View imageThe California Supreme Court has turned down an appeal by a man who was burned at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada in 2005 when he threw a friend’s photograph into the flames.

Anthony Beninati, a real estate manager in Los Angeles, had sought to sue the event promoter, San Francisco-based Black Rock City LLC, in San Francisco Superior Court over his injuries.

Beninati’s lawsuit said his hands were badly burned when he tripped and fell after approaching the burning 40-foot wooden statue in order to throw a photo of a deceased friend into the flames on Sept. 3, 2005.

He appealed to the state high court after a trial judge and a Court of Appeal panel dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the festival promoter was protected by a doctrine known as assumption of risk.

Under that doctrine, people who voluntarily engage in inherently dangerous activities such as skiing and touch football can’t sue over injuries suffered during the activities.

In the Court of Appeal ruling in June, Justice Ignazio Ruvolo wrote, “The risk of injury to those who voluntarily decide to partake in the commemorative ritual at Burning Man is self-evident.”

This week, the seven justices of the California Supreme Court unanimously declined without comment to review the case, leaving the Court of Appeal decision as the final ruling in the case.

The justices acted at their weekly conference at the State Building in San Francisco on Wednesday and posted the order denying review today.

Court spokeswoman Lynn Holton said that while the high court, like all other state courts, was officially closed on Wednesday in a budget-cutting measure, and while the justices have agreed to forgo one day’s salary per month, they voluntarily agreed to meet Wednesday for their weekly session to vote on which cases to review.

The court accepts only about 6 percent of the appeals submitted to it for review.

The Burning Man Festival, held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada since 1990, features the burning of a 40-foot wooden effigy of a man atop a tall platform at sundown on the Saturday before Labor Day each year.

About 43,000 participants attended this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Beninati said in the lawsuit that he approached the bonfire after the statute and platform had begun to burn and had collapsed, leaving low flames and burning embers.

He argued that Black Rock City was negligent in allowing participants to approach the burning remnants without providing safe corridors for doing so.

Black Rock City argued that the danger was obvious and avoidable and that Beninati assumed the risk by approaching the fire.

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  • Jamison Wieser

    The ticket is pretty damn clear about this. In all caps it says:

    THE TICKET PURCHASED OR HOLDER (“YOU”) VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL RISK OF PROPERTY LOSS, PERSONAL INJURY OR DEATH, WHICH MAY OCCUR BY ATTENDING BURNING MAN 2009. YOU HEREBY FOREVER RELEASE, DISCHARGE AND SHALL HOLD BURNING MAN HARMLESS FROM ANY CLAIM ARISING FROM SUCH RISK EVEN IF CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENT ACT OR OMISSION OF BURNING MAN OR ITS OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES,CONTRACTORS, AGENTS OR REPRESENTATIVES.

  • salsaman

    True, Jamison, but this denial-of-liability clause wouldn’t hold much water in court if Burning Man or its officers, directors, etc. had actually been negligent. It’s just preemptively saying “whatever happens, it’s not our fault.”

    And maybe it’s the CAPS talking, but this reads like something from a you-agree-because-you-breathe EULA, which I’m sure we all read with our attorney and then print out for our records before we “Agree to Continue.”

    btw the comment reader or peruser (“YOU”) voluntarily accept that this comment was made in good faith, that I’m smart and good looking, and that you will pay me $500 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG whenever I say.