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Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corporation: Pre-Injury Releases of Reckless Conduct Are Void as Against Public Policy

Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corporation, No. 67 MAP 2010 (Pa. July 18, 2012)

Tayar went snow tubing at the Camelback ski resort, where employees would send each rider down the hill with a push. After her fifth run, another snow tuber struck Tayar as she was climbing off her snow tube. She suffered a fractured leg from the collision that required surgery.

At the outset, Tayar signed Camelback’s required release of liability that contained the following language:

CAMELBACK SNOW TUBING ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISKS AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE THIS IS A CONTRACT – READ IT I understand and acknowledge that snow tubing, including the use of lifts, is a dangerous, risk sport and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport and that all of these risks can cause serious and even fatal injuries. I understand that part of the thrill, excitement and risk of snow tubing is that the snow tubes all end up in a common, runout area and counter slope at various times and speeds and that it is my responsibility to try to avoid hitting another snowtuber and it is my responsibility to try to avoid being hit by another snowtuber, but that, notwithstanding these efforts by myself and other snowtubers, there is a risk of collisions.

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IN CONSIDERATION OF THE ABOVE AND OF BEING ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SPORT OF SNOWTUBING, I AGREE THAT I WILL NOT SUE AND WILL RELEASE FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY CAMELBACK SKI CORPORATION IF I OR ANY MEMBER OF MY FAMILY IS INJURED WHILE USING ANY OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITIES OR WHILE BEING PRESENT AT THE FACILITIES, EVEN IF I CONTEND THAT SUCH INJURIES ARE THE RESULT OF NEGLIGENCE OR ANY OTHER IMPROPER CONDUCT ON THE PART OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITY.

Tayar filed a personal injury lawsuit in the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas against Camelback and its employee who had been pushing the snow tubers down the slope. The trial court granted summary judgment to Camelback and its employee, finding that all of Tayar’s claims were barred by the release that she had signed. Tayar appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which reversed the trial court’s decision. Camelback and its employee then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court looked at the Restatement (Second) of Torts’ definition of “reckless disregard” and the Pennsylvania Crimes Code definition of “recklessly” and concluded that recklessness requires a “conscious action or inaction” that relates it more closely to intentional conduct than ordinary negligence and therefore deserves the same prohibition in releases of liability.

The Court stated that permitting recklessness would remove any incentive to act with even a minimal amount of care and that would jeopardize the health, safety, and welfare of people. It found a dominant public policy against releases of reckless conduct, even in voluntary, recreational settings involving private parties. The Court noted that its decision was in line with many other states that have addressed this issue.

The Court affirmed the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s order to reverse summary judgment, in part, on the ground that the release was against public policy and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Pennsylvania’s Child Custody Laws for Deployed Military Parents

My short article discussing Pennsylvania’s child custody laws for deployed military parents, including the new 2012 amendments, was published in The Legal Intelligencer‘s July 2012 Family Law Supplement. The article can be found here.

 

 

 

 

In the Interest of D.S.: Police Must Identify Themselves and State Their Purpose for a False Identification to Law Enforcement Charge

In the Interest of D.S., No. 17 WAP 2011 (Pa. February 21, 2012)

Investigating an armed robbery that resulted in the loss of ten dollars, plainclothes police officers exited a gold car with tinted windows wielding their weapons as they approached D.S. They told him to put his hands in the air and get against the nearby gate. They patted him down and requested information including his name, address, and age. D.S. said his name was D.B. and swore. At no time did they identify themselves as law enforcement or inform D.S. that he was the subject of an investigation. An officer handcuffed D.S. then threw him onto the ground and kicked him.

D.S. was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and furnishing false information to law enforcement. The juvenile court in Allegheny County dismissed the disorderly conduct charge and ordered that D.S. enter a juvenile treatment facility.

D.S. appealed his adjudication of delinquency to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Finding that D.S. was informed about the officers’ identity and purpose from the “totality of the circumstances,” it affirmed. D.S. then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Section 4914 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code addresses furnishing false identification to law enforcement authorities:

(a) Offense defined.–A person commits an offense if he furnishes law enforcement authorities with false information about his identity after being informed by a law enforcement officer who is in uniform or who has identified himself as a law enforcement officer that the person is the subject of an official investigation of a violation of law.

The Court found that the language of the statute was clear and free from ambiguity. It stated that nothing suggested that the legislature intended that a person’s knowledge could be derived from surrounding circumstances. Noting that the word “informed” could have a broader meaning in other contexts, the Court said the word was linked to the law enforcement officer, clearly indicating the legislature’s intent that the information must come directly from him.

Because the officers did not identify themselves or state that D.S. was the subject of a criminal investigation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding that the evidence was insufficient to support his adjudication of delinquency.

Commonwealth v. Wisneski: A Driver Has a Duty to Stop When He Runs Over a Dead Body

Commonwealth v. Wisneski, No. 5 WAP 2010 (September 29, 2011)

Wisneski ran over a fallen bicyclist with his vehicle. Although he realized after looking at his rear view mirror that he had hit a body, and not a speed bump as he originally thought, Wisneski did not stop or notify police. The bicyclist had been struck by more than one vehicle and died.

Wisneski was charged with failure to stop at an accident, failure to comply with a duty to give information and render aid, and failure to immediately notify the police.

He filed a habeas corpus petition seeking dismissal of the charges asserting that the Commonwealth cannot prove that the bicyclist was alive when he struck him. Concluding that the statutes required the victim be alive at the time of the accident, the Indiana County Court of Common Pleas granted Wisneski’s petition, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed. The Commonwealth appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Because statutory interpretation is a question of law, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court exercised a de novo standard of review.

Section 3742 of Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code addresses accidents involving death or personal injury:

(a)  General rule.–The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close thereto as possible but shall then forthwith return to and in every event shall remain at the scene of the accident until he has fulfilled the requirements of section 3744 (relating to duty to give information and render aid). Every stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.

Noting that the statute does not define “accident,” the Court concluded that its meaning is broad, and duration cannot be determined. The Court also pointed out that involvement does not require that a person cause the accident.

The Court found that the plain meaning of the word “injury” is also broad. The Court stated that the legislature intended for a person to stop if he damaged someone’s property, such as a bicycle. Therefore, the duty to stop certainly exists if a person damaged someone’s body, whether alive or dead.

Reversing the Superior Court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that “injury” encompasses damage to a dead body, so all the obligations under the statutes apply even when the victim is deceased.