Minnesota Supreme Court Refuses to Extend Doctrine of Implied Primary Assumption of Risk in Two Separate Cases

The Minnesota Supreme Court, in Soderberg v. Anderson, 922 N.W.2d 200 (Minn. 2019) and in Henson v. Uptown Drink, LLC, 922 N.W.2d 185 (Minn. 2019), declined to abolish the doctrine of implied primary assumption in its entirety, but declined to apply it to claims of negligence arising out of a snowboarding accident and a fatal bar accident.

In the snowboarding case, Soderberg originally brought suit after Anderson landed on and injured her from performing an aerial snowboard trick. The district court, in applying the implied primary assumption of risk doctrine, granted Anderson summary judgment. The court of appeals then reversed.

Upon review from the Minnesota Supreme Court, it affirmed the court of appeals decision, citing three main reasons. First, the court stated that there is no record of injuries from skiing and snowboarding that evidences the sport in inherently risky. Next, it stated it was “loathe to extend the doctrine of implied primary assumption to yet another activity” and agreed with the nationwide trend to abolition or limit the doctrine. Lastly, the court did not believe that its refusal to apply the doctrine would deter Minnesotans from participating in the sport, and thus would not affect ski operators.

Similarly, in Henson, The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals, seeing “no good reason” to extend the doctrine of implied primary assumption to preclude liability for injuries in a bar. Maxwell Henson’s family first brought suit after their son, an off-duty Uptown Drink employee, died as a result from attempting to remove an intoxicated patron from the premises. The family sued the restaurant, pleading innkeeper-negligence and dram-shop claims.

The district court granted Uptown Drink’s motion for summary judgment, determining that the inn-keeper negligence claim had no basis because the bar owed no duty based on the doctrine of implied primary assumption of risk and because the events were not foreseeable. It also dismissed the dram-shop claims on the basis that Henson failed to show an element of proximate cause. The court of appeals reversed.

The Minnesota Supreme Court found that summary judgment should not have been granted because the issue of foreseeability is heavily fact dependent and should be presented to a finder of fact. Thus, the Court remanded the Henson’s innkeeper-negligence claim. Similarly, it found that a fact finder should also be responsible for determine who and what was the proximate of Henson’s death. Henson emphasized that while injuries can and do occur in the course of drinking, it is not and should not be a contact sport.

Ultimately, Henson and Soderberg explain the Minnesota Supreme Court’s theory that doctrine of implied primary assumption of risk should not be applied beyond its means and maintains it should only be applied in inherently dangerous sports.