January 17, 2008

Simple tool doctrine is abolished because it is essentially a variation of the assumption of risk defense


This is a comparative negligence case. The plaintiff prisoner was incarcerated at the defendant county's jail. The inmates were given an opportunity to earn a reduction in their sentences by performing construction work to expand the jail's workhouse facility. The plaintiff volunteered for this program and was assigned the task of hanging cement board on the walls of the workhouse; the jail provided the plaintiff with a scaffold and a step ladder. The plaintiff was told to hang one of the boards at a height that could not be reached by standing on the scaffold alone. To perform the task, the plaintiff put the ladder on top of the scaffold and climbed the ladder. In doing so, he lost his balance, the scaffold collapsed, and he fell to the floor, sustaining serious injuries.

The plaintiff prisoner sued the county under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, seeking damages for his injuries. The county moved for summary judgment, asserting the simple tool doctrine and comparative negligence. The trial court granted the motion on both grounds. The plaintiff appeals. We reverse, finding, inter alia, that the simple tool doctrine is a form of assumption of the risk and, as such, has been abolished in favor of comparative negligence.

Opinion may be found at:

"The simple tool doctrine is clearly grounded in the principle of implied assumption of risk, unequivocally abolished in Perez. Because the simple tool doctrine is a variation of assumption of risk, we hold that it too must be considered abolished in favor of comparative negligence." Id.