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Law Offices of Jonathan M. Cooper

Is Play At Your Own Risk True in New York?

Jonathan Cooper
Employment Litigation and School Negligence Lawyer

One of the most commonly held assumptions, in the context of personal injury cases, is that those big signs you see posted along sports fields and hockey rinks, stating “Play at Your Own Risk” have legal merit.

But is “Play at Your Own Risk” really the law in New York?

Well, the answer to that question is yes; and no.

To be sure, there is a significant line of cases holding that play at your own risk, or in legalese “assumption of the risk” is true in New York with regard to sporting activities, such as tennis or baseball. But it doesn’t apply in all circumstances.

So what are the guidelines?

Here’s what New York’s courts have said:

“A person who voluntarily participates in a sporting activity generally consents to those injury-causing events, conditions and risks that are inherent in the activity.” This means that if you get hurt as the result of a well-known risk inherent to that sporting activity, your injury claim will likely be dismissed under New York law.

There is an important exception to this rule, however.

 If participation is compelled, or the risks are neither known nor obvious, primary assumption of the risk will not apply.

What’s a practical example of that exception?

There are a few different instances where New York’s courts have allowed a sporting injury case to survive dismissal by applying this exception, chief among them those cases involving children who were compelled to perform an activity by their coach, and therefore, did not assume the risk voluntarily.

Obviously, the question as to whether a particular case would be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine is very fact-specific. Therefore, if you have questions regarding your sports injury matter, it’s probably a good idea to contact an attorney with experience in this area.