California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

408. Primary Assumption of Risk—Liability of Coparticipant in Sport or Other Activity

[Name of plaintiff] claims [he/she] was harmed while participating in [specify sport or other activity, e.g., touch football] and that [name of defendant] is responsible for that harm. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] either intentionally injured [name of plaintiff] or acted so recklessly that [his/her] conduct was entirely outside the range of ordinary activity involved in [sport or other activity];

2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

3. That [name of defendant]’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

Conduct is entirely outside the range of ordinary activity involved in [sport or other activity] if that conduct can be prohibited without discouraging vigorous participation or otherwise fundamentally changing the [sport/activity].

[Name of defendant] is not responsible for an injury resulting from conduct that was merely accidental, careless, or negligent.

New September 2003; Revised April 2004, October 2008, April 2009, December 2011

Directions for Use

This instruction sets forth a plaintiff’s response to the affirmative defense of primary assumption of risk asserted by a defendant who was a coparticipant in the sport or activity. For an instruction applicable to coaches, instructors, or trainers, see CACI No. 409, Liability of Instructors, Trainers, or Coaches.

Primary assumption of risk generally absolves the defendant of a duty of care toward the plaintiff with regard to injury incurred in the course of a sporting or other activity covered by the doctrine. (See Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 320 [11 Cal.Rptr.2d 2, 834 P.2d 696].) Element 1 sets forth the exceptions in which there is a duty.

While duty is generally a question of law, there may be disputed facts that must be resolved by a jury before it can be determined if the doctrine applies. (See Shin v. Ahn (2007) 42 Cal.4th 482, 486 [64 Cal.Rptr.3d 803, 165 P.3d 581].)

