Children who play sports face an inherent risk of injuries. For example, a baseball or soccer player may get hit by a ball, a basketball player may be elbowed hard, and a football player may be tackled at an awkward angle. Sprains and strains also happen relatively often during practices or games. However, if a child suffers serious injuries that did not occur in the normal course of play or practice, the school or another party may be liable. Causes of injuries that may lead to legal action include:
Defective sports equipment
Improper maintenance of a sports facility
Unsafe training practices
Physical or sexual abuse by a coach or assistant
Depending on the circumstances, parents may have a claim against an individual coach, a school or school district, an equipment manufacturer, or some combination of these parties, among others. They may be able to recover damages for the medical bills incurred in treating their child, as well as expenses that they are likely to incur in the future. In addition, they can recover damages for intangible harm like their child’s pain and suffering. If a sports injury leads to a permanent disability, any costs of home modifications, assistive devices, or other adjustments for the disability may be covered.
Claims Based on Defective Sports Equipment
Types of Defects
When defective equipment used by a school sports team causes an injury, parents likely can sue the manufacturer of the equipment. They would need to show that the defect caused the child’s injury. These products liability cases usually rely on a theory of strict liability, which means that the plaintiff does not need to prove a lack of reasonable care.
If the school knew that equipment was defective or worn out but told or allowed students to use it anyway, parents also might have a claim against the school. For example, if a school gave helmets to its football players that it knew were cracked, and a child suffered a head injury during a football game as a result, the school might be liable.
Claims Based on Improper Maintenance
Sometimes a sports injury occurs because a school failed to keep its facilities in good condition. The school may be liable if it did not address hazards that it discovered or should have discovered on a basketball court, a baseball or football field, or a track. These cases tend to be very fact-specific. A school might not be able to fix a hazard immediately. However, it should address the hazard within a reasonable time, and it should block off the area and warn students about the hazard if it cannot be fixed promptly.
Suing a School District
Since public schools and school districts are government entities, specific rules and limitations on lawsuits may apply to these cases. Parents may want to consult a lawyer for advice on whether their claim is viable and what they need to do to preserve their rights.
Claims Based on Negligence or Misconduct by Coaches
Some coaches may push their players too far during training, unreasonably endangering their health. They also may fail to respond to injuries or health conditions that arise during a practice or game, potentially leading to more severe harm than what the child would have sustained otherwise. When a coach disregards player safety, parents may have a claim against the coach and the school that employs them.
In egregious cases, a coach may engage in criminal conduct against a player. Assaults or sexual abuse may lead to criminal charges, in addition to civil liability for the perpetrator and possibly the school if it was negligent in hiring or retaining them. Parents should know that the result of a lawsuit against a coach does not depend on the result of a criminal case based on the same misconduct. The burden of proof is much higher on a prosecutor than a plaintiff in a civil case, so they may still be able to recover damages even if the wrongdoer is not convicted.
School Bus Accidents
Sometimes student athletes may be injured while riding a school bus to or from a game. Read more about school bus accidents and the claims that may arise from them.