Appeals Court Puts the Brakes on Competitor’s Negligence Claim

Apr 10, 2004

A California appeals court has upheld a race track’s successful motion for summary judgment in a case involving a plaintiff’s claim that the track was negligent, making the waiver he signed inapplicable.
Emilio Caballero was riding his motorcycle at the Willow Springs race track on May 15, 1999 when he had a collision with another rider. Nearly two years later, he sued the track, alleging
negligence, fraud, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and loss of consortium. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the other rider was inexperienced and that the other rider’s bike was underpowered. He also charged that the track failed to inspect the bike and that the rider paid off someone at the track to be able to race. In short, he argued that the other driver should never have been allowed to compete in the race.
In the fall of 2002, the trial court granted summary judgment to the race track, prompting the present appeal.
Upon review, the court reviewed relevant portions of the two releases. The “1999 willow springs motorcycle club membership application, waiver & release of liability agreement,” in particular struck a chord with the court. By signing the document, Cabellero agreed: “I am aware that motorsports racing is a hazardous activity. I voluntarily agree to accept any and all risks of injury or death which may occur while I am watching or participating in a motorsports activity, even if such injury or death is caused by the active or passive negligence of others.”
In its summary judgment motion, Willow Springs “affirmatively established that Caballero signed a waiver releasing Willow Springs from liability for Caballero’s injury.” The plaintiff posed a three-pronged attack on appeal: “he rescinded the waiver and therefore it cannot be used as a basis for summary judgment; he contends that Willow Springs could not win on summary judgment based on the waiver because his ‘consent to the waivers … was based upon defendants’ misrepresentations that defendants intended to run races in the safest possible manner; and he contends Willow Springs never met its burden on summary judgment because ‘Willow Springs had a duty to refrain from conduct which unreasonably increased the risk of injury to the participants.’”
The court quickly dispensed with the rescission argument, noting that “waivers would be entirely useless if they could be rescinded in the course of litigation due to a parties’ ‘discovery’ of facts alleged to justify the rescission.”
The plaintiff’s second argument was that Willow Springs should not have allowed mixed bike racing or an inexperienced rider on the course. “Caballero’s claim must fail,” wrote the court. “There was no evidence that Willow Springs’s employees said or did anything that led Caballero to sign the release agreement. The release agreement was unquestionably clear and unambiguous. The conduct of Willow Springs’s employees in allowing an ‘underpowered bike’ and/or an ‘inexperienced rider,’ even if true, did not affect Caballero’s earlier execution of the release agreement. In short, there is no evidence that plaintiff was fraudulently induced into signing the release agreement or was mistaken about the scope of the release.”
On Caballero’s third and final point, the court wrote that “Caballero signed an explicit waiver and release absolving Willow Springs of liability. In this regard, Caballero has confused the doctrine of implied assumption of risk with the express assumption of risk implicated by a waiver and release.”
”The release here was very clear, and the injury that occurred here – a motorcycle crash – was exactly the type of injury contemplated by the release. Further, as explained in Allan v. Snow Summit (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358 (Allan), Caballero’s discussion of whether Willow Springs “increased the risk of injury” to him, thereby negating the defense of assumption of risk, is completely irrelevant in a case where Caballero expressly absolved Willow Springs of liability.” Emilio Caballero et al., v. Willow Springs International Springs Raceway, Inc. et al., F042297
Ct.App.Ca. 5th App. Dist., 2/17/04
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) John C. Taylor of Taylor & Ring. (for defendants) Philip D. Weiss and William D. Anthony OF Agajanian, McFall, Weiss, Tetreault & Crist.


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