Ejected – Claim of Youth Group Employee Thrown from Golf Cart at Fundraising Event Barred by Assumption of Risk (NY)

October 23, 2015 by

Valverde v. Great Expectations, LLC (New York)

An employee of a youth group was injured during a fund raising event at a golf course.  The employee was being driven in a golf cart by a 17-year-old participant in the event.  The participant tried to make a sharp turn into a parking lot and the employee flew out of the cart.  The employee filed a lawsuit against the participant, and the participant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the employee’s claims were barred by the doctrine of assumption of risk.  The trial court denied the participant’s motion, and he appealed.

On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court reversed the decision and entered judgment in favor of the participant.  The Court noted that in the context of a sporting or recreational event, not only do the participants consent to the risks inherent in the sport or event, but a “nonparticipant may also be subject to a defense based on the doctrine of assumed risk.”  The Court held that the employee knowingly and voluntarily rode in the gold cart during the golf tournament in which she was assigned to monitor one of the holes.  Even though the employee did not know the participant did not have a driver’s license, “she knew that he was a minor yet made no attempt to determine whether he had a license or whether he should be operating a golf cart.”  The Court further noted that it did not render the assumption of the risk doctrine inapplicable simply because the employee was not actively performing her duties of minoring the hole at the time of the incident.  The incident “occurred in a designated athletic or recreational venue.”

Finally, the employee argued that she was under an “inherent compulsion” to assume the risk, but the Court stated there was no evidence to support the claim.

 

No Sympathy – Claims of Injured Passenger in Go Kart Barred by Assumption of Risk; No Product Defect (NY)

October 22, 2015 by

Garnett v. Strike Holdings, LLC (New York)

The plaintiff rode as a passenger in a two-seat go kart driven by her then boyfriend.  While driving on the track, they were allegedly bumped twice by other go karts, allegedly causing the plaintiff to suffer injuries, including “reflex sympathy dystrophy.”  Plaintiff sued the operators of the indoor recreational facility, alleging negligent and defective design, strict products liability, failure to warn, and breach of warranty.

The defendants filed a motion to strike the products liability claim.  However, the trial court denied the motion finding (1) that [the operators] leasing and rental of the go-karts could support the inference that [the operators] had placed the go-karts within the distributive chain,” and (2) the operators’ “waiver form purporting to contain an “express assumption of risk, waiver indemnity and agreement not to sue” was void as against public policy and unenforceable by reason of” New York General Obligations Law Section 5-326.  The parties proceeded with discovery.

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Failure to Warn – Supreme Court Find Triable Issue Regarding School District’s Breach of Duty to Deceased Youth (WY)

October 21, 2015 by

Amos v. Lincoln County School District No. 2 (Wyoming)

A five-year-old boy was attending a basketball game at a school that had been converted to a community center.  He was playing with other children on a stage near the basketball court when a lunchroom bench tipped over and fell on top of him, causing a basal skull fracture and killing him instantly.  The lunchroom bench had been removed from the gymnasium wall and had been placed against the wall in a storage room adjacent to the stage.  A year later, the boy’s personal representative filed a wrongful death action against the school district, along with the town and county where the facility was located.

The county filed an “affidavit of noninvolvement” with the trial court in lieu of an answer.  In response, the trial court entered an order dismissing the county from the action without prejudice.  The court explained that it found that “there [were] not enough facts to show that [the county was] responsible but if facts come forward or are discovered that show that [the county was] responsible, either directly or indirectly, [the county] shall be reinstated as a Defendant.”

The school district filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it had turned over possession and maintenance of the building to the community group such that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care and was, therefore, entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  The trial court denied the school district’s motion, holding: “Viewing these basic facts in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the School District, as the owner, is in the same position as a landlord is to its tenants and their invitees. As such, it owed all persons entering the building as invitees the duty of reasonable and ordinary care under the circumstances.”  Notwithstanding the ruling, the trial court did express concern that the facts may not ultimately establish a breach of the school district’s duty or that the district’s actions were the proximate cause of the incident.

