Playing sports for a school team is an essential part of the curriculum for today’s youth. It is not without its risks, however, and some common injuries include:
  • Sprains, strains, and muscle injury
  • Bone injuries
  • Head trauma
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Heat-related illnesses
You should be aware that any type of involvement in a school sports activity may subject your child to such dangers. These are generally considered to be a normal part of competitive school sports.

Who is liable for injuries sustained in a school sports team setting?

In general, it can be fairly difficult to find a school or a coach liable for a student’s injuries. Public schools are generally not liable for injuries sustained during a sporting event. Recovery for school sport team injuries is usually limited due to the following factors:
  • The athletes usually sign a waiver containing a release clause. This relieves the school of liability because the participant agrees that they are assuming the risks associated with that particular sport
  • As a government agency or a federally-funded agency, public schools are shielded from sports liability
  • Society in general deems athletic teams as a crucial part of the education curriculum
Liability for public schools is different than private schools. Private schools sometimes set their own policies regarding sports and other extracurricular activity. Inquire with your local municipal board or with an attorney to determine private school liability.

What if the coach has acted negligently or recklessly?

Since schools are protected from liability, probably the most applicable legal theory available would be a negligence claim. In order to recover for injuries under a negligence claim, the plaintiff needs to prove:
  • The coach owed the student a duty of care
  • The coach breached the duty of care
  • The breach of duty caused the student to suffer measurable injuries
A typical negligence claim usually involves a situation where the coach new of an unsafe or hazardous condition but failed to remedy it. For example, a recent group of cases involved heat-related injuries. At that school the coach was found liable for reckless homicide for failing to provide water to the team under severe conditions. 
Other types of negligent actions that a coach might 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
  • Moving an injured athlete without the proper care

What are some other issues to consider with school sports teams?

Liability in a school sports setting is not just limited to injuries. Other areas of liability may include: discrimination or harassment based on gender, and privacy concerns such as drug testing or medical examination requirements. 
Another recent development in the area of school sports is known as “pay to play”, where students are charged with a fee in order to participate in sporting events. Check with an attorney to determine the constitutionality of pay-to-play policies.

What precautions can I take for my child?

Injuries and accidents can be avoided by inquiring regarding the injury statistics for the particular sport your child will be enrolling for. That way you know what types of injuries are considered to be common for that sport.
Also, double check with your medical or health insurance company to learn what type of coverage is provided in your policy. Keep records of your policies in case they are needed in the future. Finally, make sure that your child’s team is properly equipped with safe facilities and equipment. Be sure that all coaches and supervisors are adequately trained in CPR and first aid.

Do I need a lawyer for a school-sports related injury?

Sports injuries are common and are considered to be a regular part of participating in school sports events. However, as mentioned, schools and coaches can sometimes be liable if they have acted negligently. If you feel you or your child is involved in such a situation, it is important that you contact a personal injury lawyer immediately for advice.