Release used for a dog sledding accident asked for the minor child’s name which was not written in, so the release failed.
Sturm v. Weber (D. Colo. 2022)
State: Colorado: United States District Court, D. Colorado
Plaintiff: Sandra Sturm, and Timothy Sturm and Sandra Sturm, as parents and next friends of their minor child, Holly Sturm Plaintiff
Defendant: Josef Weber a/k/a Joseph Weber, Krabloonik, Incorporated
Plaintiff Claims: negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and, in the alternative, premises liability pursuant to the Colorado Premises Liability Act
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: split decision
Dog sled guide fell off the dog sled, and the sled hit a tree injuring the plaintiff. The release failed initially to stop the litigation because on line on the release was not filled in correctly. The line was not needed for the release to be valid.
Krabloonik is a recreational dogsled operation in Snowmass Village, Colorado. Krabloonik employs “mushers” to steer the dogsleds during the rides it offers its customers. Krabloonik’s dogsleds are not equipped with track-braking systems; instead, mushers are trained to use resistance and counterbalance to steer and control the speed of Krabloonik’s dogsleds. Josef Weber operated Sandra and Holly Sturm’s dogsled on March 11, 2019.
According to his Musher Accident Report, Weber steered the dogsled into a rut, causing it to tip. When Weber attempted to level the dogsled, he fell off, leaving Sandra and Holly Sturm on a runaway sled. Without Weber to break and steer, the dogsled did not come to a stop until it collided with a tree. Plaintiffs claim that as a result of the collision, Holly Sturm suffered a broken leg that had to be surgically repaired and Sandra Sturm injured her elbow. Per the Amended Complaint, Holly Sturm also suffers from PTSD, mental stress, and anxiety as a result of the dogsledding incident.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The entire case resolves around one issue at this point. Was the release ineffective or void because a blank line on the release was not filled in or filled in with incorrect information.
Timothy Sturm, as Holly Sturm’s parent, is permitted to waive negligence claims on her behalf. See C.R.S. § 13-22-107(3) (“A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.”) Therefore, the Court agrees with Defendants that the lack of Holly Sturm’s signature is irrelevant. Notwithstanding this fact, the Court cannot find as a matter of law that the Participation Agreement signed by Timothy Sturm is an effective release of his daughter’s claims. No name-let alone Holly’s-appears in the clearly marked space provided to identify the minor whose claims are being released, and neither party has explained to the Court who “Whitney” is. Therefore, the Court denies the Construed Motion with respect to Holly Sturm’s claims.
The issue is there was a line where the minor child’s name was to be written if the release was to stop a lawsuit by the minor child. That line was either blank or filled in with the name Whitney. Since the name of the injured child and daughter of the parent, signing the release was not on the line, the release is not valid to stop the claims of the minor child.
There is NO Need to have the name of the children on the release to begin with.
So, for whatever reason, a line to collect information or a desire to know the name on a release defeated the release. The Colorado statute is pretty clear C.R.S. § 13-22-107, all you have to do for a release to stop a claim by a minor, is to identify that the parent is signing away the child’s right to sue. No information has to be collected about the child or children.
A release was signed by the father which had the blank line. A release was also signed by the mother. The mother’s release did not indicate she was signing away her child’s right to sue. If the mothers release would have had language indicating she was signing away the child’s right to sue, the failure of the father’s release to be effective would not have mattered.
The mother also argued that the actions of the defendant were willful and wanton. This was an attempt for the mother to have the release she signed thrown out. Willful and wanton acts on the part of the defendant in Colorado, like all other states, bars the release from stopping claims for those acts.
Under Colorado law “”[w]illful and wanton conduct is purposeful conduct committed recklessly that exhibits an intent consciously to disregard the safety of others.” Not specifically plead, the court was able to find language in the complaint that might lend itself to a claim for willful and wanton conduct that would not be covered by the release.
In all other issues, the court found the release was valid under Colorado law.
On a procedural note, the motion giving rise to this decision was filed early in the case, prior to discovery being completed. Consequently, the court felt that because the facts of the case had not been fully briefed, it had little choice but to rule in favor of the plaintiff’s because there were so many questions of fact that had not been brought forward yet.
Discovery was completed by the time this decision was issued. The court in its motion stated the defense could file another motion for summary judgment because more information was available and because of the timing of the first motion, the court had ruled on it as a preliminary motion not a motion for summary judgement.
So Now What?
A release is a contract. It is not a marketing information collection document. Do not collect any information other than what is required for the release. Signatures are required, and dates help identify the person. Address, phone and other contact info could be helpful. But don’t confuse your guests or the judge and make it something it is not.
Why there were two releases does not make any sense. One for a parent to sign with minor children and one without? Why not have one release, that correctly states that signing the release gives up the parents right to sue and the child’s right to sue under Colorado law. That would have easily stopped this lawsuit.
Poor releases give way to bad decisions in courtrooms.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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