Massachusetts Appeals Court Holds Personal Injury Claim Barred by Release

A plaintiff was injured while playing in an ultimate frisbee league game at an athletic facility owned by the defendant. His wife and he filed a complaint against the defendant, with the plaintiff claiming negligence, his wife claiming loss of consortium, and both plaintiffs claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress. The defendant answered and made a counterclaim for indemnification against the plaintiff.The judge allowed the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on both of the plaintiff’s claims, ruling that he waived the claims by signing a release of liability when he registered to play in the ultimate frisbee league. The wife’s claims proceeded to a three-day jury trial. At the close of evidence, the same judge entered a directed verdict for the defendant on its indemnity counterclaim against the plaintiff, and the jury then returned a verdict for the defendant on the wife’s claims. Both plaintiffs appealed. The husband challenged the judge’s allowance of the defendant’s motions for summary judgment and a directed verdict and the judge’s award of attorney’s fees and costs. The wife challenged the judge’s allowance of two motions in limine made by the defendant. Discerning no error in any of these rulings, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance (BUDA) is a nonprofit organization that runs ultimate frisbee leagues. To participate in a BUDA-sponsored league, players must sign a release of liability form, which is available on BUDA’s website. The husband signed such a release when he registered to play in one of BUDA’s 2010 winter leagues.

The trial court ruled that the plain language of the release barred both of the husband’s claims against Teamworks and entered summary judgment accordingly. The appeals court agreed that the release signed by the husband was unambiguous and barred his negligence claims against the defendant. The release applied to a category of “Releasees,” which included, “if applicable, owners and lessors of the premises used for the activity.” The husband agreed to indemnify those “Releasees” and to waive any claim for injuries or losses “arising from the negligence of the Releasees or otherwise.” Thus, pursuant to its plain language, the release shielded the defendant — the lessor of the premises used by BUDA — from liability for the husband’s injuries.

For similar reasons, the appeals court concluded that the trial judge correctly allowed the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on its counterclaim for indemnification against the husband. He contended on appeal that the judge erred in directing a verdict because the jury could have found from the evidence that the defendant was not an intended beneficiary of the indemnification provision of the release.

The appeals court disagreed, again emphasizing that the indemnification provision applied to the “Releasees,” which expressly included “owners and lessors of the premises used for the activity.” The plain language of the release therefore showed that the husband agreed to indemnify the defendant for any injuries or losses arising out of BUDA-league games played at the defendant’s facility.

The husband further argued that the trial judge erred as a matter of law in awarding attorney’s fees and costs to the defendant because the right to such an award was not specifically set out in the indemnification provision of the release. The appeals court explained, however, that Massachusetts law clearly dictates that when a right to indemnity is conferred, by written contract or otherwise, the indemnitee may recover reasonable legal fees and costs incurred in resisting a claim within the compass of the indemnity.

The appeals court also rejected the husband’s argument that the award was excessive because the “majority of the requested fees represent duplicative work,” and the fees “were not apportioned appropriately” between the wife’s claims and the husband’s claims. The husband’s conclusory assertions that the fees were not correctly calculated, the court held, were insufficient to demonstrate that the trial judge abused her discretion. Furthermore, the record reflected that the trial judge carefully considered the defendant’s request and twice ordered that it be reduced to exclude time that was attributable to the defense of the wife’s claims. The appeals court concluded that the trial judge acted well within her discretion in calculating the final award.

The wife’s only arguments on appeal concerned the judge’s rulings on two motions in limine brought by the defendant. She first asserted that the judge erred in allowing the defendant’s motion to limit the testimony of her expert witness. The appeals court held that the wife failed to show that the judge’s ruling constituted an abuse of discretion. In fact, she conceded in her brief that an expert “may not offer a legal conclusion or invade the province of the jury.” Although she claimed that the “[j]udge far exceeded these concerns,” she did not support her claim with citations to legal authority or with an explanation of how the alleged error prejudiced her, the latter omission being particularly significant, given her own choice not to call the expert to testify. The appeals court therefore concluded that her discussion of this issue failed to rise to the level of adequate appellate argument.

The wife next asserted that the trial judge erred in allowing the defendant’s motion to exclude the introduction of the husband’s medical records. Here, the appeals court also found, the wife offered only conclusory assertions without citing to any supporting legal authority. The appeals court concluded regardless that the trial judge was within her discretion in excluding the medical records. As the trial judge observed, the proof of the wife’s damages was not dependent on the medical records but instead on how she was affected by the husband’s injuries. Both plaintiffs testified extensively about the husband’s injuries and their effect on the wife. She therefore failed to show how the judge abused her discretion in this respect.

For these reasons, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If you have been hurt in a sports accident, you may need the assistance of a sports accident lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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