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Jaffe v. Pallotta Teamworks

July 16, 2004

ROCHELLE JAFFE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF EVE JAFFE, APPELLANT
v.
PALLOTTA TEAMWORKS, A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, ET AL. AND UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND MEDICAL SYSTEM CORPORATION, ON BEHALF OF ITS R. ADAMS COWLEY SHOCK TRAUMA CENTER, APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 02cv01048)

Before: Rogers, Garland and Roberts, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers, Circuit Judge

Argued April 20, 2004

This appeal presents a choice of law question arising from the death of a young woman, Eve Jaffe, in Virginia while participating in a 300-mile, 4-day bicycle ride to raise funds for charity. Rochelle Jaffe, in her personal capacity and on behalf of the estate of her daughter, Eve Jaffe, appeals the grant of summary judgment in her negligence and wrongful death action to Pallotta TeamWorks ("Pallotta"), which sponsored and organized the bike ride, and the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation ("UMMS"), which provided, in Virginia, the medical services in dispute. The district court, applying the law of the District of Columbia, ruled that a pre-participation waiver executed by Eve Jaffe absolved Pallotta and UMMS from liability. We hold, upon comparing which jurisdiction has the more substantial interests, that the District of Columbia would apply the law of Virginia, and not that of the District of Columbia regarding the effect of the waiver, and that the waiver is void as against public policy under Virginia law. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings.

I.

On de novo review of the grant of summary judgment, the court reviews the evidence most favorably to the non-moving party, according her all favorable inferences. See Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994); FED. R. CIV. P. 56 (2004). Pallotta is a California corporation that operates "AIDSRide" events -- multiple-day, non-competitive bicycle rides that raise funds for AIDS-related charities -- throughout the United States. Participants collect pledges, and Pallotta handles logistics such as securing corporate sponsorship, selecting a route, and arranging for services for the riders -- such as, in this case, arranging for the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation ("UMMS") to provide medical care for the riders. Eve Jaffe died while participating in the fifth annual Washington, D.C. AIDSRide. This event, covering 300 miles over four days, was scheduled for June 22-25, 2000, with over 1,600 bicycle riders, beginning in Raleigh, North Carolina, crossing through Virginia, and ending on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Before commencement of AIDSRide, Pallotta required all participants to read and sign an entry form that included a section titled "Waiver of Negligence & Complete Release of Liability." The form calls for the signatories to acknowledge that they are "aware that serious injuries occur during bicycle riding" and that they "may be seriously injured or killed as a result." The form further states that "[i]n consideration for being permitted to participate in Washington, D.C. AIDSRide 5 ..., I agree to assume all risks and to release and hold harmless ... [Pallotta] ... [UMMS], or any other Ride Medical Team member" who "through negligence, carelessness or any other cause, might otherwise be liable to me."

Eve Jaffe, a 31-year-old resident of the District of Columbia who had also participated in AIDSRide the previous year, executed this entry form on June 2, 2000 in the District of Columbia. A few weeks later, on June 22, she began the bicycle ride in Raleigh, North Carolina. On the afternoon of the first day, however, while traveling through Virginia, she went to a medical aid station set up for the riders and complained that she felt nauseated and dizzy. She was given intravenous fluids by the volunteers at the station, but her condition worsened and she began vomiting, then lost consciousness as her blood pressure dropped. An ambulance took her to the Greensville Memorial Hospital, where she died the following day without regaining consciousness.

Rochelle Jaffe filed suit for negligence and wrongful death against Pallotta and UMMS, on her own behalf and as representative of her daughter's estate. She alleged that her daughter's death could have been prevented if not for the negligence of Pallotta and UMMS. Specifically, as relevant here, she alleged and offered expert opinion evidence that the aid station was manned by untrained volunteers who overhydrated her daughter, and that, to a reasonable medical certainty, Eve Jaffe died of global brain hypoxia and would have survived if proper medical care had been provided or an ambulance with advanced life support had been available to transport her to the hospital. UMMS denied these allegations and moved to dismiss the complaint, and in the alternative for summary judgment, on the grounds that the complaint was time-barred under Virginia's two year statute of limitations, and that liability was barred by Eve Jaffe's waiver. Pallotta also moved for summary judgment on the basis of the waiver.

The district court granted summary judgment to Pallotta and UMMS on the basis of the waiver. Because the events leading up to Eve Jaffe's death took place in Virginia, the district court ruled that Virginia tort law would govern the underlying negligence action, but because the waiver was executed in the District of Columbia, Eve Jaffe was a resident of the District of Columbia, and AIDSRide ended in the District of Columbia and raised money for local charities, the court ruled that the District of Columbia law, rather than Virginia law, should control its effect. The court then concluded that District of Columbia law would recognize prospective waivers for personal injury claims in the absence of unfairness in the conditions under which the waiver was signed, and that the waiver was thus valid.

II.

On appeal, Ms. Jaffe contends that the district court, in relying on factors not dispositive under District of Columbia law, failed to weigh properly the governmental interests of Virginia against those of the District of Columbia. We first review the relevant law in the two jurisdictions, and then compare the interests of those jurisdictions in the effect of the waiver.

A.

In Virginia, where any alleged negligence leading to Eve Jaffe's death occurred, Eve Jaffe's ...


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