Sports Injury CaseProfessional athletes aren’t the only ones who suffer sports injuries. Adults and children of all ages enjoy pickup basketball, touch football, softball, or just exercising at the local gym. Sometimes, it may seem counterintuitive that a person can recover for injuries suffered while voluntarily engaging in physical, oftentimes vigorous, activity. If you’re going up for a rebound in basketball, you know it’s possible to come down awkwardly and hurt your ankle. If you’re playing baseball, it’s foreseeable that the batter might accidentally be hit by a pitch. Such is the inherently competitive nature of sports. The law recognizes this via the “assumption of risk” defense, which bars or reduces the plaintiff’s right to recover if the defendant can demonstrate that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks at issue inherent to the dangerous activity in which s/he was participating at the time of his or her injury.
However, the assumption of risk defense is not absolute. If a plaintiff can show that the defendant negligently, recklessly, or intentionally produced a risk/condition that was outside and atypical of the scope of the assumed risk, and that this condition caused the plaintiff’s injury, then they may be able to recover damages.
What are some of these “exceptions” to assumption of risk? One is willful or malicious conduct on the part of the defendant. So, if things get heated during a pickup basketball game and someone throws a punch that ends up breaking another player’s nose, the puncher will not be able to assert an assumption of risk defense.
Another exception arises when negligent conduct augments or “magnifies” the risk. For example, the owners of sporting fields (soccer/football/etc.) are required to maintain certain standards of safety by regularly inspecting and repairing the playing surface. But even on a pristine football field there is always the chance that a player will twist an ankle or a knee.
However, let’s say that the owner of an artificial turf field doesn’t perform reasonable maintenance, and is therefore unaware that there is a large tear in the artificial surface. Then, during a soccer game on said field, a player trips because of the tear and severely injures her knee. The negligence of the field owner produced a risk that was outside the scope of those assumed by the player when she stepped on the field. Therefore, the owner should not be able to assert the defense.
What if I Signed a Waiver?
Organized leagues or associations (e.g. high school sports, “rec” leagues, etc.) normally require participants to sign release forms indemnifying the owner from liability for injuries. Again, however, these release forms are not necessarily impenetrable. If the plaintiff can show negligent or willful conduct on the part of the defendant, it may be possible to “pierce” the release.
Most legal analysis is very fact-specific, and therefore requires the attention and expertise of an attorney. If you or your child were injured in a sports-related incident, you should absolutely consider consulting with an attorney. The attorneys at Campbell & Associates have significant experience advocating for clients who suffered a sports-related injury due to someone else’s negligence. Please call us at 716-992-2222 for a free consultation.
Example Sports Injury Verdicts/Settlements
Green v. City of New York, et al. (N.Y. Sup. 2001) – The Plaintiff, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, attempted to take a jump shot in a portion of the school’s cafeteria that was used for informal basketball games during non-lunch hours. He slipped and fell, resulting in a severe knee injury that required surgery. He contended that Defendant school board was negligent in failing to change (temporarily or permanently), the flooring in that portion of the cafeteria where it had erected four permanently-installed basketball hoops for student and faculty use. The jury returned a $2,597,000 gross verdict, but found that Plaintiff and Defendant were each 50% liable. Therefore, Plaintiff netted approximately $1,298,500 for his injuries.
Guerrido-Garcia v. American Golf Corporation (N.Y. Sup. 2000) – 21-year-old Plaintiff suffered a fractured toe after she fell while playing miniature golf at Defendant’s entertainment center. She contended that Defendant negligently allowed a torn and ripped portion of artificial turf to exist on its course, failed to sufficiently light the area, and failed to warn or caution guests of the danger. A jury awarded her $69,500.
E.T.A. Pro Ami Angrand v. Longwood Central School District (N.Y. Sup. 2015) – A 7th grade female student of Defendant school district suffered a severe crush injury that ultimately required amputation of the tip of her right ring finger. The incident occurred while she was using a leg press machine during gym class. Plaintiff, through her mother and natural guardian, contended that the school district negligently maintained the weight room and negligently instructed/supervised the class. The case settled prior to trial for $50,000