Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., No. 17327.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtSULLIVAN, C.J.
Citation885 A.2d 734,276 Conn. 314
PartiesGregory D. HANKS v. POWDER RIDGE RESTAURANT CORPORATION et al.
Docket NumberNo. 17327.
Decision Date29 November 2005

885 A.2d 734
276 Conn. 314

Gregory D. HANKS
v.
POWDER RIDGE RESTAURANT CORPORATION et al

No. 17327.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued April 18, 2005.

Decided November 29, 2005.


885 A.2d 735
William F. Gallagher, Syracuse, NY, with whom, on the brief, was David McCarry, East Hartford, for the appellant (plaintiff)

Laura Pascale Zaino, with whom, on the brief, were John B. Farley and Kevin M. Roche, Hartford, for the appellees (defendants).

SULLIVAN, C.J., and BORDEN, NORCOTT, KATZ, PALMER, VERTEFEUILLE and ZARELLA, Js.1

885 A.2d 736
SULLIVAN, C.J

This appeal2 arises out of a complaint filed by the plaintiff, Gregory D. Hanks, against the defendants, Powder Ridge Restaurant Corporation and White Water Mountain Resorts of Connecticut, Inc., doing business as Powder Ridge Ski Resort, seeking compensatory damages for injuries the plaintiff sustained while snowtubing at the defendants' facility. The trial court rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that this court's decision in Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts of Connecticut, Inc., 265 Conn. 636, 829 A.2d 827 (2003), precluded the plaintiff's negligence claim as a matter of law. We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following factual and procedural history. The defendants operate a facility in Middlefield, known as Powder Ridge, at which the public, in exchange for a fee, is invited to ski, snowboard and snowtube. On February 16, 2003, the plaintiff brought his three children and another child to Powder Ridge to snowtube. Neither the plaintiff nor the four children had ever snowtubed at Powder Ridge, but the snowtubing run was open to the public generally, regardless of prior snowtubing experience, with the restriction that only persons at least six years old or forty-four inches tall were eligible to participate. Further, in order to snowtube at Powder Ridge, patrons were required to sign a "Waiver, Defense, Indemnity and Hold Harmless Agreement, and Release of Liability" (agreement). The plaintiff read and signed the agreement on behalf of himself and the four children. While snowtubing, the plaintiff's right foot became caught between his snowtube and the man-made bank of the snowtubing run, resulting in serious injuries that required multiple surgeries to repair.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed the present negligence action against the defendants. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants negligently caused his injuries by: (1) permitting the plaintiff "to ride in a snow tube that was not of sufficient size to ensure his safety while on the snow tubing run"; (2) "fail[ing] to properly train, supervise, control or otherwise instruct the operators of the snow tubing run in the proper way to run the snow tubing course to ensure the safety of the patrons, such as the plaintiff"; (3) "fail[ing] to properly groom the snow tubing run so as to direct patrons . . . such as the plaintiff away from the sidewalls of [the] run"; (4) "plac[ing] carpet at the end of the snow tubing run which had the tendency to cause the snow tubes to come to an abrupt halt, spin or otherwise change direction"; (5) "fail[ing] to properly landscape the snow tubing run so as to provide an adequate up slope at the end of the run to properly and safely slow snow tubing patrons such as the plaintiff"; (6) "fail[ing] to place warning signs on said snow tubing run to warn patrons such as the plaintiff of the danger of colliding with the side wall of [the] snow tubing run"; and (7) "fail[ing] to place hay bales or other similar materials on the sides of the snow tubing run in order to direct patrons such as the plaintiff away from the sidewalls of [the] run."

885 A.2d 737
The defendants, in their answer to the complaint, denied the plaintiff's allegations of negligence and asserted two special defenses. Specifically, the defendants alleged that the plaintiff's injuries were caused by his own negligence and that the agreement relieved the defendants of liability, "even if the accident was due to the negligence of the defendants." Thereafter, the defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the agreement barred the plaintiff's negligence claim as a matter of law. The trial court agreed and rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Specifically, the trial court determined, pursuant to our decision in Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts of Connecticut, Inc., supra, 265 Conn. at 640-44, 829 A.2d 827, that the plaintiff, by signing the agreement, unambiguously had released the defendants from liability for their allegedly negligent conduct. Thereafter, the plaintiff moved to reargue the motion for summary judgment. The trial court denied the plaintiff's motion and this appeal followed

The plaintiff raises two claims on appeal. First, the plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly concluded that the agreement clearly and expressly releases the defendants from liability for negligence. Specifically, the plaintiff contends that a person of ordinary intelligence reasonably would not have believed that, by signing the agreement, he or she was releasing the defendants from liability for personal injuries caused by negligence and, therefore, pursuant to Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts of Connecticut, Inc., supra, 265 Conn. at 643, 829 A.2d 827, the agreement does not bar the plaintiff's negligence claim. Second, the plaintiff claims that the agreement is unenforceable because it violates public policy. Specifically, the plaintiff contends that a recreational operator cannot, consistent with public policy, release itself from liability for its own negligent conduct where, as in the present case, the operator offers its services to the public generally, for a fee, and requires patrons to sign a standardized exculpatory agreement as a condition of participation. We disagree with the plaintiff's first claim, but agree with his second claim.

