Idaho SC dismisses man's suit for team-building injuries

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 28, 2012, 10:30am


BOISE, Idaho (Legal Newsline) - The Idaho Supreme Court last week dismissed a case filed by a man who sued over injuries he received during a team-building exercise.

In a ruling Thursday, the Court affirmed the decision of the Canyon County District Court, which dismissed plaintiff Paul Morrison's lawsuit against Northwest Nazarene University.

The university moved for summary judgment on the ground that Morrison's cause of action was barred by the hold harmless agreement.

The district court, in its ruling, agreed. Morrison appealed.

Morrison's employer wanted him and his coworkers to participate in a team-building exercise at the university. The program included a climbing wall activity.

Days before the exercise, Morrison's employer required him and the others to sign a release prepared by the university, holding it harmless for any loss or damage they might incur due to its negligence or that of its employees.

Morrison fell while on the climbing wall, leaving him severely injured.

He sued the university, alleging that his injuries were caused by the negligence of its employees who were supervising the wall activity.

More specifically, one of Morrison's coworkers was assigned to control the safety rope used to keep the climber -- in this case, Morrison -- from falling. Morrison alleges that his fall was caused by the negligent failure of the university employee to properly train and supervise his coworker.

Justice Daniel T. Eismann, who authored the Court's 10-page opinion, explained that agreements exempting a party from liability for negligence are upheld unless the party owes to the other party a "public duty" created by statute, or the other party is at an "obvious disadvantage" in bargaining power.

"In this case, there is no allegation of any public duty that the University owed to Morrison. However, he contends that there was an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power because his employer required that he sign the hold harmless agreement," the justice wrote.

"The existence of unequal bargaining power is not, by itself, sufficient to relieve a party from the provisions of a hold harmless agreement."

Morrison claimed that he was not given the option of refusing to sign the release, and it was required by his employer.

"Morrison was not injured by signing the release. He was injured by falling from the climbing wall," Eismann wrote. "Absent from his affidavit is any statement that he told his employer that he did not want to climb the climbing wall and that his employer ordered him to do so anyway."

Morrison also argued that the hold harmless agreement is invalid because it is "overly broad" and "ineffective" to bar his claim because it does not clearly identify the conduct that caused his injuries.

The Court didn't buy that argument either.

"The hold harmless agreement is not overbroad. It only applies to all causes of action 'resulting from, arising out of or in any way connected with his/her participation in or use of the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure Program.'

"Due to the dangers inherent in climbing the climbing wall, the University can certainly require such a release from anyone choosing to engage in that activity," Eismann wrote.

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