WHAT IS ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK AND HOW CAN IT AFFECT MY CASE?
If you’ve ever attended a live sports event, the back of your ticket probably included a legal term known as "assumption of risk.” Assumption of the risk is a legal defense that can sometimes be used to keep an injured party from recovering damages. The core of the defense is that the injured person “knowingly and voluntarily chose” to expose himself or herself to a dangerous activity.
The classic example of assumption of risk is attendance at a sporting event. When you attend a baseball game, for example, you run the risk (or “assume the risk”) of getting hit with a baseball hit hard by the batter. Many sporting event promoters print this on their tickets, trying to prevent those struck by balls, pucks, and other objects from bringing successful lawsuits to recover for their injuries.
Assumption of risk works similarly in motor vehicle accident cases. For example, let’s say that you left a bar with a good friend of yours, knowing full well he was drunk and unfit to drive, but you rode with him anyway. You watched him drink all night and saw him stumble his way into the bathroom just before you left. Despite all of this, you accepted his offer to drive you home. On the way, he passed out at the wheel, sending the car careening into a tree. Badly injured in the crash, you were hospitalized for well over one month, you had to have three expensive surgeries, and you lost your job because you missed so much work due to the accident.
Not knowing how else to recover financially, you decided to bring a lawsuit against your friend. To win your case, you will have to show that your friend acted negligently in driving drunk. But it is likely that your friend (or his insurance company, actually) will argue that you assumed the risk of injury when you voluntarily got into the car with him knowing full well of the existing danger in riding with him.
Virginia courts have recognized that defendants in negligence lawsuits like this can be barred from recovery if the driver can prove that the passenger assumed the risk of accepting the ride. The concept of assumption of risk is not limited to driving situations, as any plaintiff, who assumes the risk of any activity, knowing of its dangers, may be claimed to have “assumed the risk,” which will be a bar to that person’s recovery.
Drinking and drugs are not the only applications of this rule. It may also apply to those who are unfit to drive for other reasons, such as vision issues or epilepsy. Just remember, though, that for assumption of the risk to bar your lawsuit, you must have known that the driver’s condition was such that he could not safely operate a motor vehicle at the time you accepted the ride.
What does all of this mean for you? It is obvious to many people that it is a bad idea to ride with an impaired driver. This is a safety risk that you should be unwilling to take. But even if you do decide to accept that ride, you need to remember that if you are injured, you may be barred from recovering against the driver if you chose to ride with him or her.
If you were injured while a passenger due to the negligence of a driver, Call The Sandler Law Group toll free at 800-9-THE-LAW or (757) 627-8900 to schedule an initial FREE consultation. You may also contact us online at www.sandlerlaw.net or by email at GSandler@Sandlerlaw.net.