Friday Night Hot Air Balloon Crash in Virginia and the Assumption of Risk Doctrine

According to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller, a tragic hot air balloon crash happened Friday night in Virginia at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival in Doswell. After two other balloons landed, a third hit power lines that sparked a fire and caused the crash.

An investigation is already underway by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Assumption of Risk and Written Waivers

Many people are not aware of the fact that in many instances, when you participate in a sport or hazardous activity, you may actually assume the risk of injury and death. The laws in each state are different and most of the time to bar liability, the incident that causes harm must be a normal and expected risk of the activity.

I’m a licensed California trial lawyer and do not practice in law in Virginia. Having said that, it is my understanding that Virginia law does recognize the defense of assumption of the risk.
What this means is that an assumption of the risk may occur when an individual fully understands “the nature and extent of a known danger and voluntarily exposes herself to that danger.” Thurmond v. Prince William Prof’l Baseball Club, 265 Va. 59, 64 (2003). I’m not sure if flying a balloon into power lines falls under this risk but am interested in hearing from Virginia trial counsel, in the comment section below, more about this very issue.

In California, being hit by another snow skier while skiing down a mountain would generally fall under the assumption of risk doctrine in California. Skiing into an open and unmarked snow covered 4 foot wide hole left by a ski resort employee after removing a sign isn’t a risk you would normally assume.

In my state and in addition to the assumption of risk, the law also allows for a written waiver of rights when participating in hazardous activities. Every time I’d ride or race at the local motocross tracks, I had to sign a written waiver of my rights for any type of injury regardless of risks or fault.

Along those same lines, here’s a short video I shot after spending the weekend K1 Cart racing and Sky High jumping with my son and signing written waivers at both facilities.

Whether or not the operator or owner of the hot air balloon can and should be held responsible for the deaths and harm caused by this hot air balloon flying into the power lines will be up to the Virginia courts. Our prayers go out to the victims’ families.

The purpose of this article was to share with you the legal doctrine of assumption of risk and written waivers in California.

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