Under the doctrine of assumption of risk, a participant injured while engaged in a sport or recreational activity is deemed to have consented to those commonly appreciated risks, which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport.
However, if the plaintiff is forced to perform the activity, the assumption of risk defense not available because of the doctrine of inherent compulsion. Under this doctrine, when a student is compelled to participate in an activity and has no meaningful choice to decline, then the assumption of the risk doctrine does not apply.
Recently, in Stach v Warwick Val. Cent. Sch. Dist., the Appellate Division, Second Department examined whether the assumption of risk doctrine applied to a student injured while participating in cheerleading practice. The plaintiff, an experienced high school cheerleader, was injured when she fell while performing the “Pyramid” stunt on a bare lobby floor. The school district argued that the plaintiff voluntarily engaged in cheerleading and knew the risks inherent in the sport.
The plaintiff submitted opposition relying on the doctrine of inherent compulsion. However, the Second Department ruled in the school district’s favor, finding that the plaintiff’s voluntary participation in practice on the lobby floor did not implicate the doctrine.
Where an experienced student athlete is injured while practicing a recreational activity, the doctrine of assumption of risk eliminates any liability for a school district. It is important for the defense to establish that the activity was voluntary, that is, the student’s participation was not forced in order to avoid the doctrine of inherent compulsion.
Thanks to Bill Kirrane for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please email Paul Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org