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The negligence standard is sufficiently flexible to accommodate liability issues underlying all recreational injury cases. There is no reduction in the defendant's standard of care (e.g., reckless or intentional), nor is there any fictitious undertaking that the defendant does not owe a duty to the plaintiff. Implied assumption of risk cases improperly focus on a lack of duty in the defendant rather than the more compelling issue of comparative breach of duty by the parties. Whether the defendant fails to act reasonably in the particular circumstances is not an issue of law, but is a matter for the jury to decide.
Appellant Lori S. Auckenthaler and several others were riding horses in an area north of Reno. Co-respondent Jody White was a member of the group and was riding a horse owned by co-respondent Steven Grundmeyer named “Bum.” During the ride, Bum was acting antsy and nervous. When the horse appellant was riding strayed too close to Bum, Bum turned and kicked at appellant’s horse, striking appellant in the leg, resulting in appellant’s injury. Appellant filed a negligence suit against both White and Grundmeyer, alleging that White was negligent in continuing to ride a horse that was temperamental and exhibiting dangerous behavior and that Grundmeyer was negligent for supplying White with a horse Grundmeyer knew was aggressive and anxious. Both respondents moved for summary judgment, contending that in accordance with recent California case law, the appropriate legal standard of care governing participants in recreational activities was not simple negligence, but was instead reckless or intentional conduct. The district court agreed and summarily dismissed appellant’s complaint. The court adopted the California standard and held that the appellant had not alleged or presented any evidence that the White and Grundmeyer intentionally tried to hurt the appellant or that they engaged in conduct which was so reckless as to have been totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in horseback riding. On appeal, appellant argued that the district court erred by adopting a reckless or intentional standard of care because such a reduced standard affronted Nevada's abolition of implied assumption of risk.
Should a reckless or intentional standard of care be adopted to analyze the respondent’s liability under the circumstances?
The court held that Nevada precedent had abrogated all forms of implied assumption of risk and concluded that the trial court erred by adopting California's reckless or intentional standard of care for participants in recreational activities. The court further held that the underlying facts of the case, and all forthcoming similar cases, were to be examined by utilizing simple negligence rubric. According to the court, the negligence standard was malleable and the jury would simply examine each case to determine whether the defendant acted unreasonably under the circumstances. Within the factual climate of recreational activities or even sporting events, the question posed was whether the defendant participated in a reasonable manner and within the rules of the game or in accordance with the ordinary scope of the activity. Applying the negligence standard on appeal, the court held that appellant presented enough evidence to overcome summary judgment. Accordingly, the decision of the district court was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.