The rise in popularity of extreme sports, such as dirt bike racing and snowboarding, has unfortunately been accompanied by a rise in injuries or deaths from the risks associated with these events.

As a result, extreme sports are pushing the limits of the law. Since the purpose of extreme sports events is to present certain bodily risks, at some point, lawmakers must determine where the fault and liability ultimately fall. Some common extreme sports injuries include:

  • Broken bones (especially wrist and elbow injuries);
  • Head and neck injuries;
  • Spinal injuries;
  • Lacerations (cuts, often requiring stitches);
  • Concussion injuries; and/or
  • Various other types of injuries.

In many instances, extreme sports injuries can be serious and can involve long-term recovery and long-term medical conditions. In some cases, extreme sports injuries have been fatal, which may lead to legal issues involving wrongful death and other claims.

What are Some Causes of Action From Extreme Sports Injuries?

Where someone is injured engaging in an extreme sport, particularly where a company or organization sponsors the event, there are a few avenues for legal recourse.

  • Negligence: Negligence is a failure to exercise a reasonable amount of care that the ordinary person would in similar circumstances. With respect to extreme sports, a negligence claim would likely focus on the design of the course, allowing too many participants to race, or a failure to adequately inform participants what they are getting into.
  • Assumption of Risk: The biggest hurdle facing any traditional negligence claim is a defense called assumption of risk. A defendant will argue that the participant knew and understood the risks, yet voluntarily engaged in them anyway. However, courts may be forced to explore wrinkles in this doctrine insofar as how well the individual knew of or could appreciate the risks, or whether the organizations are acting in a manner that extends beyond negligence. If either of those circumstances is possible, assumption of risk may not apply.
  • Gross Negligence and Recklessness: Many states differ in how they define recklessness and gross negligence. Several do not even distinguish between the two. However, regardless of how the state defines the cause of action, one common element is that the defendant knew of or should have known of a risk, yet ignored it and continued to act in an unsafe manner.

Assumption of risk typically does not apply to these causes of action, and this is likely the biggest category of lawsuit facing extreme sports organizations. For instance, an extreme sport organization may be acting recklessly if they:

  • Add unnecessary danger to an obstacle;
  • Intentionally make water obstacles muddy or murky; and/or
  • Deliberately crowd obstacles by building them small.

What If I Signed a Waiver?

Traditionally, waivers (often referred to as "express assumption of risk") stand up in court. This is true even for nontraditional sports, such as snowboarding, dirt bike racing, or water rafting. For instance, before buying a ski lift pass, one may be required to sign a waiver, informing the athlete that the activity is hazardous and the resort will not be liable for any injuries.

However, how well the waiver will stand up to challenges will depend on the specific facts of each case, and whether they apply to other extreme events is unsettled. Thus, one injured in an endurance race with mud, fire, and electricity obstacles may have several grounds to challenge the waiver.

Additionally, waivers are void if they violate public policy. Put simply, if the waiver would relieve the defendant from legal responsibility where we, as society, would rather hold people accountable, then a court will not enforce it.

For example, just because someone signed a waiver agreeing to have other people use an assault rifle to shoot an apple off of their head, a court will likely not enforce that waiver, because society would rather discourage that type of behavior altogether. Therefore, that individual or that individual’s family could likely still file suit for any injuries.

What are the Remedies in an Extreme Sports Injury Claim?

Extreme sports injuries may require legal action, especially if there is a dispute over the cause of the injury or the extent of such injuries. In most cases, the remedy in an extreme sports lawsuit will likely be a monetary damages award.

This is intended to compensate the non-liable injured party for losses like hospital bills, lost wages, loss of the ability to earn income in the future, and other costs. In cases where wrongful death is also an issue, the damages may cover costs associated with that issue as well.

Should I Seek Legal Advice for My Extreme Sport Injury?

The law in this area is just now developing. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured, it would be wise to consult with a local personal injury lawyer to learn about your possible rights and remedies. Due to the potentially untested frontier these types of lawsuits may present, you may wish to consider seeking several opinions before hiring a lawyer that is right for you.