Beware of Dog? Patrick Breaks Down a Common Insurance Company Defense

February 23, 2022

Property owners often post warning signs, like “Beware of Dog” or “No Lifeguard on Duty.” Even if such a sign is present, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney can still obtain money for accident victims. These signs do not automatically let owners off the hook for injuries like dog bites and swimming pool drownings. They simply make the assumption of the risk defense easier to prove.

This clip from Patrick Smartpants illustrates the general principles of this defense. Loyal SpongeBob viewers might recognize this clip as the end of a friendly game of tag which went horribly off the rails. If Patrick filed a lawsuit against the property owner due to the subsequent loss of his brain, would he be able to overcome the assumption of the risk defense? Inquiring minds want to know.

Voluntary Assumption

SpongeBob did not force Patrick to run off the cliff. So, he voluntarily assumed the risk. This element is usually straightforward in the aforementioned personal injury claims as well. Most people voluntarily get too close to a vicious dog or go for a dip in a pool.

However, the location of the “Danger Cliff” sign does raise some questions. Who puts such a warning sign on the precipice of a cliff? Wouldn’t it make more sense to post the sign further away from the edge of the cliff? 

This issue sometimes comes up in the real world as well. For example, assume an owner posts a “Beware of Dog” sign in the side yard. If a victim goes through the house and into the backyard, where the dog is, the victim probably never saw the sign.

Known Risk

Even if Patrick voluntarily assumed the risk, it was not a known risk. Patrick is so stupid he could not read the sign. A reasonable person might have stopped and let SpongeBob apply a tag. But that’s not the standard here. Patrick is not a reasonable person.

This issue comes up in the real world as well. The insurance company must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the victim saw the sign, could read the sign, and could understand what the sign meant. These things are difficult for young children, older people, and any LEP (Limited English Proficiency) individuals. 

Owners often complicate things. Untrimmed tree limbs might obscure a “Beware of Dog” sign, or a “No Lifeguard on Duty” warning might be buried on a long list of pool rules.

On a related swimming pool note, some of these injuries are inherently unknown risks. For example, if a poorly-maintained swimming pool drain created an invisible riptide, a “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign does not adequately warn of this risk. Accident victims are usually entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.

Photo Credit: Storyblocks

Sharona Hakim

Sharona Eslamboly Hakim, Esq. is a successful personal injury attorney and the principal of the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim firm in Beverly Hills, California.

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