Amateur sports are organized sports activities and events that involve participants who have a low to medium skill level. The participants are not professionals who make their living from playing a sport. They may be sponsored or funded by a sponsor or a local organization, sometimes a local business, but the difference between amateurs and today’s professionals who are paid astronomical sums of money is clear.
Amateur sports can include team sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, or football. Amateur sports also include competitive individual sports such as gymnastics or tennis.
Amateur players may suffer sports injuries that are a natural result of participation in athletic activities. For this reason, many amateur sports leagues require their athletes to sign a liability waiver. This releases the league from liability for the usual, typical injuries that may occur during competition and training. However, there are certain instances in which a party can be held liable for an amateur sports injury.
Amateur sports injuries are especially of concern to parents, because reportedly over 36 million children participate in amateur athletic activities every year. While much participation is in activities sponsored by schools, about 60% is done outside of school. Most parents are concerned about the possibility that their children could be injured.
Parents are right to be concerned because about 2.6 million children must be treated in emergency rooms every year for sports injuries. Undoubtedly more injuries are suffered and treated outside of ERs.
Who Can Be Liable for an Amateur Sports Injury?
Common examples of situations in which someone may be held liable for an amateur sports injury include the following:
- Negligence by a Coach or Other Sponsor: For example, a coach might ignore a player exhibiting signs of injury or dehydration and continue to require participation by the player. Or, protective gear provided to players may have been inadequate. A school district that sponsors the sporting activity may have failed to fulfill its duty of care to the players;
- Unwarranted Sports Violence by a Participant: A participant may disrespect rules of play and engage in some kind of violence that inflicts injury on another participant. This might not always give rise to liability on the part of a league or organization, but it could if they had notice of that the participant was capable of such conduct and did not respond appropriately;
- Product Failure: Sport equipment may not work properly, e.g. climbing gear may malfunction. Or heavy weights or padding might not work as promised;
- Gym Liability: A gym or other facility where amateur sports are played might be defective and the defect might lead to injury and premises liability on the part of the owner;
- Inadequate Response to Injury: Responsible adults who provide supervision must be sure that there is a prompt and appropriate medical care to participants suffering an injury.
Of course, amateur sports injuries can be varied in nature. Anyone who is a sports enthusiast understands the type of physical injuries that players can suffer. Minor bruises or strained muscles are to be expected from participating in most sports, but if the injury is significant and may have long-term consequences for the players health, the player may need to consider seeking compensation for their losses
What Is the Duty of Care for Amateur Sports Activities?
The sponsors, coaches and others who are responsible for amateur sports activities and competitions owe a duty of care to the participants. Some of the specific obligations that make up the duty of care are as follows:
- Providing Necessary Instruction: Necessary instruction would include training in the sport including how to engage in it safely, explanation of the rules, good sportsmanship and the risks that come with playing;
- Protective Equipment: Sponsors and coaches are responsible for supplying appropriate protective equipment, such as helmets and mouthguards;
- Appropriate Physical Matching of Participants: Making a reasonable effort to match participants in terms of height, weight, size and skill;
- Appropriate Supervision for the Age: The supervision provided should be appropriate for the age of the participants. So, for example, a group of 8-year-olds need more supervision than 18-year-olds;
- Responding to Injury: Coaches and other responsible adults should have necessary supplies to treat injuries on hand and accessible. They need to know when and how to provide immediate treatment of an injury or condition should one occur. So, for example, they should know how to respond to heat stroke, a broken bone, possible concussion and the like;
- Taking a Player Out of the Game: Again coaches and other responsible adults should know when to take a player out of the game so as to protect their health and avoid aggravating an injury or condition the player may have, e.g. concussion or heat exhaustion.
Coaches and other sponsors or responsible people should be trained to fulfill the elements of their duty of care as defined above. Even if they are volunteers, they should be trained themselves to provide the necessary supervision. That means they know how to instruct the participants in how to play the sport safely, the rules of the game, the risks to try to avoid and how to use protective gear properly.
What Are The Legal Remedies for Amateur Sports Injuries?
Failure on the part of those with a duty of care is breach of the duty, in legal terminology. If the breach directly causes injury to a participant, and the participant suffers economic losses as a result of their injury, then the responsible people may be liable for negligence.
Especially if an amateur athlete’s injury is significant, the person who suffers an amateur sports injury, or their parents, may want to pursue a claim for damages for the injury. In cases in which liability for an amateur sports injury can be established, the person or organization that is liable would be required to pay an award of money damages to the injured person.
An award of damages typically compensates for economic losses directly related to the injury, such as the costs of medical care, e.g. hospital stays, doctor bills, the costs of surgery and rehabilitation, as well as other economic losses.
Other related economic losses may be covered in some cases. The victim may lose wages or salary because they need to get medical treatment. A victim’s injury may affect their capacity to earn a living in the future. The victim may suffer pain and suffering also. These are losses for which an injured person may seek compensation.
Of course, the victim must prove each element of negligence with respect to any person or organization it wishes to name in a lawsuit for damages. The victim must prove that the person owed a duty of care to the athletes, failed to fulfill it in some specific way and that the failure was the direct cause of the injury. Lastly, the victim would have to prove that they suffered significant economic losses because of their injury. Of course, a person does not want to file a lawsuit for minor injuries.
It is important, also, to keep in mind that a lawsuit for injuries sustained by an amateur athlete in the usual course of play is not likely to succeed. This is because the person allegedly responsible could assert the defense of assumption of risk.
The doctrine of assumption of risk simply means that a person who engages in sport assumes the risk of injury. If a person plays football or rugby they assume the risk that they could be injured, even seriously in the ordinary course of playing the game. Basically, for another person to be civilly liable, they would have to have done something intentionally harmful.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an Amateur Sports Injury Claim?
Amateur sport injuries can be serious and sometimes lead to permanent conditions that can limit a person’s quality of life. You need to consult a personal injury lawyer in your area if you believe that you or your child may have a claim for a sports injury.
Your attorney can analyze the facts of your situation and determine if negligence on the part of someone in a position of responsibility caused your injury or that of your child. Or, perhaps some intentionally harmful act caused the problem. If so, your lawyer can represent you in the legal process and work to protect your rights.