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What Is the 'Assumption of Risk' Doctrine?

A football player is tackled and breaks an arm during a championship game. It’s a complicated break, and doctors tell him they aren’t sure if he’ll ever be able to play the game professionally again. So why can’t he sue the other player for lost earnings?

The answer, which we will get into below, is called the “assumption of risk” doctrine.

Assuming Risk and What that Means

Simply put, the injured football player would not have a valid personal injury claim because he knew – or should know – football injuries are common and chose to play the game anyway. This protects the player doing the tackling from liability by the assumption of risk defense.

The assumption of risk defense states that people who engage in dangerous activities can’t hold another party liable for any injuries. This defense protects people from liability when someone else is injured or killed during a freak accident if the victim was participating voluntarily.

Buy Me Some Peanuts

A person in the stands is hit and injured by a wayward ball during a baseball game. Circumstances vary, of course, but courts have held that choosing to attend the baseball game typically removes liability from others, such as the batter or the owner of the stadium.

The existence of the assumption of risk doctrine doesn’t mean that a baseball fan who got hit by a foul ball won’t file a personal injury lawsuit. But it does mean that the assumed risk involved could be used as a defense.

Express Assumption of Risk

This defense must be able to show that the plaintiff:

  • Knew there was a risk of injury similar to the one they suffered during the activity
  • Voluntarily participated in the event anyway

Have you ever signed a waiver before going bungee jumping or before getting a tattoo? That waiver was an express form of assumption of risk meant to protect businesses and individuals. The fine print in that tattoo artist’s waiver you just signed may state that you can’t sue them later for any injuries to the skin should an infection develop.

Implied Assumption of Risk

You stood outside the skating rink watching the other skaters before deciding to join in. By doing so, you accepted an implied assumption of risk, meaning that you understood the risks involved and chose to participate anyway.

Ignoring the Warning Signs

Posted warning signs also serve as a stand-in for the assumption of risk. Examples could include:

  • Beachgoers going swimming while ignoring posted warning signs indicating dangerous tides
  • A person entering an area marked by a “no trespassing” sign
  • A group of people ignoring a “danger-hazardous materials” sign before entering the space

In each of these examples, there would not be a valid case for personal injury against any parties if an injury or illness occurred. Each individual assumed risk. The defense could argue that the responsibility lies solely with the people who ignored the posted warning signs.

When the Defense Doesn’t Work

Assumption of risk will not work as a valid defense in a few circumstances:

  • When a person suffers an injury unrelated to the risky activity
  • When a defendant’s reckless or negligent actions result in the plaintiff’s injury

Accidents happen. But it’s not always someone else’s fault when they do, or when injuries occur as a result. Protect yourself when taking part in risky activities by taking part in any recommended training and always reading the fine print on waivers or contracts before signing.