The legal principle of assumption of risk poses a substantial issue in personal injury claims. This happens when people voluntarily engage in risky activities and then sustain injuries due to the inherent hazards involved in those activities. Courts, however, take great care to determine whether the plaintiff knew a particular risk involved or whether the defendant had disregarded their duty of care.

You should engage a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer if you have been injured and are not sure about how the assumption of risk could impact your case. These attorneys are qualified to assess your case in-depth and offer advice on the best course of action. Do not let the difficulties involved in taking a risk prevent you from pursuing just compensation. Make an appointment with an attorney right away to safeguard your rights.

Assumption of the Risk Under California Personal Injury Laws

As the victim of a personal injury, you can take the initiative and file a claim against the claimed at-fault party to recover damages for your injuries. In addition to non-economic losses like pain and suffering, these damages could include economic losses like lost income and medical costs. The objective of your personal injury claim is to secure compensation from the responsible party to assist you in recovering from the injury.

One of the biggest obstacles to successful personal injury lawsuits is the assumption of risk. If you are a plaintiff suing for damages, the defendant can argue that you knew there was a risk involved in the activity that resulted in your injuries. If they can demonstrate that you voluntarily took part despite the possibility of injury, this defense has merit. A successful assumption of risk defense might severely impair or even wholly reject your claim, restricting the amount of money you can get.

Simply put, the defendant contends that you should not be held accountable because you voluntarily accepted the risk of harm.

The defendant in the lawsuit must prove two issues to be true, namely:

You Were Aware of The Danger That Resulted In Your Harm

This is more than just a broad sense of danger. The defendant bears the burden of proving that you understood the type and seriousness of the specific risk at the time of the incident.

The accused will use several strategies to construct their case. First, they could provide documentation of the cautions you were given. Examples include written notices, clear pre-activity instructions, or documented safety manuals detailing the precise risk.

Alternatively, the defendant could contend that there is no need for particular warnings because everyone knows the risks involved. This generally holds for activities like sports that carry an inherent danger. In this case, the defendant would argue that there is no need for particular warnings because everyone knows the possibility of falling when playing a sport, like basketball.

Your experience level can also be used to establish awareness. The defendant could argue that your past activity participation indicates you were familiar with the risks involved.

The defendant could use expert witnesses in certain situations. They could bring in an expert to describe the risk and the usual degree of understanding in these circumstances. This strengthens the defense by providing an objective perspective on your potential awareness.

You Took the Risk Voluntarily

Understanding alone is insufficient. You must demonstrate that, despite this knowledge, you voluntarily participated in the activity. This shows that you accepted responsibility for any possible harm at the time. The defendant must demonstrate that you freely chose the riskier course of action despite having a plausible alternative.

The defendant must employ two strategies to establish a voluntary risk assumption in an assumption of risk case. They must first demonstrate the existence of a credible substitute. This means that even though you were aware of the risk, they still have to prove that you had a reasonable choice to forego the risky activity. This demonstrates that you had free will and were not forced to do anything.

The defendant must establish the concept of free choice. It is insufficient that you engaged while knowing there was a risk. They must demonstrate that you voluntarily participated in the activity and that there was no coercion or other forms of undue pressure.

Types of Assumption of Risk

There are two categories of the assumption of risks, namely:

  1. Primary Assumption of Risk

The primary assumption of risk serves as a strong defense for defendants in personal injury cases involving inherent dangers.

Even in negligence circumstances, defendants are immune from liability due to the primary assumption of risk. The premise is that you assume the risks associated with a risky activity when you engage in it.

For example, a skydiving firm would argue that you accepted the risk since you chose to skydive. Thus, a malfunctioning parachute would not subject you to liability, assuming the skydiving company did its part in properly packing and maintaining its skydiving gear.

In negligence law, the duty of care is essential. It requires the defendant to act reasonably and avoid causing you harm. The particulars of the case or the nature of your connection with the defendant give rise to this obligation.

Following establishing a duty of care, the next stage is ascertaining whether the defendant violated it. This entails contrasting the defendant's deeds, or omissions, with what a rational person would have done in a similar circumstance. If the defendant breaches their duty of care and that breach causes you harm, it can be the basis of your negligence lawsuit.

