Simmons v. Porter

312 P.3d 345 (2013)

Quick Summary

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Adam Simmons (plaintiff) sued Richard and Sarah Porter (defendants), his employers at Porter Farms, after sustaining injuries from a fire caused while he was working on a vehicle. He claimed they failed to provide a safe workspace. The defendants argued Simmons assumed the risk of his work.

The issue presented to the Supreme Court of Kansas was whether the assumption of risk doctrine should be discarded in favor of comparative fault. The Court concluded that comparative fault should prevail, thereby overruling past adherence to assumption of risk and remanding for further proceedings under comparative fault principles.

Facts of the Case

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Adam Simmons (plaintiff) was employed as a mechanic by Richard and Sarah Porter (defendants), who operated a farming business known as Porter Farms. During his employment, Simmons was tasked with removing a fuel tank from a truck.

Unfortunately, the tank fell, spilling gasoline over him. When moving away from the fallen tank, Simmons inadvertently caused a fire by breaking a shop light, resulting in severe burns.

The crux of Simmons’ lawsuit against the Porters was that they had failed to provide a safe workspace, which he argued led to his injuries. The Porters, however, defended themselves by invoking the doctrine of assumption of risk—a common law defense suggesting that Simmons voluntarily exposed himself to the known dangers of his work.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. The district court ruled in favor of the Porters based on the assumption of risk defense.
  2. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision.
  3. Simmons appealed to the Supreme Court of Kansas, challenging the applicability of the assumption of risk doctrine after the adoption of comparative fault by the state legislature.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether the doctrine of assumption of risk should be abrogated or altered in light of Kansas’ statutory comparative fault system.

Rule of Law

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The comparative fault statute should control, and any alleged assumption of risk would be considered as just one factor when determining proportionality of fault based on the circumstances.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Kansas Supreme Court recognized that the retention of the assumption of risk doctrine in Kansas was at odds with the majority of comparative fault jurisdictions, which eliminated assumption of risk after adopting comparative fault.

The court found that the circumstances under which assumption of risk might apply as a matter of law were so limited that it often required a jury’s scrutiny—similar to that needed for assessing comparative fault.

Furthermore, the court was persuaded by decisions in other states where courts abolished the assumption of risk doctrine because it conflicted with the principles of comparative fault. The doctrine’s ‘all or nothing’ recovery rule was deemed inconsistent with comparative fault’s aim to apportion damages based on relative negligence.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court of Kansas overruled prior case law adhering to the assumption of risk doctrine as an absolute bar to recovery and remanded the case for reconsideration under the comparative fault rubric.

Key Takeaways

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  1. The Supreme Court of Kansas held that the doctrine of assumption of risk is no longer applicable in light of the state’s comparative fault statute.
  2. Assumption of risk will now be considered as one factor among many when determining fault proportionally in personal injury cases.
  3. The case was sent back to the district court for reconsideration, applying the principles of comparative fault instead of assumption of risk.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What is the role of comparative fault in distributing legal responsibility among parties?

In a legal context, comparative fault serves to allocate responsibility and damages among parties based on their respective contributions to the harm. This system encourages fairer outcomes by ensuring that each party pays for the portion of damage equivalent to the degree of fault they bear.

  • For example: If Driver A is found 70% at fault for speeding and Driver B is 30% at fault for not signaling, in a crash, Driver A will be responsible for paying 70% of the damages while Driver B will cover the remaining 30%.

How can assumption of risk affect a plaintiff's ability to recover damages?

Assumption of risk can limit or bar a plaintiff’s recovery if it is shown that they voluntarily accepted a known danger inherent to an activity. If successful, it can serve as a complete defense, absolving defendants from liability.

  • For example: A spectator at a baseball game assumes the risk of being hit by a foul ball and may not be able to claim damages for injuries as this risk is inherent to attending the game.

How does the abolition of the assumption of risk doctrine reflect the evolution of tort law?

The abolition of the assumption of risk doctrine reflects tort law’s progression towards more equitable doctrines like comparative fault that allow for shared responsibility rather than an all-or-nothing approach to liability.

  • For example: A hiker who ignores warning signs and gets injured may have once been completely barred from recovery; under comparative fault, their compensation would simply be reduced by their percentage of fault.


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