In a negligence action before the California Court of Appeal, the issue was whether an instructor at a gym increased the risk inherent in the activity and acted in a grossly negligent manner. The court addressed the doctrine of assumption of the risk, evaluating whether the risk of injury was inherent to the sport.
Tonya Honeycutt was injured during a kickboxing class when an instructor at Meridian Sports Club, LLC (Meridian) assisted her in a particular movement. Ms. Honeycutt brought a personal injury action, alleging negligence and gross negligence against Meridian. She claimed that she was injured while a guest at Meridian, since the kickboxing class instructor negligently manipulated her body, causing her knee to snap. Her injury resulted in pain and required surgery. Ms. Honeycutt contended the instructor’s conduct constituted gross negligence. Ms. Honeycutt appealed the summary judgment entered for Meridian.
On appeal, Ms. Honeycutt contended that there was a triable issue of fact because the instructor grabbed her leg, increasing the risk inherent to the kickboxing class. She alleged that this negated the application of the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. Ms. Honeycutt also contended that the instructor acted with gross negligence, rendering ineffective the signed release of liability Ms. Honeycutt signed.
The court stated their standard of reviewing the trial court decision was de novo, considering the facts and evidence in connection with the summary judgment motion.
Regarding the doctrine of assumption of risk, the court stated that it comes into play when a defendant owes no duty to protect a plaintiff from particular harms. In the sporting context, the court looks to the fundamental nature of the sport and the defendant’s role or relationship to the sport. Assumption of risk precludes liability for injuries that are deemed inherent in a sport.
In this case, the court stated that Ms. Honeycutt did not allege the instructor intentionally harmed her. The facts show that Ms. Honeycutt was performing roundhouse kicks, and the instructor took steps to assist her in the proper execution of the movement. The court also stated that shoulder, hand, and knee injuries are risks inherent in kickboxing, and they are foreseeable, with or without an instructor’s intervention. The court stated that the injury falls within the primary assumption of risk doctrine. Furthermore, the court stated that Ms. Honeycutt could have suffered the same injury without the instructor grabbing her leg and aiding her. The court concluded that the instructor’s conduct did not increase the risks inherent in the sport.
Turning to the allegation of gross negligence, Ms. Honeycutt contended it was gross negligence when the instructor held her leg, directing her to rotate without demonstrating the maneuver. The court defined gross negligence as a “want of even scant care” or an extreme departure from what is ordinary conduct. In this case, the instructor tried to help Ms. Honeycutt because he felt she might injure herself. The court stated this does not amount to a form of negligence.
Here, the release that Ms. Honeycutt signed precluded liability for general negligence, and she did not argue the release was invalid. The court held that the release barred Ms. Honeycutt’s negligence action.
The judgment was affirmed, and Meridian was awarded costs on appeal.
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