  1. Secondary Assumption of Risk

The secondary assumption of risk principle depends on two main factors:

  • Your voluntary involvement while being aware of the associated risks
  • The defendant's duty of care

Even when you participate in a risky activity, the defendant still owes you a duty of care. For example, even though riding horses carries certain risks, a horseback riding ranch is legally required to offer well-trained horses and maintain a safe riding path. This obligation coexists with your choice to participate and knowledge of the risks involved. Riding a horse can be dangerous, and skilled riders know this.

On the other hand, a secondary assumption of risk assesses whether the assumed risk is fair. For example, when you ride a horse, you automatically assume that you could get thrown or bucked off, a known risk of the sport. However, a ranch's (the defendant's) negligence could still be relevant. It would be an unjustifiable danger if the ranch neglected to maintain the riding path, resulting in the horse bolting and throwing you. In violation of the ranch's duty of care, you would not have accepted the risk of harm from an inadequately maintained path.

Comparative negligence law sets in when irrational behavior aggravates an already present risk. Comparative negligence allocates a percentage of fault to each party in an accident. Although it extends the analysis to the particular situation, it considers the inherent risk generated by the secondary assumption of risk.

For example, on a poorly maintained trail, you could be tossed after the horse gets scared of a hidden pothole. The secondary assumption of risk acknowledges that you accept the inherent risk of being thrown, a possibility when riding. Comparative negligence goes further. Since riding has inherent risks, you could be partially blamed for your decision. However, the ranch would take a lot more of the blame. They violated their duty of care to you by neglecting to maintain the path, which put you at unreasonable risk. The horse's spook and your tumble were both caused by the poorly maintained route.

When Does the Assumption of Risk Not Apply?

In certain situations, the assumption of risk is limited. One limitation is evident when the defendant's acts, which resulted in the harm, are illegal. For example, even though there is always a chance of falling while kayaking, the operator of a kayak course will not be released from responsibility if a kayaker gets hurt due to inappropriate water flow against safety protocols.

In this case, the court would distinguish between the extra, irrational dangers brought about by the operator's conduct and the natural risk associated with kayaking rapids. The operator's conduct introduced an unreasonable additional risk, contributing significantly to the injury even though the kayaker assumed the inherent risks.

This idea goes beyond breaking the law. The term "assumption of risk" refers to the known risks associated with an action. However, negligence on the defendant's part that unnecessarily raises these dangers undermines their case. Imagine a situation where a ranch hires an untrained horse with a history of bucking an amateur rider. The ranch throws away the inherent risk by putting an unskilled rider on a dangerous horse. This action unreasonably increases the risk.

Under comparative negligence rules, the defendant's acts introducing an unreasonable additional risk contributing to the injury would be a significant factor in finding fault. This will be the position even though the court could consider the plaintiff's acknowledgment of inherent risks in these instances.

Liability waivers

Several sports require participants to sign a liability disclaimer before they can participate. This contract acts as a legally enforceable agreement between you and the company or organizer of the activity.

Managing potential legal repercussions from accidents or injuries is the primary purpose of a liability waiver. By signing the waiver, you attest to your understanding of and acceptance of the activity's inherent dangers. Like falls in rock climbing, these risks are known hazards inherent to the action.

Despite these known risks, you agree to participate voluntarily by signing the waiver. It says, "I chose to engage even though I am aware of the potential risks." This can be a strong defense for the event planner or company if you get injured while participating because you have already admitted to the associated risks.

It is important to understand that liability waivers are not absolute shields. They must be well-written and sufficiently explain the associated risks for the courts to uphold them. Furthermore, the waiver could not be consequential if the organizer's negligence significantly affected your accident.

How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Assist

Assuming the risk in personal injury cases can be difficult for plaintiffs. It is your responsibility to persuade the judge that the evidence supporting your side of the argument is more likely than not true. An experienced personal injury attorney can refute the defense's claim that you were aware of the risks and still secure just compensation for you.

