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In Legal Terms, what is Volenti Non Fit Injuria?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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Volenti non fit injuria is a Latin phrase which can be translated “for a willing person, there is no harm.” It is used as a defense in civil cases. Someone who attempts to sue because he or she knowingly engaged in dangerous activities and was injured may not be able to recover damages, under the argument that the person knew the risks and consented. However, volenti non fit injuria is not a blanket defense which excuses people of all potential suits.

In a simple example of this type of defense, an American football player takes to the field with the understanding that she or he may be involved in tackles and other sports maneuvers which could result in personal injury or even death, because of the nature of the game. As a result, if someone is tackled and sustains a head injury, that person cannot sue, because the player willingly participated, being aware of the risks. On the other hand, if a player beans another player over the head with a stick, the injured player has grounds for suit because being hit on the head with a stick is not a known and accepted risk of playing American football.

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Two components must generally be present for the volenti non fit injuria defense to be accepted. The first is that the injured party knew the risks and was aware of the risks in detail; simply knowing, for example, that skydiving is dangerous would not be enough. The person would have to be aware of the specific risks associated with skydiving, such as the potential to hit one's head on the descend and sustain a head injury.

Secondly, people must freely consent. Just knowing the risks is generally not considered consent. The injured party must offer oral or written consent. In some regions, people must sign waivers indicating that they understand the risks and consent anyway. For example, before undergoing surgery, patients are usually required to sign a consent reform which states that they were told in detail about the surgery and the risks.

Situations where people could be put in danger are often accompanied with waivers to satisfy both terms of volenti non fit injuria and reduce liability. However, it is still possible to sue on grounds of negligence, even in situations where a waiver is filed. Some examples might include risks which people were not informed about, injuries caused by improperly maintained equipment, and injuries caused by a surgeon who was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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stl156
Post 4

I am not sure if anyone here is familiar with the term contributory negligence, but it is sort of related to volenti non fit injuria. It is basically a defense against negligence where you say that an accident was the fault of the injured person.

I remember it was used in a case near where I live where two people got in a serious car wreck, and one of the individuals ended up dying. That family ended up getting some auto accident lawyers that claimed the wreck was caused because the first person was driving recklessly. The jury ended up deciding, though, that it was the deceased driver's fault because he had unlawfully ran a yield sign.

Even thought it is not exactly volenti non fit injuria, you still sort of sign a contract by driving a car that you will follow the laws and accept the risks associated with not following those rules.

jmc88
Post 3

I think in some cases, like the paintball example below, that a lawsuit is justified, but I also feel like there are just way too many people in the United States who feel like court is the only solution for a problem. I don't remember the exact number, but I saw a figure the other day that showed the millions of dollars that insurance companies think they lose every year just based off of frivolous lawsuits. To me, it seems like most of them would fall under the rules of volenti non fit injuria, but apparently not.

I think the most well known example is the person who sued McDonalds because of the coffee being too hot. First, they

knew the risks - the coffee would be hot. Second, they still agreed to purchase it. The fact that the coffee was hot in the first place seems to negate the whole argument, because otherwise you can assume the person wouldn't have bought it in the first place to spill it. Apparently a judge and jury saw it differently.
jcraig
Post 2

@cardsfan27 - Hmm, that is a really interesting scenario you have posed. I am certainly no lawyer, but like reading about how the law works. There definitely seems to be some sort of tort or personal injury case that could be had, but I don't know who would be held responsible. My best guess would be that, even though the parent signed the contract, that was probably to show that they understood they had no recourse if their child was hurt during normal actions.

I would say their child shooting someone else outside of the agreed rules would mean the child was liable for the damages (which the monetary damage I believe the parent would be responsible for paying). Like I said, I am not a lawyer, but I bet it wouldn't be too hard for a lawyer to point to the right way to proceed.

cardsfan27
Post 1

I have obviously heard of this concept before, but didn't know that there was a particular legal term to describe it. I know one instance where I have engaged in something particularly dangerous a couple of times has been in paintball matches. When I was in college, we used to go and play paintball at a local course a few times every year. Before you can play there, you have to sign a waiver saying that you understand the risks involved and can't sue the owners in the event that you get hurt.

On the subject of volenti non fit injuria, though, there actually is a situation my friends and I always considered. The form said that you were

required to follow certain rules, the most important ones being that you always had to wear a facemask on the field, had to cover the barrel of your gun in the "commons" area, and couldn't shoot anyone at a range less than 10 feet.

If you were under the age of 18, you had to have a parent sign this form for you. Our question was always, if a child under 18 whose parent signed the contract didn't follow the rules, and shot someone in the face from close range in the commons area, who would be to blame? Would the parent have to take legal responsibility in that case?

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