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Court Swats Away Basketball Injury Claims Under Assumption of Risk Doctrine (NY)

March 4, 2016

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Assumption of risk for a schoolyard sport was recently addressed by a New York court in <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_01141.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>Altagracia v. Harrison Cent. Sch. Dist.</em> </a> The student plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against his school for injuries sustained while playing basketball on an outdoor court on school grounds during his lunch recess. The injury occurred when the back of his head struck the pole supporting the basketball backboard, causing him to fall to the ground.
Plaintiff’s complaint alleged causes of action under a theory of negligent supervision and premises liability. One of the defenses asserted by the school was the doctrine of assumption of risk, which is a common defense to sports related injury lawsuits.
After both parties filed motions for summary judgment, the Westchester County Supreme Court dismissed the plaintiff’s negligent supervision claim, but allowed the cause of action alleging premises liability to proceed to trial.
The Appellate Division affirmed most of the ruling, but found that the Supreme Court should have also dismissed the premises liability claim. In discussing the law, the Appellate Division analyzed the assumption to risk defense, which “applies where a consenting participant in a sporting activity is aware of the risks [inherent in the activity]; has an appreciation of the nature of the risks; and voluntarily assumes the risks." The decision held that if the risks of the activity are fully comprehended or perfectly obvious, plaintiff has consented to them and defendant has performed its duty.
The Court also noted that an assumption of risk defense has limits. That is, an assumption of risk defense will not serve as a bar to liability if the risk is “unassumed, concealed, or unreasonably increased."
But ultimately, the Court found that the school demonstrated that the subject pole was open and apparent, that the risk of colliding with it was inherent in the activity of playing basketball in the courtyard, that the defendant did nothing to conceal or unreasonably increase the risk, and that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by voluntarily participating in the activity at that location, as he had on numerous prior occasions.
Thanks to George Parpas for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto:mbono@wcmlaw.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mike Bono</a> for more information.

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