In Dimick v. Hopkinson No. S-17-0318, the plaintiffs Skylar and Jenny Dimick raise five issues on appeal to the Supreme Court of Wyoming. The appeals involve the main question of whether or not the district court wrongly granted summary judgments to the Hopkinsons, and also if the district court erred in finding no admissible evidence to ensure that the Hopkinson Family Trust exists.
Skylar Dimick was seriously injured when he fell into a septic tank on camp ground property owned by Scott Hopkinson. After the incident, the Dimicks filed a negligence action against Mr. Hopkinson, his businesses, his family trust and his wife. They also went after punitive damages from the Hopkinsons for their “willful and wanton misconduct.” The district court had found no issues of actual material fact, and it granted summary judgment to all of the defendants.
The district court explained their decision by concluding that the Hopkinsons and his businesses were legally protected by a valid release of liability that was signed by Mr. Dimick. According to the court, Mr. Hopkinson committed no “willful and wanton acts,” and the defendant was not a legitimate cause of Mr. Dimick’s injuries and wasn’t involved in a joint venture with the defendant.
The appeals court reorganized the plaintiff’s five issues on appeal in order to properly address the pressing issues. The first issue raised the question: did the court wrongly grant summary judgment to the defendants by finding that the release of liability forgave them from liability for negligence, and that Mr. Hopkinson’s conduct was not “willful and wanton?” Also, did the district court mistakenly give summary judgment to Mrs. Hopkinson by disputing that she was not the cause of Mr. Dimick’s injuries, and that she wasn’t involved in a joint venture with Mr. Hopkinson? Lastly, did the court err in finding that no admissible evidence to make an “issue of material fact” that the Hopkinson Family Trust exists?
It was vital for the appeals court to revisit the facts of the case and what exactly happened that led to Mr. Dimick’s injuries. Mr. Hopkinson owns a portion of a 120-acre working ranch at the Fort Bridger State Historic Site in Uinta County, which is also known as the Fort Bridger Tin Tipi Village (Tin Tipi Village). The Dimicks arrived at the Tin Tipi Village on August 30, 2013, and Mr. Dimick signed the release and waiver of liability.
A few days before the Dimicks’ arrival, Mr. Hopkinson hired United Services to empty a septic tank on the property. The hired agent informed Mr. Hopkinson that the original cover to the opening of the tank was not safe, and if stepped on it could fall into the tank. Taking his advice, Mr. Hopkinson replaced the original opening with a piece of sheet metal, and he jumped up and down on the sheet to test its strength. Mr. Dimick lifted that same metal sheet, stepped on the pallet, and fell into the tank. As a result, Mr. Dimick suffered serious injuries requiring medical treatment and surgeries.
The appeals court addressed each appeal in detail as relating to the facts of the case. First, it was found that a valid release of liability can protect a defendant from a negligence suit. However, even if it is valid, the release is unconstitutional if the plaintiff’s injury resulted from the defendant’s “willful and wanton” misconduct. It was determined that the release was actually valid, because it was found that the release was in complete agreement between all of the parties, it did not breach public policy, and it clearly outlined the parties’ intention to discharge liability for any injuries caused by negligent actions.
It was also found by the court that there was not a “high degree of probability” that a camper would step into a septic tank opening in a work area that was located outside the designated camping grounds. It was also found that Mr. Hopkinson proved an intent to avoid the dangerous consequences of using a makeshift cover, by testing it with his weight and warning the employee who was needed in the area. Despite the plaintiff’s arguments concerning Mr. Hopkinson’s “reckless” actions, the appeals court concluded that the negligence claims were denied and the Hopkinsons were entitled to summary judgment.
There was not enough evidence presented to the court to conclude that Mrs. Hopkinson was engaged in a joint venture with Mr. Hopkinson, nor was it found that she could be a cause for Mr. Dimick’s injuries. It was also concluded that Mrs. Hopkinson was entitled to summary judgment.
Finally, the Dimicks named the “Hopkinson Family Trust” as a defendant, but the only evidence that the trust actually exists is that the name of it is on a registration form for the Tin Tipi Village. This was found as illegitimate evidence of material fact, and it was concluded that the Hopkinson Family Trust is a non-entity and summary judgment was allowed.
In conclusion, there were no genuine issues of material fact that were presented to these issues on appeal. The appeals court confirms the district court’s entry of summary judgment to all defendants.
Nationally recognized litigation attorney Thomas Metier practice areas include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, trucking accidents and motor vehicle accidents. He is licensed to practice in Colorado, Wyoming, the U.S. District Court–District of Colorado, and the U.S. District Court–District of Wyoming, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.