Archive for July, 2015

Out in the Cold – Claim for Injury to Snowmobiler Barred by Recreational Immunity Statute (OR)

July 31, 2015

Stringer v. U.S. Department of Agriculture (Oregon)
(trial court disposition)

A snowmobiler was injured in a national forest when he drove off an embankment.  He filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  The Forest Service moved to dismiss the claim.  The U.S. District Court ruled that the Forest Service was entitled to statutory immunity.

The Court noted that as stated in the Oregon statutes, “it is the public policy of the State of Oregon to encourage owners of land to make their land available to the public for recreational purposes … by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes….” (citation omitted) advances this policy by granting “immunity to landowners who open their land to the public for recreational purposes.”  Referring to one of the exceptions to the immunity, the plaintiff argued that the Forest Service had waived the immunity by charging a fee for use of its lands.  Specifically, plaintiff cited that the Forest Service charged third parties for camping fees and ski-lift fees within the forest lands.  However, the Court disagreed, explaining “The Deschutes National Forest comprises approximately 1.8 million acres of land, including three independent ranger districts. (citation omitted)  A fee charged at one end of the Deschutes National Forest cannot, as a matter of public policy, waive immunity at the other end of the same forest, thousands of miles away, simply because the government made a charge.”

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On the Rocks – Woman Injury Jumping Off Rock in the Ocean; Liability is an Issue for the Jury (MA)

July 29, 2015

Cohen v. Elephant Rock Beach Club, Inc. (Massachusetts)
(trial court disposition)

he plaintiff was a guest at the defendant’s beach club.  During her stay, plaintiff saw guests swimming to and around, and jumping off of, a large rock that was 250 feet off the shore.  She decided that she wanted to go to the rock, and did so by walking from the beach to the water and swimming to the rock.  After watching adults and children take a running start and then jump off the highest part of the rock, plaintiff waited her turn and did the same thing.  After she jumped, her foot smashed into a portion of the rock below the surface of the water, resulting in a compound fracture of plaintiff’s leg.  Lifeguards from the defendant that were on duty noticed plaintiff after she hit the water and went to assist her.

Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging negligence based on premises liability, and a duty to warn her of the dangerous condition of the rock.  The defendant club filed a motion for summary judgment.  In support of its motion, the defendant filed a late supplemental expert witness report, and the plaintiff filed a motion to strike the report.  As to the motion to strike, the U.S. District Court denied the motion, finding that the untimely disclosure of the supplemental report was harmless.

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Bad Aim – Checking Out a Friend’s Firearm in Your Garage is Not a Recreational Activity (OH)

July 28, 2015

Lovegrove v. Stapleton (Ohio)

The plaintiff and the defendant were both experienced gunman who shared a common interest in competitive shooting.  Plaintiff and defendant participated together in a Tuesday night shooting league, and they would sometimes go to shooting ranges together on weekends.  In the summer of 2012, plaintiff drove to the defendant’s home to have the defendant notarize some paperwork for him.  Plaintiff brought his new gun with him, knowing that defendant would likely want to check out it out, which, as the evidence established, is something that happens often in the culture of the competitive shooting community.

Before entering defendant’s garage, plaintiff removed the magazine from the gun.  In the garage, he removed the gun from the holster on his waistband, checked the chamber, and set the gun on a workbench.  Defendant notarized plaintiff’s paperwork and then checked out the gun “dry-firing” it multiple times.  Defendant’s children came into the garage a couple of time, but were sent back into the house for their own safety.

Defendant stepped into the house to check on his wife, who was in the backyard.  Plaintiff picked up his paperwork and his gun, and he put the magazine back in the gun.  Since no round was chambered, he could not put on the gun’s safety.  Plaintiff turned around and saw defendant’s children standing in front of him wanting to show him a trophy.  Defendant placed the gun back on the workbench and told the children he would put his things back in his truck and then come inside.  Plaintiff ushered the children back into the house and closed the door.  As plaintiff was turning around he heard the gun go off.  The defendant had returned, picked up the gun from the workbench, and fired the gun.  The bullet hit the workbench and ricocheted, hitting plaintiff in the abdomen.

