Archive for the ‘Intentional Tort’ Category

Bite Worse Than the Bark – Whether Adopter of Dog Reasonably Relied on Representation of Shelter is a Jury Issue (NY)

June 2, 2015

 

Lawrence v. North Country Animal Control Center, Inc. (New York)

Plaintiffs adopted a basset hound named Brutus from the defendant facility, a not-for-profit animal shelter.  Less than a month later, the dog attacked one of plaintiffs’ other dogs.  One of the plaintiffs was able to separate the animals, but Brutus attacked the plaintiff during the altercation, causing severe injuries to both of his arms.  An employee of the defendant facility removed the dog from the plaintiffs’ home on the same day.  The defendant facility thereafter refused to return the dog to the plaintiffs and sent the dog to a rescue organization out of state.  Plaintiffs tracked down Brutus’ prior owner, who claimed that about a month prior to the adoption, Brutus had been turned over to the defendant facility “to be euthanized because he had attacked the owner and her child.”

Plaintiffs filed an action against the defendant facility and its employee, alleging causes of action for, among other things, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, products liability, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The defendants moved for summary judgment, and plaintiffs cross-moved to amend the complaint and for summary judgment on their claim for intentional spoliation (the defendant facility did not produce Brutus and did not know its current whereabouts).  The trial court granted the cross-motion to amend, denied plaintiffs’ cross motion for summary judgment, and treated the claim for spoliation as a request for sanctions.  However, the trial court ruled (without prejudice to raise the issue again upon completion of discovery) that it was not imposing sanctions in connection with the defendants failure to produce the dog.  The trial court further partially granted the defendants’ motion, dismissing the products liability claim and one other cause of action.  The plaintiffs and defendants both appealed. (more…)

Stuck Between a Dumbbell and a Hard Place – Fitness Club Members Claims RE Smashed Finger Dismissed (TX)

May 12, 2015

 

Grijalva v. Bally Total Fitness (Texas)

Plaintiff had been a member of defendant’s health and fitness club for many years.  When he joined, plaintiff signed a detailed Membership Application, which included waiver and release and assumption of risk language.  About a year after he joined, plaintiff was injured while lifting weights.  His finger was caught between his own weights and a set of weights that was left on the floor by another member, causing disfigurement and loss of use.  Plaintiff sued the defendant club for premises liability, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of common law warranty, fraudulent inducement, and breach of contract.  In particular, plaintiff alleged that there were “several weights or dumbbells left around the various benches nearby [the bench where he was lifting weights] that were not returned to their regular and specific rack locations.”  A set of those weights left by another member caused plaintiff’s injury.  The intentional conduct claim was based on plaintiff’s allegation that the defendant failed to assist him “in mitigating the extent of his injuries to his finger” by “failing to summon medical assistance immediately.”

Defendant moved for summary judgment, contending (1) plaintiff had waived his right to pursue his negligence claims by executing the waiver and release provisions of the Membership Application, and (2) plaintiff could not provide evidence of all essential elements of his remaining claims.  Initially, plaintiff asserted that he did not sign a waiver and release in the Membership Agreement (he claimed that while he signed the second page of the agreement, the waiver and release provision is on the third page, which he did not sign), that he did not “speak and write English properly,” and that the club did not discuss the waiver and release with him.  He also argued that the waiver and release in the Membership Application did not meet Texas’ “fair notice requirement” because it was not conspicuous.  The trial court granted the club’s motion, dismissing plaintiff’s claims, and plaintiff appealed.

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Slipping and Sliding Away

September 20, 2012

Close v. Darien Lake Theme Park and Camping Resort, Inc. (New York)
(A guest at an amusement park suffered an injury on a water ride and sued the park; the court held that the park owner was not liable for the injury.)

In this very short opinion, the Court explained, “[B]y engaging in a sport or recreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation.”  It also noted that “[a]wareness of the risk is ‘to be assessed against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff’.'”  The defendant had successfully met its burden by proving that the plaintiff understood and voluntarily assumed the risks.  Despite, plaintiff’s contention to the contrary, the plaintiff was unable to raise a triable issue regarding reckless or intentional conduct or that there was a dangerous concealed condition.

NOTE: The published opinion does not include any factual details of the incident or the facility’s specific role in the incident.

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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Wreck-less Behavior

July 20, 2012

Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corporation (Pennsylvania)
(A snow tuber involved in a collision sued a ski resort for negligence and reckless conduct;  the trial court granted the defendant’s motion, dismissing the entire action based on the waiver and release signed by the plaintiff; the decision was overturned on appeal as to the reckless conduct allegations.)

