California Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Defendants After Finding Plaintiff Injured in Hot Air Balloon Had Not Shown Defendants Breached Duty of Care

In a recent Southern California personal injury case before the Court of Appeal, the judgment in favor of the defendants was affirmed.  The plaintiff in this case was injured when the basket carrying her in a hot air balloon crashed in Temecula wine country.  On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s judgment in favor of the defendants, but on different grounds.

After the plaintiff asserted a negligence claim against the tour company, the pilot, and the company’s agent, the defendants moved for summary judgment.  In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged she had been injured when the balloon crash-landed into a fence, and this was caused by negligent piloting and a failure to provide safety instructions.  The defendants argued the plaintiff did not satisfy the elements of her negligence claim, and even if she had, she had waived the right to assert a claim by signing the liability waiver before the flight. The lower court found that the plaintiff had not established the element of duty and had assumed the risk of harm inherent in riding in a hot air balloon. The court determined that the company did not owe her a duty.

In their analysis, the lower court held that hot air ballooning is a risky activity and can involve crash landings.  By voluntarily riding in the balloon, the plaintiff had assumed the risk of injury.

On appeal, the court stated that the balloon company is not a common carrier and did not owe the plaintiff a heightened duty to ensure her safe carriage.  According to California law, operators of transportation who are “common carriers” must protect the safety of their passengers. The plaintiff alleged that the hot air balloon company was a common carrier and owed passengers a heightened duty to ensure safe carriage during a balloon tour.

The court stated that unlike those who operate roller coasters, trains, and airplanes, hot air balloon pilots cannot control precisely the speed and direction of the balloon.  Unlike trains, however, the risks of riding in a hot air balloon cannot be mitigated without changing the nature of the balloon. The court’s analysis concluded that the hot air balloon company was not a common carrier.

Regarding the duty of care owed by the hot air balloon operator, the court stated that the primary assumption of risk doctrine defines the duty owed to people engaged in inherently risky activities.  The doctrine applies to activities that people pursue for thrills and that contain a risk of injury.  The legal test for whether assumption of risk applies is whether the risk inherent to the activity can be eliminated without changing the fundamental nature of the activity.

In this case, the doctrine applies to hot air balloon crash landings, since the risks cannot be mitigated by changing the free-floating nature of a balloon.  Here, the hot air balloon company did not have a legal duty to protect the plaintiff from crash landings caused by the pilot’s failure to manage the balloon’s descent.  Additionally, the court rejected the plaintiff’s allegation the pilot had been grossly negligent and increased the risk of the crash landing.

Next, the court assessed whether the failure to provide safety instructions breached the duty of care.  While the court found that there remained a duty to provide safe landing procedures, any lack of providing these instructions did not substantially cause the plaintiff’s injury.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants.

Throughout Southern California, people injured in accidents ranging from motorcycle collisions to slip and fall accidents can rely on the personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm to help them with their legal claims.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling (866) 422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Primary Assumption of Risk Bars Negligence Claim in Recreational Swimming Pool Accident Lawsuit Because Swimming Presents Inherent Risk of Drowning and Injury, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 23, 2016

California Court of Appeals Upholds Finding in Favor of Ice Center Under Primary Assumption of Risk When Ice Hockey Game Spectator Injured by Stray Puck, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 22, 2016

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