In order for the lengthy tradition of high school sports to weather the risks of an increasingly litigious society, state governments and individual school boards drafted clear rules explaining the liability — or lack thereof — for schools and school staff operating sports programs like the upcoming winter hockey season.
At the heart of these legislative and legal protections lies the “assumption of risk” by any participants. Essentially, this doctrine states that children and parents acknowledge that activities like high school sports carry with them a high risk of injury. Other legal protections on top of this doctrine ensure that most sports injury lawsuits against state entities are dismissed soon after the deposition phase.
Parents frustrated by these limitations face a tough choice when it comes to getting compensation for their child’s injuries and subsequent losses, but being familiar with the legal process and times in which a sports injury claim may find greater success can help.
Sports Injuries’ Fault May Not Always Lie with the Athlete
When discussing “assumption of risk,” many laws regarding public school sports rely on assumptions parents make about the sports themselves. Most sports injuries are minor, the thinking may go, such as scrapes, bruises or — in a worst-case scenario — bone breaks.
However, these are not the extent of injuries a child may face. One football player at Westwood High School in Columbia, South Carolina blacked out after a hit at a football game, and when he woke up he realized he was paralyzed from the waist down. [https://wach.com/news/local/community-gives-back-to-injured-high-school-athlete-left-paralyzed]
The logic of “don’t play if you don’t want to get hurt” may not always be a fair legal assumption, either, when the cause of the injury has nothing to do with the inherent risk of the sport. Sometimes, an injury can be caused or worsened by:
- Grossly inadequate supervision
- Lack of training on behalf of coaches and staff
- Unsafe equipment or playing conditions, such as a poorly maintained field
- In-sufficient on-site care or training for medical emergencies
In normal situations, conditions like these could lead to convincing allegations of negligence and resulting liability. When facing the collective might of a school board and local judges and juries, these injury lawsuit cases rarely play out as hoped.
Many judges will grant the defense’s request for summary judgment, eliminating the chances of the case even going to trial based on their own interpretation of laws protecting schools. Even past that point, parents may face an uphill battle to provide sufficient evidence that the athlete would not have been injured without the negligent actions of the school.
Responding to a Sports Injury and Filing an Injury Lawsuit
The first obligation of parents is to be proactive before their child engages with a sport. They should read all liability waivers that permit a child to participate, and they should thoroughly vet the sports program’s capabilities to prevent and respond to injury.
For instance, are coaches doing enough to discourage concussions in practice, where they happen most frequently? Are coaches and staff trained well enough to administer first aid or bring an injury victim to medical services without causing additional injury? Are sports equipment and facilities maintained to an acceptable degree?
When an injury does occur, the parent should request a full report of the incident from school staff. They should then file for coverage for the injury from their medical insurance and seek treatment. They are not obligated to inform the school or the school’s liability policyholder as to the specific details of the injury or medical treatment, so they should use that right to prevent disclosing statements that could hurt a later case.
If the injury is such that a medical policy will not cover it — including injuries that cause emotional distress, pain and suffering and other general damages — a parent can put forth a claim inquiry to the school’s liability policyholder with the help of an experienced attorney. The parent may also consider seeking damages for losses resulting from negligent behaviors on behalf of the coach, school or school board in general.
If you get to the point where you think you need to file a personal injury claim with a school’s liability policyholder or file an injury lawsuit against the school, always seek out representation from an experienced personal injury lawyer first. You can contact Harris and Graves for a free case review.