Daley & Heft’s Landmark Knight v. Jewett Decision Expanded by California Supreme Court in Bumper Car Case

December 31, 2012.  In Nalwa v. Cedar Fair (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1148, the California Supreme Court held that the primary assumption of risk doctrine (originally expressed in Daley & Heft’s Knight v. Jewett decision) applies to bumper car collisions, regardless of whether or not one deems bumper cars a “sport.”

Plaintiff was a patron who fractured her wrist on a bumper car ride at an amusement park.  She sued defendant park owner for negligence in not configuring or operating the ride so as to prevent her injury. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. The California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District, reversed, concluding the doctrine did not apply. Defendant petitioned for review.

The California Supreme Court held that the existence of safety regulations governing amusement park rides does not exempt them from the primary assumption of risk doctrine. Defendant was not a common carrier in its operation of the bumper car ride. The public policy supporting a higher duty of care for common carriers, therefore, did not apply and did not preclude application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. Defendant’s limited duty of care under the primary assumption of risk doctrine – the duty not to unreasonably increase the risk of injury over and above that inherent in the low-speed collisions essential to bumper car rides – did not extend to preventing head-on collisions between the cars. The risk of injuries from bumping was inherent in the ride, and under the court’s precedents, defendant had no duty of ordinary care to prevent injuries from such an inherent risk of the activity. The absence of such a duty defeated plaintiff’s cause of action for negligence as a matter of law.