Scuba Tragedy – Diver Drowns; Releases Enforceability to Protect Diver Association from Ordinary Negligence (HI)

September 3, 2015 by

Hambrock v. Smith (Hawaii)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff, her husband, and their children went on a recreational scuba diving excursion that departed from Hawaii.  During the excursion, plaintiff’s husband died by drowning.  Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against numerous defendants, including (1) the dive guide on the scuba excursion (“Smith”), (2) the co-captain of the dive vessel (“McCrea”), (3) a dive training organization and an association for diving instructors and dive centers in which both the Smith and McCrea were members (“PADI”), and (4) the corporate entity out of which the Smith and McCrea ran their scuba excursions (“HSS”).  The lawsuit alleged negligence (all defendants), gross negligence (all defendants), and vicarious liability on theories of apparent agency, agency by estoppel, and maritime joint venture (against PADI).

PADI filed a motion seeking summary judgment as to both the negligence claims and the vicarious liability claims against it (i.e., all claims except gross negligence) based on the liability releases signed by the plaintiff and her family prior to the scuba diving activities.  In addition to opposing PADI’s motion, the plaintiff also filed a motion for partial summary judgment of her own, challenging the enforceability of the releases.  In addressing the enforceability of the releases, the U.S. District Court for Hawaii reviewed both admiralty law and Hawaii state law.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Baled” Out – Woman Trips on Stairs at Farm; Indemnity Agreement in Release Contrary to Public Policy (CT)

September 2, 2015 by

Squinobal v. Zenko (Connecticut)

Plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on wooden stairs located on the defendant’s premises.  The defendant operated a farm and equestrian facility.  At the time of the incident, plaintiff was carrying a bale of hay and seed to a feed trailer.  Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that her injuries resulted from the negligence and carelessness of the defendant.  The defendant filed a counterclaim based on a “Lesson, Horse Rental, and Arena Use Release” document (“Release”) signed by the plaintiff in order to ride horses at the facility.  The defendant then filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff had a duty to defend and indemnify the defendant under the terms of the Release. Read the rest of this entry »

Out of Control? – Woman Injured by Display at Conference Wins Jury Verdict; Evidence Properly Excluded at Trial (MO)

September 1, 2015 by

Medley v. Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc. (Missouri)

The plaintiff attended a conference that was hosted by the defendant, and she was injured when she tripped over a window display set up in a boutique vendor area at the conference.  Plaintiff filed an action against the defendant for premises liability, alleging (1) that she was an invitee of the defendant, (2) the defendant controlled (or had the right to control) the boutique area that included the display, (3) the defendant negligently placed the window display in a crowded and congested area, and (4) plaintiff suffered injuries and damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence.

During trial, the defendant attempted to introduce documentary evidence, including a license agreement, between the defendant and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (“CVC”) showing CVC’s involvement in the conference.  Plaintiff objected to the evidence  as irrelevant, and the trial court sustained the objections.  Defendant also sought to introduce witness testimony about CVC’s involvement in the conference and CVC’s relationship with the defendant.  However, the trial court held: “(1) there was no evidence to suggest that Defendant was not in possession of the premises where Plaintiff’s injury occurred; (2) the only relevant relationship in the case was the relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant; and (3) the evidence presented by Defendant in its offer of proof was not relevant.”  Thereafter, the defendant sought the introduction of a jury instruction that stated: “Your verdict must be for [D]efendant if you believe that [D]efendant was not in possession or control of the premises.” However, the trial court refused to submit the instruction.

