Supreme Court of Alaska (2022)
In Sulzbach v. City & Borough of Sitka, 517 P.3d 7 (Alaska 2022), the supreme court held that the City and a nonprofit volunteer were not liable for an accident that injured an event dancer. (Id. at 10). An independent nonprofit organization planned to host an event at a City-owned facility. (Id.). A volunteer for the nonprofit organization hung decorations for the event while dancers rehearsed. (Id. at 10–11). While the volunteer was on break, a lantern decoration fell and struck a dancer, who was diagnosed with a concussion. (Id. at 11). The dancer sued the City for negligence, and the City filed a third-party complaint against the volunteer arguing that his negligence was the cause of injury. (Id.). The trial court granted summary judgment in part in favor of the City, holding as a matter of law that (1) federal law protected the volunteer from ordinary negligence as a volunteer and (2) the City was not vicariously liable for the volunteer’s negligence because there was no legal relationship between the City and the volunteer. (Id.). The remaining issues went to a jury trial, and the jury concluded that neither the volunteer nor the City were negligent. (Id. at 12). On appeal, the supreme court affirmed all of the trial court’s holdings. (Id. at 10). Specifically, the supreme court held that City could not be vicariously liable for the volunteer’s alleged negligence because the two parties did not have a formal relationship: he was a volunteer for an independent nonprofit organization, not the City. (Id. at 16). Also, the jury’s decision was not contrary to “the clear weight of the evidence.” (Id. at 17–18). Indeed, evidence supported the jury’s verdict that neither the volunteer nor the City were negligent. (Id. at 18, 19). The supreme court affirmed the trial court’s holdings that both the volunteer and City were not liable for negligence for the dancer’s injury. (Id. at 10).