Archive for the ‘Choice of Law’ Category

Teachable Moment – Claims of Student Chaperon Injured While Whitewater Rafting Barred by Release (PA)

June 10, 2015

McDonald v. Whitewater Challengers, Inc. (Pennsylvania)

The plaintiff (a New York resident) was a school teacher who chaperoned seventh and eighth grade school children on a whitewater rafting field trip with other faculty members.  While she was rafting, her raft struck a large rock, causing her personal injury.  Plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against against the whitewater facility, alleging that the facility failed to provide a river guide/instructor in her boat, failed to provide a properly inflated raft, failed to advise her on the grade/class of whitewater rapids she would encounter, failed to instruct her on how to safely and effectively maneuver the rapids, and allowed an unsafe number of inexperiences rafters in the boat.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the waiver and release agreement signed by plaintiff prior to her participating in the rafting.  The trial court denied the motion.  Following further discovery, plaintiff then filed a motion for partial summary judgment arguing that New York law (and not Pennsylvania law) should be applied to the facts, and defendant filed a second motion for summary judgment.  Applying Pennsylvania law, the trial court denied both motions.  While the court acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously “affirmed the validity of such exculpatory releases in inherently dangerous recreational activities,” the court held that there were “material issues of fact existed regarding whether she was economically compelled to sign the release” by her employer/school.  The parties filed petitions for permission to file an interlocutory appeals, which were granted.

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Yellow Flag – Amusement Park Go-Kart Operator Not Liable for Injury from On-Track Collision (TX)

June 3, 2015

Weaver v. Celebration Station Properties, Inc. (Texas)

Kerri Weaver (“Weaver”) and her three children visited the defendant’s amusement park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Weaver took one of her children on a go-kart ride at the facility and was involved in an on-track incident.  Another driver bumped Weaver’s go-kart, causing Weaver to suffer a heel fracture.  Weaver filed a state court action in Texas, alleging defendant’s “negligent failure to inspect the amusement area, adequately warn customers not to bump into other go-karts, train and supervise its employees, and instruct and train go-kart drivers, caused her injury.”  Additionally, Weaver filed a claim on behalf of her minor child for “bystander suffering.”  The defendant timely removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction and, after discovery, moved to summary judgment, “arguing that it owed Weaver no duty to warn her about the open and obvious risks inherent in go-kart racing and, in any event, did not breach that duty.”

In opposition to the motion, Weaver argued that defendant “owed her a duty as a business invitee and breached this duty when it failed to guard against other reckless drivers.”  In her opposition, Weaver referred to her own deposition testimony and the deposition testimony of the defendant’s corporate representative.  However, Weaver failed to attach the deposition testimony to her opposition.  Defendant replied, reiterating its previous arguments and citing Weaver’s failure to attach the evidence.  Weaver filed a surreply, attaching the documents she failed to submit earlier, and the defendant moved to strike the surreply.

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Sea Sick

September 18, 2012

Wajnstat v. Oceania Cruises, Inc. (11th Circuit – Florida)
(A passenger on a cruise ship in the Black Sea became ill and sought medical attention from the ship’s doctor; he was evacuated from the ship and received numerous surgeries; he thereafter sued the cruise line alleging negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of the ship’s doctor; the court held granted the passenger’s motion for partial summary judgment at to the cruise line’s limitation-of-liability defense.)

A cruise ship passenger sued a cruise line for negligence in connection with the ship’s doctor.  The cruise line answered the complaint and raised the affirmative defense that its liability was limited by the Athens Convention (a multilateral treaty dealing with carriage of passengers and their luggage) as incorporated by reference into the limitation-of-liability provision in the passenger’s ticket contract.  The case ended up in federal court as a result of a forum-selection clause in the ticket contract.

The cruise line filed for partial summary judgment based on the limitation-of-liability affirmative defense.  The cruise line’s motion was denied, and the passenger’s cross motion fo partial summary judgment was granted.  The cruise line then filed an interlocutory appeal.

At issue at the trial court level was whether the “non-negotiated limitation-of-liability provision was enforceable.”  Applying the “reasonable communicativeness” test, the District Court held that “the provision was not reasonably communicative because it was confusing and because it required the passengers to parse through treaties and the statutes to determine the limit’s of [defendant’s] liability.”

On appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled that the pretrial order determining applicability of the limitation-of-liability provision was not immediately appealable.

NOTE: Although this case may be specific to its facts, one lesson to be learned is the impact of detailed and convoluted limitation-of-liability language in commercial transactions.  It is particularly difficult to enforce language that requires a special understanding or the incorporation of outside documentation and information.

Unfortunate Landing

September 6, 2012

Duchesneau v. Cornell University (Pennsylvania Court – New York Law Applied)
(An amateur gymnast suffered a significant injury while attempting a backflip on a rebounding Tumbl Trak apparatus; he sued the manufacturer of the apparatus for a failure to warn of the dangers associated with its use, and he sought punitive damages; the court denied the manufacturer’s motion, allowing the case to proceed to the jury.)

In its motion, the defendant manufacturer alleged (1) plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of failure to warn; (2) plaintiff was not entitled to punitive damages; and (3) plaintiff assumed the risk of injury when using the apparatus.  In support of its arguments, the manufacturer referred to “general knowledge” that “an individual might land on his head if he attempt[ed] a black flip on a rebounding [apparatus].”  Defendant also referred to plaintiff’s education in basic physics, the fact that he signed a waiver that stated that he understood the risks and dangers associated with gymnastics, the existence of a small warning label on the apparatus that warned of the potential for catastrophic injury (including paralysis or even death from falling on the head or neck), and plaintiff’s knowledge of the concept of spotting from his prior participation in cheerleading.  Viewing all of that evidence, defendant asserted that “‘common sense’ would have informed an individual that he or she was risking landing on their head by using the [apparatus], and, as such, [defendant] had no legal duty to warn Plaintiff.”

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You’re Fired

June 4, 2009

Christakis v. Mark Burnett Productions (California)
(Court dismisses the action of a disgruntled reality show applicant on procedural grounds, and finds that the applicant’s waiver and release was valid and binding to preclude liability.)

The plaintiff applied to be a participant on “The Apprentice,” a popular reality game show in which individuals compete against each other to prove their business skills and earn a coveted employment position with Donald Trump. Plaintiff was one of the fifty (50) finalists vying to make the show, but was ultimately not one of the final sixteen (16) selections. He thereafter filed a lawsuit in federal court in California, claiming that the production company engaged in “systematic actions” to disqualify him from the show, and that the production company made slanderous and defamatory statements about him. His complaint alleged (1) defamation; (2) tortuous interference with prospective economic advantage; and (3) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

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