what the rest of the industry is doing?

If not, you should!

Release laws for your state and activity may not change for years, but sometimes it can change monthly. Connecticut, Utah and Arizona Supreme Courts have recently handed down decisions that complicate the laws in those states. Many other states including Colorado, California, Wyoming, Idaho and most eastern states have had decisions that may modify your release.

It’s that time of year, to get ready for the season, make sure your risk management and legal needs are up to date also.

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