Participants who are injured while attending Burning Man may be entitled to damages if their injuries are caused by the gross negligence or recklessness of the event's promoters, vendors, or a third party providing services at the festival. Common injuries for which "burners" can recover include inadequate security, assaults by security guards, food poisoning, and even criminal acts by other attendees.
Making recovery for injuries at Burning Man somewhat difficult, however, is the waiver of liability and assumption of risk agreement printed on the back of every Burning Man ticket. However, while such agreements can be legally enforceable in Nevada, they are not ironclad.
As a result, if you are injured due to someone's gross negligence or more serious wrongdoing while on the "playa" or elsewhere in Black Rock City you may be entitled to compensation for:
- Medical bills,
- Lost wages,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Other damages.
To help you better understand when you can bring a claim for injuries at Burning Man, our Reno and Las Vegas personal injury lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. Don't People “Assume the Risk” of Injuries at Burning Man?
- 2. Is Burning Man's Liability Waiver Enforceable?
- 3. When Can I Sue Someone for Burning Man Injuries?
- 4. What if Another Participant Caused My Injuries?
- 5. How to Stay Safe at Burning Man
- 6. Crime at Burning Man
“Assumption of the risk” is a legal doctrine under which you “assume the risk” of injury or death when:
- You have actual knowledge of the risk involved in a conduct or activity;
- You fully appreciate the danger resulting from the risk; and
- You voluntarily accept that risk.1
Courts have held that participation in many Burning Man activities is inherently risky. This risk is even reflected in the festival's unofficial motto: “Keep Burning Man potentially fatal.”
Consider the case brought by a man who tripped and was badly burned while throwing a photograph on Burning Man's commemorative fire.2
An appellate court in California (where Burning Man's organizer, Black Rock, LLC is headquartered) held that the festival was not liable for the man's burns. The court noted that: “The risk of injury to those who voluntarily decide to partake in the commemorative ritual at Burning Man is self-evident.”
So if you voluntarily engage in an activity while at Burning Man, you may have a very hard time recovering for any injuries that follow logically from such activity.
Although many of Burning Man's activities can be dangerous, there are many more that are not inherently risky.
However, printed on the back of every Burning Man ticket and on the terms and conditions listed on the Burning Man website is a “waiver of liability and release.”
The waiver says that by attending Burning Man you assume all risk of injury, property loss or damage, and death, even if caused by the negligence of the organizers or third parties (including other people attending the festival).
Waivers of liability are legally enforceable in Nevada and in California. Under these waivers, companies can legally shield themselves from claims resulting from ordinary negligence (as opposed to “gross negligence,” discussed below).
Burning Man's terms and conditions list a number of specific types of injuries the festival is not responsible for. They include injuries caused by:
- The conditions of the premises or equipment used;
- Violation of Burning Man's rules and regulations;
- The weather or temperature;
- The condition of participants;
- The use of official or unofficial fire, pyrotechnics, flame effects, explosions, and similar activities;
- Vehicular traffic; and
- Medical treatment that "may be deemed advisable" in the event of injury, accident, and/or illness.
While the doctrine of assumption of risk and Burning Man's liability waiver make it difficult to sue for Burning Man injuries, it is not impossible.
In both Nevada and California, a liability waiver can only legally extend to damages that result from ordinary negligence. Under Nevada law, ordinary negligence is the failure to exercise that degree of care which an ordinarily careful and prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.
This is a lower level of culpability than gross negligence, which is generally defined as the absence of even a slight degree of care.3
So, for instance, if an employee of Black Rock simply failed to notice that someone was assaulting you at Burning Man, the company would probably not be liable for your injuries. But if an employee saw what was happening and failed to take any action whatsoever, that might constitute gross negligence, depending on the circumstances.
An experienced Nevada personal injury lawyer can help you determine whether gross negligence may have played a part in any injuries you suffered at the festival.
Although Burning Man's liability waiver says it applies to the negligence of other participants, it is likely that this protection covers only Black Rock and its employees and officers. If you are injured by a third party, chances are you can still sue that third party if you know who it was.
However, if festival employee's were grossly negligent in how they responded to the wrongful actions of a third party, you may be able to make a claim against both Black Rock and the other attendee.
An experienced Nevada personal injury attorney can discuss the particular facts of your case and whether you are able to claim damages from Black Rock or just the third party.
Despite the organizer's best efforts, injuries happen at Burning Rock every year -- including some that end up being fatal.
Common injuries at Burning Rock and in the nearby vicinity include (but are not limited to):
- Minor scrapes,
- Burn injuries,
- Car accidents,
- Bus accidents,
- Motorcycle accidents,
- Airplane accidents,
- Slip-and-fall accidents,
- Collapse of temporary structures,
- Drug overdoses, and
- Sexual assault.
Burning Man has first-aid stations throughout the site as well as an onsite medical facility known as Rampart.
Participants do not have to pay for medical treatment while at Burning Man. However, serious cases sometimes have to be transported to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno or another facility.
You are responsible for the costs of emergency transport services, including air lift, as well as any off-site treatment. If you believe your medical insurance policy is inadequate, you may be able to obtain short-term insurance to cover the costs of emergency medical care.
But the best way to keep yourself safe at Burning Man is to review the rules and regulations on the festival's website before you go.
Serious crime at Burning Man is rare. But it does happen.
Most crime at Burning Man, however, consists of drug possession, DUI, and minor assault and battery.
The roads into and out of Burning Man are patrolled by the Nevada Highway Patrol, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office, the Pershing County Sheriff's Office, the Nevada Department of Transportation and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Additionally, onsite food may be inspected by officer from the Nevada State Health Division.
If you are the victim of a crime, you should report it immediately to festival staff or law enforcement.
And if you are charged with a crime at Burning Man and need legal assistance, our Las Vegas and Reno criminal defense lawyers can help you prepare a defense or get out of jail.
Injured at Burning Man? Call us for help…
If you or someone you know was injured at Burning Man and you want to know if you have a legal case, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
Our experienced Nevada injury attorneys have offices in both Reno and Las Vegas. We also have attorneys in California and Colorado if you are attending the festival from out of state.
To schedule your free consultation, either fill out the form on this page or call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673).
Don't assume you can't sue because of what you read on your Burning Man ticket. Contact us today to get a skilled legal opinion.
- Sierra Pacific v. Anderson, 77 Nev. 68, 358 P.2d 892 (1961). See also Nev. J.I. 4.16.
- The fire closes the festival and is the event from which Burning Man gets its name. In the ritual, a 60-foot-tall wood sculpture in the figure of a man is set on fire. Eventually it topples and continues to burn in a gigantic bonfire. As the fire burns, people throw objects into the fire.
- Nev. J.I. 6.21.