The Quick Definition of Assumption of Risk

Under the law, one party can be held responsible for the injuries caused to another party in certain circumstances. Still, the legal doctrine of assumption of risk may come into play. The assumption of risk doctrine states that one party cannot receive financial compensation for a tort committed against them when they voluntarily agree to take on the risk and liability.

Key Principles of Assumption of Risk

So, what is assumption of risk, exactly, and how does it play out in various situations? The assumption of risk is a legal defense strategy that another party may use if you accuse them of negligent behavior. Under civil law, negligent behavior equates to legal liability, but if the other party can prove that you took on the assumption of risk in the situation, then they can free themselves of liability and financial responsibility.

The key principles needed to prove an assumption of risk existed include:

  • Proof that the plaintiff knew (or should’ve reasonably known) about the risks involved in the activity.
  • Evidence that shows the plaintiff willingly accepted the risk and agreed to participate in the activity.

When an assumption of risk is in play, a legal duty of care is made void. That legal duty of care is transferred onto the plaintiff who is willingly engaging in the inherently risky activity.

Variations and Examples

One of the most obvious risk assumption examples can be demonstrated by recreational parachuting companies. Parachuting is an inherently risky behavior, and no matter how many safety precautions are in place, an accident can still happen. Unfortunately, a minor error during parachuting is easily fatal. That said, most parachuting companies require clients to take on an assumption of risk to participate in their services. The clients must sign a waiver that proves they have heard and understand the risks involved. If an accident does happen during the parachuting adventure, then the participant typically won’t be able to sue for damages unless there is negligence outside of the reasonable risks associated with parachuting in general.

Another example of an assumption of risk would be when a patient opts to participate in a medical surgery. Surgery is always risky, especially when anesthesia is involved. Patients should always be informed about the dangers of medical procedures so they can fairly take on the assumption of risk themselves.

Assumption of Risk in Various Legal Contexts

There are many legal situations where you assume the risk of an activity entirely. A primary assumption of risk happens when you take on the entire risk of participating in something. For instance, if you choose to participate in a football game or sign a waiver to feed and pet a wild animal, then you won’t be able to later seek out personal injury lawsuits to recover from the incident.

Influence on Liability

When you assume the risk of an activity, it does impact legal liability. The other party’s legal duty of care towards you will be reduced if you knowingly accept a hazardous condition or potentially harmful situation. Under the current legal doctrine of negligence, liability is void when no duty of care exists.

All that said, damages recovery will be very limited if not impossible if the other party establishes an assumption of risk on your behalf.

Defenses and Limitations of Assumption of Risk

The assumption of risk is an affirmative defense that the other party can use against plaintiffs in liability cases. If the defendant can prove the plaintiff’s voluntary acceptance of risk, then that will negate their legal liability. This defense does have its limits, though.

You can defend yourself against these arguments by claiming the risks were not obvious or explained. You could also argue that you assumed some risk but not all the risk associated with your specific accident and injury.

One of the biggest limitations is when the actual knowledge of risk is implied. Implied assumptions of risk can be a very gray area, and many states have tied up this legal theory with comparative negligence to help resolve these types of disputes. If you think the assumption of risk may be shared between parties or the issue is unclear, it’s best to consult with a lawyer about your options.

Glossary References

Ray Kermani
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