A California state appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling that dismissed the claim of a rodeo cowboy, who sued the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the State of California and Flying U Rodeo Company after he was injured while competing in an event.
Among the court’s findings was that the release of liability clause contained on the PRCA membership form that the plaintiff signed “was clear and unambiguous,” which was contrary to the plaintiff’s assertion.
Plaintiff Brent Lockett was participating in a team roping event sponsored by PRCA at the 2000 Grand National Rodeo at the Cow Palace in San Francisco when he injured his right leg after he struck a hinge or post. In late 1999, Lockett had signed a membership form for PRCA for the 2000 calendar year, which bound Lockett to the association’s bylaws, official rodeo rules and other PRCA rules. One of those rules, printed on the reverse side of the membership form, specified that rodeo events were inherently dangerous. The form included an agreement that Lockett assumed the risk of any injury and released PRCA from liability for any injury that he suffered.
The appeals court noted that had Lockett not signed the form he would not have been able to earn a living as a rodeo cowboy.
In June 2001, he sued the Flying U and the state, alleging causes of action for negligence and willful misconduct. In March 2002, Flying U and the state moved for summary judgment or summary adjudication, arguing specifically that Lockett had signed the release form and had thus assumed the risk of injury. A month later, those motions were denied. In June 2002, he amended his complaint to name the PRCA as an additional defendant “after discovering that PRCA judges might have discussed repair of the allegedly hazardous condition before he was injured.”
All three defendants filed amended answers to the complaint, again arguing for an affirmative defense that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury.
In February 2003, the trial court ruled that the defendants were entitled to judgment on the negligence cause of action because Lockett had assumed the risk of injury when he signed his membership form. The plaintiff appealed
One of the issues raised by Lockett on appeal was that the assumption of risk and release of liability clause on the membership form that he signed was not prominent and clear. Specifically, he claimed that “the release was on the reverse side of the membership form, that it was not referenced on the front side, and that the reverse side of the form did not require his signature,” wrote the appeals court, which found the argument “unpersuasive.”
“First, even a document that references provisions on the reverse side of it may be enforced as a valid contract if the writing appears to be a contract and the terms are called to the attention of the signer,” wrote the appeals court, citing Marin Storage & Trucking, Inc. v. Benco Contracting & Engineering, Inc., supra, 89 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1049-1050.
“Second, the release of liability was referenced on the front of the form. The clause that was reprinted on the reverse side of the membership form was cited on the front in bold-faced type of a larger size than the surrounding language.
“Third, the reference to the release of liability was placed immediately above where Lockett signed it. On the front of the form, Lockett agreed to be bound by ‘the terms of Bylaw B1.2.4 . . ., the text of which is reprinted on the reverse side of this form.’ On the top of the reverse side of the form, the bylaw is printed under a heading-again, in larger, bold-faced type-that reads: ‘THIS IS A RELEASE OF LIABILITY. BY BECOMING A MEMBER OF THE PRCA, YOU ARE AGREEING TO RELEASE THE PRCA AND OTHER PARTIES FROM LIABILITY. PLEASE READ THIS PROVISION CAREFULLY.'”
In finding for the defendants, the court found that the key language was placed in a position that compelled notice allowing Lockett to be charged with knowingly assuming the risk of his injury. (See id. at pp. 1232-1235.)” Lockett v. Flying U Rodeo Company et al.; Ct.App.Cal., 1st App. Dist., Div. 4; A102814; 9/22/04