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No Relief – Issue of Town’s Liability Regarding Condition of High School Baseball Field for the Jury (MA)

October 19, 2015 by

Murray v. Town of Hudson (Massachusetts)

A relief pitcher for a high school baseball team injured his knee while warming up in the visiting team bullpen.  He filed a lawsuit against the town that maintained the park at which the baseball field was located, alleging that the injury was caused by the town’s negligence and its wanton and reckless conduct in allowing the visiting team to use a dangerous bullpen.  The town filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the negligence claim was barred by the Massachusetts recreational use statute, and that the evidence did not support a finding of wanton or reckless conduct.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the pitcher appealed.

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Bitten – Questions Certified to Supreme Court on Huge Jury Verdict for Student Stricken by Illness on School Tour (CT)

October 16, 2015 by

Munn v. Hotchkiss (Connecticut)

A fifteen-year-old freshman at a private boarding school participated in a month-long summer program in China organized by the school.  Prior to participating in the program, the school sent the student and her parents a packet outlining the activities and a set of legal forms requesting that the parents waive legal claims against the school.  The school also sent medical advice regarding the trip, including a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) webpage and a note that the school’s infirmary could “serve as a travel clinic.”  However, the CDC website reference was incorrect and the infirmary was unable to provide independent medical advice.  The school also later sent an itinerary, a packing list (including a general reference to “bug spray”), and a handbook on international travel.  However, there were no specific warnings about insect-borne diseases where health risks were mentioned in the materials.

During the program, the students went on a weekend excursion without any bug sprays warnings being given.  After walking through trees and brush, the student had numerous bug bites and an itchy welt on her left arm.  Ten days later, the student awoke with a headache, fever, and wooziness.  Her condition deteriorated and she was taken to the hospital.  Eventually, the student’s parents traveled to China from the United States to be with her in the hospital.  She was severely ill and partially paralyzed, and was airlifted back to New York.  The student was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (“TBE”), a viral infectious disease that affects the central nervous system.  She lost the ability to speak and lost cognitive function, although she managed to live a functional life, finishing high school and attending college.

The student and her parents filed a diversity action in federal court against the school, alleging that the school was negligent in the planning and supervision of the trip.  Plaintiffs claimed that the school failed to warn them about the risks of viral encephalitis and failed to provide her with protective clothing, bug spray, or vaccinations.  They also alleged that the school failed to provide medical personnel on the trip and failed to establish procedures for medical emergencies.  The defendant school argued that the “Agreement Waiver, and Release of Liability” form that was signed by the student’s parents prior to the program precluded liability, but the District Court excluded the document, finding that its language was ambiguous and that it was contrary to public policy under Connecticut law.

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Beyond Control – Woman Injured on Costa Rican Bicycle Tour; Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss (CO)

October 15, 2015 by

Steinfeld v. EmPG International, LLC (Colorado)
(trial court disposition)

A woman fell off her bicycle during a bicycle your vacation in Costa Rica.  She and her husband filed a lawsuit against the bicycle tour company.  The lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania where the plaintiffs resided, but the Pennsylvania District Court held that is lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant tour company that was based in Colorado.  The defendant filed a motion to dismiss based in large part on the assumption of risk and waiver of liability forms (“Releases”) signed by the plaintiffs prior to their participation in the tour.  However, the Colorado District Court applied Colorado law (as having the “most significant relationship” to claims), denied the motion, and allowed the case to proceed to discovery, finding that the Releases did not bar all of the plaintiffs claims.  The Court explained:

“A waiver implicitly or explicitly is grounded on warranties of fitness, and assumption of risk can only take place when the risk is inherent and clearly foreseeable.  The Complaint in this case abounds with allegations of misrepresentations and abandonment of good faith attempts to fulfill the obligations of the contract.”

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Unintended Consequences – Claims of Woman Injured on ATV Tour Not Barred by Prior Jeep Tour Waiver (CO)

October 1, 2015 by

Soucy v. Nova Guides, Inc. (Colorado)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff and her family, including her mother and two younger sisters, were vacationing in Vail, Colorado.  On July 9, 2012, plaintiff went on jeep tour, and on July 11, 2012, she went on an ATV tour.  Both tours were operated by the defendant tour guide company.  During the ATV tour, plaintiff’s ATV overturned, causing her personal injury, and plaintiff thereafter filed a negligence lawsuit.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by a waiver of liability that the plaintiff has signed prior to her participation.  However, the U.S. District Court ultimately held that there was a triable issue of fact as to the existence of a waiver of liability as between plaintiff and defendant in relation to the ATV tour.  The facts are a little convoluted.