Before reaching the substance of the plaintiff's claims on appeal, we review this court's decision in Hyson. The plaintiff in Hyson was injured while snowtubing at Powder Ridge and, thereafter, filed a complaint against the defendant, White Water Mountain Resorts of Connecticut, Inc., alleging that the defendant's negligence proximately had caused her injuries.3 Id., at 637-39, 829 A.2d 827. Prior to snowtubing at Powder Ridge, the plaintiff had signed an exculpatory agreement entitled "RELEASE FROM LIABILITY." Id., at 638 and n. 3, 829 A.2d 827. The issue presented in Hyson was whether the exculpatory agreement released the defendant from liability for its negligent conduct and, consequently, barred the plaintiff's negligence claims as a matter of law. Id., at 640, 829 A.2d 827. We concluded that it did not. Id.

In arriving at this conclusion, we noted that there exists "widespread support in other jurisdictions for a rule requiring that any agreement intended to exculpate a party for its own negligence state so expressly"; id., at 641-42, 829 A.2d 827; and that this court previously had acknowledged "the well established principle . . . that `[t]he law does not favor contract provisions which relieve a person from his own negligence . . . .'" Id., at 643, 829 A.2d

885 A.2d 738
827. Accordingly, we determined that "the better rule is that a party cannot be released from liability for injuries resulting from its future negligence in the absence of language that expressly so provides." Id. This rule "prevents individuals from inadvertently relinquishing valuable legal rights" and "does not impose . . . significant cost[s]" on entities seeking to exculpate themselves from liability for future negligence. Id. Examining the exculpatory agreement at issue in Hyson, we observed that "the release signed by the plaintiff [did] not specifically refer to possible negligence by the defendant" but, instead, only referred to "inherent and other risks involved in [snowtubing] . . . ."4 (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., at 640, 829 A.2d 827. Thus, "[a] person of ordinary intelligence reasonably could believe that, by signing this release, he or she was releasing the defendant only from liability for damages caused by dangers inherent in the activity of snowtubing." Id., at 643, 829 A.2d 827. Accordingly, we concluded that the exculpatory agreement did not expressly release the defendants from liability for future negligence and, therefore, did not bar the plaintiff's claims. Consequently, we declined to decide whether a well drafted exculpatory agreement expressly releasing a defendant from prospective liability for future negligence could be enforced consistent with public policy. See id., at 640, 829 A.2d 827 ("we do not reach the issue of whether a well drafted agreement purporting to have such an effect would be enforceable"); id., at 643 n. 11, 829 A.2d 827 ("we do not decide today whether a contract having such express language would be enforceable to release a party from liability for its negligence").

As an initial matter, we set forth the appropriate standard of review. "[T]he standard of review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment is well established. Practice Book [§ 17-49] provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) D'Eramo v. Smith, 273 Conn. 610, 619, 872 A.2d 408 (2005).

885 A.2d 739
I

We first address the plaintiff's claim that the agreement does not expressly release the defendants from liability for personal injuries incurred as a result of their own negligence as required by Hyson. Specifically, the plaintiff maintains that an ordinary person of reasonable intelligence would not understand that, by signing the agreement, he or she was releasing the defendants from...

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85 practice notes
  • Geysen v. Securitas Sec. Servs. USA, Inc., No. 19545.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 9, 2016
    ...an appellate court has unlimited review.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 326–27, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) ; 142 A.3d 234 Brown v. Soh, 280 Conn. 494, 501, 909 A.2d 43 (2006) ; see also State v. Lynch, 287 Conn. 464, 4......
  • Finkle v. Carroll, No. 18976.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 24, 2015
    ...pay their fair share....” Viera v. Cohen, supra, 283 Conn. at 436, 927 A.2d 843; see also Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 327, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) (“[t]he fundamental policy purposes of the tort compensation system [are] compensation of innocent parties, shifting the ......
  • D'antuono v. Serv. Rd. Corp., No. 3:11cv33 (MRK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • May 25, 2011
    ...law, it is "well established 'that contracts that violate public policy are unenforceable.'" Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 326 (2005); Connecticut courts may thus void contracts that contain "exculpatory provisions [that] underminePage 25the policy considerations" u......
  • Torres v. Department of Correction, No. CV-01 0819015S.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • February 22, 2006
    ...the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 321, 885 A.2d 734 (2005). "In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
84 cases
  • Geysen v. Securitas Sec. Servs. USA, Inc., No. 19545.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 9, 2016
    ...an appellate court has unlimited review.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 326–27, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) ; 142 A.3d 234 Brown v. Soh, 280 Conn. 494, 501, 909 A.2d 43 (2006) ; see also State v. Lynch, 287 Conn. 464, 4......
  • Finkle v. Carroll, No. 18976.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 24, 2015
    ...pay their fair share....” Viera v. Cohen, supra, 283 Conn. at 436, 927 A.2d 843; see also Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 327, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) (“[t]he fundamental policy purposes of the tort compensation system [are] compensation of innocent parties, shifting the ......
  • D'antuono v. Serv. Rd. Corp., No. 3:11cv33 (MRK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • May 25, 2011
    ...law, it is "well established 'that contracts that violate public policy are unenforceable.'" Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 326 (2005); Connecticut courts may thus void contracts that contain "exculpatory provisions [that] underminePage 25the policy considerations" u......
  • Torres v. Department of Correction, No. CV-01 0819015S.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • February 22, 2006
    ...the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 321, 885 A.2d 734 (2005). "In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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