Honeycutt v Meridian Sports Club LLC (2014) H&FLR 2014-64

Tanya Honeycutt v Meridian Sports Club LLC (2014) H&FLR 2014-64

California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District)

21 October 2014

Coram: Mosk PJ, Kriegler and Goodman JJ

Appearing for the Plaintiff: Marilyn H. Nelson and Abram Charles Zukor (of Zukor & Nelson)
Appearing for the Defendant: Anthony J Ellrod and Ladell Hulet Muhlestein (of Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester)

Catchwords: California – negligence – kickboxing – assumption of risk – waiver – instructor – inherent risk

Facts: The plaintiff attended a kickboxing class at the defendant’s premises taught by instructor Hakeem Alexander.  Before the class the plaintiff signed an assumption of risk agreement and waiver of liability for injury. While assisting the plaintiff to perform properly a roundhouse kick, Alexander grabbed her right ankle between the ankle and knee and instructed her to ‘rotate’ without providing further direction.  She rotated her left knee, suffering a significant knee injury.

The plaintiff sought compensation for personal injury caused by negligence and gross negligence.  The trial court granted the defendant’s application for summary judgment based on the waiver signed by the plaintiff: Honeycutt v Meridian Sports Club LLC (Los Angeles County Superior Court, Cotton J, 7 January 2014, unreported). The plaintiff appealed.

Held: Dismissing the appeal, that –

1.  Primary assumption of risk arises when a defendant owes no duty to protect a plaintiff from a particular harm. It precludes liability for injuries arising from risks inherent in a sport.

Avila v Citrus Community College District (2006) 38 Cal.4th 148, followed.

2.  Coaches and instructors have a duty not to increase the risks inherent in sports participation, and breach their duty of care to a student or athlete if they intentionally injure the athlete or engage in conduct that is ‘reckless’ (that is, wholly outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in teaching or coaching the sport.

Kahn v East Side Union High School District (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990, followed.

3.  Injuries to shoulders, hands and knees are inherent risks in a vigourous physical activity like kickboxing.  In this case the plaintiff’s injury was squarely within the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.  The coaches actions did not increase the inherent risks.

4.  Gross negligence (which if found would avoid the waiver) is a “want of even scant care” or “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct”. That another instructor would have acted differently is not evidence of cross negligence

City of Santa Barbara v Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, followed.
Decker v City of Imperial Beach (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 349, considered.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

Wilson v O’Gorman High School (2008) H&FLR 2014-50

Andrea Wilson v O’Gorman High School and Others (2008) H&FLR 2014-50

United States District Court (District of South Dakota)

26 June 2008

Coram: Schreier CJ

Appearing for the plaintiff: Steve Landon (of Cadwell Sanford Deibert & Garry LLP)
Appearing for the Defendants: Jim McMahon (of Murphy, Goldammer & Prendergast, LLP)

Catchwords: South Dakota – gymnastics – coaching – injury – standard of care – assumption of risk

Facts: The plaintiff was a gymnast and took part in high school gymnastics with the defendant. On 22 January 2003 as part of school gymnastic training she was practicing a manoeuvre known as the “reverse hecht” under the supervision of a coach supplied by the school. She had attempted the manoeuvre about thirty times that day. On her final attempt she released the bar late and fell, suffering severe injuries.

The plaintiff brought proceedings in negligence against the school and coach, alleging (inter alia) that the coach had attempted to instruct her in the reverse hecht despite not being trained to do so, that he had failed to prevent her practicing the manoeuvre as many as thirty times, and that he had not moved her to a foam pit where she could more safely practice the manoeuvre despite her multiple failed attempts.

The defendants disputed the applicable standard of care and also asserted voluntary assumption of risk and contributory negligence. The defendants sought summary dismissal of her claim.

Held: Refusing the application for summary judgment –

1. To establish negligence a plaintiff must establish that there was a duty on the part of defendants, that they failed to meet that duty, and that this failure resulted in injury*.

Kuehl v Horner (JW) Lumber Co, 678 NW.2d 809 (SD 2004), followed.

2. The standard of care is not reduced for people engaged in sporting activities, like coaches or sports administrators. The general standard of care applies.

