585 N.W.2d 690 (Wis.App. 1998), 98-0482, Meyer v. School District of Colby

Docket Nº:98-0482.
Citation:585 N.W.2d 690, 221 Wis.2d 513
Party Name:Diane MEYER, Plaintiff-Appellant, [d] v. SCHOOL DISTRICT OF COLBY, Wausau Underwriters Insurance Company, and Security Health Plan of Wisconsin, Inc., Defendants-Respondents.
Case Date:August 20, 1998
Court:Court of Appeals of Wisconsin

Page 690

585 N.W.2d 690 (Wis.App. 1998)

221 Wis.2d 513

Diane MEYER, Plaintiff-Appellant, [d]


SCHOOL DISTRICT OF COLBY, Wausau Underwriters Insurance

Company, and Security Health Plan of Wisconsin,

Inc., Defendants-Respondents.

No. 98-0482.

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin.

August 20, 1998

        Submitted on Briefs May 21, 1998.

        Opinion Released Aug. 20, 1998.

Page 691

        [221 Wis.2d 514] On behalf of the plaintiff-appellant, the cause was submitted on the brief of Susanne M. Glasser of Bye, Goff & Rhode, Ltd. of River Falls.

        On behalf of the defendants-respondents, the cause was submitted on the brief of Mark W. Parman of Stilp and Cotton of Wausau.


        DEININGER, Judge.

        Diane Meyer appeals an order for summary judgment in favor of the School District of Colby which dismissed her suit for damages resulting [221 Wis.2d 515] from personal injuries she sustained while watching a football game on school property. Meyer contends that the trial court erred in holding the District immune from liability under § 895.52, STATS., Wisconsin's recreational immunity statute. Because we conclude that the District is immune under the statute from liability for Meyer's injuries, we affirm the order granting summary judgment.


        The facts relevant to the recreational immunity issue are straightforward and not in dispute. Meyer watched her son's freshman football game from bleachers adjacent to the football field at Colby High School. The football field and the bleachers are on property owned by the District. The District charges no admission fee for spectators at freshman football games. Meyer claims that, as she descended the bleachers after the game, a portion of the bleachers broke, causing her to fall and sustain injuries.

        Meyer sued the District, alleging that her injuries were caused by its negligence. The District moved for summary judgment, claiming it was immune from liability under § 895.52, STATS. 1 The trial court granted summary judgment, and Meyer appeals.

[221 Wis.2d 516] ANALYSIS

        We review a trial court's grant of summary judgment using the same methodology as the trial court. See M & I First Nat'l Bank v. Episcopal Homes Management, Inc., 195 Wis.2d 485, 496, 536 N.W.2d 175, 182 (Ct.App.1995). That methodology is well known, and we need not repeat it here except to observe that summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See id. at 496-97, 536 N.W.2d at 182; see also § 802.08(2), STATS.

Page 692

        Wisconsin's recreational immunity statute generally provides immunity to property owners from liability for injuries to persons engaging in recreational activities on the owner's property, unless the owner derives more than minimal monetary benefit from the recreational activity or maliciously fails to warn against unsafe conditions on the property. See § 895.52, STATS. This immunity applies to governmental entities as well as to private property owners. See § 895.52(1)(a) and (d). The statute broadly defines "recreational activity" as "any outdoor activity undertaken for the purpose of exercise, relaxation or pleasure, including practice or instruction in any such activity." Section 895.52(1)(g). 2 The definition also provides a [221 Wis.2d 517] non-exclusive list of twenty-eight exemplary recreational activities, and it explicitly includes "any other outdoor sport, game or educational activity." See id. The broad statutory definition of "recreational activity" also contains an exception, however: " 'recreational activity' ... does not include any organized team sport activity sponsored by the owner of the property on which the activity takes place." Id.

        The parties do not dispute that the freshman football game Meyer attended as a spectator was an organized team sport activity, or that the school district was the sponsor of the activity and the owner of the land on which the game took place. Accordingly, the District, as sponsor-landowner, is not immune from liability for injuries sustained by participants in the game itself. See Kloes v. Eau Claire Cavalier Baseball Ass'n, Inc., 170 Wis.2d 77, 85, 487 N.W.2d 77, 80 (Ct.App.1992). The District did not charge an admission fee for spectators at the football game, and Meyer does not allege that the school district acted maliciously in failing to maintain the bleachers or warn of their unsafe condition, circumstances which would deprive the District of immunity under § 895.52(4)(a) and (b), STATS.

        Thus, the sole issue in this appeal is whether the exception in the statutory definition of recreational [221 Wis.2d 518] activity for "any organized team sport activity sponsored by the owner of the property on which the activity takes place" extends to the spectators, and not just the participants, at such an event. This question requires that we interpret § 895.52, STATS. Statutory interpretation is a question of law which we decide de novo. See Stockbridge Sch. Dist. v. DPI, 202 Wis.2d 214, 219, 550 N.W.2d 96, 98 (1996). The main goal of statutory interpretation is to discern the intent of the legislature. See Anderson v. City of Milwaukee, 208 Wis.2d 18, 25-26, 559 N.W.2d 563, 566 (1997) (citations omitted). We first look to the plain language of the statute. See id. If the plain language is ambiguous, we turn to extrinsic aids such as the legislative history, scope, context and purpose of the statute to determine legislative intent. See id.

        The plain language of paragraph (1)(g) does not indicate whether the exception for an organized team sport activity extends to spectators. By its terms, paragraph...

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