Monday, December 31, 2012

Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, S195031

Torts: duty of ordinary care: application of Primary Assumption of Risk to “Nonsport” Recreational Activities“. Although persons generally owe a duty of due care not to cause an unreasonable risk of harm to others (Civ. Code, § 1714, subd. (a)), some activities—and, specifically, many sports—are inherently dangerous.  Imposing a duty to mitigate those inherent dangers could alter the nature of the activity or inhibit vigorous participation.  (Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990, 1003.)  The primary assumption of risk doctrine, a rule of limited duty, developed to avoid such a chilling effect.  (Ibid.; Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 308.)  Where the doctrine applies to a recreational activity, operators, instructors and participants in the activity owe other participants only the duty not to act so as to increase the risk of injury over that inherent in the activity.  (Avila v. Citrus Community College Dist. (2006) 38 Cal.4th 148, 162; Kahn, at p. 1004.); in defendant’s view, a duty to minimize the inherent risk of injury from bumper car rides would “require amusement park operators to eliminate their existing rides and to replace them with rides that are fundamentally different,” contrary to the policy motivating this court’s primary assumption of risk decisions, that of preventing common law tort rules from undermining Californians’ recreational opportunities.  For reasons explained below, we agree with defendant; we agree with the dissenting justice below, and the court in Beninati, that the primary assumption of risk doctrine is not limited to activities classified as sports, but applies as well to other recreational activities “involving an inherent risk of injury to voluntary participants . . . where the risk cannot be eliminated without altering the fundamental nature of the activity.”  (Beninati v. Black Rock City, LLC, supra, 175 Cal.App.4th at p. 658.); the primary assumption of risk doctrine rests on a straightforward policy foundation:  the need to avoid chilling vigorous participation in or sponsorship of recreational activities by imposing a tort duty to eliminate or reduce the risks of harm inherent in those activities.  It operates on the premise that imposing such a legal duty “would work a basic alteration—or cause abandonment” of the activity.  (Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 1003; see also Shin v. Ahn, supra, 42 Cal.4th at p. 492, quoting Dilger v. Moyles (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 1452, 1455 [“ ‘Holding golfers liable for missed hits would only encourage lawsuits and deter players from enjoying the sport.’ ”]; Avila v. Citrus Community College Dist., supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 165 [in baseball, recognizing tort liability for hitting the batter with a pitch would tend to deter throwing inside, an essential part of the sport]; Ford v. Gouin, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 345 [imposing tort liability for negligence in towing water-skier might well chill participation and “have a generally deleterious effect on the nature of the sport of waterskiing as a whole”]; Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 318 [doctrine avoids chilling vigorous participation in sport].)  The doctrine’s parameters should be drawn according to that goal; the policy behind primary assumption of risk applies squarely to injuries from physical recreation, whether in sports or nonsport activities.  Allowing voluntary participants in an active recreational pursuit to sue other participants or sponsors for failing to eliminate or mitigate the activity’s inherent risks would threaten the activity’s very existence and nature.  In thus concluding, we do not “expand the doctrine to any activity with an inherent risk,” as the majority below cautioned.  While inherent risks exist, for example, in travel on the streets and highways and in many workplaces, we agree with the lower court that “the primary assumption of risk doctrine in its modern, post-Knight construction is considerably narrower in its application.”  (See Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 311-312 [primary assumption of risk inapplicable to automobile accidents or medical negligence].)  But active recreation, because it involves physical activity and is not essential to daily life, is particularly vulnerable to the chilling effects of potential tort liability for ordinary negligence.  And participation in recreational activity, however valuable to one’s health and spirit, is voluntary in a manner employment and daily transportation are not. 
The doctrine thus applies to bumper car collisions, regardless of whether or not one deems bumper cars a “sport.”  Low-speed collisions between the padded, independently operated cars are inherent in—are the whole point of—a bumper car ride.