Kahn v East Side Union High School District, 75 P.3d 30 (Cal. 2003), not followed.
Gasper v Freidel, 450 NW.2d 226 (SD 1990), distinguished.
Rantapaa v Black Hills Chair Lift Co, 633 NW.2d 196 (SD 2001), considered.

3. Application of the general negligence standard still allows the defendant to allege assumption of risk.  To succeed on this basis a defendant must show that the plaintiff had actual or constructive knowledge of the risk, appreciated its character, and voluntarily accepted the risk (having had the time, knowledge, and experience to make an intelligent choice). However, a plaintiff is not obliged to anticipate the negligent conduct of others.

Goepfert v Filler, 563 NW.2d 140 (SD 1997) and Ray v Downes, 576 NW.2d 896 (SD 1998), followed.

Judgment
The Court’s judgment is available here.
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* The defendants did not dispute that they owed the plaintiff a duty of care.

Coomer v Kansas City Royals (2014) H&FLR 2014-41

John Coomer v Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation (2014) H&FLR 2014-41

Supreme Court of Missouri

24 June 2014

Coram: Court en banc (Judgment by Wilson J)

Appearing for the Appellant: Robert Tormohlen (of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh)
Appearing for the Respondent: Scott D. Hofer (of Foland, Wickens, Eisfelder, Roper & Hofer, PC )

Catchwords: Missouri – baseball – mascot – hotdog toss – baseball rule – injury – negligence – assumption of risk – inherent risk

Facts: On 8 September 2009 the plaintiff attended a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium between the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers. Since 2000 a feature of Royals’ home games has been the practice of their mascott (“Sluggerrr“)* tossing hotdogs to members of the crowd. The plaintiff saw Sluggerrr commence throwing hotdogs. He turned to look at the scoreboard and at that moment was hit in the face by a hotdog, causing injury to his left eye.

He commenced proceedings against the defendant alleging negligence and battery. A jury in the trial court returned a finding of no negligence: Coomer v Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation (2011), The Pitch Blog, 9 March 2011. The plaintiff appealed.

Held: Allowing the appeal –

1. An implied primary assumption of risk by a plaintiff can be identified from their conduct and the surrounding circumstances, including whether a risk is inherent to the activity. Where this has occurred, a plaintiff who knowingly and voluntarily encounters that risk is barred from seeking compensation for resulting injuries. This defence is not affected by the acceptance in law of the principle of comparative fault

Krause v US Truck Co Inc, 787 SW.2d 708 (Mo. 1990), followed.
Gustafson v Benda, 661 SW.2d 11 (Mo. 1983), considered.

2. The “baseball rule”, whereby a ballpark owner is not considered negligent for failing to protect all seats in the park with wire netting and failing to warn a plaintiff about obvious hazards incidental to baseball, is an example of the principle of applied primary assumption of risk.**

Hudson v Kansas City Baseball Club, 164 SW.2d 318 (Mo. 1942); Anderson v Kansas City Baseball Club, 231 SW.2d 170 (Mo. 1950), considered.

3. Where a plaintiff’s injury results from a risk that is not an inherent part of watching baseball, or if the defendant’s negligence has increased the inherent risks and caused the injury, negligence may be found.

Lowe v California League of Professional Baseball, 56 Cal.App.4th 112 (1997), followed.

4. Whether a risk is ‘inherent’ for the purposes of implied primary assumption of risk is a question of law and not of fact. A risk is inherent if it is so intertwined with the relevant activity that it cannot be controlled or limited without abandoning the activity altogether. In this case the risk if injury from the ‘hotdog toss’ was not an inherent part of watching the Royals play baseball, and a risk which the plaintiff assumed by attending the game.

Loughran v The Phillies, 888 A.2d 872 (Pa. 2005); Cohen v Stirling Mets LP, 17 Misc.3d 218 (NY Sup. Ct. 2007), distinguished.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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* Properly, one John Byron Shores.
** South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39.

Cole v Boy Scouts of America (2011) H&FLR 2014-24

Karen Cole & Ors v Boy Scouts of America & Ors (2011) H&FLR 2014-24

Supreme Court of South Carolina

5 December 2011

Coram: Toal CJ, Beatty, Kittredge, Hearn and Pleicones JJ.

