In any negligence case, one of the most effective defenses is assertion of the “assumption of risk” doctrine. It can bar plaintiff from recovery if it can be shown he or she understood the risks of participating in an activity, as those risks are obvious to any reasonable individual.
The point is to protect individuals overseeing or responsible for an event where the risk of injury or harm is integral to the fundamental nature of the activity. Some examples might include:
- An athlete in a contact sport suffering a bone fracture.
- A veterinarian suffering a bite from a distressed animal.
- An injury while participating in rock climbing, water skiing or other dangerous activity.
In some cases, the “assumption of risk” can be written into an express agreement, but it’s also sometimes implied. However, just because there is a waiver or an activity is inherently dangerous doesn’t necessarily absolve a defendant from liability. Waivers of liability have to clearly denote specific risks in order to be considered valid. Also, just because an activity is inherently dangerous doesn’t mean organizers don’t have to take reasonable measures to ensure safety.
Our Manhattan injury attorneys understand this defense was effective for a recent case in California, Honeycutt v. Meridian Sports Club. This was a case where a participant in a kickboxing class was injured as a guest on defendant’s property.
Plaintiff was a guest at the health club in 2011 when, having never participated in kickboxing, she decided to attend a class. She would later allege the instructor of the class “negligently manipulated” her in such a way that it caused her knee to snap, resulting in severe injury to her knee that required surgery. He reportedly saw her incorrectly attempting a “roundhouse kick,” and approached her to correct her form. While attempting the move during this instruction, she injured her knee. She asserted the instructor’s actions amounted to gross negligence because he should have only given verbal instruction, the move is an intermediary one in kickboxing and he was not clear in his instructions.
However, a trial court granted summary judgment to defendant, finding the waiver plaintiff signed prior to the course released defendant from liability, and recovery was barred per the primary assumption of risk doctrine.
Plaintiff appealed, arguing instructor’s actions increased the inherent risk of the activity, and therefore the assumption of risk doctrine was inapplicable. She also argued instructor’s gross negligence negated the release of liability she signed prior to taking the class.
Appellate court affirmed, rejecting plaintiff’s allegations. Specifically, the court found it was not necessary to assess the particular risks as known to the plaintiff, but rather what risks are fundamental to the nature of the sport, as well as defendant’s role in or relationship to that sport in order to determine if defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care.
In order to establish gross negligence, plaintiff would have needed to show instructor engaged in either intentional harm or reckless conduct considered totally outside the range of ordinary activity in the sport. Because she failed to meet this burden, appellate court found, summary judgment was upheld.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Honeycutt v. Meridian Sports Club, Nov. 6, 2014, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Five
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