Upon the conclusion of the trial, the jury entered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, finding that plaintiff’s total damages were $400,000.  The verdict assessed defendant seventy percent at fault and plaintiff thirty percent at fault, thereby awarding plaintiff $280,000 in damages.  The court entered a judgment consistent with the verdict, and defendant filed a motion for a new trial.  The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed. Read the rest of this entry »

(Un)Safe! – High School Softball Playing Injured During Sliding Drill; Triable Issues Regarding Increased Risks (NY)

August 31, 2015 by

Brown v. Roosevelt Union Free School District (New York)

A high school senior softball player was injured while participating in an infield sliding drill during softball practice on an elementary school field.  The team was practicing on the elementary school field because the high school field was being renovated.  The injured player’s mother filed a lawsuit on her behalf alleging that the coach increased the inherent risks of the softball by having her perform an infield sliding drill on a grass field.  The defendant school filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the claim was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.  Defendant asserted that under the law, the risks of an activity include risks associated with the construction of the playing surface and any open and obvious condition on it.  The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant appealed.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court decision.  The Court concluded that “the defendants failed to establish, prima facie, that the infant’s coach, by having her perform an infield sliding drill on the subject grass field, did not unreasonably increase the inherent risks of the activity.”  In that the defendant failed to meet its burden, the Court said it did not need to determine the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s opposition papers.

Carried Away – Woman Injured on Zip Line; Enforcement of Release Dependent on “Common Carrier” Factual Determination (IL)

August 28, 2015 by

Dodge v. Grafton Zipline Adventures, LLC (Illinois)

Plaintiff was a paying guest on an aerial zip line course operated by the defendant.  Like the other guests, plaintiff was outfitted with a harness and pulley system that attached to the suspended cables and was supposed to allow her to control her speed by braking on descents.  However, on the eighth run on the zip line course, the plaintiff’s braking system failed.  She approached the landing platform as a high rate of speed, and she struck the trunk of the tree on which the lading platform was mounted.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant alleging that the defendant was a common carrier that breached its duty of care by negligently designing and operating the zip line course, intentionally and recklessly violating safety regulations promulgated by the Illinois Department of Labor, and thereby engaging in willful and wanton misconduct.  Plaintiff also alleged that defendant was negligent in instructing her, inspecting and maintaining the braking system, and failing to prevent the incident.

Read the rest of this entry »

Front Row Seats – Woman Injured by Stampede in Overcrowded Movie Theater; Crowd Control Liability for the Jury (NY)

August 27, 2015 by

Sachar v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. (New York)

Plaintiff was escorting a group of teenagers to see a free screening of a movie.   Plaintiff’s group was directed to an upper level to find seat, but was then told to turn around and go downstairs.  As the group was returning, there was a sudden stampede of people rushing from behind.  The assistant manager of the movie theater confirmed that there appeared to have been a stampede, and an employee of the movie studio that produced the movie testified that the event was overbooked to ensure that the theater was filled to capacity.

As a result of the stampede, plaintiff was pushed forward and she was “hurled in the air,” suffering personal injury.  Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the movie theater and the movie studio.  The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which were granted by the trial court.  Plaintiff filed a motion to reargue the motions, and upon re-argument, the trial court denied the defendants’ motion.  The defendants then appealed.

On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the decision.  The Court explained that “[u]nder the circumstances presented, involving the deliberate overbooking of a theater for a free film screening, defendants were required to show that they took adequate crowd control measures to address the foreseeable risks to those attending in order to meet their prima facie burden of demonstrating entitlement to summary judgment.”  However, the defendants failed to present evidence that adequate crowd control measure were in place at the time of the incident.  The Court also stated that “the deposition testimony also creates an issue of fact as to [the movie studio’s] specific security duties, as sponsors of the event, at the screening.”