A crucial strategy is shifting the focus from the risks to the organizer's mistakes. Your attorney will closely examine the actions taken by the organizer that put the situation at more risk than it needed to be. For example, your attorney could blame the unsafe water levels for your injuries rather than just the risk of kayaking if it were the primary cause of your harm.

Additionally, your attorney will break down the particular risk that resulted in your injury. Was it something the activity always included or something out of the ordinary? For example, riding a horse poses a risk of falling off, but if the animal has a history of bucking and you are unaware of it, that is another matter entirely. Your attorney will demonstrate why you should not have taken that risk.

Although liability waivers can benefit organizers, they are not a pass to avoid jail time. Your lawyer will review it to ensure that the waiver complies with the law and does not attempt to prevent you from suing for severe matters such as willful or gross negligence. Furthermore, ambiguity in the waiver's wording could make the defense even more vulnerable.

The defense could say you knew the risk anyway. Your attorney will counter this assertion by gathering evidence that you were not warned enough about the dangers. Perhaps the signs were unclear, or you did not receive the safety handbook as required. Evidence of this type can expose weaknesses in the defense's case.

If the organizer had provided safer options, your lawyer will uncover this. For example, better equipment or an instructor with more experience could have helped you avoid damage. By demonstrating that the organizer could have made better decisions, you can support your case by showing that they fell short of your expectations for safety.

Situations Where the Assumption of Risk Applies

There are other instances other than those in which you are required to sign liability waivers that give rise to the assumption of risk. They include:

  1. School Sports

Participating in sports involves certain inherent dangers, like tackling a football player. However, the assumption of risk defense falls apart if the school fails to uphold its responsibility to guarantee a safe environment. Their responsibility includes offering appropriate tools, knowledgeable supervision, and sufficient training.

Picture a situation where a school provides a football helmet years past its safety certification, causing a head injury during a tackle. Playing football carries some inherent risk, but the school's incompetence probably outweighs that.

  1. Fitness Centers and Gyms

Waivers do not absolve gyms of all liability. Although the assumption of risk covers the inherent risks of using equipment, it does not extend to carelessness on the part of the gym in maintaining it. The gym's negligence will probably exceed the inherent danger if a malfunctioning machine injures you due to inadequate maintenance or staff training.

  1. Workplace Accidents

Employee safety is a top priority in California. Employers are legally required to create a safe workplace, including spotting and removing potential risks. When a worker willfully ignores a safety issue, the assumption of risk could serve as a defense. However, the argument is significantly undermined if the employer does not take reasonable action to remedy the hazard or even causes it via negligence.

  1. Extreme Sports

Unlike everyday activities, extreme sports inherently carry a heightened level of danger. This inherent risk significantly influences the application of the assumption of risk in these cases, even without a signed waiver.

A crucial factor is voluntary participation in these high-risk activities. When you opt for activities, you knowingly embrace a particular inherent risk. Despite meticulous precautions, accidents are inevitable in these inherently dangerous activities. Your voluntary choice strengthens the assumption of risk defense, implying your awareness and acceptance of the inherent risks involved.

Furthermore, extreme sports frequently include extensive training or safety briefings emphasizing possible risks. This information strengthens the risk defense assumption even more. It is difficult to establish that participants were unaware of the inherent dangers because they are assumed to have been educated about the risks before participating. Further, the environment presents a substantial challenge because it is an inherent part of certain extreme sports. When choosing to participate in the activity, participants understand that organizers may be unable to remove all dangers altogether.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

Understanding the assumption of risk is essential in circumstances involving personal injuries. Even though there are risks associated with some activities, businesses and property owners still need to take adequate precautions. Taking on legal complexity, like the assumption of risk, could be daunting, mainly if your harm results from negligence.

We at the Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney could be a powerful ally. We are committed to defending your rights and ensuring you get just compensation for your suffering, missed income, and medical costs. Do not allow the assumption of risk defense to scare you. We provide free consultations, so you can speak with an experienced attorney about your case without paying anything. Take the first step towards securing the justice you deserve by contacting us at 424-231-2013.