Buffer Zones and Primary Assumption of Risk
Martin, Nathan T., Seidler, Todd L., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Ribaudo v. La Salle Institute
Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York
Nov. 7, 2007
Ribaudo, a minor but an experienced amateur basketball player, was participating in a basketball tournament at the gym of the La Salle Institute in Troy, New York. He attempted to chase down a loose ball that was headed out of bounds and suffered injuries when he collided with an unpadded concrete wall bordering the playing court.
The plaintiff sued the La Salle Institute for negligence, specifically claiming that the position of the wall and its lack of padding directly caused his injuries. The New York Supreme Court denied La Salle's motion for summary judgment, and the school appealed.
The appellate division of the Supreme Court held that Ribaudo assumed the risk of injury from running into the concrete wall while playing basketball. The court's decision to dismiss the complaint was founded on three factors: primary assumption of risk, open and obvious hazards, and failure to prove negligence. All sport activities have inherent risks associated with them that cannot be eliminated without altering the integrity of the activity. In a case in which an individual knowingly and voluntarily places himself or herself in a situation where an inherent risk could cause injury, then he or she assumes the risk by choosing to participate, and may not be able to effectively sue for negligence. In this case, the court found that the plaintiff assumed the risk of colliding with a wall, as this risk is inherent to the sport of indoor basketball. The second factor, open and obvious hazard, is an additional element of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. When an individual recognizes that a hazard exists in a particular situation (i.e., a non-inherent risk), it is considered open and obvious to that individual. Furthermore, if that individual chooses to participate knowing that the hazardous situation exists and consequently suffers injury from participation, he has once again assumed the risk of that hazard and may not be able to effectively sue for negligence. In this case, because the condition of the wall was considered open and obvious, especially to an individual with the skill and experience level of the plaintiff, the court found that Ribaudo assumed the risk even if it was not an inherent risk. The third factor was the plaintiff's failure to provide evidence to refute the defendant's response. Simply stated, the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that he did not assume the risk of participation, that he did not recognize that the unpadded wall was dangerous (open and obvious), or that current standards and guidelines regarding padding and wall position for basketball courts were violated. Therefore, even if the wall's position and condition had caused or contributed to the plaintiff's injuries, he failed to provide any evidence to support that claim.
Risk Management Discussion
Many sport and recreation activities require a certain amount of space between the activity area and any obstructions in order to provide a safe environment for the participants. This space is commonly referred to as a buffer zone or safety zone. Little guidance exists as to how much of a buffer zone is needed for most activities, including basketball. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS, n.d.) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA, 2008) both recommend a minimum of three feet of clear space around a court, while 10 feet is preferred. The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD; Seidler, 2006) and the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA, 1997), however, both recommend six feet as the minimum distance, with 10 feet preferred. AAHPERD recommends that anything less than 10 feet should be fully padded.
Injuries due to inadequate buffer zones are relatively common (Dougherty & Seidler, 2007). …