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Assumption of Risk

Express Agreement, Implied Acceptance Of Risk, Knowledge Of Risk, Voluntary Assumption, Violation Of Statute

A defense, facts offered by a party against whom proceedings have been instituted to diminish a plaintiff's CAUSE OF ACTION or defeat recovery to an action in NEGLIGENCE, which entails proving that the plaintiff knew of a dangerous condition and voluntarily exposed himself or herself to it.

Under the federal rules of CIVIL PROCEDURE, assumption of the risk is an AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE that the defendant in a negligence action must plead and prove. The doctrine of assumption of risk is also known as volenti non fit injuria.

Situations that encompass assumption of the risk have been classified in three broad categories. In its principal sense, assumption of the risk signifies that the plaintiff, in advance, has consented to relieve the defendant of an obligation of conduct toward him or her and to take a chance of injury from a known risk ensuing from what the defendant is to do or leave undone. The consequence is that the defendant is unburdened of all legal duty to the plaintiff and, therefore, cannot be held liable in negligence.

A second situation occurs when the plaintiff voluntarily enters into some relation with the defendant, knowing that the defendant will not safeguard the plaintiff against the risk. The plaintiff can then be viewed as tacitly or implicitly consenting to the negligence, as in the case of riding in a car with knowledge that the steering apparatus is defective, which relieves the defendant of the duty that would ordinarily exist.

In the third type of situation, the plaintiff, cognizant of a risk previously created by the negligence of the defendant, proceeds voluntarily to confront it, as when he or she has been provided with an article that the plaintiff knows to be hazardous and continues to use after the danger has been detected. If this is a voluntary choice, the plaintiff is deemed to have accepted the situation and assented to free the defendant of all obligations.

In all three situations, the plaintiff might be acting in a reasonable manner and not be negligent in the venture, because the advantages of his or her conduct outweigh the peril. The plaintiff's decision might be correct, and he or she might even act with unusual circumspection because he or she is cognizant of the danger that will be encountered. If that is the case, the defense operates to refute the defendant's negligence by denying the duty of care that would invoke this liability, and the plaintiff does not recover because the defendant's conduct was not wrongful toward the plaintiff.

With respect to the second and third situations, however, the plaintiff's conduct in confronting a known risk might be in itself unreasonable, because the danger is disproportionate to the advantage the plaintiff is pursuing, as when, with other transportation available, the individual chooses to ride with an intoxicated driver. If this occurs, the plaintiff's conduct is a type of contributory negligence, an act or omission by the plaintiff that constitutes a deficiency in ordinary care, which concurs with the defendant's negligence to comprise the direct or proximate cause of injury. In such cases, the defenses of assumption of risk and contributory negligence overlap.

In this area of intersection, the courts have held that the defendant can employ either defense or both. Since ordinarily either is sufficient to bar the action, the defenses have been distinguished on the theory that assumption of risk consists of awareness of the peril and intelligent submission to it, while contributory negligence entails some deviation from the standard of conduct of a reasonable person, irrespective of any remonstration or unawareness displayed by the plaintiff. The two concepts can coexist when the plaintiff unreasonably decides to incur the risk or can exist independently of each other. The distinction, when one exists, is likely to be one between risks that were in fact known to the plaintiff and risks that the individual merely might have discovered by the exercise of ordinary care.

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