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What is Assumption of Risk in North Carolina Personal Injury Law?

May 23, 2024
By Rhine Law Firm, P.C.

Assumption of risk refers to a legal doctrine where an individual is barred from recovering damages for an injury when they voluntarily expose themselves to a known danger. For example, if you sue a North Carolina landowner for an injury you suffered on their property while rock climbing, the property owner might deflect liability by arguing that you assumed the activity’s inherent risks. Further, the state applies strict contributory negligence rules which preclude an injured party from recovering any damages if they were in any way responsible for the accident.

However, determining whether you did assume a risk of injury is rarely straightforward in a personal injury lawsuit. For more than 30 years, Rhine Law Firm, P.C. in Wilmington has encountered this defense. In every case, we analyze the facts of the underlying accident to overcome a negligent party’s efforts to shift blame for injuries onto an innocent accident victim.

Assumption of Risk May Be Express or Implied

A person might be asked to sign a written release or an express acknowledgment that spells out known and other risks of an activity and waives their right to sue a property owner for damages. Tickets to sporting events, for example, generally include waiver language that shields the organizers from liability for damages when a spectator is injured. Regardless of that waiver, the organizer is still responsible for taking safety precautions. Examples include erecting barriers between a field of play and spectators. An experienced personal injury attorney will review the facts of every case to verify if organizers fulfilled these basic responsibilities.

Other activities have implied risks that a reasonable participant would understand. For example, a bike rider on an offroad dirt track might be expected to know that exposed rocks and tree roots present a risk of crashing. However, if an accident results from the operator’s leaving equipment on the track or their failure to erect safety rails near steep inclines, an implied assumption of risk defense can be defeated.

Assumption of Risk is a Part of Certain North Carolina Statutes

Certain North Carolina laws establish an assumption of risk defense to protect owners and operators of entertainment venues, including, for example, roller skating arenas, equine stables, livestock, and agritourism activities. The state enacted these statutes to bolster economic activity and in recognition that risks associated with some types of activities cannot be fully controlled.

However, the availability of an assumption of risk defense will always depend on the specific facts of an accident. Because of this, you should always consult with a North Carolina personal injury attorney before assuming you have no recourse. 

A Negligent Party Has the Burden of Proving That an Accident Victim Assumed the Risk

To recover damages, an injured North Carolina accident victim must show that a party’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of their injuries and resulting damages. The burden of showing an assumption of risk is imposed on the defendant, who can assert an affirmative defense of assumption of risk by claiming:

  • The victim knew or reasonably should have known about the risk of injury associated with the event where the victim got hurt, and
  • Despite being aware of the risks, the victim voluntarily elected to participate in the event.

Remember, these are fact-specific inquiries, and the success of an assumption of risk defense often turns on how the details of an accident are presented to a judge or jury in a personal injury lawsuit. Your right to recover damages and overcome an assumption of risk defense will depend on the skill and experience of the personal injury lawyer handling your case.

Schedule a Free Consultation at Rhine Law Firm

Negligent defendants and insurance companies often attempt to discourage injured accident victims from filing lawsuits by arguing that a court will not award them damages because they assumed the risk of a particular activity. At Rhine Law Firm, we challenge every attempt by negligent defendants and insurers to assert an assumption of risk defense and fight for the full compensation that our clients deserve to remedy their losses.

Please contact our Wilmington offices to speak with one of our North Carolina personal injury lawyers about your accident, even if you are concerned about an assumption of risk response from a defendant. Our initial consultations are always free. We can evaluate your case and explain its strengths and shortcomings to enable you to decide how you want to proceed. Since we work on a contingency fee basis, you will not pay attorney’s fees unless we win compensation for your injuries.

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