Athletes often consider sports injuries an unfortunate reality. Sports injuries also hit students, runners, people who exercise and even those with generally active lifestyles. Often, those injured in sporting events or organized activities can’t hold anyone liable because injury is a known risk, and also because they may have signed liability waivers that organizers have participants sign.
Most people participate in sports to have fun, socialize, exercise, and to be part of a team. However, injuries happen. They bring a trip to the hospital, suffering and potentially, permanent injuries. Injuries most often take place in contact sports like football, hockey, and wrestling. Of course when participating in sports, the possibility of injury can be anticipated, but occasionally there are types of circumstances that can give rise to a personal injury claim. This is determined by the facts and circumstances of the injury.
Assumption of the Risk in Sports Injuries
Assumption of risk means that when you decide to participate in a sporting event or game, you agree to assume that there is the possibility that an injury may occur, but choose to participate regardless. The assumption of risk can prevent you from suing if you become injured as long as the nature of the injury isn’t beyond the “normal” scope of the sporting activity.
The exceptions to the assumption of risk include being a victim of another’s reckless behavior, dangerous and hazardous activity, negligent instruction, and tackles or other actions exceeding the rules of the game. These kinds of unexpected and unusual and unreasonable behaviors can cause injury and are beyond what can be expected when choosing to participate in the sporting activity. This can sometimes give rise to a valid legal claim.
How Do You Get Around Assumption of the Risk?
An additional exception to the assumption of risk is by becoming injured to do a dangerous facility, track, or by faulty equipment. If your injury arises out of a defective track with potholes, or weights that become detached and cause injury, then you may be able to bring a personal injury claim against the facility or manufacturer. At gyms, school, and other facilities, teachers, coaches, trainers, and building owners are required to provide a reasonably safe environment. If this duty is breached in a legal sense, causing injury, then compensation for pain, suffering, and other damages may be appropriate.
The assumption of risk applies to spectators as well. Often, spectators at professional sporting events, purchase tickets come with an attached waiver of liability. Generally, this waiver will hold up for most accidental injuries, but not if the injury was directly caused by an intentional behavior or act.
Schools and other event organizers also use waivers of liabilities before they allow students or others to participate in or attend sporting events. Although student waivers aren’t as strict as those in professional sporting events, the waiver often protects the school, staff, and the facility from being sued due to injury, unless the injury resulted from unreasonable and reckless behavior or directions by staff or others involved in the sporting event.
Here’s more on liability waivers, also sometimes called exculpatory agreements.
Runners are often injured, even though running is not generally considered a contact sport. For example, if a runner is participating in a marathon and they have to run a certain path or on certain roadways, if the roadway that they all must run on is damaged or faulty in any manner that causes injury, the injured runner may be able to file a claim since that may be viewed as unreasonably unsafe or “faulty equipment”.
Sports Injury Cases
Injury can often result from other circumstances as well. Athletes may also become injured due to lack of supplies and fluids that are normally supplied and expected. For instance, a runner in San Diego collapsed and injured himself and developed a brain injury due to not receiving enough fluids by the race host while running a marathon. It is expected that beverages be provided. Therefore, injuries due to dehydration and malnourishment fall outside the scope of the assumption of risk, allowing the runner to file suit and collect compensation. This is a California case.
Another woman participating in a “mud run” in Poulsbo, Washington suffered from a broken ankle due to an extremely dangerous course. Not only did she have to have 11 screws inserted into her ankle, but this injury ended her career as a policewoman. Two other women were also severely injured on the course and each injured person was able to sue the race host for injuries and other damages since the course was unreasonably dangerous. State of Washington case.
In a New Hampshire case a woman playing in a glow golf nighttime tournament sustained a concussion and permanent brain damage when she was hit in the head with a golf ball. The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld dismissal of the case under the assumption of the risk doctrine. The court held:
“Being hit by an errant golf ball is a risk inherent in the game of glow golf.”
Case: Werne v. Executive Women’s Golf Ass’n., 969 A.2d 346, 158 N.H. 373 (2009).
The court in the glow golf case explained factors to be considered in determining the appropriate standard of care to be applied to participants, sponsors and organizers of recreational athletics:
- the nature of the sport involved,
- the type of contest; i.e., amateur, high school, little league, pick-up, etc.,
- the ages, physical characteristics and skills of the participants;
- the type of equipment involved, and
- the rules, customs and practices of the sport, including the types of contact, and the level of violence generally accepted.
Sports Injuries & Comparative Fault
Many states have abolished the legal doctrine known as assumption of the risk. Massachusetts law abolished the defense previously available to event organizers by statute [M.G.L. c. 231 §85]. But, as with many states that abolished “assumption of the risk”, the old law is replaced with a doctrine known as comparative fault.
Comparative fault law instructs courts and juries to weigh the negligence of a defendant, the person or entity being sued, against the negligence, if any, of the injured plaintiff. An injured person whose own negligence was less than that of the defendant would not be barred from recovery, but would receive proportionately reduced damages.
Bottom Line on Sports Injuries
The general idea under the idea of comparative fault laws including those in Massachusetts is that anyone taking part in a sporting activity posing any type of risk should understand the potential dangers. They should also appreciate their legal duty to exercise due care for their own safety. Should injury occur, then a court or jury must compare the negligence of the injured party with that of the person or entity being held responsible for the injury.
When participating in a fun, social sporting event, injury is usually the farthest thing from people’s minds. Event organizers should place safety of the participants at the top of the list of concerns addressed during the planning phase. But, if an injury does result, always complete an incident report and seek treatment for your injuries.