By Doyice Cotten
Scott Champion and some other motocross racers filed suit against Feld Entertainment, Inc. claiming injury because defendants, in order to dry the track, used caustic lime on the soil and failed to mix it properly (Champion v. Feld Motor Sports, Inc., 2021). Feld argued that the waiver signed by plaintiffs protected against claims for ordinary negligence; further, plaintiffs failed to plead gross negligence.
California Gross Negligence Law
The Court then set out to ascertain whether plaintiff has sufficiently stated a claim. It clarified that “Gross negligence is pleaded by alleging the traditional elements of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages.” It added that, in California, to state a claim for gross negligence, one must also allege “extreme conduct” by the defendant — and that conduct must rise to the level of “either a want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” Plaintiffs alleged that the use of caustic lime in a Supercross Event constituted an “extreme departure from the standard of care in the industry” and increased the risk of injury beyond the inherent risks of motocross events.
Defendants argued that “Plaintiffs’ allegations are conclusory, and that Plaintiffs fail to allege facts establishing the ordinary standard of care.” The Court agreed and explained that in sports activities, “the relevant duty of care is a duty not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.” The court added that the plaintiffs had not alleged sufficient facts regarding the existing standards of care and the regulations applicable to the use of caustic lime in the motocross industry. It further explained that “it is unclear from Plaintiffs’ Complaint whether the use of lime on a track is a risk inherent to motocross racing.” In other words, ti was not made clear whether 1) any use of lime at all is a departure from industry standards, or whether 2) the claim is based specifically on a failure to mix and/or compact the lime given the weather on the day in question.
Thus, since Plaintiffs have not shown that the policies depart from any industry standard of care, much less an extreme departure, there is no plausible claim for gross negligence and defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted.
Risk Management Take-Aways
- Waivers of liability do not protect against gross negligence in California.
- Gross negligence does not constitute a cause of action in California. The plaintiff must plead negligence and allege that the actions of the defendant constituted an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care.
- As evident in this case, alleging an extreme departure is not adequate; one must also provide evidence of the standard of care and the alleged departure.
Photo Credit: thanks to Francesco Motola via Flickr.