2 minute read

Assumption of Risk

Knowledge Of Risk

The plaintiff will not normally be regarded as assuming any risk of either conditions or activities of which he or she has no knowledge. The plaintiff must not merely create the danger but must comprehend and appreciate the danger itself.

The applicable standard is basically subjective in nature, tailored to the particular plaintiff and his or her situation, as opposed to the objective standard of the reasonable person of ordinary prudence, which is employed in contributory negligence. If because of age, lack of information, or experience, the plaintiff does not comprehend the risk entailed in a known situation, the individual will not be regarded as consenting to assume it. Failure to exercise ordinary care to discover the danger is not encompassed within assumption of risk, but in the defense of contributory negligence.

An entirely subjective standard, however, allows the plaintiff considerable latitude in testifying that he or she did not know or comprehend the risk. To counteract the adverse effects of the application of this liberal standard, courts have interjected an objective element by holding that a plaintiff cannot evade responsibility by alleging that he or she did not comprehend a risk that must have been obvious.

A denial of cognizance of certain matters that are common knowledge in the community is not credible, unless a satisfactory explanation exists. As in the case of negligence itself, there are particular risks that any adult must appreciate, such as falling on ice, lifting heavy objects, and driving a defective vehicle. In addition, a plaintiff situated for a considerable length of time in the immediate vicinity of a hazardous condition is deemed to have detected and to comprehend the ordinary risks entailed in that situation. If the person completely understands the risk, the fact that he or she has temporarily forgotten it does not provide protection.

Even when there is knowledge and appreciation of a risk, the plaintiff might not be prohibited from recovery when the circumstances introduce a new factor. The fact that the plaintiff is totally cognizant of one risk, such as the speed of a vehicle, does not signify that he or she assumes another of which he or she is unaware, such as the intoxication of the driver.

Visitors to professional sporting events assume the risk that they may be injured by competitors or game paraphernalia during the contest.
REUTERS NEWMEDIA INC./CORBIS

Although knowledge and understanding of the risk incurred are encompassed within the concept of assumption of the risk, it is possible for the plaintiff to assume risks of whose specific existence he or she is unaware—to consent to venture into unknown conditions. In a majority of instances, the undertaking is express, although it can arise by implication in a few cases. A guest who accepts a gratuitous ride in an automobile has been regarded as assuming the risk of defects in the vehicle, unknown to the driver.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Approximation of laws to AutopsyAssumption of Risk - Express Agreement, Implied Acceptance Of Risk, Knowledge Of Risk, Voluntary Assumption, Violation Of Statute