Untrained Warrior – High Schooler Injured in Self-Defense Course Gets Her Day in Court (NY)

by

Pierre v. Ramapo Central School District (New York)

A minor high school student was injured while competing as a participant in her school’s self-defense tournament, a voluntary competition open to female students who were enrolled in an elective self-defense class taught by a physical education teacher.  The student filed an action against the school district claiming that the class was actually a mixed martial arts class and alleging that the district was negligent in allowing the class to be instructed by (and the tournament to be refereed by) a person with little martial arts training.

The defendant school district filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred the action and that any negligent supervision on its behalf was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  The Supreme Court initially denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the decision holding that the school district failed to establish that the student consented to the risks associated with the move that ultimately caused her injuries.  The Court explained that doctrine of primary assumption of risk requires that the participant “consents to the commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation.”  The doctrine does not apply “where the risks at issue were unassumed, concealed, or unreasonably increased.”

Deposition testimony in the case indicated that although the move that caused the student’s injury had not been taught in the class, it was being used by participants during the class and during the tournament.  The student’s opponent made an initial attempt to execute the move during the tournament, and the referee did not stop the fight or warn the participants.  The opponent tried to execute the move a second time when the injury occurred.

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