How to Sue for a Sports-related Injury

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 What Is a Sports Injury?

Sports injury refers to any type of injury sustained by someone participating in a sporting event. A sports injury can generally be categorized as either those caused by traumatic impact, or those caused by the overuse of a particular body part.

Amateur sports are organized sports that typically involve participants of a low to medium skill level. Such sports are often sponsored or funded by an organization, and sometimes involve compensation between the participants.

Examples of amateur sports typically involve team sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, or football. They can also involve competitive individual sports like boxing or karate. Amateur sports injuries make up a large portion of sports injuries, as well as sports injuries legal claims.

What Are Some Examples of Sports Injuries?

Most sports injury claims consist of a traumatic injury, as opposed to an overuse-type injury. This is due to the fact that you cannot expect to hold another person liable for injuries that happen due to overexertion over time. However, if a sport’s participant causes injury to another participant, it may form the basis of a civil lawsuit. Sports law encompasses legal issues involving both amateur and professional sports. Claims often overlap with labor law, contract law, antitrust law, and tort law.

Some examples of the most common sports injuries include, but may not be limited to:

  • Broken bones;
  • Head injuries;
  • Concussions;
  • Hip flexor strains;
  • Hamstring strains;
  • ACL strains and/or tears;
  • Pulled muscles, especially groin pulls;
  • Shin splints;
  • Sciatica;
  • Tennis or golf elbow, which is due to the overuse of forearm tendons; and/or
  • Shoulder and knee injuries.

What Is the Assumption of Risk Doctrine?

The assumption of risk doctrine asserts that participants who voluntarily participate in a sporting activity cannot hold others liable for their injuries, if those injuries occurred during the game or while participating in the sport. As previously mentioned, co-participants cannot be held liable for injury because when the injured party decided to participate, they voluntarily assumed the risk of possibility of being injured by the other participants.

Assumption of risk is commonly utilized as a defense in most personal injury and negligence lawsuits. If the plaintiff has assumed such a risk, they cannot recover damages for any harm resulting from the defendant’s conduct. This is true even if the defendant was negligent or reckless, and clearly caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

To prove the assumption of risk doctrine, the defendant must show that the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the risk involved in the conduct or activity. In terms of sports injury lawsuits, the defendant would need to show that the injured party was aware of potential injuries associated with the sport they are participating in.

Additionally, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff voluntarily accepted the risk. This would be done either through an agreement, such as a consent waiver, or implied by their words and conduct. It is also typically necessary to prove that the danger was obvious, or that the nature of the conduct was inherently dangerous.

What Are Some Exceptions to Assumption of Risk?

Although a person may assume the risk of injury when participating in a sport, there are some exclusions to the assumption of risk doctrine. How these legal theories may be applied depend on the nature of the sport. Some exclusions to assumption of risk doctrine include:

  • Negligence Standard: If a player’s negligence causes another player’s injury, they may be held liable for damages. Asserting negligence requires proof that the defendant breached the duty of care they owed to the plaintiff, and this breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s injury. An example of this would be if a player fails to abide by safety rules of the game;
  • Wanton or Willful Conduct Standard: The “contact sports exception” states that a defendant is liable only if their conduct was wanton or willful. What this means is that the defendant acted intentionally in causing the injury; they meant for their actions to result in the injury of another player. The level of force utilized usually exceeds the normal force exerted in the contact sport. An example of this would be if a player engages in a fistfight during a football game. Fistfighting is not a necessary part of playing football, and a person would only enter into a fistfight with the intention of causing harm or injury; and
  • Defective or Faulty Equipment: If the sports equipment used was somehow faulty or defective, and those faults or defects were not anticipated when you voluntarily played the game, you could have a claim against the owner of the property or equipment manufacturer. This may only apply if you were injured as a direct result of the equipment being defective or faulty.

What Are the Steps to Take to File a Sports Injury Lawsuit?

It is imperative to remember that under the assumption of risk doctrine, you cannot generally sue a defendant for your injuries if you signed a contract stating that you would not sue them. A waiver form would be the most common example of such a contract. The purpose of assumption of the risk is to prevent defendant liability, as well as deter an injured party from bringing a lawsuit.

However, expressing assumption of risk is a defense based in contract law. As such, there are a few things to consider:

  • The contract may not be in violation of public policy;
  • The contract cannot cover intentional acts. What this means is that if a race car track owner intentionally leaves a wheel in the road with the intention of hurting the plaintiff, the assumption defense will not work; and
  • The plaintiff did not have the capacity to understand the contract. A plaintiff who is barely conscious, or mentally incompetent, cannot sign a contract waiving the right to sue a doctor or hospital. Similarly, a minor may not have the ability to waiver the right to sue. An example of this would be when skydiving. However, this will depend on the minor’s exact age.

If you wish to file a sports injury lawsuit, you should absolutely consult with an attorney. The process is difficult, and requires a thorough knowledge of many different legal fields. Such a lawsuit would generally include disproving the assumption of risk doctrine and providing evidence of negligence.

What Are the Damages for a Sports Injury Lawsuit?

Damages awarded for a sports injury lawsuit will likely mirror those awarded in any other personal injury lawsuit. Compensatory damages are intended to reimburse the injured party for any costs associated with their injuries. A defendant who is found to be liable for a sports injury may be required to reimburse the plaintiff for the following damages:

  • Medical and hospital bills;
  • Lost wages, and/or lost earning capacity;
  • Physical therapy costs; and/or,
  • Funeral costs in wrongful death lawsuits.

In especially egregious cases, a judge may also order punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the defendant for their negligence, and generally consist of orders to change policies and practices. A judge may also award plaintiff compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, travel expenses, and the costs associated with modifying for your home if the injury results in you being diabled.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Sports Injury case?

Hiring a sports injury attorney can help you determine whether you have a case against the person responsible for your sports injuries. A skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer will be aware of any laws applicable to your case, as well as provide you with your potential legal options. The attorney will represent you in court while working towards a suitable damages award.


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