California Assumption of Risk Cases In Sports

In Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal. 4th 296 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696, the court addressed the assumption of risk doctrine in negligence cases in the context of California's comparative fault principles adopted in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal. 3d 804 119 Cal. Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226, 78 A.L.R.3d 393. Knight delineated two categories of assumption of risk cases: primary and secondary assumption of risk. Primary assumption of risk "embodies a legal conclusion that there is 'no duty' on the part of the defendant to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk." (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal. 4th 296, 308.) In primary assumption of risk cases, there is no duty of care owed and the plaintiff's assumption of risk acts as a complete bar to the plaintiff's cause of action. (Ibid.) Secondary assumption of risk, in contrast, refers to those instances in which the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff and breaches that duty, and the plaintiff knowingly encounters a risk created by the breach of the duty. (Id. at p. 310.) Secondary assumption of risk is subsumed into the comparative fault scheme and a plaintiff's assumption of that risk does not act as a bar to the action. (Id. at p. 315.) Knight, although addressing the assumption of the risk doctrine in the recreational sports setting, provided an analytical framework for evaluating assumption of risk in other contexts. This analysis "depends heavily on the nature of the activity itself" as well as "on the defendant's role in, or relationship to, the activity." (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal. 4th at pp. 316-317.) Primary assumption of risk applies only when a court, after examining the nature of the particular activity and the parties' relationship to that activity, concludes that a plaintiff engaged in the particular activity is harmed by the risks inherent in the activity. (Herrle v. Estate of Marshall, supra, 45 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1765.) The conclusion that a particular activity necessarily encompasses risks inherent in the nature of the activity means that the defendant has no duty to protect the plaintiff from those risks (Staten v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal. App. 4th 1628, 1632) or to take steps to reduce those risks (Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (1995) 39 Cal. App. 4th 8, 12-14 45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 855). The courts have applied primary assumption of risk principles to activities other than sporting or recreational endeavors, including injuries in the workplace. (See Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. v. Superior Court (1993) 15 Cal. App. 4th 547, 559-565 19 Cal. Rptr. 2d 24 primary assumption of risk did not bar worker from suit against toolmaker for injuries caused by tool; Cohen v. McIntyre (1993) 16 Cal. App. 4th 650, 655-656 20 Cal. Rptr. 2d 143 primary assumption of risk barred veterinarian from recovering from owner of dog for dog bite injury; Herrle v. Estate of Marshall (1996) 45 Cal. App. 4th 1761, 1765-1771 53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 713 nurse's aide at convalescent hospital assaulted by senile patient; primary assumption of risk barred recovery.) For example, although an inherent risk of racing bicycles over a motocross course is the risk of falling when going over jumps, primary assumption of risk would not bar recovery by a rider if the design of some jumps increased the risks of falling. (Branco v. Kearny Moto Park, Inc. (1995) 37 Cal. App. 4th 184, 191-193 43 Cal. Rptr. 2d 392; see also Morgan v. Fuji Country USA, Inc. (1995) 34 Cal. App. 4th 127 40 Cal. Rptr. 2d 249 although risk of being struck by errant golf shots is inherent in sport, golf course operator can be liable where design of course increases risk of being hit by an errant shot.)