Austin Court of Appeals

Are your liability release contracts sufficient to sustain a successful motion for summary judgment? Texas courts generally hold releases of liability to fairly high standards. Release cases are very fact specific, and often come down to extremely technical points about the contents of the release document. As such, the proper drafting of these contracts is a must. A recent case gives us a glimpse into how Texas courts interpret liability releases.

A man by the name of Revel Thom decided to ride the mechanical bull while he was hanging out at Rebel’s Honky Tonk, a country bar on 5th Street in Austin. Before riding the bull, Mr. Thom signed a document entitled “PARTICIPANT AGREEMENT, RELEASE AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” The release had Thom acknowledge the risks of riding the mechanical bull, disclose any pre-existing health conditions, and release and indemnify Rebel’s and related parties. 

Unless you’re Ty Murray, don’t expect to stay on one of these things…especially if you’ve been drinking!

However, Mr. Thom failed to inform the mechanical bull operator that he had suffered from chronic back pain for four to five years requiring him to receive annual epidurals to numb the pain. Mr. Thom fractured his T-12 and L-1 vertebrae in his back as a result of being bucked off the mechanical bull. Thom subsequently sued Rebel’s Honky Tonk for his injuries. 

The honky tonk filed a motion for traditional summary judgment, arguing that they conclusively established the affirmative defenses of release and assumption of the risk. The honky tonk also sought a no-evidence summary judgment on Thom’s claims of negligence and negligent supervision. The trial court granted the honky tonk’s motion for summary judgment without stating the basis for its ruling.

Overruling all of Thom’s points of error, the Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Thom’s case on summary judgment. 

The court of appeals found Thom’s argument that he did not read the release to be unconvincing, stating,

It is well established that one is presumed to know the contents of the contract that they are signing and are bound by its legal effects.

The court of appeals also found that the release language was sufficiently conspicuous, because the release was contained in a stand-alone document, was not written in minuscule font, and contained bolded and underlined warnings.

The language listing Rebel’s Honky Tonk and its “owners” as released parties was upheld by the court of appeals to be specific enough to release additional defendants Rainbow Cattle Company, Inc. (the honky tonk’s owner) and Zack Truesdell (Rainbow’s president). The court found the the case cited by Thom inapplicable, as the release at issue in that matter purported to release an “unlimited, general class of potential defendants.”

Hat tip to Nick Farr over at Abnormal Use for the heads up on this case.

Case Information:

Thom v. Rebel’s Honky Tonk, No. 03-11-00700-CV, 2012 WL 3793181 (Tex. App.—Austin, Aug. 30, 2012, no pet. h.)

Texas Racing Commission v. Marquez, a recent opinion from the Austin Court of Appeals, involved a horse race where two horses owned by Javier Marquez were inadvertently wearing each other’s saddle cloth numbers. One of the horses suffering from this “wardrobe malfunction” finished second, and the race stewards disqualified both horses and redistributed the race purse.

When the Texas Racing Commission refused to hear Marquez’s appeal of the stewards’ decision, Marquez sued the Texas Racing Commission and its executive director, Charla Ann King.

Marquez won big in the trial court. The trial court declared that Ms. King acted in excess of her statutory authority by refusing Marquez’s appeal, by disqualifying Marquez’s horses, and by redistributing the race purse. The trial court also awarded Marquez his attorneys’ fees under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act, and ordered the second place race purse distributed to Marquez. The Racing Commission appealed the decision.

On appeal, the Austin Court of Appeals found that Ms. King did exceed her authority in denying Marquez’s appeal of the stewards’ decision and upheld Marquez’s attorneys’ fees award under the Declaratory Judgment Act. However, the Court of Appeals vacated and dismissed the portion of the trial court’s judgment that awarded the second place race purse to be distributed to Marquez.

The trial court’s logic: TheTexas Racing Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over the issue of the second place race purse. Marquez needs to exhaust his administrative remedies by moving forward with his appeal before the Texas Racing Commission that he fought for in the trial court. 

Ironically, the Texas Racing Commission (the same entity that Marquez sued and fought on appeal) will get to decide whether or not Marquez will get the purse that his horse won when it was wearing the wrong “outfit”. 

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