Sports law is a body of law that governs the legal issues that pertain to both amateur and professional sports. Sports law may, and often does, overlap with may other areas of law, including:
- Labor law;
- Contract law;
- Antitrust law; and
- Tort law.
Can I Sue My Coach or School for an Injury?
The majority of courts shield athletic associations, coaches, and schools from liability for personal injury lawsuits, or sports injury lawsuits that are brought by athletes. Courts will rely on the legal doctrine of assumption of the risk to justify this practice.
The doctrine of assumption of the risk is a defense in a personal injury claim. A successful use of the assumption of the risk doctrine will reduce or even bar a plaintiff’s right to recovery if a defendant is able to demonstrate that the plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk that was inherent to the activity.
For example, under this legal doctrine, a high school baseball player would not be able to sue their high school coach for injuries that they sustained from being hit by a baseball while playing.
What Is Consent in a Sports Injury Lawsuit?
The majority of sports injury lawsuits are based on the legal theory of negligence. Injuries may occur due to the carelessness of other players or team supervisors who may disregard their duty of care to the player.
In many sports injury cases, the concept of consent also arises. In these types of cases, the plaintiff, or injured party, accepts some or most of the risks that are associated with playing a specific sport.
For example, when a player joins a sports team or league, they may be required to sign a liability waiver, also called a consent form or release form. By signing this form, the player agrees not to sue the team, the league, or another player for injuries that may occur naturally during the courts of a game.
Many amateur leagues also require these forms, especially those that involve light to heavy player contact. Although participating in sports entails a certain risk of injury, it does not mean the players consent to any and all types of injury, especially intentional ones.
There are numerous parties that owe duties of care not to injure one another during sporting events, including:
- Facility operators;
- Doctors; and
Whether a sports injury claim is successful will depend on the facts of each unique case.
What Do Players Usually Consent To?
Participants in sports typically accept the rules of the game as well as any injuries or losses they might suffer as part of that game. For example, participants in a youth sports soccer league will typically agree not to hold the league or other players liable for injuries that are considered normal for soccer games, including:
- Twisted ankles; or
- Getting hit in the head with a ball.
A player, in general, does not consent to conduct that is outside of the rules of the game. Teams and players typically do not tolerate violent behavior or assaults from other players.
Depending on the circumstances, these actions may result in civil assault or battery claims or, depending on the circumstances, criminal charges.
If I am Injured After Signing a Consent Form, What Should I Do?
Even if an individual has signed a consent form or a release waiver, they may still recover damages. The individual should review what types of activities and conduct are covered in the release waiver or consent form.
If the injury was outside of the scope of the consent form, the individual may be able to recover. The injured party may need the assistance of a legal professional to help with the sports activity waiver.
Can You Sue for Sports Injuries?
Athletes of all types, whether amateur or professional, may be injured. Accidental injuries are very common in sports activities.
However, if another party involved in the sport did something wrong or failed to do something reasonable to prevent harm to an individual or their child, they may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
It may be possible for another party to be liable for an individual’s injuries if:
- The circumstances leading to the injury were out of the ordinary risk players assumed;
- Instructors or coaches were negligent or careless in causing the injury;
- The injury resulted from the use of defective equipment;
- An unsafe field or court was the cause of the injury;
- Sports facility operators lacked standard safety measures to reduce the risk of injury to players; or
- The sports-related injury can be attributed to a negligent:
- facility owner;
- personal trainer;
- coach; or
- other players.
A sports injury may have long-term consequences and even derail a young player’s career opportunities. If a high school athlete suffers a head injury or has a damaged ankle, knee, or shoulder, they may lose a college athletic scholarship.
How Can Sports Lawsuits Be Successful?
Although a court may not look favorably upon a personal injury lawsuit by an athlete, there are some exceptions to the primary assumption of risk defense.
There are certain circumstances that may justify a personal injury claim by an athlete, including:
- The athlete was not aware that the activity involved an inherent risk;
- The athlete’s coach was negligent in providing instruction on technique; or
- The sports facility was negligent in providing a reasonably safe environment.
What Types of Discrimination Are Permissible in Sports?
There is only one permissible type of discrimination that is acceptable in athletic competition. This is discrimination that is based on physical ability.
All other forms of discrimination are prohibited by law. If a university or college receives federal aid, it is subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). Title IX provides that a university or a college is not permitted to discriminate based on sex in an athletic program.
The significance of the requirements of this law is that it mandated equal funding to collegiate athletic programs, both male and female. A high school sports organization, on the other hand, is considered an arm of the state.
Because of this, a high school sports team may not discrimination based on:
- Nationality; or
Contracts in Sports Law
Contract law issues often arise in sports. Every professional athlete has a contract that specifies how much they will be paid for their services as well as how long they will play for the specified team.
Regardless of what sport is being played, contracts in sports law are often worth substantial amounts of money. Because of this, they are often heavily negotiated by sports agents.
In a professional sport, an agent acts on behalf of a professional athlete to negotiate an advantageous contract. Usually, a Standard Representation Contract will govern the relationship between the agent and the athlete.
Under sports contract law, this standard contract outlines the duties and compensation amount of the agent during their representation of the athlete. Many states require an agent to register with an administrative agency in an attempt to regulate agent activities.
Do I Need a Sports Law Attorney?
Today, nearly every aspect of athletic competition involves sports law. Disputes that arise related to sports can involve a wide range of complicated legal issues.
If you have been injured while playing a sport, it is in your best interest to consult with an entertainment attorney. Your attorney can advise you of the scope of any waiver you signed, what compensation may be available to you, and represent you in court.