Millions of Americans participate in organized sports leagues each year in order to exercise, meet new friends, and enjoy the activities they love. Participants range in ages and skill level, from youth sports to school-related teams, all the way to private leagues for adults.
While these organized leagues can provide entertainment and exercise, they can also be the source of significant injury. Johns Hopkins estimates that nearly 3.5 million children or teenagers are injured each year playing organized sports. While the majority of these are sprains are strains, there is an unfortunate risk of catastrophic injury that comes with competing in sports at any level.
If you, your child or a loved one has been injured while participating in organized sports due to the negligence of another party, you will find the information below helpful.
Who Are Claims Usually Filed Against After a Sports Injury?
Most youth sports injuries occur in school settings, and consequently would involve a lawsuit against a school district or governmental agency. This may include negligence on behalf of a coach, administrator, medical staff, or a league official.
However, with the preponderance of adult leagues and private sports leagues for children, including AAU or Olympic Development programs, there may be causes of action against private entities as well. Suits against schools or government entities have unique requirements and may be subject to claims of immunity depending on your jurisdiction.
Who Can File a Claim?
Any adult injured by another’s negligence can file a claim for damages. In the case of a juvenile who is injured either in a school-related or private sports league, the suit would have to be brought on their behalf by a parent or guardian. If you suspect your child’s injury is a result of the negligence of a coach, contact a personal injury attorney to find out what action can be taken to receive just compensation for your child’s injury.
One of the biggest barriers in any claim for sports-related damages is the idea of consent. Prior to participating in athletic leagues, participants (or the participant’s parents or guardians) often will have to sign waivers as a condition of participation. These waivers generally cover “risks inherent to the sport”. This means that while playing certain sports, there may be a risk of injury consistent with the very nature of that sport. These injuries may include such things as a baseball player being struck by a batted ball or a track athlete injuring a hamstring while running.
Although you or your child may have signed a waiver, that does not relieve the league or school district from all liability. For example, some waivers only cover certain types of activities or are legally insufficient. Even if you have signed a waiver, it may be wise to have an attorney review it to see if the provisions apply to the circumstances of the injury in question.
What Types of Injuries Should be Pursued?
Generally, schools or other organizations can be liable for injuries that are not “inherent risks” to the sport. These injuries can include, but are not limited to:
- Broken Bones
- Torn or damaged cartilage and ligaments
- Head trauma or concussions
- Paralysis or spinal-cord related injuries
- Heat-related medical conditions
Generally, the mechanism of injury, or how the injury occurred, is more vital to the legal analysis than what the injury is.
Even if injuries are “inherent” to the sport being played, a claim may still be pursued if there was negligence on behalf of a league, coach, or official that failed to have policies in place to ensure safe conditions, or a failure to follow these policies.
For example, if leagues permit certain types of equipment that are known to be unsafe, do not punish or admonish certain types of dangerous play, or fail to have procedures in place to properly recognize and diagnose injuries, these can all be grounds for a claim. If you or your child has been injured due to this type of negligent decision making you may have a basis for a claim, regardless of any waiver you signed or whether the injury was “inherent” to the sport.
What’s the First Step?
If you or your child has been injured while playing in an organized sports league, it is important to make sure your interests are protected.
Consult with a qualified sports injury lawyer who has experience handling the types of complex litigation involved, and knowledge of the medical concerns at issue, such as the attorneys at Brain Injury Law of Seattle. We will be able to guide you through the process, answer questions, and make sure the best interests of your family are being protected.
In our next article in this series, we will examine the unique issues and questions arising out of brain injuries sustained while playing organized sports.