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Turcotte v. Fell

    Brief Fact Summary. Turcotte (Plaintiff), a highly successful jockey, brought suit to recover damages for injuries sustained when he was thrown from his horse. The trial court granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and the Appellate Division affirmed. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a participant in a sporting event makes an informed estimate of the risks involved with the activity in question, and willingly undertakes them, a defendant will not likely be held liable for any resulting injuries.

    Facts. Plaintiff was severely injured in a race, when his horse clipped the heels of another horse and he was thrown. He suffered paralysis as a result of the accident, and maintained in his action, that another jockey, Fell (Defendant), was negligent, because he committed a foul in violation of the New York Racing and Wagering Board rules.

    Issue. Did the trial court properly grant summary judgment because Plaintiff assumed the risk involved in horseracing?

    Held. The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment, holding that Plaintiff had indeed assumed the risks attendant with the activity in question.

    Discussion. In its decision, the court of appeals examined the parameters of the assumption of risk defense within the scope of New York’s comparative negligence statute. The court stated that the duty owed to plaintiff in a professional sporting event by a co-participant is evaluated by considering the risks that plaintiff assumed when he elected to participate in the event. The court noted that sporting events carry particular risks, which a plaintiff most likely would be aware. Therefore, his or her participation in the activity thus carries an implied assumption of risk. More pointedly, the court asserted, “[t]he risk assumed means that the plaintiff, in advance, has given his consent to relieve the defendant of an obligation of conduct toward him, and to take his chances of injury from a known risk arising from what the defendant is to do or leave undone.” Generally, when a plaintiff’s participation is clearly voluntary, such as in the decision to engage in risky recreational ac
    tivities, courts are more likely to support a defendant’s contention of the assumption of risk on the part of a plaintiff.


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