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DeCormier v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Group, Inc.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

November 12, 2014

CYNTHIA DeCORMIER, Appellant,
v.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON MOTOR COMPANY GROUP, INC. and ST. LOUIS MOTORCYCLE, INC. d/b/a GATEWAY HARLEY-DAVIDSON, Respondents

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY. The Honorable John D. Warner, Jr., Judge.

DeCormier was represented by Matthew R. Davis and Timothy J. Gallagher of Heller, Gallagher & Finley LLP in St. Louis.

The companies were represented by Terese A. Drew and Timothy M. Etzkorn of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in St. Louis.

PATRICIA BRECKENRIDGE, JUDGE. Russell, C.J., Fischer, Stith and Wilson, JJ., concur; Draper and Teitelman, JJ., dissent.

OPINION

PATRICIA BRECKENRIDGE, JUDGE

Page 669

Cynthia DeCormier filed a personal injury action against Harley-Davidson Motor Company Group, Inc., (Harley-Davidson) and St. Louis Motorcycle, Inc., d/b/a Gateway Harley-Davidson (Gateway), after sustaining injuries while participating in a motorcycle training course. Harley-Davidson and Gateway filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of a liability release Ms. DeCormier signed before participating in the course. The circuit court sustained the motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Harley-Davidson and Gateway. On appeal of the circuit court's judgment, Ms. DeCormier claims the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment because the liability release she signed is unenforceable against claims of gross negligence or recklessness and there is a genuine dispute as to whether the defendants were grossly negligent or reckless. Even if Ms. DeCormier pleaded the type of claim against which a release of liability is unenforceable, Ms. DeCormier failed to demonstrate that a genuine dispute exists regarding whether Harley-Davidson and Gateway acted in reckless disregard for her safety and, therefore, whether the release is unenforceable. Accordingly, this Court affirms the circuit court's judgment.

Facts and Procedural Background

On April 13, 2008, Ms. DeCormier participated in the Rider's Edge New Rider's Course, an instructional course for new motorcycle riders sponsored by Harley-Davidson and conducted by employees of Gateway at Gateway's place of business in St. Louis. The Gateway employees instructing the course were certified by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), and MSF supplied the curriculum for the course.

Before participating in the course, Ms. DeCormier signed a " Release and Waiver," which provided in pertinent part:

I hereby RELEASE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE (i) Harley--Davidson Motor Company, Inc., Harley--Davidson, Inc., . . . each of their respective parent, subsidiary, and affiliated companies . . .; [and] (ii) all authorized dealers of Harley--Davidson Motor Company . . . who are sponsoring or conducting the [New Rider Course] . . . (hereinafter all collectively referred to as " Released Parties" ) from ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, DEMANDS, RIGHTS, CAUSES OF ACTION AND LOSSES (collectively, " CLAIMS" ) OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER THAT I . . . NOW HAVE OR LATER MAY HAVE AGAINST ANY RELEASED PARTY IN ANY WAY RESULTING FROM, OR ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH, MY PARTICIPATION IN THE [NEW RIDER COURSE] . . ..

Page 670

I acknowledge and understand that this Release EXTENDS TO AND RELEASES AND DISCHARGES ANY AND ALL CLAIMS I . . . have or may have against the Released Parties arising out of my participation in the [New Rider Course], including without limitation all such ...

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