Understanding Personal Injury Law: What Is Assumption of Risk?

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Assumption of risk is a legal doctrine that, in some cases, could prevent an injured victim from recovering financial compensation for their injuries. The basic premise of the doctrine is that a plaintiff cannot hold a defendant liable for an injury if they were aware of and fully accepted the risks of engaging in a particular activity.

In practice, assumption of risk is quite complicated. It is a narrow doctrine that only applies to a limited number of personal injury claims. Still, a defendant may try to raise the doctrine to limit or prevent your recovery. Here, our personal injury lawyers discuss the key things that victims need to know about New York’s assumption of risk doctrine.

Assumption of Risk Is a Limited Personal Injury Defense in New York

In 1975, New York became a comparative negligence state. Under current law, an injured victim can still recover financial compensation even if partially at fault for their own accident. Under the previous (far more harsh) contributory negligence standard, injured victims deemed to be at fault for a small part of their own accident were barred from recovering personal injury damages. In altering the standard, New York lawmakers also dramatically weakened the assumption of the risk doctrine. Under current law, assumption of risk is largely limited to participation in sports and other recreational activities.

Real-World Example: Ninivaggi V. County of Nassau

To best understand how the assumption of risk doctrine applies, it is useful to review a real world example. In 2019, a New York appeals court denied a plaintiff personal injury compensation based on the doctrine of assumption of risk. In the case of Ninivaggi v. County of Nassau, a teenage boy was injured playing catch with his friend on a multi-purpose athletic field at a public school in Merrick, New York.

The injury occurred when the boy stepped in a ‘hole’ on the grass field. Eventually, his parents brought a claim against the school district. Citing the doctrine of assumption of risk, the court ruled against the plaintiffs—finding that “depressions” and “irregularities” are relatively common on football fields. Additionally, the boy acknowledged that he was an experienced football player and he was familiar with conditions of the field. On these grounds, the plaintiff assumed the risk of the activity and the defendant was not liable for the resulting injuries.

Negligent Defendants Can Still Be Held Liable

To be clear, the assumption of risk doctrine does not provide full protection against liability of schools, organizations, businesses, and property owners. These defendants can sometimes be held legally responsible for injuries that occur in sports or recreational activities. However, the assumption of risk doctrine is an issue that must be addressed. Plaintiffs should be prepared to prove that they did not assume the specific risk that caused their injuries.

Get Help From Our Personal Injury Lawyers Today

At Richmond Vona, LLC, our personal injury attorneys help clients maximize their financial recovery. If you have questions about assumption of risk and your personal injury case, we can help. To schedule your no cost, no obligation consultation, please contact our legal team now. From our conveniently located office in Buffalo, we represent clients throughout Western New York.


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