Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, June 25, 2013


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Court of Appeal Upholds Assumption-of-Risk Ruling in Mishap Involving UCLA Swim Team Members


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The primary assumption-of-risk doctrine bars a former UCLA swimmer’s suit against an ex-teammate, arising from a February 2010 workout accident, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.

Div. Five affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Russell Kussman’s ruling that Annie Stefanec has no liability, as a matter of law, to Scarlett Cann.

Both women were injured in the weight room incident. According to their depositions, they were performing a circuit of strengthening exercises—a mandatory part of swim team training—when Stefanec lost her balance and dropped a weight bar behind her.

Stefanec fell backward onto the bar, fracturing a vertebrae in her back. The bar rolled a short distance and either the bar or a weight plate hit Cann, who was doing pushups, in the head.

Stefanec was out of competition for about a year, but recovered in time to compete in last year’s Olympic trials and has since gone into coaching. Cann just graduate and is working at UCLA’s Office of Residential Life, according to her Facebook page.

Cann opposed Stefanec’s summary judgment motion, which was based on the assumption-of-risk doctrine. The doctrine bars a participant in an athletic or other activity from suing a coparticipant if the injury results from the kind of risk inherent in the sport, and not from an act or omission which has increased that risk beyond what might normally be expected. 

Cann argued that because she was performing pushups, not engaging in weight training, she had not assumed the risk of being hit by a mishandled weight. But Kussman and the appellate panel said the plaintiff was reading the doctrine too narrowly.

Justice Sandy Kriegler wrote for the court:

“Participatory sports often result in accidental careless behavior.  Cann’s deposition testimony made clear she did not know if she was hit by the weight bar or a weight plate.  She believed she was struck by the bar, based on its weight, but did not see the bar hit her.  In any event, the particulars of how the injury occurred are irrelevant to the application of primary assumption of the risk.  There is no requirement that Cann and Stefanec engaged in the same specific exercise at the time of the injury for primary assumption of the risk to apply.”

Both parties, and other swimmers, had testified that they were instructed to drop the weight bar if it became too heavy and the lifter lost her balance, the justice noted. There was testimony that this happened on several occasions, he added, so it was obvious that the risk of being hit by a dropped weight was inherent in the activity.

He went on to reject the argument that Stefanec unreasonably heightened the risk by acting recklessly.

The jurist wrote:

“Stefanec was following the instructions of the coach, which Cann herself had followed, by allowing the weight to drop behind her for safety.  There is no evidence she dropped the weight intending to hurt any person, including Cann.  Dropping the weight as instructed for safety purposes does not begin to approach conduct that falls outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport.”

Attorneys on appeal were Gary A. Dordick and Mark J. Bloom for the plaintiff and Karen M. Bray and Emily V. Cuatto of Horvitz & Levy and Peter J. Gates of Gates, O’Doherty, Gonter & Guy the defendant.

The case is Cann v. Stefanec, 13 S.O.S. 3199.


Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company