Appearing for the Appellant: Arthur K Aiken (of Aiken & Hightower PA)
Appearing for the Respondent: John M Grantland, Alice P Adams and Ashley B Stratton (of Murphy & Grantland)

Catchwords: South Carolina – Cub Scout function – softball – unscored – collision between players – contact sport – assumption of risk – nature of sport – breach of rules – recklessness

Facts: At a Cub Scout function, David Cole Sr and David Cole Jr participated in an unscored father-son softball game.  Cole Sr was playing in the catcher’s position and, during a play, moved to stand on top of home plate.  A father on the opposing team – Wagner – ran towards home plate in an attempt to score.  He collided with Cole Sr, causing significant injuries.  The incident was witnessed by Cole Jr.

Cole Sr, his wife Karen Cole and Cole Jr brought proceedings against (among others) Wagner and the organisers of the game.  Wagner sought summary judgment which the trial court granted.  The plaintiffs appealed.

Held: Dismissing the appeal, per Toal CJ, Beatty, Kittredge and Hearn JJ –

1.  A person who chooses to take part in a contact sport (which includes softball) assumes the risks inherent in the sport, and a defendant is not obliged to protect the person from those risks.  The key factor is the nature of the sport involved, and not whether the sport is professional or amateur, organised or unorganised, or supervised or unsupervised.

Hurst v East Coast Hockey League, 673 SE.2d 560 (SC 2006); Marchetti v Kalish, 559 NE.2d 699 (Ohio 1990); Keller v Mols, 509 NE.2d 584 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994), followed.

2.  Although Wagner may have breached the rules of softball by running into the catcher, the risk of a breach of the rules of a game is one of the risks taken when engaging in a sport.  In addition, some recklessness by players as to the risk of injury to others is inherent to contact sports.  However, intentional conduct causing injury, or alternatively very reckless conduct, is or may be outside the scope of the game.

Landrum v Gonzales, 629 NE.2d 710 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994), considered.

3.  Semble, that the standard of care is not affected by the expectations of the participants of the game.

Landrum v Gonzales, 629 NE.2d 710 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994), approved.

4.  Obiter, that a player can still owe a duty of care to a spectator of a game, and this duty will be greater than that owed to another player.

Per Pleicones J, that Wagner owed no duty to Cole based on the doctrine of implied primary assumption of risk.  However, quaere whether softball is a contact sport.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

Rosenblatt v St George Health & Racquetball Associates LLC (2014) H&FLR 2014-22

Eleanor Rosenblatt v St George Health & Racquetball Associates LLC (2014) H&FLR 2014-22

Supreme Court of New York (Appellate Division)

30 April 2014

Coram: Eng PJ, Dillon, Leventhal and Miller JJ

Appearing for the Plaintiff:  Stephen R Loeb.

Appearing for the Defendant: Kevin J. O’Donnell (instructed by Kenny & Zonghetti LLC)

Catchwords: New York – body sculpting – exercise ball – negligence – assumption of risk – summary dismissal

Facts: St George Health & Racquetball Associates (defendant) operates the Eastern Athletic Club in Brooklyn.  In May 2009 Rosenblatt (plaintiff), aged 72 years, attended a ‘body sculpting’ class at the club.  The instructor (a substitute filling in for the regular instructor) gave each of the participants an exercise ball to sit on.  The plaintiff had not previously used an exercise ball.  When she sat on it, it rolled, causing her to fall and suffer injury.

The plaintiff brought proceedings against the club on the basis that it had negligently failed to train, supervise or provide for an appropriate instructor.  However, she conceded that she was responsible for her own safety in class and that she was able to decide what activities she could safely perform.  She also conceded that she had not expressed concern over her lack of experience with an exercise ball nor expressed unwillingness to use it. The defendant responded that any injuries sustained by the plaintiff were caused by her own conduct and that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred her from recovering compensation.  It sought summary dismissal of the complaint.  The Supreme Court declined to dismiss on procedural grounds*.  The defendant appealed.

