Assumption of Risk: Definition, Doctrine & Examples

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After completing this lesson, you should have a thorough understanding of the assumption of risk doctrine. Additionally, you will review examples of this concept in the legal world.

Definition

Imagine that you are hired as a shark handler. Part of your job involves submerging into large aquariums and retrieving sharks. One day, while retrieving a tiger shark, you are bitten in the leg and experience significant injury. Thereafter, you file a case against your employer based on negligence, or their failure to ensure your safety in a reasonable manner. However, the employer claims you were aware of the risk of a shark bite. The employer further argues that these risks are generally associated with the position, and it is not fair for you to sue. The employer's argument is an example of the assumption of risk doctrine.

The assumption of risk doctrine states that in instances where a person knows of the risk of an activity, that person accepts the risk when voluntarily engaging in the pursuit. Therefore, that person cannot sue for damages based upon injuries which arise from the given activity. In other words, if you know that doing something poses a risk of harm and then you sustain an injury while engaging in it, you may not later sue for damages as a result of your injuries.

Diving with sharks involves an assumption of risk.
Assumption of Risk

Doctrine

Generally, when the assumption of risk doctrine applies, it is necessary that the plaintiff (the person who received the injury and is filing a lawsuit against another party) does not meet certain elements if they wish to win the case. The most important elements of assumption of risk are that the person voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks inherent to the dangerous activity. Furthermore, it is necessary for the defendant (the person the lawsuit was brought against) to demonstrate that the plaintiff knew of all risks at the time of the injury.

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