Client Alert: Kickboxing Student Assumed Risk of Injuries Resulting from Class

In Honeycutt v. Meridian Sports Club, LLC (Number B254180, Filed 10/21/2014), the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District held a participant in a kickboxing class was barred from recovering on a negligence theory against her instructor because she assumed the risk of injury by participating in the class.

In Honeycutt, Plaintiff suffered a knee injury while participating in a kickboxing class hosted by Defendant, Meridian Sports Club, LLC (“Meridian”). Prior to her participation, Plaintiff signed a one-page agreement containing an express assumption of the risk agreement which stated that she agreed Meridian would not be liable for any injury resulting from negligence by Meridian, and that she understood the activity involved risks of injury which she voluntarily accepted.

Meridian’s instructor noticed Plaintiff was not executing a “roundhouse kick” with proper form. The instructor approached Plaintiff and corrected her form. Plaintiff then attempted to perform another roundhouse kick at the instructor. He caught her leg between the ankle and knee and instructed her to “rotate.” Plaintiff attempted to rotate and felt her left knee pop and give out. She suffered a ruptured ACL, requiring physical therapy, surgery and rehabilitation.

Plaintiff filed suit against Meridian, asserting causes of action for negligence and gross negligence. Meridian filed a Motion for Summary Adjudication on four grounds: (1) the negligence action was barred by the release of liability that Plaintiff signed; (2) the negligence cause of action was barred because Plaintiff signed an express “assumption of the risk” agreement; (3) the doctrine of “Primary Assumption of the Risk” barred the negligence claim; and (4) Meridian’s actions did not constitute gross negligence as a matter of law. The trial court initially denied the Motion, but after Meridian filed a Writ of Mandate, the Court of Appeal issued a writ directing the trial court to grant the motion. The trial court complied, and Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the grant of summary judgment, holding Plaintiff assumed the risk of harm by participating in the kickboxing class, and that Meridian had not acted with gross negligence.

The Court reasoned that the primary assumption of the risk doctrine, applied in the sporting context, “precludes liability for injuries arising from those risks inherent in a sport….” Citing Kahn v. East Side Union High School (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990, 1005-1006, the Court held Plaintiff’s claim failed as a matter of law because “a sports instructor may be found to have breached a duty of care to a student or athlete only if the instructor intentionally injures the student or engages in conduct that is reckless in the sense that it is ‘totally outside the range of the ordinary activity’ involved in teaching or coaching the sport.” Here, the instructor’s action of catching Plaintiff’s roundhouse kick and instructing her to rotate was not “totally outside the ordinary activity” involved in teaching kickboxing. Meridian could not be held liable for gross negligence because Plaintiff failed to even allege the instructor caused the injury intentionally.

Further, the Court noted that injuries to shoulders, hands and knees are risks inherent in a vigorous physical activity such as kickboxing, and these injuries are entirely foreseeable, with or without the intervention of an instructor. The injury suffered by Plaintiff was a risk she voluntarily assumed by participating in the class and signing the assumption of risk agreement. As such, Plaintiff was precluded from recovering, as a matter of law, against Meridian, under either cause of action.

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November 12, 2014