Sports are one of the foundational backbones of our country. Baseball is America’s pastime; every household tunes in for the Super Bowl every year; the entire country mourns the losses of great trailblazers like Steven Madden and Kobe Bryant. We love our sports so much that we not only watch them religiously, but often participate in them ourselves at one point or another in our lives.
Whether you’re a young kid being introduced to a new sport for the first time or a seasoned veteran playing in a local intramural league, sports offer fun camaraderie and physical workouts that are great for your health. That’s why even though some contact sports do pose inherent risk of injury, most of us are willing to take that risk when we sign up to play.
But what happens when those risky injuries become something more? What if that sports injury could have reasonably been prevented? Or what if that injury was intentionally inflicted in the heat of the moment? That’s certainly not an element most of us sign up for when we agree to partake in contact sports. But it does happen. And when it does, it’s important to understand what your rights may or may not be in claiming compensation for the injuries you’ve suffered.
Contact Sports and Related Injuries
Contact sports like football, basketball, soccer, hockey, boxing, wrestling, martial arts, and others are the most likely sports to cause physical injury. They can result from other players on the court or field, slipping or falling while playing, or mishaps with related sports equipment. As such, injuries can range from simple cuts and bruises to bone breaks and concussions. One of the most common and severe scenarios of sports injuries are traumatic brain injuries (TBI). When a direct blow to the head, face, neck, or somewhere else on the body that transmits force to the head occurs, the brain has the potential to become injured. Such injuries can then result in damage to the brain, much the same way being involved in a serious car crash might.
Injuries can also be caused by repeated action or stress over a long period of time. Basketball can cause knee and ankle wear and tear. Baseball pitchers might experience rotator cuff or elbow strains. And football players have been shown to experience repetitive head trauma that may cause a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been shown to lead to negative physical and cognitive effects later in life, and though research surrounding it is relatively new, CTE sheds light on the seriousness of potential brain injuries in relation to contact sports.
But even with all the potential physical risk included with contact sports, we continue to take part in them. It’s estimated that 38 million children and adolescents alone participate in organized sports in the U.S. each year. Clearly, the risk of injury isn’t enough to keep us away from them—even when we understand that liability for the injuries suffered might not be placed anywhere but on ourselves.
Assumption of Risk
When we sign ourselves or our children up to play on a sports team of some kind, we do so with an assumption of risk. This means that we understand that the sport involves circumstances in which injury may happen—no matter how small or severe those injuries may be. We understand that when running down the soccer field, we might trip and scrape a knee. We realize that if we play football, there’s a chance we’ll get hit in the head hard enough to suffer a concussion. And we know that while playing hockey, the possibility exists that an aggressive backswing of someone’s stick may strike us hard enough to break bone.
Assumption of risk is a legal doctrine that makes it so that an individual is deterred from suing or recovering any sort of damages from another sports participant or sports organization for an injury sustained while he or she voluntarily exposed themselves to the known risks and dangers of the sport. Whether we sign waivers to play such sports or not, we most often go into the circumstances of organized, contact sports understanding that we are expected to operate with an assumption of risk while doing so, and therefore are accepting the responsibility of injuries suffered. This is why, in most circumstances, people cannot sue for sports-related injuries.
But this doctrine largely only applies when those injuries are suffered during the “normal” course of the sporting event in question. There have been plenty of cases in history that have been determined as an exception to the rule, because the way in which the injury was suffered fell outside the scope of the expected “ordinary circumstances” of the sport.
Even knowing the risks that come with playing contact sports, there are certain circumstances in which injuries occur when they shouldn’t have, or could have been reasonably been prevented from happening. Such circumstances may include:
- Intentional injury, or when another player deliberately harms you or your child during the course of play. This can also extend to any fighting breaking out before or after play has started or stopped.
- Recklessness, or an action performed by another player that may not be done with the intention of causing harm, but is still egregious enough that it did. For example, a hockey player might become angry about a call made, throws their stick across the rink in response, and it strikes another player in the head and causes a concussion.
- Negligent coaching, which is one of the more common allegations when it comes to sports-related injuries. In this case, if the coach makes a call or a request of the player that is unreasonable or results in a dangerous situation, they may be held liable for any resulting injuries suffered.
- Product or equipment malfunction, or when a piece of sports equipment is defective in the way it’s designed, manufactured, or marketed, which then leads the user to suffer an injury. Note that improper use of the equipment by the injured party does not necessarily qualify as a product liability case.
Deciding what is or isn’t an extraordinary circumstance when it comes to the world of sports can be difficult. There are a lot of variables in the way different sports, teams, players, and even calls and plays are made and executed. This can make it difficult to build a case that places full liability with a party besides the injured participant—but not entirely impossible.
Addressing Sports Injuries
No matter how or why the injury occurred, the first step is to always seek out the medical attention needed to address it. This is especially critical for cases of a head injury suffered. TBIs don’t always present themselves immediately, or in the most obvious ways. Symptoms can sometimes take hours or even days to appear, meaning further damage could be suffered in the interim. If you or your child suffers any kind of blow or knock to the head or face during a game, air on the side of caution and get checked out by a doctor. They’ll know the signs to look for to determine if further action needs to be taken.
After injuries have been properly treated, it’s time to consider how they happened. If you believe extraordinary circumstances outside the assumption of risk involved with your particular sport have occurred, it’s wise to seek out the advice of a personal injury attorney. The right team will be able to help you determine if you have a case to fight, who the responsible party may be, and what the necessary steps of gathering evidence are. Strong evidence in sports injury cases most commonly involves extensive witness statements from teammates, coaches, opposing players, and spectators. Sufficient medical reports and bills will also play a key role in building your case, as well as a clear understanding of the expected risks involved in the sport, and how those expectations were compromised.
The Whisler Law Firm has decades of experience helping clients resolve a variety of personal injury claims and lawsuits. We want to take the burden of building your case off your plate so you can focus on recovering from your injuries. So call our office at 833-529-5677 or fill out our online form to schedule an entirely free, no obligations consultation with us today.