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Robert Amezcua et al. v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson

October 27, 2011

ROBERT AMEZCUA ET AL. PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
LOS ANGELES HARLEY-DAVIDSON, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. VC048980) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Thomas McKnew, Judge. Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rubin, Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Plaintiffs and appellants Robert and Nancy Amezcua (individually Robert and Nancy, collectively the Amezcuas) appeal from the summary judgment entered against them and in favor of defendant and respondent Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, Inc. (Harley-Davidson). The Amezcuas sued Harley-Davidson for damages arising out of injuries they suffered in a collision which occurred while they were riding in the 2006 "Pursuit for Kids Toy Drive," a group motorcycle ride organized annually by Harley-Davidson (the 2006 Toy Ride). Appellants contend: (1) Harley-Davidson owed a duty of care to the participants in the 2006 Toy Ride; (2) Harley-Davidson is liable under the "peculiar risk" doctrine; (3) Harley-Davidson is jointly liable with the Los Angeles County Police Department; (4) assumption of risk does not apply; (5) the waiver agreement is unenforceable; and (6) Harley-Davidson's gross negligence rendered the release agreement unenforceable. We affirm.*fn1

FACTS

The material facts of the accident itself are undisputed. The 2006 Toy Ride took place on November 26, 2006. Participants could preregister or they could register immediately before the ride at the Harley-Davidson dealership on Paramount Blvd. in South Gate, where the 2006 Toy Ride began. Registration included signing a release form that Harley-Davidson used for all annual Toy Rides. That form stated in part:

". . . I expressly agree to assume the entire risk of any accident or personal injury, including death, which I might suffer as a result of my participation in the event whether such risk result from negligence (except willful neglect) on the part of any or all of the Released Parties."

The morning of the ride, Los Angeles County Police Sergeant Bradley Sheffield made some opening remarks to the crowd gathered at the dealership. Afterwards, Sheffield and an officer dressed as Santa Claus got into a marked Los Angeles County Police vehicle and led the procession of motorcycles to Harbor UCLA Medical Center on Carson Street in Torrance, along a route that included the 105 and 110 Freeways. While en route, Sheffield received word that a motorcycle had gone down.

Robert was an experienced motorcyclist and had participated in dozens of organized motorcycle rides, including several prior Toy Rides organized by Harley-Davidson. In the past, Robert had registered to participate in Harley-Davidson organized Toy Rides, including signing the release form. But Robert chose to ride in the 2006 Toy Ride without registering or signing the release. Robert estimated that there were about 200 motorcycles in the 2006 Toy Ride.*fn2 Robert was driving and Nancy was seated behind him when they left the dealership towards the rear of the procession; they remained in that position throughout the ride. All of the motorcycles in the procession stayed in one lane on the freeways, which Robert referred to as the "motorcycle lane." Robert did not see any vehicles in the motorcycle lane that were not part of the 2006 Toy Ride, although there were a number of vehicles in the other lanes. While on the 110 Freeway, Robert and the other motorcycles were in the lane to the left of the lane in which vehicles transitioning onto the 110 Freeway from the 91 Freeway were traveling. Another motorcycle was riding in the same lane as the Amezcuas, to the Amezcuas' immediate right. Robert first saw the van "way ahead" and in the lane to his right. As traffic got heavier, the lane in which the van was traveling slowed faster than the lane in which Robert was riding; as a result, the distance between Robert's motorcycle and the van shortened. Robert noticed that, although the van was staying within its own lane, it more than once moved closer to the motorcycle lane and then moved away again. Although the van did not have its turning signal on, Robert surmised that the driver of the van was either distracted by the motorcycle procession or he wanted to cross through the line of motorcycles. Robert signaled the motorcycle to his right to slow down so as to create a gap between them and the motorcycles ahead of them for the van to pass through. Robert saw the van hit the car in front of it, but the van did not stop. As Robert slowed down to leave room for the van to pass through the motorcycle lane, the motorcycle to Robert's right sped up to pass the van and catch up with the procession. At the same moment that motorcycle was pulling ahead of the Amezcuas, the van started to move into the gap Robert had created for the van to pass through. As a result, the other motorcycle and the van were in the gap at the same time. The van almost hit the motorcycle, but swerved back into its lane. The other motorcycle sped up and passed the van, but the van swerved back into the motorcycle lane and, this time, hit the Amezcuas. The record does not reveal the nature or extent of their injuries.

Jose Medina, driver of the van that collided with the Amezcuas, recalled that he was traveling on the southbound 110 Freeway when he was startled by the roar of 15 or 20 motorcycles behind him. Medina could not brake in time to avoid hitting a vehicle in front of him. At the moment Medina hit that vehicle, a motorcycle "also came in, and I don't know how they fell also at the same time. That's all."

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Amezcuas filed this action against Harley-Davidson in July 2007. The gravamen of the operative Second Amended Complaint (complaint), filed in October 2007, was that the collision was caused by Harley-Davidson's negligence in organizing the 2006 Toy Ride.

Harley-Davidson sought summary judgment on various theories. One theory was that the Amezcuas claims were barred by the assumption of risk doctrine. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Harley-Davidson on this theory, holding that Harley-Davidson owed no duty to the Amezcuas. The trial court also found that Robert had participated in other similar events for which he registered; the Amezcuas elected not to register for the 2006 Toy Ride and thereby avoided signing the release of liability; the Amezcuas should not benefit from their failure to register and sign the waiver for the 2006 Toy Ride. Judgment was entered on February 26, 2010, and Notice of Entry of Judgment was served on March 22, 2010. The Amezcuas timely appealed.

THE SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A. Standard of Review

The standard of review of an order granting summary judgment is well-established. We independently review the entire record in the same manner as the trial court. (Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 334.) Our review is confined to the papers that were before the trial court on the summary judgment motion that is the subject of the appeal. We consider " 'all of the evidence set forth in the [supporting and opposition] papers, except that to which objections have been made and sustained by the court, and all [uncontradicted] inferences reasonably deducible from the evidence.' [Citation.]" (Artiglio v. Corning Inc. (1998) 18 Cal.4th 604, 612.) We view that evidence "in a light favorable to plaintiff as the losing party [citation], liberally construing [their] evidentiary submission while strictly scrutinizing [defendant's] own showing, and resolving any evidentiary doubts or ambiguities in plaintiff's favor." (Saelzler v. Advanced Group 400 (2001) 25 Cal.4th 763, 768; accord, Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 843 (Aguilar).)

First, we review the issues framed by the operative pleadings to determine the scope of material issues. Next we determine whether the moving party has discharged its initial burden of production. If we determine the moving party made the requisite prima facie showing of the nonexistence of a triable issue of fact, we then review the opposing party's submissions to determine if a material triable issue exists. (See Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 850-851; Todd v. Dow (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 253, 258.) Summary judgment is appropriate where "all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. . . ." (Code Civ. Proc., ยง 437c, subd. (c).) "The trial judge's stated reason for granting summary judgment is not binding on us because we review its ruling, not ...


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