June 25, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Summary Judgment Appropriate on Negligence and Gross Negligence Cliams When Parents Validly Limited Liability for Horseback-Riding Injury

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hamill v. Cheley Colorado Camps, Inc. on March 31, 2011.

Negligence—Exculpatory Clause—Informed Consent—Public Policy—Gross Negligence.

Plaintiff Chelsea Hamill appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Cheley Colorado Camps, Inc. (Cheley). The judgment was affirmed.

Hamill attended summer camp at Cheley in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Before attending camp each summer, Hamill and her parents signed a Liability/Risk Form (the agreement). In July 2004, when Hamill was 15 years old, she fell off a Cheley horse and broke her arm. Hamill sued Cheley for negligence and gross negligence, arguing that a Cheley wrangler had inappropriately saddled the horse she rode. The district court granted Cheley’s motion for summary judgment on the two negligence claims.

Hamill argued that the exculpatory clauses in the agreement do not bar her negligence claims. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding the agreement valid for the following reasons: (1) the agreement did not implicate a public duty and did not involve an essential service; (2) Hamill’s mother voluntarily chose to sign the agreement, expressly giving permission for Hamill to participate in horseback riding activities; (3) the agreement was fairly entered into; and (4) the agreement plainly expressed the intent to release prospective negligence claims.

Hamill contended that her mother’s consent to release prospective negligence claims was not “informed,” as required by CRS § 13-22-107, because she did not understand the scope of the agreement. Although Hamill’s mother may not have contemplated the precise mechanics of her daughter’s fall, this does not invalidate the release and does not create a genuine issue of material fact. She knew her daughter would be riding horses and she was advised that there were risks, known and unknown, associated with the activity. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for Cheley.

Hamill further argued that public policy considerations render the agreement invalid. The governing statute promotes children’s involvement in horseback riding and approves the informed release of prospective negligence claims. Thus, Hamill’s public policy argument failed.

Finally, Hamill contended that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding her gross negligence claim. There is no evidence that Cheley’s wrangler was “willfully” incompetent, purposefully caused the saddle to slip, or recklessly disregarded the appropriate way to tack the horse. Thus, the district court was correct in dismissing the gross negligence claim on summary judgment.

This summary is published here courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer. Other summaries by the Colorado Court of Appeals on March 31, 2011, can be found here.

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