University of Vermont AAHS

Matthews v. Ingham

Texas Court of Appeals, Austin, 1997

UNPUBLISHED, 1997 WL 774544

 

Summary of Opinion

Defendant Ingham had just finished roping a steer and remained in the arena to protest a call by the official. Plaintiff Matthews was next to rope and saw Ingham in the ring when he and his partner entered the roping boxes. Ingham moved at this point and Matthews collided with him and was injured when attempting to rope his steer.

The trial court granted summary judgment for Ingham and Matthews appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a trial. It held that the actions of Ingham in moving his horse after Matthews had entered the roping box was not ordinary conduct inherent in the sport of steer roping and might have been negligent conduct. Therefore, the issue should be resolved in a trial.
 

Text of Opinion

Before Justices POWERS, ABOUSSIE and JONES

PER CURIAM.

Two horses and their riders collided while competing in a steer-roping contest. The question presented is whether appellee Ingham could have any liability for the injuries sustained by appellant Matthews. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Ingham, the defendant in the trial court. [FN1] We will reverse the trial-court judgment and remand the cause.

Background

Matthews and Ingham were competing in a team steer-roping event. Ingham and his partner had roped before Matthews and his partner's scheduled run. Ingham, still on his horse, remained in the arena to register a protest after his run. The steer that Matthews and his partner were to rope was released before Ingham cleared the arena. Matthews and Ingham collided as Matthews rode out of the chute to pursue his steer, resulting in injuries to Matthews.

Matthews' pleadings alleged various acts of negligent and reckless conduct on Ingham's part. Ingham filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Matthews brings four points of error, alleging generally that the trial court erred in granting Ingham's motion for summary judgment. Points of error three and four contend that the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment because chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code [[the Texas Equine Activity Statute]] does not apply to this cause, or, in the alternative, a fact issue exists under this chapter. [FN2] Ingham's motion for summary judgment did not present chapter 87 as a ground for summary judgment, the judgment does not reflect reliance on chapter 87, and Ingham, in his appellate brief, agrees chapter 87 does not apply. Accordingly, we overrule points three and four.
 

Sporting-Event Injuries

In points of error one and two Matthews contends generally that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the evidence raised material fact issues. The movant for summary judgment has the burden of showing there are no genuine issues of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a mater of law. Nixon v. Mr. Property Management Co., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548-49 (Tex.1985). In deciding whether there is a disputed material fact issue precluding summary judgment, we take evidence favorable to the nonmovant as true. Id. We also indulge every reasonable inference in favor of the nonmovant and resolve doubts in his favor. Id.

Many cases have discussed whether a participant in a sport can hold another participant liable for negligent conduct that causes injury or whether the conduct causing injury must be reckless or intentional. [FN3] Recent Texas cases have applied the "reckless or intentional" standard to sports such as polo, golf and baseball. Greer v. Davis, 921 S.W.2d 325, 328-29 (Tex.App.-- Corpus Christi), writ denied, 940 S.W.2d 582 (Tex.1996) (baseball); Allen v. Donath, 875 S.W.2d 438, 440 (Tex.App.--Waco 1994, writ denied) (golf); Hathaway v. Tascosa Country Club, Inc., 846 S.W.2d 614, 616-17 (Tex.App.--Amarillo 1993, no writ) (golf); Connell v. Payne, 814 S.W.2d 486, 488 (Tex.App.--Dallas 1991, writ denied) (polo).

The Texas Supreme Court criticized the "reckless or intentional" standard because of the ease with which a plaintiff can demonstrate a fact question as to the defendant's state of mind. Greer, 940 S.W.2d at 582. Instead, it articulated a different standard: "By voluntarily participating in a competitive sport, a participant is deemed to have consented to and assumed the risk of all harmful contacts and foreseeable injuries that are inherent to that particular sport." Id. The court said that this standard still provided a remedy for participants injured because of an abnormal or unforeseeable act to which they did not consent. Id. at 583. "Utilizing this standard, courts will no longer be required to determine the subjective state of the participant's mind, but can instead concern themselves with the objective determination of whether the actions were foreseeable or expected in the course of the particular sporting event." Id. If a participant can show that the injury resulted from such a foreseeable and expected action, then that participant should be able to obtain summary disposition. Id.

We first note that the parties and the trial court did not have the benefit of the final Greer decision at trial or at the time of submission to this court; therefore, Ingham could not move for summary judgment on this basis. However, inasmuch as Greer intended to allow a defendant to more easily obtain summary disposition than under a "reckless or intentional" standard, in the interests of judicial economy, we will consider whether the summary disposition can survive either standard.

Our first consideration is whether the roping competition is a sport within the Greer analysis. The parties do not dispute that it is a sport and we agree. It is not a head-to-head team event like polo or baseball but does involve people competing against time and each other in an organized fashion. Under Greer, the question then becomes whether the injury resulted from an action that was foreseeable or expected in the course of the particular sporting event or was an abnormal or unforeseeable act. Ingham was entitled to summary judgment only if he proved the act causing the injury was inherent and foreseeable as a matter of law. We do not think the record as developed on summary judgment allows us to decide the question and we must remand for further action in the trial court.

Both Matthews and Ingham are experienced participants in the sport. Ingham, as movant, by affidavit testified that it was not unusual for a contestant to remain in the arena after the run and that it was the responsibility of the incoming team to check the arena and "accept or reject" the arena as they found it, meaning that if a rider remained in the arena, that was part of the condition of the arena. In other words, part of the foreseeable risk of steer roping is the obstacle presented by the preceding team. Matthews does not dispute Ingham's evidence that it was common for a competitor to remain in the arena. However, Matthews, by affidavit and deposition, testified that if Ingham did not promptly exit the arena, he should have remained in the location where he was when Matthews first entered the chute; Matthews claimed he did not expect movement on Ingham's part after the incoming team started to move into position. The central issue is not Ingham's mere presence in the arena-- Matthews actually saw and spoke to Ingham. Rather, the issue is Ingham's behavior in moving from the position he was in when Matthews and his partner took their positions in the chutes. Matthews testified that it was not unusual for riders to remain in the arena, but he expected such a rider to remain still and positioned by the flagger who controls the gate that allows the steer to start the run.

There was also conflicting evidence about whether specific rules controlled the participants' behavior, whether these rules were universal or peculiar to each arena and what, if any, rules were in effect for this event. Rules, of course, help shape the parties' understanding of each participant's expected behavior, that is, the behavior to which they were giving consent.

On this record, Ingham has not demonstrated as a matter of law that his conduct in the arena was normal and foreseeable under Greer. In view of our mandate to resolve all evidentiary and inferential conflicts in favor of the nonmovant, we are constrained to hold that fact issues exist about the expected behavior in this sport. For that matter, under the circumstances of this sport, there may be no expected behavior and participants consent to that randomness.

As noted in Greer, a major barrier against a defendant obtaining summary disposition under the "reckless or intentional" test is the subjective element of the analysis. [FN4] For the reasons noted in Greer, and because of the constraints of summary judgment review, we cannot uphold the summary judgment on this record under a pre-Greer analysis either. Accordingly, we sustain points of error one and two, reverse the trial-court judgment, and remand for further proceedings.
 


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