Primary Assumption of Risk Applies to Bumper Cars

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 07, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last week, the California Supreme Court concluded that the primary assumption of risk doctrine, though most frequently applied to sports, applies to bumper car rides.

The court further concluded that an amusement park's limited duty of care under the primary assumption of risk doctrine -- the duty not to unreasonably increase the risk of injury over and above that inherent in the low-speed collisions essential to bumper car rides -- did not extend to preventing head-on collisions between the cars.

In 2005, Dr. Smriti Nalwa took her son and daughter to the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara. While at the park, they went on the Rue le Dodge bumper car ride. Nalwa rode as a passenger in a bumper car that her son drove. Toward the end of the ride, Nalwa's bumper car was bumped from the front and then from behind. Nalwa braced herself by placing her hand on the car's "dashboard." Her son explains that "something like cracked" and Nalwa cried out, "Oh!"

Her wrist was fractured.

The Rue le Dodge ride was inspected annually for safety by the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Health and Safety, and was inspected every morning by the park's maintenance and ride operations departments. On the morning of the injury, it was found to be working normally. Though bumps, cuts, bruises, and strains had occurred on or around the Rue le Dodge ride in 2004 and 2005, Nalwa's was the only fracture.

Nalwa sued the park for common carrier liability and willful misconduct. The trial court granted the park's motion for summary judgment, concluding the primary assumption of risk doctrine barred recovery for negligence because Nalwa's injury arose from being bumped, a risk inherent in the activity of riding bumper cars.

The heightened duty of care for common carriers did not apply, the trial court found, because the park had no control over the steering and orientation of the individual bumper cars. The trial court also concluded that there was not any willful misconduct because the park did not act with knowledge or reckless disregard of a likely injury.

The California Supreme Court agreed with the trial court.

While primary assumption of risk typically applies to sporting activities -- and bumper car driving isn't a sport -- the court applied the doctrine because there is an inherent risk of minor injuries in bumper cars, and the "risk cannot be eliminated without changing the basic character of the activity," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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