 

Blown Engine – Drag Racer Dies During a Track Rental Session; Racetrack Faced with Triable Issues, Possible Punitive Damages (NJ)

August 26, 2015 by

Cruz v. ATCO Raceway, Inc. (New Jersey)
(trial court disposition)

Jose Cruz was involved a fiery crash that occurred at the drag racing strip owned by the defendant.  The accident was caused by a “catastrophic engine failure,” and Jose was severely burned.  Although he managed to escape the car and walk away from the wreck, he ultimately died at the hospital.  A lawsuit was filed by Jose’s widow on her own behalf and on behalf of Jose’s estate, alleging negligence, negligence per se, wrongful death, and survivorship.  The lawsuit also sought punitive damages.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the New Jersey District Court granted the motion in part and denied the motion in part. Read the rest of this entry »

A Trip to the Festival – Woman Injured from Exposed Pipe on Unpaved Walkway to a Parking Lot; Issues of Fact for the Jury (FL)

August 21, 2015 by

Cook v. Bay Area Renaissance Festival of Largo, Inc. (Florida)

Plaintiff attended a festival organized by the defendant, and she tripped and fell over an exposed pipe on an unpaved walkway connecting the festival grounds to an overflow parking lot.  Plaintiff filed an action action against the organizer, contending that it negligently maintained the property where the incident occurred.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there was no proof that it had control over the premises where the incident occurred.  Although plaintiff was directed by festival volunteers to park in the overflow parking, there was conflicting testimony concerning whether the volunteers directed her to use the unpaved walkway.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed the decision and remanded the matter for further proceedings.  First, the Court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the organizer had exercised control of the unpaved area.  The Court stated “[a] party ‘who assumes control over the premises in question, no matter under what guise, assumes also the duty to keep them in repair.'”  The defendant was clearly using the overflow parking, and there was conflicting evidence as to whether the defendant intended its invitees to use the unpaved walkway.  The Court also noted that the evidence showed that the defendant took action to remove the pipe from the area after the incident.  Such evidence suggested the defendant’s control over the premises.

Second, the Court held there was also a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the pipe was a dangerous condition, and whether warnings from the plaintiff’s husband and other attendees were sufficient to absolve the defendant from liability.  The defendant argued that the pipe was “open and obvious,” such that it did not owe her a duty to warn her about the hazard.  However, the Court explained that “even when a hazard is open and obvious, a landowner or possessor can still be held liable for failing ‘to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injury’ to invitees.”

 

A Racing Incident – Claims of Go Kart Driver Injured by Driver with Down Syndrome to be Decided by a Jury (NY)

August 20, 2015 by

Corneli v. Adventure Racing Co., LLC (New York)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff participated as driver in go kart activities at the defendant’s racing entertainment facility, and he was injured when his go kart was struck by the go kart operated by defendant C.S., a seventeen-year-old who suffered from Down’s Syndrome.  Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the facility, alleging that the facility was negligent in the ownership, operation, management, maintenance supervision, staff training and control of the go kart ride and in the supervision and control of C.S.  The lawsuit was also filed against C.S. for negligently operating and driving the go kart, and C.S.’s alleged mother and father for negligent entrustment and allowing C.S. to negligently operate the go kart in a dangerous manner.

The defendant go kart facility filed a motion for summary judgment based on the doctrine of assumption of risk.  C.S.’s alleged mother and father filed cross-claims against the facility, and the mother and father filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that they were not responsible for C.S.’s conduct.  Plaintiff then filed his own motion for summary judgment.  The New York U.S. District Court addressed each motion in turn.
Read the rest of this entry »

Let It Snow – Triable Issue Existed as to Whether Nine Year Old That Collided with Snowmaking Machine Assumed the Risk (PA)

August 19, 2015 by

MD ex rel Mora-Dillon v. Ski Shawnee (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff was a nine year old girl that participated in a ski trip with her elementary school as a novice skier with no skiing experience other than three lessons.  As she was skiing down one of the slopes, she collided with a snowmaking machine, suffering several bone fractures and other injuries.  Plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the ski resort, contending that the resort failed to adequately place padding on the metal components of the snowmaking machine.  The ski resort filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it had no duty to protect plaintiff from the inherent risks associated with downhill skiing.  Defendant argued that even though plaintiff had no knowledge of the risk presented, the plaintiff implicitly assumed the risk of colliding with snowmaking equipment, negating any duty it had to plaintiff. Read the rest of this entry »