When May You Obtain Recovery from a Sports Injury?
Generally, Participants in Athletic Competition May Not Recover Legal Damages for Sports Injuries Incurred in the Normal Course of Play
Involvement in athletic competition, like any other physically strenuous activity, generally entails some degree of risk of physical injury. For the most part, these risks are simply part of the game: getting tackled by an opposing player in a football game; getting elbowed in the face when going after a loose basketball; getting hit with a poor golf shot; or tumbling into a tree from a ski fall. All of these types of injuries are fairly normal occurrences when involved in these activities, and they can lead to both minor and serious injuries.
Similarly, spectators at sporting events also assume a certain amount of risk. The crowd at a baseball game should know that foul balls and home run balls often end up in the stands, and golf spectators cannot always expect golfers to hit perfect shots that land in the fairway or on the green.
But whether you are a player or spectator, whenever you voluntarily engage in a sports activity, the law assumes that you willfully assume some risk of injury from participation. Even if a coach, spectator, or facility owner is negligent in some way or another, if you suffer an injury that results from a normal incident of participation, for the most part, your voluntary participation bars any type of recovery at law—even if the injury may be very serious, such as a brain or spinal injury.
The reason for this is straightforward: the law recognizes that the value and pleasure of athletic competition would be greatly undermined by imposing a burden of legal liability upon participants for most of the injuries that occur during competition. Sports could not be played with high intensity—particularly when it comes to serious competition at the college or professional level—if players, coaches, facilities owners, or teams had to worry about personal or corporate liability for injuries. Players would not be motivated to compete to the best of their abilities if they had to always worry about the potential for liability due to causing injury inadvertently to others.
In Order to Obtain Recovery for Sports Injuries, Special Circumstances Must Exist
Because athletic competition is always risky, the law that applies in cases involving sports is slightly different than most negligence cases. In general, to obtain recovery in any tort of negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate four independent factors: 1) that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff; 2) that the duty was breached by the defendant; 3) that the breach was the cause of the injury; and 4) that the plaintiff suffered damages. However, as stated above, in the context of sports, the law does not place a duty upon participants, coaches, or others, to strictly modulate their conduct in a way that always avoids injury.
In the heat of play, it is expected that players will not always see other players, that balls and other equipment may end up being thrown or swung or moved in ways not intended by the players, and that opposing players are going to be competitive, aggressive, and focused upon winning. Other hazards such as field conditions like mud and gopher holes, weather conditions that impact visibility, and other factors, can also contribute to the risks of suffering an injury. However, even though these elements may increase the risk of harm, the law regards these as normal and accepted hazards of voluntarily engaging in a sport. Accordingly, mere negligence is generally not sufficient to bring a case for a sports injury.
However, while the law does hold that participants assume normal risks inherent in athletic competition, specific circumstances involving abnormal risks may make it possible to obtain recovery for a sports injury.
One situation is when the circumstances under which a plaintiff is injured is not a part of normal play, but involves intentional, grossly negligent, or reckless conduct which results in an injury. For example, if a player in a contact sport blatantly and intentionally violates the standard rules of play with the intent to cause bodily injury, such injuries are not normally considered part of the “risk” taken by any player when choosing to participate in a sport. Thus, in a football game, if a player tackles an opposing player after it is clear that the play has ended and causes a serious injury, the injured player may have an action in tort against the player who tackled him.
A second situation in which liability may be found is if the injury sustained was out of the bounds of ordinary risk assumed in playing. For example, while a golfer may take the risk of being hit by a ball when walking the course, he does not necessarily assume the risk of being run over by a golf cart. Similarly, a skier who takes the risk of colliding with another skier on the slopes does not necessarily risk being hit by a falling chair lift. In such cases, if the plaintiff can demonstrate the four necessary elements of negligence, he or she may obtain recovery.
A third circumstance is when the owner or operator of a facility or event increases the risk of harm or injury to an athletic participant. For example, if the operator of a motorcycle race fails to provide enough referees on the course to signal the riders when an accident occurs, or the course is not marked properly to avoid known hazards, these risks are beyond those undertaken by the participants in the normal course of participating in the activity. In other words, the owner or operator of a facility or event must undertake standard or generally accepted measures so as not to increase greatly the risk of foreseeable harm to those whom he invites, and participants are entitled to expect that certain minimum precautions have been taken to assure their safety, so that the risks they face are normal risks inherent in participation.
Finally, athletes and others may be able to recover in a products liability action if it can be shown that the injury was caused by a defect in the equipment being used. For example, if a ski binding breaks from a design or manufacturing error, or there is a defective weld on a motocross bike handle that causes it to break, an injured athlete may be able to pursue A case against the manufacturer for injuries that are caused directly by the proven defect.
If You Have Been Injured in a Sporting Event and Believe You May Have a Case, Call the Flaxman Law Group at 1-866-FLAXMAN (1-866-352-9626)
As mentioned above, injuries are a normal incident of athletic participation, and most sports injuries do not involve legal liability. From weekend recreation to professional athletics, most people who play any kind of sport—whether young or old, whether jogging, playing volleyball at the beach, picking up a weekend tennis match, or anything else—understand this, and the thought of legal liability does not even enter their minds for the occasional mishap, even when it may involve a trip to the emergency room for a poked eye or a broken bone.
But now and then, a sports injury will seem out of the ordinary, either because the injury is severe, or the circumstances surrounding the injury seem to be outside the realm of normal athletic play. If you believe your sports injury may fall outside of the normal risks inherent in participating in a sporting event, call the Flaxman Law Group to speak with an experienced Miami sports injury attorney. Your consultation is free, and we can meet you at one of our 3 offices (Hollywood, Miami, Homestead), your home or the hospital.
We can help you understand the law, and give you the information you need to evaluate whether you have a case. Particularly if your injury will require significant out-of-pocket costs, lost time at work, or an extended recovery period, the Flaxman Law Group can help you evaluate your case and assess your best options. If you need help, contact our hotline at 1-866-FLAXMAN (1-866-352-9626), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and speak personally to our staff.