Held: Allowing the appeal and dismissing the proceedings, that the trial court’s refusal of the application on procedural grounds was mistaken.  Considering the application to dismiss on the merits –

1. The doctrine of primary assumption of risk** does not bar liability if the risk is not assumed, is concealed or is unreasonably increased. Alqurashi v Party of Four Inc, 89 AD.3d 1047 (2011) and Demelio v Playmakers Inc, 63 AD.3d 777 (2009), followed.

2. (Sua sponte) The plaintiff, by voluntarily sitting on an exercise ball , assumed the inherent risk that it could roll and cause her to fall. Berry v Bally Total Fitness Corp, 272 AD.2d 354 (2000), considered.

3. It was relevant that the plaintiff was not required to use the exercise ball. Quaere whether the position would be different if the plaintiff had been obliged to use it. Calouri v County of Suffolk, 43 AD.3d 456 (2007)

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.  The plaintiff elected not to pursue an appeal.

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* Eleanor Rosenblatt v St George Health & Racquetball Associates LLC (Sup. Ct. N.Y., Battaglia J, 17 August 2011, unreported).

** As to which, see Custodi v Town of Amherst (2012) H&FLR 2014-18.

Custodi v Town of Amherst (2012) H&FLR 2014-18

Robin Custodi v Town of Amherst & Ors (2012) H&FLR 2014-18

New York Court of Appeals

30 October 2012

Coram: Lippman CJ, Ciparick, Read, Smith, Pigott, Jones and Graffeo JJ

Appearing for the Appellant: Joel B Schechter (of Bennett, Schechter, Arcuri & Will LLP)

Appearing for the Respondent: Robert J Maranto

Catchwords: New York – rollerblading – residential street – fall – assumption of risk – duty of care – athletic or recreational activities

Facts: In July 2007 Robin Custodi (respondent) was injured while rollerblading in a residential street when she hit a two inch height differential where the driveway belonging to one Muffoletto (appellant) met a drainage culvert, causing her to fall. 

The respondent commenced proceedings in negligence against the defendant.  The appellant sought summary judgment from the Supreme Court which was granted on the basis of the respondent’s voluntary assumption of risk*.  On appeal, the Appellate Division found that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk did not apply and that there was a triable issue of fact with regard to proximate cause**.  The appellants appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Held: Per curiam, dismissing the appeal –

1. The principle of “primary assumption of risk” means that a plaintiff who freely accepts a known risk commensurately negates any duty of a defendant to protect them from that risk.  This principle applies when a consenting participant in a relevant activity is aware of an understand the risks and voluntarily assumes them.  The risks must be known, apparent or reasonably foreseeable to the plaintiff.

Trupia v Lake George Central School District, 14 NY.3d 392 (2010), Bukowski v Clarkson University, 19 NY.3d 353 (2012) and Benitez v New York City Board of Education, 73 NY.2d 650 (1989), followed.

2. Where a plaintiff has made a primary assumption of risk, the defendant’s duty is to make the conditions as safe as they appear to be.

Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY.2d 432 (1986), followed.

3. A plaintiff does not assume risks which are concealed, unreasonable enhanced, or caused by reckless or intentional conduct of other people.

Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY.2d 471 (1997), followed

4. The principle of primary assumption of risk is in general limited to particular athletic and recreational activities on the grounds that while they involve increased risks, they have significant social value and it is appropriate to shield coparticipants, sponsors and venue providers from liability.  The appellants were not providers of a means of a means of athletic or recreational activities and so this case was not appropriate for the application of the principle.  Further, it would be an excessive expansion of the doctrine to treat sidewalk defects or dangerous premises as inherent risks assumed by joggers, runners, cyclists and rollerbladers.

Ashbourne v City of New York, 82 NY.3d 461 (2011), Cotty v Town of Southampton, 64 AD.3d 251 (2009), Trupia v Lake George Central School District, 14 NY.3d 392 (2010), Bukowski v Clarkson University, 19 NY.3d 353 (2012) and Benitez v New York City Board of Education, 73 NY.2d 650 (1989), considered.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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*   Custodi v Town of Amherst (Supreme Court of New York, Feroleto J, 24 February 2010, unreported).

**  Custodi v Town of Amherst, 81 AD.3d 1344 (2011)