It long has been settled that a spectator at a baseball game, hockey game or other sporting event usually cannot sue for injuries incurred by a stray baseball, hockey puck, etc. (unless spectator protection items like nettings, etc. are defective) because the spectator has “assumed the risk” of injury by voluntarily attending the game knowing that spectators might be injured because of the instrumentalities used to play the game.
In a decision issued in December 2012 in the case entitled Nalwa v. Cedar Fair LP, the California Supreme Court held that the assumption of risk doctrine applies not just to sports, but more broadly to “recreational activities.”
In the Nalwa case, the plaintiff sued an amusement park after breaking her wrist riding in a bumper car operated by her nine-year old son. The California Supreme Court found that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the assumption of risk doctrine, explaining “[t]he policy behind . . . assumption of risk applies squarely to injuries from physical recreation, whether in sports or non-sports activities. Allowing voluntary participants in an active recreational pursuit to sue other participants or sponsors for failing to eliminate or mitigate the activity’s inherent risks would threaten the activity’s very existence and nature.”
The broad reach of the assumption of risk doctrine as applied to participation in recreational activities recently was confirmed in the June 2013 decision in Cann v. Stefanec. In the Cann case, the plaintiff was a member of the UCLA swim team. She was injured when one of her teammates lost her balance and dropped weights on her during a team weight lifting session. The court found that the plaintiff could not sue for her injuries, explaining that weight lifting involves an inherent risk of injury to persons in the vicinity of lifters who drop weights because of a loss of balance or injury suffered during a lift. The court concluded that the defendant’s conduct in dropping a weight on the plaintiff after the defendant lost her balance was not outside the range of the ordinary activity of weight lifting — and therefore within the scope of the assumed risk.
Notwithstanding these recent cases, there may be circumstances where a spectator at a sporting event or a participant in a recreational activity can sue – each case is very fact specific. If you have been injured watching a sporting event or doing a recreational activity, it is imperative to consult with a lawyer immediately to determine your options.