Sports Violence Lawsuits

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 What Is Sports Violence?

Sports violence is generally defined as any conduct by a player during a game that is done intentionally to injure another player and which occurs outside the scope of the rules for that particular sport.

Heavy physical contact is an integral part of many sports, such as football, hockey, boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts, rugby, and water polo. In such sports, some degree of physical contact is expected and is actually considered by some as part of the game, even if it causes significant injuries, e.g., concussions and broken bones.

But even for such sports, there are both formal and unspoken rules as to what is considered appropriate in terms of the use of force. Any conduct outside these rules can be considered sports violence, especially if it is done with the intent to injure or eliminate a player from a game. A civil lawsuit for a sports violence injury can result in a damages award to compensate the victim for their losses. In serious cases, criminal assault charges may also result.

However, the fact is that violent and aggressive conduct on the part of players gives the viewers a vicarious thrill and adds a dimension of entertainment to the game for many of them. Violent behavior is thought of as a legitimate part of the game. Often, the players involved are not even penalized by referees who are responsible for enforcing the rules of the game.

Few people would claim that fights between hockey players, for example, are a matter for the police and criminal courts. In fact, National Hockey League Officials have openly acknowledged that certain players are kept on hockey teams primarily for the purpose of fighting and instilling fear in opponents. They are known as “enforcers.”

One might think that owners and coaching staff would want to protect players from possibly life-altering injuries that can, at the least, keep prize players, who are paid millions of dollars, from playing for weeks or even months at a time. However, they do not publicly advocate for more enforcement of rules by referees and certainly not for the involvement of law enforcement.

While officials in the American pro football leagues have not been as forthright in their commentary on the sport of pro football as hockey officials have been, a spectator might not be wrong in thinking that some tackles intend to inflict injury on the players they drive to the ground with their actions.

Is Violence in Sports a Crime?

When courts have spoken on the issue, they state that a player gives their implied consent to the bodily contact that is a necessary, integral part of playing a particular game. However, the player does not consent to acts that are overtly violent and not part of the game. Whether any given act is one or the other should be determined according to objective criteria.

If the conduct of a player who is alleged to have inflicted unnecessary injury clearly shows an intention to inflict injury, it should be held to be beyond the scope of the victim’s implied consent. It is no longer protected as integral to the sport.

In 2000, a Canadian player was convicted of a violation of the Canadian criminal code for beating another player on the back of his head when the player was lying on the ice with his head in contact with the ice. Of course, this happened in Canada, so it does not offer much guidance on what the situation is in the U.S.

In the U.S., there has been one successful prosecution of a professional hockey player for a criminal offense. This happened about 35 years ago, in 1988 when a professional hockey player hit an opposing player twice in the head with his stick and then punched him in the mouth. He was convicted of a criminal assault and sentenced to 1 day in jail and payment of a fine of $1,000.

There have been other criminal prosecutions of sports players for injuries they inflicted during play, but most of them have involved amateur games and not professional league play. Still, in the appropriate case, it is possible for a professional athlete to be subject to criminal prosecution for actions the athlete took when engaged in professional league play. Civil liability is also still a possibility.

What Are Some Examples of Sports Violence?

There are many different examples of sports violence and sports violence injuries. These can vary according to each individual sport. However, some generally unacceptable conduct can include:

  • Hitting, striking, or tackling a player outside of normal game time, i.e., before or after the bell or whistle;
  • Engaging in fist-fighting in non-combat sports;
  • Using force that is not listed as acceptable for that sport, also known as “cheapshots,” e.g., eye-gouging or shots to the groin;
  • Using unauthorized implements to injure, maim, or incapacitate another player;
  • Utilizing moves or techniques that are illegal or have been disallowed in that sport by the rules of play.

In general, using physically harmful conduct that a reasonable player would not consent to in the game may be considered sports violence. Legal determinations regarding sports violence are more easily applied to formal and organized sports. However, sports violence concepts can often be applied to lawsuits involving amateur or even casual “pick-up” games.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Sports Violence?

Generally speaking, it is the player who uses violent force to inflict injury on another player who could be liable for sports violence injuries. Organized sports leagues do not allow violence or unnecessary roughness, and so it is often the case that sports violence is the result of a player’s poor decision.

However, in particularly egregious cases in non-professional contexts, sports leagues, referees, and even coaches might sometimes be liable for allowing sports violence. For example, if a coach encourages the use of violence, they may be held liable for injuries caused by their players if they inflict injuries while following the coach’s directions.

Generally speaking, the liable party must have caused measurable injury to the victim in order to be held liable. Claims for injuries that cannot be documented would not be allowed. Likewise, injuries that do not require treatment at a cost that can be calculated are often dismissed in a court of law.

What if I Have Signed a Consent Form?

Most sports leagues require all participants to sign a consent form or a liability waiver. This is a document in which a player waives liability on the part of the sponsor, the team, or other players for any injuries that may happen in the normal course of playing the game. The form may also state that the player will not sue the league if they incur any injuries during play.

However, the law in most states provides that consent forms apply only to injuries that are a normal part of the game. An injured player may still be able to sue another player for injuries attributed to sports violence that are not within the usual course of action in the sport. In most cases, this will result in a civil lawsuit for damages. Although, in some cases, criminal charges may be applied for intentional and malicious conduct.

Of course, should there be violence between team members or between a player and a member of the coaching staff or someone else who is present on the field of play or in the vicinity, then a consent form would not apply. Any player who commits an assault or battery would be liable in civil law for damages and subject to a criminal charge with punishment if convicted.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Lawsuits involving sports violence can be challenging to handle. They often involve much analysis of the incidents that occurred so as to determine if it happened in the normal course of the play action or something else. can connect you to an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area if you have injuries from sports violence. Your lawyer can represent you in negotiations or in court and protect your interests.


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