Prior to participating in the jeep tour on July 9th, plaintiff signed a “Lease Agreement and Waiver of Liability” (the “Waiver”) on which a handwritten check mark appeared next to “Jeep tour.”  Nothing was marked next to the other options on the agreement, which were “ATV,” “Mtn. Bike,” and “Hiking.”  However, plaintiff did not sign another Waiver prior to taking part in the ATV tour on July 12th.  Plaintiff’s mother signed a Waiver for the ATV tour, and she listed plaintiff and her sisters as participants in the tour, but the mother did not have the capacity to sign the Waiver for the ATV tour on plaintiff’s behalf.

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Capped and Dismissed – Arbitration Provision with Damages Cap in Zip-Line Waiver and Release Enforced (VT)

September 30, 2015 by

Littlejohn v. Timberquest Park at Magic, LLC (Vermont)
(trial court disposition)

The seventy-six year old plaintiff was severely injured while participating in an adventure zip-line course in Vermont.  Plaintiff had never participated in an adventure course before.  Despite having received instruction from the zip-line facility, the plaintiff mistakenly attached his equipment to a guy wire, thinking it was a zip-line cable.  While descending, he ran into a tree that anchored the other end of the guy wire.  He sued the zip-line facility alleging that it negligently designed, constructed, and operated the course.

Plaintiff’s friend had purchased their tickets for the adventure course online through the facility’s website.  Plaintiff arrived at the facility, and they were presented with a “Release of Liability, Waiver of Claims, Indemnification, and Arbitration Agreement” to sign.  Plaintiff contended that the website had not warned them that they would be required to sign a liability waiver in order to participate in the activities.  The agreement was presented in digital format on an electronic device, and plaintiff was instructed to read and sign it electronically.  The agreement specifically included a provision pursuant to which the plaintiff agreed to submit any claims in excess of $75,000 to binding arbitration.  Alternatively, if plaintiff filed a lawsuit in court, the agreement provided that plaintiff agreed that his damages would be capped at $75,000.  The agreement further attempted to require the arbitration panel or court (as applicable) to decide the enforceability of the agreement as a “threshold matter.”

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Rather Shallow – Man Broke His Neck Diving Into Lake; Risk Deemed Open and Obvious (IL)

September 16, 2015 by

Bujnowski v. Birchland, Inc. (Illinois)
(not published)

The plaintiff was visiting a recreational area operated by the defendant.  He dove off a pier into a lake on the property and broke his neck.  He sued the defendant alleging that the defendant had no employees monitoring the area, and that the defendant was negligent in failing to supervise or train customers properly on the use of the are and failing to warn them of the dangers of using the area.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that it did not owe a duty to plaintiff because the danger of diving into water was open and obvious.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

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Ejected – Man Knocked Unconscious on Water Slide; Court Permits Amendment to Complaint Alleging Punitive Damages (PA)

September 10, 2015 by

Perez v. Great Wolf Lodge of the Poconos (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff Brian Perez was a paying guest and business invitee of the defendant Great Wolf Lodge, which operates a hotel and water park in the Poconos.  While riding on a water slide with his companions, Perez’s raft began “oscillating excessively,” causing him to strike his head and neck on the side of the ride, rendering him unconscious, and ejecting him from the ride.  Perez and his wife filed a complaint against the defendant alleging negligent overloading of the raft.  Discovery ensued and was very contentious.  There was what was characterized as a “failure of discovery by the defendants for much of the first year of this litigation.”  At some point, the initial attorney representing the defendant was replaced.  Thereafter, some significant additional disclosures, totaling approximately 5,000 pages of material, were made by the defendant.  As a result of the disclosures, the plaintiffs filed a motion to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages to the lawsuit.

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