Legal Duty to Protect Against Inherent Risks In Sports In California

"In a given active sport setting, the question whether the defendant owes a duty to the plaintiff 'is a legal question which depends on the nature of the sport or activity in question and on the parties' general relationship to the activity, and is an issue to be decided by the court, rather than the jury. Thus, the question of assumption of risk is much more amenable to resolution by summary judgment under a duty analysis . . . .' Thus, under Knight [v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296] a trial court is to determine the question of duty as a function of the scope and definition of a given active sport's inherent risks. In many active sports cases, this principal determination of the question of duty leads to a second duty analysis. Although a defendant generally owes no duty to protect against the risks inherent in a sport, the defendant generally owes a duty not to increase the risks of the activity beyond the risks inherent in the sport. This second determination of duty, however, still hinges upon the trial court's determination of the question of duty in the first instance, by defining the risks inherent in the sport at issue." (Staten v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 1632-1633.) It is for the court to decide whether an activity is an active sport, the inherent risks of that sport, and whether the defendant has increased the risks of the activity beyond the risks inherent in the sport. (Id. at p. 1634.) Although an expert may not determine matters that are within the province of the court to decide, expert opinion may inform the court on these questions. (Cf. id. at pp. 1635-1637; see e.g., Mosca v. Lichtenwalter (1997) 58 Cal. App. 4th 551, 552-553 [68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 58].)