When people in California decide to participate in inherently risky activities, they assume the risk that they will be injured unless the operators of the activities engaged in conduct that was grossly negligent. In Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Cal. Ct. App. 4D, Case no. E0634449, the court examined the concept in the context of a hot-air balloon ride in which a female passenger was injured after signing an express waiver of liability.
Issue: Is a balloon company a common carrier, and was the express waiver of liability sufficient to preclude a finding of liability?
Grotheer, a 78-year-old German woman, was a passenger on a hot-air balloon ride that had been purchased for her by her son while she was visiting California. Grotheer could not speak English. Prior to the ride, her son explained that she could not speak or understand English to the balloon operator but was apparently waved off. Grotheer signed an express waiver of liability prior to the balloon’s takeoff. The trip was apparently uneventful until the landing. The balloon descended too rapidly and crashed through a fence before crashing forcefully to the ground. The force of the landing caused the balloon’s basket to skip across the ground before it came to rest on its side. Grotheer landed at the bottom, and her leg was broken in the crash-landing. She filed a lawsuit against the balloon’s operator, the balloon company and the vineyard from where the balloon launched, alleging negligence. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Grotheer assumed the risk when she chose to go on the hot-air balloon ride, that the company was not negligent or that if it was, it was not grossly negligent to the extent that the assumption of the risk standard would not apply.