The Fourth Department determined soil the soil conservation and watershed board’s motion for summary judgment in this wrongful death case was properly denied. The board operated and maintained a dam pursuant to a contract with a federal agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The dam was submerged and plaintiff’s decedent sustained drowning injuries which led to his death after he waded into the water and went over the dam. Supreme Court should not have held that the board had entirely displaced the NRCS responsibilities for operation and maintenance of the dam (and therefore was liable under contract pursuant the third Espinal exception). However the board did not demonstrate it did not own the dam and summary judgment was properly denied on that ground. In addition the board was separate and distinct from the conservation districts. So granting summary judgment to the districts did not require the same relief for the board. Finally the court noted that the assumption of risk doctrine applies only to sporting events and had no applicability to these facts:
… “[A] contractual obligation, standing alone, will generally not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party” (Espinal, 98 NY2d at 138) although, as relevant here, the third exception to that rule applies where the contracting party has “entirely displaced the other party’s duty to maintain the premises safely” … . * * * We … conclude that “the contract between [the Board] and the [NRCS] was not so comprehensive and exclusive that it entirely displaced the [NRCS’s] duty to maintain the premises safely, such that [the Board] owed a duty to [decedent]” … . …
While the Board established that it did not own the creek or the banks adjacent thereto … , its submissions are insufficient to establish as a matter of law that it did not own the subject dam, which allegedly constituted and created the dangerous condition … .
The Court of Appeals has made clear that, “[a]s a general rule, application of assumption of the risk should be limited to cases appropriate for absolution of duty, such as personal injury claims arising from sporting events, sponsored athletic and recreative activities, or athletic and recreational pursuits that take place at designated venues” … . Here, decedent was not engaging in a sporting event or recreative activity that was sponsored or otherwise supported by the Board, nor was he wading and swimming at a designated venue … . Suzanne P. v Joint Bd. of Directors of Erie-Wyoming County Soil Conservation Dist., 2019 NY Slip Op 06343, 8-22-19