As she did in Knight and several cases since, Justice Kennard dissents here from application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. (Dis. opn. of Kennard, J., post, at pp. 1-2.)  In light of the dissenter’s consistent urging that we return to the traditional consent-based assumption of risk defense, it is worth reiterating some of the reasons given in Knight for abandoning that defense in favor of a limited-duty rule.  (See Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 311-313); the traditional rule, resting on a legal fiction that the plaintiff had impliedly consented to the activity’s known risks, would completely bar the plaintiff’s recovery because of his or her unreasonable conduct, putting the defense in severe tension with comparative fault principles adopted in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804.  (Knight, at p. 311.)  In theory, moreover, it could apply to risks beyond those inherent in the activity—even reckless or intentional misconduct, were it shown the plaintiff was aware of the potential for such misconduct—and apply as well to activities far beyond the realm of sports and recreation, such as automobile travel and medical treatment, that carry known risks of injury from others’ negligence.  (Id. at pp. 311-312.)  Finally, the implied-consent theory’s focus on what the individual plaintiff subjectively knew about the nature and magnitude of the risks being encountered subjected defendants to widely disparate liability for the same conduct, and made summary judgment on the basis of assumption of risk very rare, since the defense depended on proof of the particular plaintiff’s subjective knowledge and expectations.  (Id. at pp. 312-313.)  The dissenting opinion here does not persuade us these considerations have lost their force. Bumper car rides like Rue le Dodge are dissimilar to roller coasters in ways that disqualify their operators as common carriers.  “A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.”  (Civ. Code, § 2100); riders on Rue le Dodge, in other words, are not passively carried or transported from one place to another.  They actively engage in a game, trying to bump others or avoid being bumped themselves.  The rationale for holding the operator of a roller coaster to the duties of a common carrier for reward—that riders, having delivered themselves into the control of the operator, are owed the highest degree of care for their safety—simply does not apply to bumper car riders’ safety from the risks inherent in bumping.  “The rule that carriers of passengers are held to the highest degree of care is based on the recognition that ‘ “to his diligence and fidelity are intrusted the lives and safety of large numbers of human beings.” ’   (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1136.)  A bumper car rider, in contrast, does not entrust the operator with his or her safety from the risks of low-speed collisions; the undisputed facts in the summary judgment record demonstrate defendant was not a common carrier for reward in its operation of Rue le Dodge.  The public policy supporting a higher duty of care for common carriers, therefore, does not apply here and does not preclude application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine; our later decisions establish that under the primary assumption of risk doctrine, operators, sponsors and instructors in recreational activities posing inherent risks of injury have no duty to eliminate those risks, but do owe participants the duty not to unreasonably increase the risks of injury beyond those inherent in the activity.  (Avila v. Citrus Community College Dist., supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 162; Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at pp. 1003, 1005); the operator of a bumper car ride might violate its “duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent” in the activity (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 316) by failing to provide routine safety measures such as seat belts, functioning bumpers and appropriate speed control, but does not do so by failing to restrict the angle of bumping; conclusion: the risk of injuries from bumping was inherent in the Rue le Dodge ride, and under our precedents defendant had no duty of ordinary care to prevent injuries from such an inherent risk of the activity.  The absence of such a duty defeats plaintiff’s cause of action for negligence as a matter of law.  Plaintiff’s “willful misconduct” cause of action, which (as described by the lower court and in plaintiff’s briefing) rests on a duty to minimize head-on collisions, fails for the same reason.  Finally, in light of our conclusion defendant did not act as a common carrier for reward in operating the bumper car ride, summary judgment was also proper on the cause of action for common carrier liability (Cal. S. Ct., 31.12.2012, Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, S195031).

