Tanya Honeycutt v Meridian Sports Club LLC (2014) H&FLR 2014-64

California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District)

21 October 2014

Coram: Mosk PJ, Kriegler and Goodman JJ

Appearing for the Plaintiff: Marilyn H. Nelson and Abram Charles Zukor (of Zukor & Nelson)
Appearing for the Defendant: Anthony J Ellrod and Ladell Hulet Muhlestein (of Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester)

Catchwords: California – negligence – kickboxing – assumption of risk – waiver – instructor – inherent risk

Facts: The plaintiff attended a kickboxing class at the defendant’s premises taught by instructor Hakeem Alexander.  Before the class the plaintiff signed an assumption of risk agreement and waiver of liability for injury. While assisting the plaintiff to perform properly a roundhouse kick, Alexander grabbed her right ankle between the ankle and knee and instructed her to ‘rotate’ without providing further direction.  She rotated her left knee, suffering a significant knee injury.

The plaintiff sought compensation for personal injury caused by negligence and gross negligence.  The trial court granted the defendant’s application for summary judgment based on the waiver signed by the plaintiff: Honeycutt v Meridian Sports Club LLC (Los Angeles County Superior Court, Cotton J, 7 January 2014, unreported). The plaintiff appealed.

Held: Dismissing the appeal, that –

1.  Primary assumption of risk arises when a defendant owes no duty to protect a plaintiff from a particular harm. It precludes liability for injuries arising from risks inherent in a sport.

Avila v Citrus Community College District (2006) 38 Cal.4th 148, followed.

2.  Coaches and instructors have a duty not to increase the risks inherent in sports participation, and breach their duty of care to a student or athlete if they intentionally injure the athlete or engage in conduct that is ‘reckless’ (that is, wholly outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in teaching or coaching the sport.

Kahn v East Side Union High School District (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990, followed.

3.  Injuries to shoulders, hands and knees are inherent risks in a vigourous physical activity like kickboxing.  In this case the plaintiff’s injury was squarely within the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.  The coaches actions did not increase the inherent risks.

4.  Gross negligence (which if found would avoid the waiver) is a “want of even scant care” or “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct”. That another instructor would have acted differently is not evidence of cross negligence

City of Santa Barbara v Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, followed.
Decker v City of Imperial Beach (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 349, considered.


The Court’s judgment is available here.