By Doyice Cotten
Brenda Martz-Alvarado was injured when dismounting from a trail ride. She sued the property owner, Tomi Truaz, and the owners of the trailride, Forrest and Georgia Riddle (dba Grand View Horse Tours).
Truaz was running a business at the property operating under the name Grand View Horse Tours. Martz-Alvarado purchased a trail-riding experience through a third party website and as part of securing her reservation, she agreed to a waiver of liability.
“that being around horses is inherently dangerous” and that she would assume all risks. She also explicitly 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.
At a later date she went to the Henderson property for her trail ride and was required to sign another waiver of liability.
This waiver form 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.’ ” Furthermore, this waiver form included another provision stating, “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.”
She alleged liability based on several claims. Both the Riddles and Truax moved for summary judgment based on the waivers. The motions were granted.
On appeal, Martz-Alvarado made several arguments.
First, she pointed out that the waiver listed the business name as Las Vegas Trail Riding while the business operated as Grand View Horse Tours. The court pointed out that “An individual doing business as a sole proprietor, even when business is done under a different name, remains personally liable.” The court held that Truax was the sole proprietor responsible for the businesses, thus there was no ambiguity.
Second, she argued that parties cannot contract out of their negligence. The court disagreed stating that waivers are “generally regarded as a valid exercise of the freedom of contract” in Nevada. It went on to add that the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a waiver contract in Waldschmidt v. Edge Fitness, 2018, (reported in Sportwaiver.com last week).
In addition, plaintiff made claims of fraud, but produced no evidence of it. She said the waiver did not mention or include the platform, but the court pointed out that one of the waivers referred to the use of equipment. And she claimed the waiver violated public policy, but failed to name the public policy.
The appellate court ruled in favor of the defendants affirming the trial court grant of summary judgment.
Risk Management Takeaway
Two potential problems did not prove fatal to the defendants. First, having two waivers can be problematic and could have caused ambiguity resulting in the waivers not being enforced. Stick with one waiver. Second, there should be consistency in the name of the business. Had the business not been a sole proprietorship, this discrepancy could have been fatal.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Wesley Fryer via Flickr.