Responsabilité civile en droit californien (ses règles peuvent s'appliquer même dans le cas d'une relation contractuelle) : devoir de diligence : application de la théorie du "risque préalablement  assumé" à des activités récréatives non sportives. Précision sinon modification de la jurisprudence californienne. Bien qu'ordinairement chacun soit redevable d'un devoir de diligence qui impose de ne pas provoquer un risque déraisonnable de causer un dommage à autrui, certaines activités, et spécifiquement certains sports, sont intrinsèquement dangereux. Imposer un devoir d'atténuer ces dangers inhérents est susceptible de modifier la nature de l'activité ou d'inhiber une participation vigoureuse. La doctrine du "risque préalablement assumé", qui est une règle impliquant un devoir limité, s'est développée pour éviter de tels effets dissuasifs. Lorsque la doctrine s'applique à des activités récréatives, les opérateurs, les instructeurs et les participants ne doivent aux autres participants qu'un devoir d'agir de manière à ne pas augmenter le risque de dommage corporel au-delà du risque inhérent à l'activité. Selon le défendeur (le parc d'attraction qui met à disposition des pistes d'autos tamponneuses), un devoir à lui imposé de réduire le risque inhérent de se blesser en pratiquant l'auto tamponneuse aurait comme conséquence d'obliger les parcs d'attraction à éliminer ce type d'amusement et de les remplacer par des activités fondamentalement différentes, cela en contradiction avec le raisonnement appliqué par la Cour dans le cas de risque préalablement  assumé, ce raisonnement étant d'éviter que les règles de responsabilité civile de la Common law ne portent préjudice aux opportunité récréatives des Californiens. La Cour accepte ces arguments. La doctrine du risque préalablement  assumé n'est pas limitée aux activités dites sportives, mais s'applique également à d'autres activités récréatives qui impliquent pour les participants, qui pratiquent l'activité de leur plein gré, un risque inhérent de se blesser, cela lorsque le risque ne peut pas être éliminé sans altérer la nature fondamentale de l'activité. Par exemple, tenir un joueur de golf responsable pour un tir manqué n'aurait comme conséquences que d'encourager les procès et d'éloigner les intéressés de cette activité sportive. Cette théorie du risque préalablement assumé est d'application étroite. Elle est par exemple inapplicable en cas d'accident de la circulation ou en cas d'erreur médicale. Mais elle s'applique aux activités récréatives actives, parce que ces activités impliquent une dépense physique et ne sont pas essentielles à la vie quotidienne. L'existence de ces activités récréatives est ainsi particulièrement vulnérable en cas d'application d'une responsabilité pour négligence ordinaire. La doctrine s'applique ainsi à la pratique de l'auto tamponneuse, sans égard au fait que cette activité soit ou non considérée comme un sport. Est donc abandonné le moyen de défense du risque assumé sur une base consensuelle. Ce moyen de défense est ainsi abandonné au profit d'une obligation limitée, ici à charge de l'organisateur des activités d'autos tamponneuses. Il n'est pas opportun de maintenir une telle défense car obtenir un « summary judgment » serait en cas de maintien une tâche presque impossible, et le consentement au risque pourrait s'appliquer de manière extensive à des risques crées intentionnellement ou par négligence fautive, s'il venait à être démontré que l'usager connaissait ces risques. Par ailleurs, l'opérateur d'une activité d'autos tamponneuses ne peut pas être tenu au plus haut degré de diligence tel que celui qui s'applique aux transporteurs de personnes (a common carrier for reward), tels les compagnies aériennes ou les opérateurs de roller coaster. En effet, les participants au jeu des autos tamponneuses ne soumettent pas leurs vies à la diligence de l'opérateur. L'opérateur d'une attraction d'autos tamponneuses peut violer son devoir d'être suffisamment attentif à ne pas augmenter les risques inhérents à l'activité en n'offrant pas les mesures de sécurité de routine, telles que des ceintures de sécurité, des pare-chocs qui fonctionnent, ou un moyen de contrôle de la vitesse. Aucune faute n'est commise en ne réglementant pas l'angle de collision.

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