California Appeals Court Upholds Summary Judgment for Defendants in Motorcycle Training Injury Case

A man was injured while participating in a basic rider training class conducted by Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Inc. at Cerritos Community College. He brought a California motorcycle accident case, and the defendants moved for summary judgment, citing a waiver signed by the plaintiff. The trial court granted summary judgment. The California Court of Appeals for the Second District affirmed.

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The defendants asserted the waiver and release signed by the plaintiff barred all of his causes of action. Under the terms of the waiver, the plaintiff released the defendants from all injuries caused by their negligence or the negligence of others. The defendants met their initial burden of production, the appeals court held. Therefore, the burden shifted to the plaintiff to show a triable issue of material fact existed.

The plaintiff contended the gross negligence cause of action survived the waiver. However, the appeals court reasoned, the plaintiff’s only document in support was the unverified first amended complaint. A party cannot rely on its own pleadings as evidence to support or oppose a summary judgment motion. California Code of Civil Procedure section 437c, subdivision (b)(1) requires the opposing party to demonstrate a triable issue of material fact by “affidavits, declarations, admissions, answers to interrogatories, depositions, and matters of which judicial notice shall or may be taken.” The appeals court concluded that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate a triable issue of material fact existed for gross negligence. The defendants were therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to that cause of action.

The plaintiff also contended that the waiver was unenforceable because it was against public policy. Civil Code section 1668 provides that all contracts that exempt anyone from responsibility for injuries to the person or property of another person are against the law. But many cases have found section 1668 does not apply to exemptions from liability for ordinary negligence if the incident does not involve the public interest.

Pursuant to Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, there are six characteristics typical of a contract affecting the public interest:  (1) it concerns a business generally suitable for public regulation; (2) the party seeking exculpation is performing a service important to the public; (3) the party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for the public; (4) the party invoking exculpation possesses more bargaining power; (5) the party confronts the public with a standard adhesion contract of exculpation; and (6) the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller by the seller as a result of the transaction.

The plaintiff asserted that all six characteristics were met. The appeals court disagreed. Applying the Tunkl factors, the court noted several distinctions. A motorcycle riding training class is not subject to a high level of public regulation, unlike the medical and hospital services provided in Tunkl. Also, a motorcycle riding training class is not an activity of great importance to the general public and is not a matter of necessity. The class was not mandatory for the plaintiff to lawfully ride a motorcycle. A motorcycle riding training class can hardly be considered essential. Unless it is entirely plain that a contract is violative of sound public policy, the appeals court explained, a court should not so declare. The power of the courts to declare a contract void for being in contravention of sound public policy is a very delicate and undefined power, and it should be exercised only in cases free from doubt.

For these reasons, the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to meet his burden of production. The defendants were therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all of the plaintiff’s causes of action.

The motorcycle accident lawyers at Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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