Archive for June, 2011

If You’re Asked, Put On Your Mask

June 28, 2011

Inherent Risks in Baseball (California – Motion for Summary Judgment)
(Injury to catcher not wearing a mask during a bullpen session deemed to be an inherent risk of the sport of baseball.)

Paul Tetreault and Don Ornelas of the law firm of Agajanian, McFall, Weiss, Tetreault & Crist LLP in Los Angeles recently obtained summary judgment on behalf of several clients in the Rancho Cucamonga District of the San Bernardino County Superior Court.  Plaintiff was injured while practicing with his baseball club team, the Chino Dirt Dawgs, when a baseball struck him in the mouth while he was catching during a bullpen session.  Evans was not wearing a catcher’s mask at the time.  He asserted a claim for general negligence against the Dirt Dawgs, and two of its coaches, Brent Billingsley and Kyle Billingsley.

The defendants filed for summary judgment based upon primary assumption of the risk, asserting that plaintiff’s injury was the result of an inherent risk in the sport of baseball and that there was no evidence that they had done anything to “increase the risks” inherent in the sport.  The trial court agreed, and granted the motion, despite plaintiff’s claim that the coaches’ failure to force plaintiff to wear the mask during the bullpen session “increased the risks.”  The court ruled that getting struck in the mouth with a baseball is a risk that is always inherent in the sport of baseball, and plaintiff’s failure to wear a mask at the time of injury did not establish a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendants increased the risks inherent in the sport.

Assumption of the Risk Does Not Apply to Amusement Park Rides

June 28, 2011

Nalwa v. Cedar Fair(California)
(The doctrine of primary, implied assumption of the risk could not be applied to bar plaintiff’s claim for negligence against an amusement park operator.)

In this case, plaintiff Nalwa took her children to Great American Amusement Park in Santa Clara, California for a day of fun.  While there, the family decided to ride the “Rue Le Dodge” bumper car attraction.  Plaintiff’s hand was fractured as the result of a head-on collision with another bumper car.  Plaintiff asserted claims for negligence, common carrier liability and willful misconduct against Cedar Fair, the operator of Great America.

Cedar Fair filed a motion for summary judgment.  As to the negligence claim, Cedar Fair asserted that it was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, claiming that plaintiff’s injuries arose from bumping, a risk inherent in the “activity” of riding bumper cars.  The trial court granted the motion, and plaintiff appealed.

In reversing the trial court’s ruling, the Court of Appeal ruled that primary assumption of the risk did not apply to the case because bumper car riding was not an “activity” or “sport” according to established case-law definitions.  The Court also held that public policy considerations precluded the application of primary assumption of the risk because amusement park operators had traditionally been held to a “higher standard of care” normally reserved for so-called “common carriers”, which are parties hired to transport passengers.

The Court also found the fact the Cedar Fair had taken steps to make similar rides at its other facilities safer compelling.  The record reflected that Cedar Fair had installed “islands” to prevent head-on collisions at some of its other bumper car rides throughout the country.  The Court felt that the company should have taken similar steps at Great America to “minimize the risks” inherent in the ride.

NOTE: The published decision contains an extensive dissenting opinion making a compelling argument for the application of primary assumption of the risk in this case. The dissent cites to extensive legal authority establishing that participation in bumper car rides could be characterized as an “activity”. The dissent also emphasizes the fact that requiring the park operator to install islands in the ride is tantamount to compelling the operator to “decrease the risks” inherent in the activity, which California case-law clearly does not require.