Numerous students suffer sports-related injuries during school sponsored sports and activities. Thus, many parents wonder who is liable in situations where their child gets injured during a school sports activity. Additionally, sports-related injuries are often expensive to treat and range from mild to severe.

Students may be injured by a variety of sports, but some common school sports-related injuries that may occur include:

  • Sprains, strains, and muscle injuries;
  • Bone injuries, ranging from broken fingers to spinal trauma;
  • Head trauma, such as concussions;
  • Exhaustion and fatigue;
  • Heat-related illnesses; or
  • Other school sports-related injuries, such as bus accidents that may occur to students travelling to others schools to play sports.

What are the “Inherent Risks” of Playing Sports?

It is important to note that filing a lawsuit against a school for an injury that occured during participation in school sports is difficult. This is because the law assumes that individuals who participate in school sports are aware of the “inherent risks” associated with participation in those activities.

Thus, because general injuries can and do often occur during organized sports, the law has evolved to make it more difficult for individuals to bring a personal injury suit to recover for injuries that occur due to inherent risks involved in participating in sports.

Other factors that make it difficult to recover for school sport injuries include:

  • Release Clauses: Athletes usually sign a waiver containing a release. A release clause relieves the school of liability by having the sports participant agree that they are assuming the risks associated with that particular sport. Although schools can exempt themselves from inherent risks associated with school sports, they may not force students to waive all risks that are not inherent to the sport;
  • Immunity: As a government agency or a federally-funded agency, public schools are shielded from liability for sports-related injuries. However, suing a private school is different; or
  • Societal Factors: Society in general deems athletic teams as a crucial part of the education curriculum.

However, it is not impossible to succeed in recovering for personal injuries that occur during school organized sports, as long as you can prove that the school was negligent in some way.

When is a School Liable for a Student’s Injuries?

As noted above, schools are generally shielded from liability for sports-related injuries. School’s may however be sued successfully if it is proven that the school was negligent. The liability for a student’s injury may rest with a number of different parties, such as the school itself, an organization, teachers, coaches, or school administrators.

All of the aforementioned parties have a duty of care to students, and when they fail to meet their duty of care, and an injury occurs, those parties may be liable for damages. In order to recover for injuries under the theory of negligence, you (the “plaintiff”) need to prove the following:

  1. That the school, organization, coach, etc. (the “defendant”) owed the student a duty of care;
  2. That the defendant breached the duty of care owed to the student; and
  3. The breach of duty caused the student to suffer measurable personal injuries.

An example of a common negligence claim involves a situation where the coach knew of an unsafe or hazardous condition, but failed to remedy it causing an injury to a student. For instance, there are numerous recent cases involving heat-related injuries where coaches have been found liable for reckless homicide for failing to provide water to students under severe weather conditions.

Other types of legal actions that may be brought against a school include:

  • Respondeat Superior: Under “Respondeat Superior,” schools or the school district may be found vicariously liable for damages caused by the negligence of employees of the school, such as a coach or teacher;

  • Premises Liability: When a school does not provide or keep the school property in a reasonably safe condition, and an injury occurs, the school may be found liable under premises liability laws;

  • Other Negligent Actions: Other types of negligent actions that a coach or school may be liable for include:

    • Allowing unauthorized persons to engage in coaching responsibilities;
    • Allowing unfit, injured, or players with an unfair advantage to compete;
    • Failure to provide proper training; or
    • Moving an injured athlete without the proper care.

The injuries and situations listed above may be avoided or limited by researching the injury statistics for the particular sport you or your child will be enrolling in. For instance, football, a contract sport, may put your child more at risk of injury, than a non-contact sport such as  swimming or tennis.

Further, you should inquire with the school administration to make sure that your child’s team is properly equipped with safe facilities and equipments, and that all coaches and supervisors are adequately trained in preventing and treating sports-related injuries. Examples of common training requirements for coaches or supervisors include CPR and first aid.

Should I Hire an Attorney if I’ve been Injured in a Public School Athletic Event?

As can be seen, school sports injuries are very common and are considered to be a regular part of participating in school sports events. Further, proving that a school is liable for a student’s injuries is a difficult task. Thus, if your child has been injured in a school sports-related activity, it may be in your best interests to consult with a qualified and knowledgeable personal injury attorney.

An experienced personal injury attorney will help inform you of your chances of succeeding in proving liability against the school, as well as guide you through filing a lawsuit against a school, and represent you in court.