California Appeals Court Allows Wrongful Death Suit to Move Forward


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This wrongful death action was brought on behalf of a man who died from cardiac arrest after completing a half marathon. He was given CPR by another racer and a bystander, but by the time the automatic external defibrillator was brought to him his heart had no shockable rhythm. The man’s family brought suit against the organizations and individuals who oversaw and put on the race. They alleged that those responsible for the race were negligent, especially regarding the availability of emergency medical services. When loved ones die due to the negligence of others, families – generally with the assistance of knowledgeable California personal injury attorneys – may be able to hold the wrongdoers accountable.

Assumption of the Risk

Generally, when someone engages in a dangerous sport or activity, they are considered to be assuming certain risks based on their choice to engage in the behavior. Frequently, in order to participate in the activity you will need to sign a waiver stating that you understand the risks and will not hold the organizers liable for any injuries that occur. However, even when a waiver is signed, those responsible for the event can still be held liable if they were grossly negligent.

Here, the plaintiffs argue that the race organizers were negligent enough to overcome the defense of assumption of the risk. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the organizers were negligent in that the medical team that was supplied for the event was comprised of chiropractors instead of doctors, there was a lack of ambulance personnel at the finish line, and inadequate automatic external defibrillators.

Initially, the trial court dismissed the wrongful death claim under the theory of assumption of the risk. However, after the family provided evidence that the organizers did not comply with the plan for emergency medical services the court reversed itself and allowed the case to move forward. The California appeals court agreed with the lower court on this issue.

Express Waiver

As mentioned above, the race participants signed online waivers before the race. The defendants argued that by signing the waiver they were not liable for the plaintiff’s death. However, potential defendants are not allowed to rely on waivers in all circumstances. If they were, then they would have no way to be held accountable when there are risks due to the negligence of organizers rather than the inherent risks of the activity. Here, the appeals court held that while the release would be a complete defense against ordinary negligence, for public policy reasons it cannot act as a bar against liability for gross negligence. Thus, the case was allowed to move forward under a potential gross negligence theory though the plaintiff still had the burden of proving that the race organizers were grossly negligent.

Contact an Experienced Southern California Personal Injury Attorney Today

If a loved one has died possibly due to the negligence of someone else, you should contact a Southern California personal injury attorney as soon as possible. As shown here, you may still be entitled to recovery even if they signed a waiver before engaging in the activity. The experienced wrongful death attorneys at the Neumann Law Group serve clients in Southern California, including Huntington Beach and Los Angeles. Contact them today by calling them at (213) 277-0001 or by using the contact form on this website to schedule your free consultation today.

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