Ultrahazardous activities are those activities that are so inherently dangerous that the person or people performing them are strictly liable for injuries caused by the activity. A person engaged in an ultrahazardous activity may be liable for injuries caused even if the person took every reasonable precaution to prevent injury to others.
Courts will consider different factors to determine whether an activity should be considered as ultrahazardous, or abnormally or inherently dangerous. The factors that courts consider are as follows:
- The relative possibility of harm: Clearly if an activity presents a clear risk of harm, it can be ultrahazardous;
- The seriousness of the potential harm that the activity can cause;
- The activity itself, how unlikely people are to engage in it;
- If the possibility of harm can be reduced if the utmost care is taken;
- Whether the risk of the activity is greater than its social value;
Inappropriateness of the activity in the area in which it is conducted.
In the past, the term “ultrahazardous” applied mainly to industrial activities, such as transporting toxic waste, blasting with explosives, and mining. Some examples of cases in which courts have found an activity to be ultrahazardous are as follows:
- Fumigation: Some kinds of fumigation are ultrahazardous activities because they create a serious risk of significant harm to the people, land, or the property of others. The risk cannot be reduced or eliminated by the exercise of even great care. Fumigation may be ultrahazardous because of the chemicals used, which can be toxic, even deadly;
- Blasting: Courts consistently find blasting to be an ultrahazardous activity. It is done mostly in connection with mining, quarrying and construction operations.
In several cases involving activity that might seem to be ultrahazardous to the average person, courts found that the activity was not in fact inherently dangerous within the meaning of the law. For example, courts have found that operating a large wrecking crane is not ultrahazardous and selling propane gas is also not an ultrahazardous activity.
Are Sports Activities Considered Ultrahazardous?
Modern usage of the term “ultrahazardous activity” has expanded to include mainly extreme sports such as skydiving, parachuting, rock climbing, BASE jumping (jumping off of Buildings, Antennae, Spans, or the Earth) , motocross, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Of course, the traditional activities, mine blasting and the like, remain ultrahazardous as well.
Following are some numbers regarding ultrahazardous sports activities. While ultrahazardous sports have been popular for some time, they experienced a surge in popularity during the early 2000s. Most of the statistics presented here come from surveys that have been done after the year 2000.
- Injuries from Extreme Sports: Since the year 2000, extreme sports have been associated with over 4 million injuries;
- Head and Neck Injuries: Ultrahazardous sports activities contribute to over 40,000 head and neck injuries each year;
- Severe Head and Neck Injuries: Roughly 2.5% of head and neck injuries from extreme sports are classifiable as severe, because, for example, they involve skull fracture or fractured neck bones;
- Sources of Head and Neck Injuries: An 11-year survey conducted between the years 1999 to 2000 on head and neck injuries revealed that:
- Skateboarding caused over 129,000 head and/or neck injuries in this 11-year survey period;
- Snowboarders suffered over 97,000 head and/or neck injuries during the same time period;
- Skiing was linked to 83,000 cases;
- Motocross resulted in 78,000 injuries;
- Snowboarding Risks: Currently, snowboarding accounts for 25% of all emergency room visits across the U.S., making it one of the most dangerous extreme sports, if total accidents are taken into account. If only fatalities are considered, BASE jumping is reportedly the most hazardous of extreme sports. The most common snowboarding injuries include fractured wrists, dislocated shoulders, head injuries, and fractured collar bones;
- BASE Jumping Risks: BASE jumping has the highest risk of fatality for any ultra-hazardous activity, greater than all categories combined. The odds of dying from a BASE jump are about 1 in every 2,300 jumps. Another study of BASE jumping fatalities estimated that the annual risk of dying during a BASE jump in 2002 was one fatality per 60 participants.
- A study of fatalities from skydiving put it at 1 in every 101,000 jumps, while fatalities from hang-gliding were put at 1 in every 116,000 flights.
- A study of 20,850 BASE jumps from the Kjerag Massif in Norway reported nine fatalities over an 11-year period from 1995 to 2005, which is one in every 2,317 jumps. However, at that site, one in every 254 jumps in that same period resulted in a nonfatal accident.
- Basically, BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the world, with a fatality and injury rate 43 times higher than that of parachuting from a plane. As of September 2021, the BASE Fatality List records 412 deaths for BASE jumping since April 1981. The BASE Fatality List advocates against BASE jumping and lists the names and locations of those who have perished in BASE jumps.
Legal liability for organized extreme sports activity injuries is tricky. This is because most people who participate in organized ultrahazardous sports activities are required to sign comprehensive liability waivers before participating in the events. This protects everyone involved from lawsuits if the athlete is injured. Cases in which someone was found strictly liable for participating in extreme sports or for equipping those who participate in them seem very limited in number.
What Are Possible Legal Consequences for Ultrahazardous Sports?
Legal consequences for ultrahazardous sporting are a possibility. A college student who wanted to BASE jump off the Empire State Building in New York City was sued by the building’s owners after he broke into the building illegally. The owners also sought a permanent ban on the student’s entry into the tall structure, so as to keep him from again attempting to BASE jump off it. The owners also sought $350,000 in damages from the student, in addition to an order to keep him off the property.
BASE jumpers should note that entering private property without the consent of the owner creates a risk that they may be charged with criminal trespass. One essential element of criminal trespass is as follows:
- The perpetrator must know that they are entering another person’s property without the owner’s permission; or
- The perpetrator must remain on the property after learning that they do not have the right to be there.
In some states, the owner must have posted notice that trespassing is not allowed. A property owner can provide the required notice with a verbal request that the trespasser leave the premises, however a “no trespassing” sign or locked entries are also effective.
Also, BASE jumping is officially banned in all national parks across the country but still permitted in areas owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. While BASE jumping may be illegal in the U.S. National Parks, hundreds of people make illegal BASE jumps every year on National Park land. Park rangers will pursue perpetrators but it is estimated that only about 5% are caught and prosecuted.
Conviction of illegal BASE jumping in a National Park is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, and confiscation of the perpetrator’s BASE jumping equipment.
Private people own most tall buildings and antennas in the U.S. Most of these owners are unlikely to allow BASE jumping for the reason that allowing it might expose them to strict liability for allowing an ultrahazardous activity on their property.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for an Issue With Ultrahazardous Activity?
Ultrahazardous activity laws vary by state. So states are going to have somewhat different rules when it comes to extreme sports and strict liability laws. Your personal injury attorney can direct and guide you towards the best legal remedy for your particular situation. If you need to file a lawsuit in court, your attorney can provide you with representation during that process.
If you have been charged with a crime, e.g. criminal trespass or violation of federal BASE jumping bans, then you want to consult a criminal defense attorney.