The Duty of Care Owed by Participants in a Sport or Activity

In Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, the Supreme Court considered the duty of care owed by participants in a sport or activity, in that case touch football. The relationship at issue in Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990 was that of a high school swim team coach and a novice swimmer who broke her neck after the coach insisted that she start a race by diving from the diving block even though the swimmer had not been trained in the use of the block and had started prior races from the pool. The Kahn court held that primary assumption of the risk bars liability predicated on negligence: "In order to support a cause of action in cases in which it is alleged that a sports instructor has required a student to perform beyond the student's capacity or without providing adequate instruction, it must be alleged and proved that the instructor acted with intent to cause a student's injury or that the instructor acted recklessly in the sense that the instructor's conduct was 'totally outside the range of the ordinary activity' involved in teaching or coaching the sport." (Kahn, supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 1011, citing Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 318.) The court reasoned that a standard of intentional or reckless conduct on the part of an instructor was necessary in order to be consistent with the purpose of the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, which is to avoid altering the nature of the activity or chilling vigorous participation in the activity by imposing a duty of care. (Kahn, at p. 1011.)