California personal injury lawsuit filed by a couple injured during a charity motorcycle ride claiming that
the event organizer took inadequate steps to ensure rider safety is barred
by the assumption-of-risk doctrine, a California Court of Appeal ruled
late last month. Robert and Nancy Amezcua had sued Los Angeles Harley
Davidson, Inc. for injuries they sustained in a California motorcycle
accident during the 2006 Pursuit for Kids Toy Drive.
The Facts of the Case
Robert Amezcua was an experienced rider who had participated in several
organized rides, including prior versions of the toy ride. Although he
had registered and signed a release in order to participate in previous
rides, he joined the 2006 ride without doing so.
Riders gathered at the dealership, and the joined a procession of approximately
75 to 200 motorcycles, including the one driven by Robert Amezcua with
Nancy Amezcua seated behind him. The Amezcuas were injured when their
motorcycle collided with a van that swerved into their lane on the 110
Freeway. The van driver said that he was startled by the roar of the motorcycles
behind him and swerved in an attempt to avoid hitting a vehicle in front of him.
The driver said he hit the other vehicle, and at that moment, a motorcycle
“also came in.” He said he didn’t “know how they
fell also at the same time.”
The Amezcuas’ complaint alleged that the dealership breached its
duty of care in organizing the ride, and that it was grossly negligent
in doing so. The lower court, however, granted summary judgment both under
the primary assumption of risk doctrine and on the ground that the plaintiffs
had waived any liability, since they knew as a result of their past participation
that the dealership required a release from all participants, even though
they did not sign one on this occasion.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
Justice Laurence Rubin, in his opinion yesterday for the Court of Appeal,
said the assumption of risk doctrine applies, and fully bars the plaintiffs’ claims.
Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, a voluntary participant in a recreational activity
cannot recover damages for injury from a co-participant or a sponsor or
organizer of the activity if the injury stems from a risk inherent in
the activity and the defendant does nothing to increase that inherent risk.
While no previous case has considered the rule in the context of “organized,
noncompetitive recreational motorcycle riding,” Rubin acknowledged,
it has been applied to similar situations.
“Participating in an organized motorcycle ride along public highways
with large numbers of riders is more similar to an organized bicycle ride
than it is to being a mere passenger in a boat, a recreational dancer
or a lone motorcyclist,” the judge wrote. “Like the risk of
being burned while participating in the Burning Man Festival ritual, the
risk of being involved in a traffic collision while riding in a motorcycle
procession on a Los Angeles freeway is apparent.”
Rubin also rejected the argument that Los Angeles Harley-Davidson’s
failure to provide a police escort for the motorcyclists increased the
inherent danger. The plaintiff, Rubin pointed out, had previously acknowledged
organized motorcycle rides often do not have police escorts, and that
he participated in several that did not. A rider therefore has no expectation
that a particular event will have an escort, so the lack of one does not
increase the danger inherent in the ride, the justice reasoned.
The case is
Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, 11 S.O.S. 5802.