A year later, plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant alleging that the defendant acted negligently and recklessly in shooting the gun.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that plaintiff was engaged in a recreational activity and that primary assumption of risk precluded plaintiff’s negligence claim.  Defendant also contended that he had not acted recklessly.  The trial court granted defendant’s motion, and plaintiff appealed.
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Tragedy at the Beach – State Not Liable for Youth Killed by Collapsed Sand (CA)

July 27, 2015

Buchanan v. California Department of Parks and Recreation (California)
(unpublished opinion)

A seventeen year old boy and his brother participated in a church youth group outing to Sunset State Beach in California.  During the outing, the boy and another member of the church group “created an unnatural condition that was not common to nature and would not naturally occur in that location, in that they were engaged in digging large holes in the sand in a picnic area being used by the church group, which was located within the park boundaries, separated from the beach by sand dunes, but within sight of a nearby elevated life guard station.”  The sand collapsed, burying and killing the boy.  A lawsuit was filed by the boy’s family, with the amended complaint alleging two causes of action.  First, the plaintiffs alleged that the California Department of Parks and Recreation (“DPR”) employees observed (or should have observed) the digging activities and they had a duty to warn the boy and the group of the known risks.  Second, the boy’s brother alleged a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a bystander that witnessed the incident.

The DPR filed a demurrer to the amended complaint, asserting that the complaint failed to show that it owed a duty to the plaintiff and that statutory government immunity applied.  The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend based on the Hazardous Recreational Activity immunity found in Government Code Section 831.7, and it entered a judgment of dismissal in favor of the defendant.  Plaintiffs appealed. (more…)

Feel the Burn – “Boot Camp” Participant Injury Claim Barred (NY)

July 24, 2015

Alonge v. Town Sports International Holdings, Inc. (New York)

The plaintiff participated in a “boot camp” exercise program for approximately a year.  During one of the group exercise programs, another participant ran into her, causing her personal injury.  Plaintiff sued that defendant operator of the camp, alleging negligence.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on primary assumption if risk.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the decision, finding that the plaintiff had observed “the open and obvious risk of running into participants in the class during drill exercises, and after fully appreciating the risk of colliding with other participants, plaintiff nonetheless elected to participate in the activity, thereby assuming the risk that resulted in her injuries.”

Cleanup in Aisle 5 – Child Injured on Bicycle Inside Wal-Mart; Store Not Liable (MS)

July 23, 2015

Wilson ex rel. Purser v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Mississippi)

A step-father and his two minor boys visited a Wal-Mart store in Batesville, Mississippi looking to purchase a basketball.  While the step-father was paying for the basketball, the two boys started looking at bicycles.  Both boys got on bicycles that had been on the bicycle racks and began riding up and down the nearby aisles.  During the ride, one of the boys was riding fast and could not figure out how to stop.  He tried to brake using the pedals, but the bike only had handbrakes.  The boy ran into a wall and cut his leg on a shelf.  “The employee assigned to the department was outside at the time of the accident, and no signs were posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles or otherwise warning of any danger.”

The boys’ mother filed a lawsuit on behalf of her injured child, contending that Wal-Mart was negligent by failing to keep the premises reasonably safe and failing to warn of the danger posed by the bikes.  Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not show the existence of a dangerous condition.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider.  Plaintiff’s motion was denied, and an appeal was filed.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that “whether an unlocked or readily available bicycle on the sales floor constituted a dangerous condition was a genuine issue of material fact that should have been submitted to a jury.”  However, the Court disagreed, affirming the trial court decision.

Low Marks from the U.S.A. Judge – Claims of Fallen Ice Skater Denied (DE)

July 20, 2015

Paveza v. The Pond, Inc. (Delaware)

Plaintiff and her daughter were participating an “open skate” at the ice skating rink operated by the defendant.  Plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell on debris while she was skating.  In her lawsuit, plaintiff claimed that the defendants negligently failed to remove the debris which caused her to fall and failed to warn her about the debris.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment contending that it did not owe plaintiff a duty to protect her from the alleged condition that caused the incident.

