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Court Rules California Motorcycle Injury Lawsuit Barred by Assumption of Risk

A 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.

Under 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.

Source: Metropolitan News