June 18, 2019

Archives for November 3, 2014

Tenth Circuit: Particular Circumstances Leading to Fall from Horse Should Be Analyzed for Liability Determination

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kovnat v. Xanterra Parks & Resorts on Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

Corrine Kovnat and her husband vacationed in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in June 2012. While there, Kovnat and her husband went on a horseback ride at the Canyon Corral, operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. While on the trail, Kovnat’s saddle slipped and she fell, striking her back on the ground and fracturing three vertebrae. Kovnat filed a diversity action against Xanterra, claiming Xanterra negligently operated Canyon Corrals because Kovnat’s horse was improperly saddled, and that Xanterra negligently failed to maintain the saddle in a safe condition or warn Kovnat of its unsafe condition. Xanterra filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that under the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA), Xanterra owed no duty of care to protect Kovnat from the injuries alleged in her complaint. The district court granted summary judgment to Xanterra, and Kovnat appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first examined the WRSA, and found that in general, claims like Kovnat’s would not be allowed. The Tenth Circuit reviewed a similar case involving a Wyoming horseback rider injured in a saddle accident, where it ruled that the particular circumstances leading to the rider’s injury needed to be examined on a case-by-case basis. Turning to Kovnat’s claims, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s summary judgment regarding Kovnat’s claim that the saddle cinch was not tight enough, because there was a great deal of evidence that employees of Xanterra checked the cinch and it was too tight to slip the saddle back around after Kovnat’s fall, therefore any slipping of the cinch was an inherent risk of horseback riding. However, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Kovnat’s claim that her stirrups were uneven and determined that the uneven stirrups may not have been a result of the inherent risks of horseback riding. It remanded for further proceedings on this issue.

As to Kovnat’s negligent training and supervision claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment as to the cinch issue and reversed as to the stirrup issue. The case was remanded for further findings regarding whether the uneven stirrups were an inherent risk of horseback riding or some extenuating circumstance in which Xanterra may have been liable.

Tenth Circuit: No Ambiguity in Insurance Policy Exclusions for Environmental Pollution

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Headwaters Resources, Inc. v. Illinois Union Insurance Co. on Monday, October 20, 2014.

Headwaters Resources, Inc., constructed a golf course at the Fentress site in Chesapeake, Virginia. Residents of neighborhoods surrounding the Fentress site sued Headwaters in Virginia state court, alleging property damage and bodily injury sustained due to pollution generated during the golf course construction. Plaintiffs in the Virginia case alleged that between 2002 and 2007 Headwaters used 1.5 million tons of toxic fly ash and byproducts, which contaminated its groundwater, surface water, and the air; diminished the property values of the surrounding homes; and exposed community members to serious bodily injury risks from the fly ash. Headwaters sought reimbursement of its litigation expenses from its two insurers, ACE Insurance Co. and Illinois Union Insurance Co. (collectively, ACE). ACE denied coverage under its environmental pollution exclusion, and Headwaters brought suit in Utah District Court to enforce coverage. ACE moved for summary judgment, arguing that the pollution exclusions expressly precluded coverage. Headwaters filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, but the district court agreed with ACE, finding the insurance policies unambiguously barred coverage for environmental pollution. Headwaters appealed.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed Headwaters’ claims, which contended the district court failed to appreciate ambiguities in coverage under the policies. According to Headwaters, those ambiguities precluded summary judgment in favor of ACE. Upon analysis of the pollution exclusions and the claims against Headwaters, however, the Tenth Circuit found no ambiguity. Applying Utah’s “eight corners rule” and contract law, the Tenth Circuit found the insurers had no duty to defend. Headwaters argued the language of the insurance policies’ exclusions impermissibly abolished all coverage, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding instead multiple possible scenarios in which coverage would have been applicable. In the instant case, the allegations of pollution fell within the policies’ exclusions. The Tenth Circuit noted that Headwaters could have purchased additional coverage that would have provided a duty to defend against environmental claims.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of ACE.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 10/31/2014

On Friday, October 31, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Gregory v. Denham

United States v. Smith

United States v. Wardell

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.