In a recent Texas premises liability case, the plaintiff was a member of a country club that had a golf course. He also owned an associated condo unit. The 16th hole of the gold course had an elevated green, around which were cliffs. While playing that hole, the plaintiff tripped, rolled, and fell off the side. His shoulder was severely injured.
The plaintiff sued the ranch, the designer, and the owner of the country club, claiming gross negligence, negligence, and premises liability. They filed motions for summary judgment. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of them. He acknowledged documents related to his membership at the country club and his ownership of the associated condominium unit included releases that acknowledged and assumed risks associated with the club facilities.
He claimed that a supplemental declaration violated the statute of frauds and that the release wasn’t enforceable because it didn’t meet the fair notice requirements. The evidence wasn’t disputed that he signed a lot sales contract in buying a condo unit. The agreement stated the unit he was contracting to buy was subject to restrictions and conditions. The agreement included a defined term. The declaration referenced a statement that a copy of the documents had been gotten by the buyer. The contract also stated that the declaration was recorded.
The appellate court explained that condominium declarations are treated as contracts. A signed contract in writing that is specifically accepted by the other party binds both. Condominium unit owners accept terms, conditions, and restrictions of the declaration by accepting individual condo unit deeds. The appellate court found that the owner had accepted the terms of the supplemental declaration and that it didn’t violate the statute of frauds.
The appellate court also found that pre-injury releases have to meet fair notice requirements related to a shifting of risk. The requirements include an express negligence doctrine and a conspicuousness requirement. The express negligence doctrine needed the parties’ intent to release liability from the releasing party’s own future negligence had to be expressed without ambiguity within the four corners of the contract. Another way the rule should be formulated is that the provision needs to state which claim is being released.
The release in this case stated that the owners acknowledge, accept, and assume risks associated with club facility property hazards. The appellate court found that this release referred to the condo and its contractors and included claims against all of the defendants in this case. The plaintiff had argued the express negligence doctrine wasn’t satisfied because it only referred to claims related to hazardous conditions, which were defined in another part of the agreement to be limited to conditions like the cliffs, which were naturally occurring. The plaintiff believed that since he claimed the slope of the green contributed to his injury, and the slope was not naturally occurring, his claims were not included within the release.
The appellate court disagreed, stating that the release language extended to any claims connected in any way with assumed risks. Falling off an elevated green was a risk related to operating a golf course, so the release satisfied the express negligence doctrine.
The conspicuousness rule is that if risk is shifted, it needs to appear conspicuously on the contract’s face to catch the attention of a reasonable person when he looks at it. Language is conspicuous if it’s all in capital letters. Compliance with these fair notice requirements is a legal question.
The release language in this case was in all capital letters, while the other language around it wasn’t. The appellate court found this satisfied the requirement that the language be conspicuous.
For these and other reasons, the summary judgment was affirmed.
If you are injured on somebody else’s property, you should consult a Texas attorney with experience in premises liability cases to seek a favorable outcome. Consult the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw for more information at 1-800-862-1260.