Archive for the ‘Youth Sports’ Category

Little League Lawsuit Settlement

August 23, 2012

$14.5 Million Settlement for Injured Minor (New Jersey)
(A 12 year old pitcher playing in a youth baseball game was struck in the chest by a ball projected from a metal bat; his family’s lawsuit against the bat manufacturer, Little League Baseball, and the Sports Authority sporting goods chain was settled.)

As reported here on ESPN.com, the terms of the settlement agreement preclude the parties from discussing its details, including whether any of the defendants admitted liability.  It appears that the issue revolved around whether the metal bat used at the time of the incident was appropriate and safe.  Little League Baseball certifies certain bats for approved use in games involving children.  The injured boy encountered cardiac arrest that led to permanent brain damage, and the settlement will help provide long term care for him for the rest of his life.

More Bad News for Minor Sports

December 17, 2010

Galloway v. State (Iowa)
(14-year-old injured on an educational field trip; Supreme Court of Iowa rules that public policy precludes enforcement of parents’ pre-injury waiver on behalf of minor.)

The 14-year-old plaintiff was struck by a car while crossing the street during an educational field trip organized by the University of Northern Iowa and the State of Iowa. Prior to participation in the event, the plaintiff’s mother signed both a “Field Trip Permission Form” and a “Release and Medical Authorization.” Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the State, alleging negligence. The State filed a motion for summary judgment based on the documents signed by the mother, and the District Court ruled that the released constituted a valid waiver of claims, granting the motion. Plaintiff appealed, and the Iowa Supreme Court ultimately reversed the ruling. After balancing public policy interests against the need to enforce contracts, the Supreme Court explained that although deference is given to parents’ decisions affecting the control of their children, such deference has limitations in some contexts.

The court noted that “children must be accorded a measure or protection against improvident decisions of their parents.” The Court also considered the “harsh consequences of preinjury releases,” and noted that there is “a clear majority of other courts deciding such releases are unenforceable.” The State argued that as a result of the Court’s ruling, “recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities for youths will cease because organizations sponsoring them will be unable or unwilling to purchase insurance or otherwise endure the risks of civil liability.” However, the Court asserted that “the fear of dire consequences from our adoption of the majority rule is speculative and overstated,” noting that they found no reason to believe that such opportunities had been comprised in those other jurisdictions.

NOTE: With this ruling, Iowa joins more than 15 other jurisdictions with similar reulings against minor waiver and release agreements. Approximately 11 jursidictions have case law or statutes speaking favorably to minor agreements, while the remainder of jurisdictions remain undecided. The current trend across the country seems to be against enforcement of preinjury waiver and release agreements signed by parents on behalf of minors participating in recreational activities.

Home Court Disadvantage

September 17, 2010

Galaxy Cable, Inc. v. Davis (Alabama)
(11-year-old playing basketball at a friend’s house tripped over a guy wire maintained by a cable company; liability found for the cable company due to a missing yellow cable guard, but lower court’s ruling as to punitive damaged overturned.)

An 11-year-old boy tripped over a guy cable attached to a telephone pole while retrieving a basketball, lacerating his leg. The minor (through his parents) sued the cable company (among others) for creating a dangerous condition and failing to remedy the condition. A plastic yellow guard that wrapped around the guy cable and provided a visible warning of the cable had been moved, and the cable company had failed to replace or fix the condition despite having routinely inspected the pole. The defendant cable company argued that the condition was open and obvious, but the trial court found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding compensatory damages and punitive damages. The defendant appealed, and ultimately the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling of liability, but overturned the determination of punitive damages due to a lack of evidence establishing “wantonness.”

NOTE: Much of the discussion revolves around whether the plaintiff was an invitee on the premises where the incident occurred. The plaintiff was on land belonging to another, which land was the subject of an easement in favor of the defendant. The parties never agreed on plaintiff’s legal status and the court determined that the defendant had waived the issue as to whether it owed the plaintiff a specialized duty at trial.

