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Assumption of the Risk in California

In California law, the primary assumption of risk doctrine, established in Knight v. Jewett (1992), applies primarily to sports or sports-related recreational activities. This doctrine recognizes that certain inherent risks are an essential part of these activities, and participating individuals accept these risks by engaging in the sport. Essentially, it absolves the defendant of a duty of care toward the plaintiff regarding injuries sustained during such activities, unless the defendant intentionally injures the plaintiff or engages in conduct so reckless that it goes beyond the ordinary activity involved in the sport.

When an individual sustains injuries while participating in sports or recreational activities, they have the option to pursue financial compensation for their injuries through a personal injury lawsuit in California. According to CACI 470, to successfully establish their claim, the plaintiff must prove all of the following elements:

Defendant's Intent or Recklessness:

  • The defendant either intentionally caused injury to the plaintiff or acted with such recklessness that their conduct was entirely beyond the scope of ordinary activity for that sport or recreational activity.

Plaintiff's Harm:

  • The plaintiff must have suffered harm as a result of the defendant's actions or conduct.

Defendant's Conduct as a Substantial Factor:

  • The defendant's conduct must have been a significant or substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff.

In essence, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the defendant's actions were either intentional or so reckless that they went beyond what could reasonably be expected in the context of the sport or recreational activity, resulting in harm to the plaintiff.

Conduct is deemed entirely outside the range of ordinary activity if:

Increased Risks to the Plaintiff:

  • The conduct elevated the risks faced by the plaintiff beyond what is typically associated with the sport or recreational activity.

Can be Prohibited Without Discouraging Participation:

  • The conduct could reasonably be prohibited without significantly dampening enthusiasm or participation in the sport or recreational activity.

Not Mere Carelessness, Accidental, or Negligent:

  • The defendant cannot be held responsible for injuries stemming from conduct that was merely careless, accidental, or negligent.

A secondary assumption of the risk comes into play when the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care but the plaintiff knowingly encounters the risk posed by the defendant's breach of duty. Cases involving secondary assumptions about the risk are incorporated into the comparative negligence framework, where damages are reduced proportionately based on the plaintiff's degree of fault. Therefore, under California law, plaintiffs can still recover damages after their own negligence is taken into account, even if it exceeds that of the defendant, as long as their conduct was not intentional.


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