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Sports and Assumption of Risk

Guys Playing Football Sports and athletic activities can be dangerous to both players and spectators. Players risk being tackled, tripping while running, being hit with a ball or puck, or being fouled by another player. Spectators run the risk of players running into them, and of being hit by stray balls. In California, when you play sports, you assume the risk of harm. This means that if you are injured in the normal course of the activity, you cannot sue the person, company, or player responsible.

Assumption of Risk

Assumption of risk is a defense to negligence in athletic activity. To establish a personal injury claim for a sports injury, the injured person must show that:

  • The defendant’s injury-producing conduct was intentional and was entirely outside the normal range of activity involved in the sport or other activity;
  • The injured person was harmed; and
  • The defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm.

For competitive sports and similar activities, the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies. This means that the defendant has no duty to protect the plaintiff from risk, and if the doctrine applies, recovery is completely barred.

The reason for the existence of the doctrine of assumption of risk is that if the doctrine did not exist, sports activities, as we know them, would likely cease to exist. People would avoid participation in athletic activities if every time a player injured someone, even unintentionally, he or she had to worry about being sued.


A defendant’s conduct is entirely outside the range of ordinary activity if the conduct can be prohibited without:

  • Discouraging vigorous participation in the activity; or
  • Fundamentally changing the nature of the sport.

Merely breaking a rule of the game is not enough for the doctrine to not apply. Players who break the rules are punished in the game, rather than legally.

Additionally, the conduct must be intentional. Careless or negligent conduct is not sufficient. But if the conduct is recklessly outside the range of normal conduct, assumption of the risk will not apply. Players and participants do not have a duty to protect others from the dangers inherent in the game, but they may not increase the likelihood of harm.

Sports and Other Activities

For purposes of assumption of risk, a sport is anything that is done for enjoyment, that requires physical exertion plus skill, and is a challenge involving a potential risk of injury. The sport does not have to be a competitive sport. Assumption of risk applies to noncompetitive but active sports, such as water skiing. But the activity must involve some sort of physical skill. Activities such as being a passenger in a boat are not enough.

The doctrine of assumption of risk is mainly used in sports, but it also applies to other inherently dangerous activities. For example, courts have held that assumption of risk applies to activities including training in physical defense methods, practicing judo moves in a class, and an aide being injured by a nursing home patient.

Injuries sustained during athletic activities can seriously affect your life, and it is important to speak to an experienced attorney to determine whether you can recover for those injuries. Please contact the skilled San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free initial consultation.

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