Sources and Authority

  • “Though most cases in which the doctrine of primary assumption of risk exists involve recreational sports, the doctrine has been applied to dangerous activities in other contexts (see, e.g., Saville v. Sierra College (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 857 [36 Cal.Rptr.3d 515] [training in peace officer takedown maneuvers]; Hamilton v. Martinelli & Associates (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1012 [2 Cal.Rptr.3d 168] [training on physical restraint methods]; Aaris v. Las Virgenes Unified School Dist. (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 1112 [75 Cal.Rptr.2d 801] [practice of cheerleader routines]; Bushnell [v. Japanese-American Religions & Cultural Center], 43 Cal.App.4th 525 [50 Cal.Rptr.2d 671] [practice of moves in judo class]; and Herrle v. Estate of Marshall (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1761 [53 Cal.Rptr.2d 713] [injury to nurse’s aide by nursing home patient]).” (McGarry v. Sax (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 983, 999–1000 [70 Cal.Rptr.3d 519], internal citation omitted.)
  • “Primary assumption of risk arises where a plaintiff voluntarily participates in an activity or sport involving certain inherent risks; primary assumption of risk . . . bar[s] recovery because no duty of care is owed as to such risks.” (Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 8, 11 [45 Cal.Rptr.2d 855], internal citations omitted.)
  • “ ‘[A]n activity falls within the meaning of “sport” if the activity is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.’ ” (Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, Inc. (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 217, 229 [132 Cal.Rptr.3d 567].)
  • “A coparticipant in an active sport ordinarily bears no liability for an injury resulting from conduct in the course of the sport that is merely careless or negligent.” (Ford v. Gouin (1992) 3 Cal.4th 339, 342 [11 Cal.Rptr.2d 30, 834 P.2d 724].)
  • “[W]e conclude that a participant in an active sport breaches a legal duty of care to other participants—i.e., engages in conduct that properly may subject him or her to financial liability—only if the participant intentionally injures another player or engages in conduct that is so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 320.)
  • “The Knight rule, however, ‘does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that “it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.” Thus, even though “defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself,” they may not increase the likelihood of injury above that which is inherent.’ ” (Distefano v. Forester (2001) 85 Cal.App.4th 1249, 1261 [102 Cal.Rptr.2d 813], internal citations omitted.)
  • “In Freeman v. Hale, the Court of Appeal advanced a test . . . for determining what risks are inherent in a sport: ‘[C]onduct is totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport (and thus any risks resulting from that conduct are not inherent to the sport) if the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.’ ” (Distefano, supra, 85 Cal.App.4th at p. 1261.)
  • “[G]olfers have a limited duty of care to other players, breached only if they intentionally injure them or engage in conduct that is ‘so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.’ ” (Shin, supra, 42 Cal.4th at p. 497.)
  • “[W]hether defendant breached the limited duty of care he owed other golfers by engaging in conduct that was ‘so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in [golf]’ depends on resolution of disputed material facts. Thus, defendant’s summary judgment motion was properly denied.” (Shin, supra, 42 Cal.4th at p. 486, internal citation omitted.)
  • “Although we recognize the Court of Appeal decisions specifically addressing the point are in conflict, we believe resolving this issue is not a matter of further defining [defendant]’s duty, which would be a question of law for the court. Rather, it requires application of the governing standard of care (the duty not to increase the risks inherent in the sport) to the facts of this particular case—the traditional role of the trier of fact. (See, e.g., Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co., supra, 118 Cal.App.4th at pp. 591–592 [whether defendant’s design of snowboard jump increased inherent risks of snowboarding is question for jury]; Solis v. Kirkwood Resort Co., supra, 94 Cal.App.4th at p. 365 [whether artificial jumps built by resort increased inherent risk of falling while skiing is question for jury]; Lowe v. California League of Prof. Baseball (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 112, 123 [65 Cal.Rptr.2d 105] [whether distraction caused by activities of minor league baseball team’s mascot increased inherent risk of spectator being hit by a foul ball ‘is issue of fact to be resolved at trial’]; but see Huff v. Wilkins, supra, 138 Cal.App.4th at p. 745 [‘it is the trial court’s province to determine whether defendants breached their duty not to increase the inherent risk of a collision [in the sport of off-roading], and it should hold a hearing for this purpose before impaneling a jury’]; American Golf Corp. v. Superior Court (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 30, 37 [93 Cal.Rptr.2d 683] [‘[i]t is for the court to decide . . . whether the defendant has increased the risks of the activity beyond the risks inherent in the sport’]; see also Huffman v. City of Poway (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 975, 995, fn. 23 [101 Cal.Rptr.2d 325] [indicating it is for the court to determine whether defendant’s conduct increased the risk inherent in participating in a particular sport, but that trial court may receive expert testimony on the customary practices in the sport to make that determination].) [¶] Our conclusion it is for the trier of fact to determine whether [defendant] breached his limited duty not to increase the risks inherent in the sport of volleyball finds solid support in the Supreme Court’s most recent sports injury, primary assumption of the risk decision, Shin v. Ahn, supra, 42 Cal.4th 482, a case that postdates the appellate court decisions suggesting the issue is one for the court to resolve.” (Luna v. Vela (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 102, 112–113 [86 Cal.Rptr.3d 588].)
  • “Primary assumption of the risk is an objective test. It does not depend on a particular plaintiff’s subjective knowledge or appreciation of the potential for risk.” (Saville, supra, 133 Cal.App.4th at p 866.)
  • “A jury could find that, by using a snowboard without the retention strap, in violation of the rules of the ski resort and a county ordinance, defendant unnecessarily increased the danger that his snowboard might escape his control and injure other participants such as plaintiff. The absence of a retention strap could therefore constitute conduct not inherent to the sport which increased the risk of injury.” (Campbell v. Derylo (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 823, 829 [89 Cal.Rptr.2d 519].)
  • “The existence and scope of a defendant’s duty depends on the role that defendant played in the activity. Defendants were merely the hosts of a social gathering at their cattle ranch, where [plaintiff] asked to ride one of their horses; they were not instructors and did not assume any of the responsibilities of an instructor.” (Levinson v. Owens (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 1534, 1550–1551 [98 Cal.Rptr.3d 779], internal citation omitted.)
  • “[T]he doctrine [of primary assumption of risk] applies not only to sports, but to other activities involving an inherent risk of injury to voluntary participants . . . , where the risk cannot be eliminated without altering the fundamental nature of the activity.” (Beninati v. Black Rock City, LLC (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 650, 658 [96 Cal.Rptr.3d 105].)
  • “Whether a duty exists ‘does not turn on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct, but rather on [(1)] the nature of the activity or sport in which the defendant is engaged and [(2)] the relationship of the defendant and the plaintiff to that activity or sport.’ It is the ‘nature of the activity’ and the parties’ relationship to it that determines whether the doctrine applies—not its characterization as a sporting event.” (McGarry, supra, 158 Cal.App.4th at p. 999, internal citations omitted.)
  • “[T]o the extent that ‘ “ ‘a plaintiff unreasonably undertakes to encounter a specific known risk imposed by a defendant’s negligence,’ ” ’ he or she is subject to the defense of comparative negligence but not to an absolute defense. This type of comparative negligence has been referred to as ‘ “secondary assumption of risk.” ’ Assumption of risk that is based upon the absence of a defendant’s duty of care is called ‘ “primary assumption of risk.” ’ ‘First, in “primary assumption of risk” cases—where the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm—a plaintiff who has suffered such harm is not entitled to recover from the defendant, whether the plaintiff’s conduct in undertaking the activity was reasonable or unreasonable. Second, in “secondary assumption of risk” cases—involving instances in which the defendant has breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff—the defendant is not entitled to be entirely relieved of liability for an injury proximately caused by such breach, simply because the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering the risk of such an injury was reasonable rather than unreasonable.’ ” (Kindrich v. Long Beach Yacht Club (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1252, 1259 [84 Cal.Rptr.3d 824], original italics, internal citations omitted.)
  • “Even were we to conclude that [plaintiff]’s decision to jump off the boat was a voluntary one, and that therefore he assumed a risk inherent in doing so, this is not enough to provide a complete defense. Because voluntary assumption of risk as a complete defense in a negligence action was abandoned in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804, 829 [119 Cal.Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226], only the absence of duty owed a plaintiff under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk would provide such a defense. But that doctrine does not come into play except when a plaintiff and a defendant are engaged in certain types of activities, such as an ‘active sport.’ That was not the case here; plaintiff was merely the passenger on a boat. Under Li, he may have been contributorily negligent but this would only go to reduce the amount of damages to which he is entitled.” (Kindrich, supra, 167 Cal.App.4th at p. 1258.)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 1339, 1340, 1343–1350

1 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 4, Comparative Negligence, Assumption of the Risk, and Related Defenses, § 4.03, Ch. 15, General Premises Liability, § 15.21 (Matthew Bender)

23 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 273, Games, Sports, and Athletics, § 273.30 (Matthew Bender)

33 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 380, Negligence, § 380.172 (Matthew Bender)

16 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 165, Negligence, § 165.401 (Matthew Bender)