What is an Assumption of Risk?
Assumption of risk is a legal doctrine that has roots in the tort law system. It essentially refers to a situation wherein an individual acknowledges and accepts the risks associated with a particular activity or situation, thereby relinquishing the right to bring a lawsuit or claim against another party should any harm arise from those acknowledged risks. Understanding this doctrine, its elements, applications, and implications is crucial, especially when assessing liability in personal injury cases.
Assumption of risk can be defined as a defense in negligence claims where the defendant asserts that the plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risks inherent to the dangerous activity in which they were participating, and therefore, should not be allowed to recover damages for any injuries sustained as a result.
Elements of Assumption of Risk
To establish the defense of the assumption of risk, two primary elements must be proven:
- Knowledge of the Risk: The party assuming the risk (typically the plaintiff in a lawsuit) must have an actual knowledge of and understanding of the specific dangers associated with the activity.
- Voluntary Assumption of the Risk: Knowing the risk alone is not sufficient. The individual must also voluntarily choose to engage in the activity or situation despite the known risks. This voluntary choice can be implied through conduct or can be expressed, such as when someone signs a waiver or release form before participating.
Express vs. Implied Assumption of Risk
- Express Assumption of Risk: This arises when the parties explicitly agree, often in written form, that one party consents to assume the risk of potential harm. For instance, when signing a waiver before skydiving, the participant expressly agrees to take on the inherent risks of the activity.
- Implied Assumption of Risk: This is not explicitly stated or written but is inferred from the person’s actions, conduct, or circumstances. For example, a spectator at a baseball game might be assumed to understand and accept the risk of being hit by a foul ball, even if they haven’t expressly agreed to such.
Assumption of risk is commonly invoked in situations where risky activities are engaged in
willingly, such as:
- Sporting events or recreational activities like skiing, rock climbing, or bungee jumping.
- Attending events where there’s an understood risk, like motorsports or baseball games.
- Engaging in certain professions that have inherent dangers, like construction or firefighting.
When the doctrine of assumption of risk applies, it can have profound implications on personal injury cases:
- Limitation or Bar to Recovery: If a court determines that a plaintiff assumed the risk, they may be barred from recovering damages or may have their compensation reduced. This doctrine recognizes that individuals should take responsibility for their own choices when they willingly put themselves in harm’s way.
- Responsibility on Partakers: While it places a burden on participants to be aware and cautious, it also underlines the importance of organizations and professionals to ensure that potential risks are adequately communicated to those partaking in an activity.
- Interactions with Other Doctrines: The application of the assumption of risk might intersect with other legal principles. For instance, in jurisdictions that follow comparative negligence, the plaintiff’s recovery might be reduced based on their percentage of fault, which can include their assumption of risk.
Assumption of risk is a nuanced legal principle grounded in the idea that individuals, when made aware of certain risks, have the responsibility and autonomy to make informed decisions about their actions. Whether expressed or implied, the doctrine plays a pivotal role in shaping the outcome of numerous personal injury lawsuits, emphasizing the need for clear communication of risks and responsible decision-making by all parties involved.