Injured Motorcyclist Barred From Recovery Because of Release Signed by Plaintiff

Cynthia DeCornmier suffered serious injuries when she fell from her motorcycle on a motorcycle training course. Before the beginning of the training course, DeCornmier signed a release of all claims that may have resulted from or arising out of her participation in the training course. The release document stated in bold letters that it covered all claims she may have, including without limitation, all claims resulting from the negligence of those involved in the course.

In spite of the release that was signed in advance of the motorcycle training course, she filed a lawsuit against Harley-Davidson and Gateway Harvey-Davidson alleging that they were negligent and reckless by directing her to perform motorcycle maneuvers on a range that was icy and slippery. In the lawsuit, DeCornmier maintained that the liability release document that she signed in advance was unenforceable against claims of gross negligence or recklessness.

The defendants Harley Davidson and Gateway Harley-Davidson, filed motions for summary judgment, which the trial judge granted dismissing DeCornmier’s case.

The case was appealed to the Missouri Appellate Court and affirmed by the Supreme Court of Missouri.

DeCornmier’s appeal asserted that the circuit court judge erred in entering judgment in favor of Harley-Davidson and Gateway on the basis of the release because a party cannot exonerate itself from future liability for gross negligence or recklessness, and there exists a genuine dispute whether Harley-Davidson and Gateway were grossly negligent and reckless.

The court stated, “While exculpatory agreements would be strictly construed, this Court will enforce exculpatory agreements to protect the party from liability for their negligence.” Alack v. Vic Tanny Int’l of Mo., Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 334 (Mo. Banc 1996). DeCornmier sought to overcome this rule by alleging Harvey-Davidson and Gateway were grossly negligent because Missouri courts do not recognize degrees of negligence at common law.

The court also stated that Harley-Davidson and Gateway were entitled to summary judgment because DeCornmier failed to meet her burden to show that they were reckless. The party is in reckless disregard of others if the party intentionally acts or fails to act while knowing or having reason to know of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize such conduct creates an unreasonably high degree of risk of substantial harm. Restatement (Second) of Torts and Nichols v. Bresnahan, 212 S.W.2d 570, 573 (Mo. 1948).

The court noted in its opinion that the plaintiff did not show a genuine issue as to whether Harley-Davidson and Gateway were reckless by referencing with specificity any of the discovery, exhibits and affidavits as a non-moving party is required to do in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment.

Summary judgment brought under Illinois law, 735 ILCS 5/2-1005, would require the same burden on the non-moving party. Subsection (c) of Illinois summary judgment section states, “The judgment sought shall be rendered without delay of the pleadings, depositions and admission on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

DeCornmier v. Harley-Davidson Motor Company Group, Inc., et al., No. SC93702 (Mo. Banc, Nov. 12, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling motorcycle accident cases, car accident cases, truck accident cases, product liability cases and nursing home abuse case for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Arlington Heights, Antioch, Evanston, Skokie, Chicago (Lakeview, Andersonville, Albany Park, Garfield Park, Edgewater, Edison Park, Chinatown, Morgan Park, Ravenswood Gardens), Glencoe, Lisle, Joliet, Hinsdale, Geneva, Fox River Grove, Evergreen Park, Round Lake Beach, Schiller Park, Western Springs, St. Charles, Lemont, Lockport, Niles and Northbrook, Ill.

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