Owners and managers of sporting facilities have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. But that does not mean that those using the facilities can ignore the conditions they have seen before.
In Baccari v. KCOR, Inc., an experienced boxing instructor stepped into the ring to train his girlfriend during his spare time. During one of their training sessions, the instructor injured himself after stepping into a gap in the padding that was located under the canvas. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred recovery. The Queens County Supreme Court disagreed, and denied the motion.
However, the Second Department reversed, holding that the doctrine of primary assumption risk “includes risks associated with any open and obvious conditions of the playing field, including risks arising from ‘less than optimal conditions.’” Key to the court’s ruling was the fact that the boxing instructor was familiar with the very ring in which he was injured, and even saw one of his students step into the gap on a prior occasion.
Baccari is not the only recent New York decision to absolve a defendant who maintained sporting facilities in less than ideal conditions. What is becoming increasingly clear in New York is that when sporting participants are aware that a facility is not as up to par as it should be, they should be prepared to use the facility at their own risk.
Of course, property owners and managers should not use Baccari as a license to neglect their facilities. The recent cases denying recovery for those injured in poorly maintained facilities have done so in situations where the plaintiffs have used the facilities before and were aware of those conditions. If the plaintiff had been someone other than an instructor familiar with that particular boxing ring, it is unlikely that the court would have knocked the case out.