New York’s Appellate Division Court Reverses Lower Court’s Finding for Sports Facility in Negligence Case

Sep 13, 2019

A New York state appellate division court has reversed a lower court, finding that the Bronx County judge was too quick to conclude that a basketball player, who suffered an injury at a sports facility and sued, assumed the risk of that injury when he decided to play basketball.
Plaintiff Nigel Samuels alleged he was injured while playing basketball when he slipped on an accumulation of dust, and fell.
Defendant Town Sports International successfully moved for summary judgment, arguing for an affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk.
The doctrine limits the scope of the defendant’s duty of care (Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 483-484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 [1997]). It relieves an owner or operator of a sporting venue from liability for those risks inherent in the sport that the plaintiff was participating in where the plaintiff was aware of the risks; had an appreciation of the nature of the risks; and voluntarily assumed the risks (Morgan, 90 NY2d at 484).
The underlying policy of the doctrine is “to facilitate free and vigorous participation in athletic activities” (Cotty v Town of Southampton, 64 AD3d 251, 254, 880 N.Y.S.2d 656 [2d Dept 2009]), “not to exculpate a landowner from liability for ordinary negligence in maintaining its premises (Sykes v County of Erie, 94 NY2d 912, 913, 728 N.E.2d 973, 707 N.Y.S.2d 374 [2000]),” according to the appeals court.
The appellate division court conceded that “an owner may not be held liable if the injury results from certain conditions inherent in a participant’s outdoor game of basketball” (id. [irregular surfaces]; see also Felton v City of New York, 106 AD3d 488, 965 N.Y.S.2d 414 [1st Dept 2013] [cracked, repaired and uneven outdoor court]).
However, “the same is true if a condition on an indoor basketball court is otherwise open and obvious (see Egbebemwen A. v New York City Dept. of Educ., 148 AD3d 440, 441, 48 N.Y.S.3d 404 [1st Dept 2017] [wrestling mat on indoor gym floor]; Ciocchi v Mercy Coll., 289 AD2d 362, 735 N.Y.S.2d 144 [2d Dept 2001] [the plaintiff collided with badminton pole stored in the corner of the gym]).
“Here, defendant failed to establish that accumulated dust on an indoor basketball court is inherent in the sport of basketball. Nor did defendant establish that the alleged condition was an open and obvious one (Morgan, 90 NY2d at 488 [tennis player tripped on torn net on indoor tennis court; not a risk inherent in the sport of tennis so as to relieve premises owner of liability, as a matter of law]).”
Nigel Samuels v Town Sports Intl. LLC; S. Ct. N. Y., App. Div., First Dept.; 2019 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5466; 7/9/19
Attorneys of Record: (for appellants) The Law Office of David S. Klausner PLLC, White Plains (Crystal Massarelli of counsel). (for respondent)
Gordon & Rees, LLP, Harrison (Ryan G. Dempsey of counsel).


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