Plaintiff’s daughter testified that she saw a rubber band on the ice just before and just after her mother fell, but she further indicated that the band was picked up by someone after the incident.  It was undisputed that the ice had last been resurfaced the night before the incident, and the testimony established that skaters had been on the ice for as long as an hour on the day of the incident prior to plaintiff’s fall.  Plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to conduct an inspection of the ice during the hour leading up to the incident, such that a jury could conclude that the defendant should have known of the presence of the band on the ice.  However, the trial court disagreed:

“The undisputed testimony and evidence permits only one conclusion, that the ‘band’ was only on the ice for moments before the fall, having been dropped by the couple just prior to the incident, and being immediately retrieved by them after the incident.  There is no evidence of record which supports that Defendant knew or should have known of the presence of the band in the short interval between when Plaintiff claims it was dropped and when Plaintiff fell.  Plaintiff does not claim that Defendant is strictly liable for her injuries.  To establish negligence, Plaintiff has to show that Defendant had notice or should have had notice of debris on the ice.  The testimony of the persons present, Plaintiff, her daughter . . . , and the witness . . . cannot support a legal finding that Defendant had notice or should have had notice that there was debris on the ice.”

The trial court also concluded that “[p]rimary assumption of the risk generally applies to participants in sporting events,” and that “[p]laintiff assumed the risk that she might fall.”

¡Peligro! – Woman Falls from Treadmill; Waiver Fraud and Gross Negligence Alleged (CA)

July 17, 2015

Jimenez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (California)

The plaintiff fell backwards off a moving treadmill at the defendant’s workout facility and suffered severe head injuries when she hit her head on the exposed steel foot of a leg exercise machine that had been placed behind the treadmill.  Plaintiff filed an action against the workout facility, alleging premises liability, general negligence, and loss of consortium.  Plaintiff contended that the defendant was grossly negligent in setting up the treadmill in a manner that violated the manufacturer’s safety instructions.  The defendant moved for summary judgment based on the liability release that plaintiff signed when she joined the facility.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed. (more…)

Crying Foul – Federal Litigation in California Seeks to Change Baseball’s “Limited Duty Rule” (CA)

July 15, 2015

Crying Foul – Federal Litigation in California Seeks to Change Baseball’s “Limited Duty Rule” (ESPN.com Article)

The sport of baseball has long felt the benefit of the “limited duty rule.”  The rule protects baseball teams and stadium operators from liability to spectators for injuries caused by balls and bats that fly into the seats.  The rule generally requires the team or stadium operator to provide a sufficient number of protected seats for those spectators who want them, and to provide protection for all spectators located in the most dangerous parts of the stadium, notably the areas that pose the highest risk of injury from fouls balls, such as the seating directly behind home plate.

There have been numerous challenges to the rule over the years, and now we have a new one in California.  As described in the ESPN.com article here, an Oakland Athletics season-ticket holder has filed a federal court action seeking class-action status on behalf of all fans buying season tickets in unprotected areas of the ballpark.  The goal appears to be the installation of safety netting from foul pole to foul pole.

Up the Creek Without a Row Machine – Claim of Man Injured at Fitness Facility Barred by Membership Agreement (DE)

July 13, 2015

Ketler v. PFPA, LLC (Delaware)
(unpublished trial court disposition)

Plaintiff purchased a gym membership from Planet Fitness and agreed to the terms of the facility’s membership agreement.  Plaintiff thereafter sustained personal injuries at the defendant’s workout facility when a cable broke on a seated rowing machine that he was using.  He and his wife filed a lawsuit against Planet Fitness, alleging negligence, and Planet Fitness filed an answer asserting primary assumption of the risk as an affirmative defense based on the language of the membership agreement.  The defendant then filed a motion for a judgment on the pleadings.

The plaintiff did not dispute that he signed the membership agreement, but he argued that the agreement did not include a specific reference to the negligent wrongdoing alleged.  The court disagreed, noting that the agreement clearly provided that plaintiff could not hold the defendant liable for any injury even if the defendant’s own negligence caused the injury.  The court found the membership agreement to be “an unambiguous and express release.”

Plaintiff contended that he was entitled to factual discovery before the court cold resolve the issue.  However, the court stated that the language of the membership agreement was controlling and no further discovery was needed.  The court explained that “Delaware’s decisional law on contract interpretation permit the Court to give full force and effect to the Release.”