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Assumption of Risk Doctrine Rejected in Recreational Bike Accident Case

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Under New York’s doctrine of primary assumption of risk, a voluntary participant in a sport or recreational activity is deemed to have consented to “those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation.”  However, courts have limited the application of the doctrine in cases involving athletic or recreational activities. 


For example, in Alfieri v. State of New York, the plaintiff was injured when he fell from his bicycle while riding on the paved path around Rockland Lake in Rockland Lake State Park. Plaintiff had ridden into loose asphalt at the end of a crack in an asphalt patch as he attempted to go around two people walking on the path, causing his fall. In a nonjury trial, the Court of Claims found that the claim was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.


The Second Department reversed, holding that the doctrine did not apply to the case. The Court observed that as a general rule, the application of assumption of the risk should be limited to “cases appropriate for absolution of duty, such as personal injury claims arising from sporting events, sponsored athletic and recreative activities, or athletic and recreational pursuits that take place at designated venues.” The Court found that the plaintiff’s accident did not occur in a designated venue used specifically for bicycling and was not participating in an organized group event or sponsored ride when the accident occurred. The Court further noted that the path was for public pedestrian use as evidenced by plaintiff trying to avoid people walking on it. As such, the Court held that by participating in “recreational” bicycling, the plaintiff could not be said to have assumed the risk of being injured as a result of an alleged defective condition on the paved path, and the doctrine of primary assumption of risk did not apply.

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