University of Vermont AAHS


REARDON v. WINDSWEPT FARM

Superior Court of Connecticut

2005 WL 896018

March 15, 2005

 

Summary of Case

In a suit for damages for injuries sustained in a fall from a horse rented from defendant, Windswept Farm, plaintiff claimed that the release she signed  before the ride should not bar her claim.  The release contained a waiver, a warning, and an indemnification clause.  Plaintiff claimed that the release was ambiguous.. The court found  the "warning" section of the waiver "somewhat flawed", but that is not what plaintiff relied upon.  Plaintiff did rely on any internal ambiguities but on the meaning when section s were read together.  The court found the the sections clearly labeled with separate captions and held that it was not ambiguous.

 

 

Text of Case

DAVID R. TOBIN, Judge.
 This is a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants in an action brought by plaintiff seeking damages for personal injuries suffered by her on October 24, 2002 after being thrown from a horse rented to her by defendant, Windswept Farm, LLC. The complaint claims that plaintiff's injuries were the result of the defendants' negligence. The defendants' answer pleads several special defenses including the claim that the plaintiff's claims are barred by a release/waiver she signed.
 

In support of their motion of summary judgment the defendants filed an affidavit from a court reporter verifying deposition testimony of the plaintiff in which she admitted signing a document prior to riding the defendants' horse. The defendants claim that this document bars the plaintiff from prosecuting her claims of negligence. In response, the plaintiff claims that the document is ambiguous and that evidence must be heard by a finder of fact before it can be determined that the waiver of claims based on defendants' negligence is valid.
 

The document, dated October 24, 2002, consists of three sections. The first section, which is set apart from the rest of the document by horizontal lines, is entitled "WARNING." The second section is entitled "RELEASE." The third section is entitled "INDEMNITY AGREEMENT."
 

The Warning section reads as follows:
Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes 52-577p a person engaged in recreational activities assumes the risk and responsibility for any injury to his person or property arising out of the hazards inherent in equestrian sports, unless the injury was proximately caused by the negligence of the person providing the horse or horses to the individual engaged in the equestrian activities or the failure to guard or warm against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity by the person provided [sic] the horse or his agents or employees.
 

The Release section reads as follows:
For, and in consideration of, the privilege to participate in an equine activity at Windswept Farm this date, receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged, the undersigned hereby agrees to release and discharge and acquit WINDSWEPT FARM, its owners stockholders, officers, directors, employees, agents and servant from any and all claims, demands, sums of money, actions, rights, causes of action, liabilities and obligations of any kind or nature whatsoever, including ordinary negligence, which I may have had now have or hereafter may have, or assert to have, which arise out of, or is in any manner whatsoever directly or indirectly, connected with or related to my participation in the equine activity on this date.
The undersigned further warrants and represents that the information contained in this form is true and correct; and that he or she has read this release and fully understands its terms. No promise or representation had been made to the undersigned other than the terms contained herein.

 

The Indemnification Agreement section of the document states, in relevant portion: "The undersigned represents and warrants that he/she has read and understands the above-captioned Warning and Release."
 

The plaintiff concedes that the "Release" portion of the document standing alone would be sufficient to bar the plaintiff's action. However, the plaintiff claims that in the context of the entire document the "Release" section is rendered ambiguous when read in conjunction with the "Warning" section.
 

The "Warning" section is somewhat flawed. It refers to Connecticut General Statutes 52-577p. However, that statute was renumbered to Connecticut General Statutes 52-557p in 1997, five years prior to the date of the document. In addition, although wording of the warning for the most part tracks the statutory language, the word "providing" in the last line is changed to "provided" somewhat confusing the import of the warning.
The plaintiff does not rely upon any internal ambiguities within the body of the Warning section. Instead the plaintiff claims that release of all claims "including ordinary negligence" set forth in the Release section becomes ambiguous when it is read together with the statement in the Warning section excluding injuries "proximately caused by the negligence of the person providing the horse or horses to the individual engaged in the equestrian activities." The court does not agree.
 

The document in question consists of separate and independent sections. The Warning section purports to state Connecticut law and alert the rider of the assumption of risks inherent in participation in equestrian sports. The section is separately labeled and separated from the remainder of the document by horizontal lines. The Release section bears a separate caption and states in unambiguous language that the release includes "ordinary negligence" of the defendants. There is no cross reference between the two sections to make the understanding of both essential to the understanding of one. Under these circumstances the court finds that the release is clear and unambiguous.
There is no genuine issue of fact regarding the release. The defendants are entitled to Summary Judgment as a matter of law. Their motion for summary judgment is granted.

 


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