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Florida Court Explains Limits of the Express Assumption of Risk Doctrine

Injured2

Under the assumption of risk doctrine, courts can prevent plaintiffs from holding other people responsible for their injury when they engaged in an activity that they knew was dangerous. Last month, a Florida Court of Appeals issued an opinion that further explained the limitations of this doctrine, making it much more difficult for a defendant to avoid liability by arguing that a plaintiff expressly assumed the risk involved with a certain activity.

The Case 

In Petruzzella v. Church on the Rock of Palm Coast, Inc., the plaintiff argued that while he was rehearsing a song with the church band, he tripped and fell on a cord that was plugged into the electric bass guitar. He subsequently filed a premises liability claim against the church, asserting that it had failed to safely maintain the stage area, which resulted in his injuries. The church countered by pointing out that the plaintiff had been a member of the church band for the past two years and so was well aware that there were certain dangers involved in traversing the stage when electric cords were present. The trial court agreed with the defendant,  holding that the plaintiff had expressly assumed the risk of injury.

Upon appeal, the plaintiff argued that previously, Florida courts had limited the application of this doctrine to only a few certain situations, namely those:

  • Involving contracts not to sue; and
  • Arising out of injuries inflicted during contact sports.

The appellate court agreed that because the plaintiff’s situations did not fall under either of these categories the lower court’s decision would be reversed. The case will now be heard by a jury who will be tasked with determining whether the plaintiff implicitly assumed any of the risks that come with practicing with a church band.

Limits of the Doctrine 

The appellate court referenced an earlier case, in which the Florida Supreme Court found that the doctrine of express assumption of risk should not be expanded beyond the two situations outlined by the plaintiff. However, it could still be argued that the plaintiff impliedly consented to the risks of walking across the state with exposed electrical cords. The court explained that these types of claims must be evaluated by a jury under the principles of comparative negligence.

According to the recently published opinion, unless a plaintiff signed an express contract with the defendant prior to the injury or participated in a contact sport, his or her claim cannot be defeated by an express assumption of the risk doctrine. Instead, the defendant will need to defeat a negligence claim by establishing that it did not owe a duty to the plaintiff or that its actions did not constitute a breach of its duty.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Today  

If you were injured as a result of someone else’s negligence and they are arguing that you accepted the risk at an earlier date, please call Boone & Davis in Fort Lauderdale at 954-566-9919 to speak with a dedicated personal injury attorney who can evaluate your case. We are eager to help you each step of the way.

Resource:

5dca.org/Opinions/Opin2017/051517/5D16-2877.op.pdf

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