Risks of Tackle Football Under Review

September 17, 2010

Betts v. New Castle Youth Development Center (Pennsylvania)
(17-year-old suffers spinal cord injury while playing “pick-up” football at a government youth development center; the center and its employees are found immune under the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution.)

The 17-year-old plaintiff severely injured himself while attempting to make a tackle in a “pick up” tackle football game without any pads, helmets, or other safety gear. He thereafter sued the New Castle Youth Development Center (a facility that houses youths that have been adjudicated delinquent and committed to the state’s care) and several members of its staff, alleging that his rights were violated under the Eighth Amendment (prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment”) and Fourteenth Amendment (deprivation of substantive due process) of the United States Constitution. The evidence indicated that immediately after the incident, an employee of the facility asked the plaintiff to tell authorities that he was playing touch football at the time of the injury rather than tackle football. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment contending that they were immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment and the United States District Court agreed, finding that the facility was an administrative agency “without existence apart from the Commonwealth.” As for the claims against the individual employees, the District Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to show a “substantial risk of serious harm” and “deliberate indifference to that risk.” The court stated that the challenged behavior of allowing the youths to play tackle football without equipment “did not shock the conscience.” The plaintiff appealed and the Court of Appeal affirmed the District Court’s decision.

NOTE: In ruling against the plaintiff on the Eighth Amendment claim, the court included the following notable quotable: “Life is fraught with risk of serious harm and the sports world is no exception.” The discussion by the Court of Appeal in terms of the risk evaluation of tackle football is quite interesting. Citing past incidents of publicized spinal cord injuries, the plaintiff asserted that the risk of serious harm inherent in playing tackle football without equipment was “obvious.” However, the Court of Appeal stated that the plaintiff’s evidence shed “no light on the frequency or likelihood of such injuries” and did not mean that there was a “substantial risk.” The Court concluded that there was no “evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that serious injury is a common or likely occurrence in tackle football games.” The Court also referred to the fact that there had been no prior reported injuries as a result of tackle football games at the facility, supporting the conclusion that there could be no deliberate indifference to a serious risk on the part of the facility or its employees.

Minor Dies During Motorcycle Race at IMS

August 31, 2010

United States Grand Prix Racers Union (Indiana)
(13-year-old young died when he was run over by a 12-year-old co-participant.)

As recently reported in the USA Today, a minor amateur motorcycle rider died this past weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race was a private event sanctioned by the U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union (“USGPRU”).  A spokesman for the USGPRU said that it will discuss ways to make the sport safer. According to the USGPRU’s website, a memorial fund has been established in honor of the deceased minor.

NOTE: The minor release form used by the USGPRU as posted on its website is attached. Is it very short and basic. While the incident occurred in Indiana, the sanctioning body appears to be from Virginia, and the deceased minor was Washington. Indiana has a statute which allows a minor to become partially emancipated for the purposes of filling out the necessary contracts and waiver and release forms in order to participate in motorsports activities. We did not see any information to indicate whether or not the statute was employed for participants in this event.

Injured Shot Putter Chances in Court Are Shot

July 6, 2008

Gerry v. Commack Union Free School District (New York)
(Injured High School Shot Putter’s Assumed Risk of Being Hit by Shot.)

The plaintiff, a high school student-athlete shot putter, was injured when he was hit with a shot thrown by the defendant during a track meet. As a member of the school’s track team, plaintiff had participated in 10 to 15 similar track meets, and he had thrown the shot himself between 100 and 200 times. The trial court granted the defendant school district’s motion, dismissing the case, and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the Court explained that “[i]n assessing whether a defendant has violated a duty of care in the context of an injury sustained during a sport or game, [it] must [be] determine[d] whether the defendant created a unique condition ‘over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport’.” The Court concluded that there was “no evidence in the record that any conduct on the part of the defendants created a unique condition over and above the usual dangers associated with the sport of shot put.” Therefore, the Court affirmed the ruling. The plaintiff attempted to offer the declaration of an expert witness on appeal, but the Court stated that the plaintiff had unreasonably delayed in identifying the expert witness.

