Thursday, January 3, 2013

Assumption of Risk Doctrine Applies (Again)...

If you are a fan of bumper cars and other "thrill rides" at amusement parks, be careful.  You may not be able to sue if that extra bumping leaves you with an injury. On December 31, 2012, the California Supreme Court ruled that amusement parks cannot be sued for injuries that occur in rides such as bumper cars, finding that such thrill-seeking carries an "inherent risk" just like playing a sport.  

The issue presented was whether an amusement-park operator must take reasonable, or even utmost, precautions to protect patrons from injuries associated with bumper-car “bumps”?  According to the California Supreme Court, the answer is "No." 
In the case of Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, LLP, a decision filed December 31, 2012, the California Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of "primary assumption of the risk" barred a plaintiff's claims of injury resulting from a "bumper car" accident.  

Plaintiff, Smriti Nalwa, fractured her wrist on a bumper car ride at the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara.  She then sued the park owner for negligence in not configuring or operating the bumper car ride so as to prevent her injury. The superior court granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of risk doctrine, under which participants in and operators of certain activities have no duty of ordinary care to protect other participants from risks inherent in the activity. (Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 315-316.) The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, holding that the public policy of promoting safety at amusement parks precluded application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine, and that the doctrine was inapplicable to bumper car rides in particular because that activity is “too benign” to be considered a “sport.”

The Supreme Court, however, reversed the Court of Appeal, concluding that the primary assumption of risk doctrine, though most frequently applied to sports, applies as well to certain other recreational activities including bumper car rides.  The Court further concluded that the doctrine applied to the ride in that case, even though amusement parks are subject to state safety regulations and even though, as to some rides, park owners owe participants the heightened duty of care of a common carrier for reward.

The Supreme Court decision also gave a useful summary of the history of the "assumption of risk" doctrine and how it developed.  (For those interested, the full Supreme Court decision is available here