Archive for the ‘College/University’ Category

The Art of Recreation – University Not Permitted to Assert Recreational Use Statute Protection Against Spectator Claim (TX)

April 21, 2015

University of Texas at Arlington v. Sandra Williams (Texas)

The plaintiff and her husband attended their daughter’s soccer game played at the football stadium at the University of Texas at Arlington.  She leaned against a gate that separated the stands from the playing field, and the gate unexpectedly opened, causing her to fall five feel to the artificial turf below.  Plaintiff injured a rib and her left arm and sued the University for premises liability, alleging negligence and gross negligence.  As part of its responsive pleadings, the University filed a motion to dismiss claiming (among other things) liability protection under the Texas recreational use statute.

Texas’ recreational use statute (like many similar statutes in other jurisdictions) protects landowners who open property for recreational purposes, limiting their liability to the recreational user.  In such cases, the burden of proof is elevated, requiring either gross negligence or an intent to injure.  Ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed the decision of both the trial court and the court of appeals and determined that a spectator at a competitive sports event is not “recreation” under the statute such that the liability protection did not apply.

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Target Practice

September 20, 2012

Bukowski v. Clarkson University (New York)
(A university baseball pitcher was injured by a line drive while participating in a practice, and he sued the university and his head coach;  the court found that the pitcher had assumed the inherent risk of being hit by the baseball and affirmed the trial court’s directed verdit in favor of the defendants.)

The plaintiff was injured after throwing a fastball to a batter during “live” indoor practice without a protective screen.  The batter struck the ball which hit the plaintiff in the jaw and broker his tooth.  After the lawsuit was filed, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied.  At trial, plaintiff argued “that the risk of being hit by a batted ball was enhanced due to the multicolored pitching backdrop and low lighting at the indoor facility, which made it harder to see the white ball, and the failure to use an L-screen.”

At the close of evidence, the trial court granted defendants’ motion for a directed verdict “on the ground that plaintiff assumed the commonly appreciated risk in baseball of being hit by a line drive.”  Plaintiff appealed.

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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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More Bad News for Minor Sports

December 17, 2010

Galloway v. State (Iowa)
(14-year-old injured on an educational field trip; Supreme Court of Iowa rules that public policy precludes enforcement of parents’ pre-injury waiver on behalf of minor.)

The 14-year-old plaintiff was struck by a car while crossing the street during an educational field trip organized by the University of Northern Iowa and the State of Iowa. Prior to participation in the event, the plaintiff’s mother signed both a “Field Trip Permission Form” and a “Release and Medical Authorization.” Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the State, alleging negligence. The State filed a motion for summary judgment based on the documents signed by the mother, and the District Court ruled that the released constituted a valid waiver of claims, granting the motion. Plaintiff appealed, and the Iowa Supreme Court ultimately reversed the ruling. After balancing public policy interests against the need to enforce contracts, the Supreme Court explained that although deference is given to parents’ decisions affecting the control of their children, such deference has limitations in some contexts.

The court noted that “children must be accorded a measure or protection against improvident decisions of their parents.” The Court also considered the “harsh consequences of preinjury releases,” and noted that there is “a clear majority of other courts deciding such releases are unenforceable.” The State argued that as a result of the Court’s ruling, “recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities for youths will cease because organizations sponsoring them will be unable or unwilling to purchase insurance or otherwise endure the risks of civil liability.” However, the Court asserted that “the fear of dire consequences from our adoption of the majority rule is speculative and overstated,” noting that they found no reason to believe that such opportunities had been comprised in those other jurisdictions.

NOTE: With this ruling, Iowa joins more than 15 other jurisdictions with similar reulings against minor waiver and release agreements. Approximately 11 jursidictions have case law or statutes speaking favorably to minor agreements, while the remainder of jurisdictions remain undecided. The current trend across the country seems to be against enforcement of preinjury waiver and release agreements signed by parents on behalf of minors participating in recreational activities.

Caution: Supervision Required

October 24, 2007

Patterson v. Sacramento City Unified School District (California)
(Truck Driver Student Injured Unloading Bleachers During a Community Service Project; School Owed a Duty to Supervise; Activity Not Inherently Dangerous and Primary Assumption of Risk Doctrine Did Not Apply)

The plaintiff was an adult truck driver training course student. He brought a negligent supervision action against a school district after he was injured while loading bleachers onto a flat-bed trailer as part of an off-campus community service project. The defendant school district filed a motion for summary judgment, which was eventually granted by the trial court. The court ruled, in part, that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the primary assumption of the risk doctrine in that he voluntarily assumed the risks inherent in the activity and the defendant did nothing to increase those risks. The plaintiff appealed.

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Fair Game

June 22, 2007

Cottrell v. NCAA (Alabama)
(Former Assistant Football Coach Sues NCAA and an Independent Scout for Defamation [among other things]; No Liability for NCAA; New Trial Granted to Scout Following Verdict in Favor of Recruiting Coordinator)

Former assistant football coaches at a state university had been charged with recruiting violations. After the charges, the coaches brought a lawsuit against the NCAA and an independent recruiting scout, alleging defamation, false-light invasion of privacy, conspiracy and negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all of the coaches’ claims except for the defamation claim asserted against the scout by the coach who served as recruiting coordinator. A jury awarded a verdict in favor of the recruiting coordinator. However, the Circuit Court then granted the scout’s motion for a new trial. Appeals were filed.

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