By Doyice Cotten
Tami Truax was struggling financially in Henderson, Nevada and was going to lose the property; to avoid the loss, she sold the property to her parents (the Riddles) who leased the property to her sister, Tomi. Tomi operated a business at the property doing horseback tours under the name Grand View Horse Tours.
Martz-Alvarado purchased a trail-riding experience through a third party website. Martz-Alvarado agreed to a waiver of liability stating that Martz-Alvarado understood “that being around horses is inherently dangerous” and that she would assume all risks and agreed to waive any claims against “owners, officers, staff members, volunteers, affiliated organizations, land owners, and agents for any injury or death” stemming from horseback riding. The waiver identified the business’ name as Las Vegas Trail Riding.
When Martz-Alvarado went to the Henderson property for her trail ride, she signed another waiver. It provided that Martz-Alvarado was “giving up certain legal rights, including the right to sue or recover damages in case of injury, death or property damages, for any reason, including but not limited to, the negligence of the stable, its owner, employees and agents [of] ‘Vegas Horse Tours.’ ” It also stated: “WARNING: Under NEVADA STATE law an equine professional and equine activity sponsor is not liable for any injury to or death of a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” While dismounting on the dismounting platform at the conclusion of the trail ride, she fell and broke her leg. Martz-Alvarado sued the Riddles and Tomi Truax; the defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis of the waiver and summary judgment was granted. The ruling was appealed (Martz-Alvarado V. Tomi Truax, 2020).
Martz-Alvarado argued that 1) the different entity names on the waivers creates a dispute of material fact, 2) parties cannot contract out of their negligence, 3) the Vegas Horse Tour waiver did not include the use of the platform, and 4) the Vegas Horse Tour waiver is void under public policy.
Response of the Court
First, the court stated that there was no ambiguity because the plaintiff never alleged that Truax was not the sole proprietor of the businesses. The court cited that an “individual doing business as a sole proprietor, even when business is done under a different name, remains personally liable for all of the obligations of the sole proprietorship.” So the court decided there was no ambiguity.
Second, Martz-Alvarado also claimed that parties cannot contract out of negligence. The court stated that in Nevada, waivers are “generally regarded as a valid exercise of the freedom of contract.” The court further cited a Nevada supreme court case in which that court upheld exculpatory-waiver contracts that waive negligence claims. Thus, in Nevada parties can contract out of general negligence.
Third, in regard to Martz-Alvarado claim that the platform was not mentioned in the waiver, the court disagreed. The waiver does mention the “use of equipment” which would include the platform. Further, it allocates the risk of equipment to the rider.
Fourth, Martz-Alvarado argued that the Vegas Horse Tours waiver is void because it violates public policy because it contains a misstatement of the law. Plaintiff did not specify what public policy was violated. The court thought she might refer to legalizing fraud, but plaintiff produced no elements required for fraud in the inducement of a contract.
Finally, Martz-Alvarado argues that whether a waiver is valid is a question for the jury, but Martz-Alvarado cited no relevant authority in her opening brief to support that proposition.
Based on the forgoing, the court concluded the waivers are valid and release both the Riddles and Tomi Truax from liability for any negligence. The court affirmed the district court ruling.