The plaintiff was participating in snow tubing activities at the defendant’s ski resort.  On her fifth run of the day, she was struck by another participant coming down the run.  She was also narrowly missed by others.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the ski resort, which filed a motion for summary judgment based upon a pre-printed release form that plaintiff had signed prior to participation.  The release applied to all liability that was “the result of negligence or any other improper conduct on the part of the snowtubing facility.”

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Rubbin’ Is Not Racin’

May 4, 2011

Pit Area Intentional Misconduct (Nebraska)
(Race car driver who intentionally drove into another participant in a restricted area receives criminal sentence.)

Short track race car driver Cory Dumpert was recently sentenced to 18 months probation by a judge in Cass County, Nebraska in connection with an incident that occurred at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska in June of 2010.  Dumpert intentionally sped through the infield pit area and slammed into the car driven by fellow racer Chad Sanders, who received minor injuries.  Dumpert was suspended for a year and fined $500 by the track.  Criminal charges were filed against Dumpert and he was ultimately sentenced on charges of third-degree assault and criminal mischief.

NOTE: It will be interesting to see if Sanders brings a civil action against Dumpert and/or the track. Waiver and release documents are enforceable in Nebraska and the track also potentially could be expected to assert that as a defense to any civil action brought by Sanders. One might expect an argument to be made, however, that being injured as a result of Dumpert’s intentional assault is not an incident that is reasonably related to the claimant’s auto racing activities at the track.

Reality for Dr. Phil

January 27, 2011

Dieu v. Phil McGraw (California)
(Participants recruited to participate in a Dr. Phil reality show sue for negligence and intentional tort claims; waiver and release agreements signed by the participants do not preclude liability for the claims beyond negligence.)

After posting comments on Dr. Phil’s website about their distrust for men, the plaintiffs were recruited by producers to participate in a reality-based television show where they would live in a house and receive therapy from Dr. Phil.  Prior to their participation in the show, the plaintiffs signed several copies of “Dr. Phil Program Appearance Release” forms, all of which were substantially the same (the “Releases”).  In addition to describing the nature of the show (including “heated discussions, commentary and remarks”), the Releases also provided that the plaintiffs agreed not to sue the defendants for failure to disclose the subject matter of the show or the identity of guests, or as a result of dislike of the questioning or outcome from the program.  Additionally, the Releases asserted that the plaintiffs would be not receive therapy from Dr. Phil (contrary to alleged prior representations) and that no representations had been made to (or would be relied upon by) plaintiffs.  Specifically, the Releases waived and released liability of the defendants for “any claims, demands and causes of action for invasion of privacy or publicity, defamation, infliction of emotional distress and any other tort in connection therewith.”

Plaintiffs had a bad experience in connection with the program, alleging that the “mock house” was on a sound stage, was cramped (they shared one bathroom), and was in a bad neighborhood.  Plaintiffs further alleged that they had their laptops and cell phones taken from them and they were not permitted access to the outside world.  The plaintiff assert that they were not provided counseling, and when a plaintiff asked to leave she was convinced to stay through unfulfilled representations by the defendants.  In one instance, the plaintiffs were intentionally exposed to a naked man and were apparently mocked as a result of their reactions (they were “shocked and horrified”).  Despite a lack of cooperation, the plaintiff indicated that there were eventually allowed to leave the house.  Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed a civil action against the defendants alleging various emotional and physical injuries from the experience, asserting claims for (1) fraud, (2) negligent misrepresentation, (3) negligence, (4) breach of fiduciary duty, (5) violations of the Business and Professions Code, (6) rescission, (7 intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress.

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Not Making the Grade

November 26, 2007

Harris v. I-44 Lebanon (Missouri)
(Late Model Race Car Driver Injured While Racing on a Dirt Track When a Large Rock Hit His Helmet; Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Waiver and Release Denied; Defense Verdict Issued After Trial)

The case involved late model racing on an oval dirt track in Lebanon, Missouri. The Plaintiff was a 51-year-old lifelong dirt track racer who was injured in 2003 when he was struck by a rock in the mouth area of his helmet during a late model dirt track race.

Roughly five months before this accident, the Lebanon I-44 Speedway was converted from an asphalt track to a dirt race track, which involved laying dirt over the asphalt surface. The initial batch of dirt was unsatisfactory so the track preparer, Randy Mooneyham, removed this dirt and put an entirely new type of dirt on the track. After it was placed on the track, he then used a rock picker, a rock rake and a grader to work the debris out of the track and pack it down throughout the 2003 season. Plaintiff raced on the track several times during 2003 before his accident.

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