NOTE: Technically a determination of the inherent risks in an activity should not inolve the analysis of a participant’s subjective experience. The inherent risks are the inherent risks regardless of anyone’s particular experience or knowledge. Nonetheless, whenever evidence of extensive experience is available, it is generally useful to include from a defendant perspective as it may help balance the equities and alleviate any sympathy facotrs that may be asserted. It would have been interesting to see how the court would have dealt with the expert witness testimony if it had been timely and admissible. It has always been a point of contention, and there is not been total consensus, in terms of whether or not expert witnesses should be allowed to offer opinions to the court as to what it or is not an inherent risk in an activity.

Injured High School Track Athlete Hurdles Summary Judgment

July 6, 2008

Morales v. Beacon City School District (New York)
(Inexperienced High School Track Athlete Injured During Practice After Coach Directed Him to Run Hurdles With Minimal Instruction; Court Denied School’s Summary Judgment Due to Triable Issue of Fact Regarding Increased Risks.)

The plaintiff was a high school track athlete who had minimal experience running hurdles. He claimed that the coach told him to run hurdles, but failed to give him adequate instruction, resulting in his personal injury. Additionally, the athlete contended the hurdle he fell over was not set up properly because the horizontal bar was uneven. The defendant school moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff had assumed the inherent risks of injury by participating in this sports activity. The court denied the motion and the school appealed

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O-U-C-H . . . . What’s That Spell?

October 24, 2007

Krathen v. School Board of Monroe County (Florida)
(High School Cheerleader Injured During Practice; Waiver and Release Signed by Parent Enforced, Negligence Claims Barred)

A high school student injured during a cheerleading practice brought a negligence action against the school board. She alleged that the school board was negligent in the following respects: (1) by failing to adequately supervise the cheerleading practice; (2) by conducting the practice without adequate preparation; (3) by using inexperienced or untrained personnel to supervise the practice; (4) by failing to place protective mats on the floor so as to cushion the impact; (5) by conducting the practice without the coach being present; and (6) by failing to abide by or follow appropriate school board policies and/or procedures relating to extracurricular activities. The defendant school board filed a motion for summary judgment based upon the “Consent and Release of Liability Certificate” signed by the cheerleader and her parents prior to her participation. The trial court granted the motion, and the cheerleader appealed.

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BREAKING NEWS: California Waivers Take a Big Hit

July 17, 2007

City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (California-Supreme Court)
(California Supreme Court Holds that Sports and Recreation Waiver and Release and Express Assumption of the Risk Agreements Cannot Exculpate a Party from Gross Negligence; May Have Voided Thousands of Existing Agreements)

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued a lengthy published legal opinion addressing the enforceability of waiver and release and express assumption of the risk agreements. The court held that such agreements cannot protect sports and recreation providers and organizers from “gross negligence” liability, which was defined as as either a “want of even scant care” or “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” This ruling is a departure from prior California case law which supported the conclusion that absent a statute providing otherwise, there was no legal distinction among degrees of negligent conduct (e.g. “ordinary negligence” versus “gross negligence”). As an immediate result of this ruling, one can expect that all lawsuits hereinafter filed relative to injuries suffered by participants in sports and recreation will include a cause of action for “gross negligence.” This decision clearly makes it easier for a plaintiff to create triable issues of material fact and defeat motions for summary judgment. More cases will inevitably proceed toward trial resulting in a high percentage of settlements and increased settlement value as the result of reduced leverage. Courts will be reluctant to decide the absence of “gross negligence” as a matter of law, and juries will undoubtedly have a difficult time evaluating and understanding the distinction between “ordinary” and “gross” negligence.

Perhaps more importantly, the court’s decision may end up having the sweeping effect of immediately voiding existing agreements that are currently being used by the industry. The court’s ruling implied that any agreement that purports to cover more than ordinary negligence (e.g., by the use of language such as “any and all negligence” and/or “all forms of negligence”) are unenforceable as contrary to public policy. As a result, every individual and entity using waiver and release and express assumption of the risk agreements needs to promptly evaluate and analyze their current agreements and make revisions necessary to comport with the new state of the law. Please feel free to contact us for additional information and assistance in this regard.

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