What You Need to Know if You have been Injured in a Sporting Activity

Water skiing, jet skiing, mountain climbing, hang gliding, and other inherently dangerous activities present serious risk of injuries to the participants. A person who sustains a serious trauma, such as a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, in a sporting activity will require extensive medical treatment and life-long care. The question arises in these cases whether the injured participant has any legal rights to recover against co-participants or others who have contributed to causing the injury. Each case must be analyzed on its own facts to determine whether the injured person is entitled to monetary compensation under the law.

Fourteen years ago, the California Supreme Court decided that the assumption of risk doctrine applies to inherently dangerous sporting activities.  In the sports setting, conditions or conduct that might otherwise be viewed as dangerous, are often an integral part of the sport. For example, a person injured in a touch football game could not sue and recover against a co-participant who ran into that person and injured her. Likewise, a skier cannot sue and recover against a ski resort for injuries caused by the skier hitting a mogul or another skier. The courts generally conclude that because these risks are inherent in the sport, the participant is said to have assumed the risk and is barred from recovery.

There are situations however where participants encounter a risk not generally thought to be inherent in the sport. For example, while the skier may assume the risk of the mogul, he does not assume the risk of a defective chair lift. In this type situation, the ski operator has increased the risk over and above what is inherent in the sport by its failure to maintain safe equipment.

Athletes may also recover against a co-participant in a sport where the co-participant has acted intentionally or recklessly and caused injury or harm. While a football player may assume the risk of being injured by a tackle, he does not assume the risk that a co-participant will intentionally assault him.

The courts have also held that the assumption of risk doctrine does not apply if a negligent party has violated the law in some manner. In one instance, an operator of an ATV recreational vehicle was struck by another ATV operator, who was a minor and had not passed a safety class as required by law. Under these circumstances, the court permitted recovery to the injured driver even though both persons were engaged in an inherently risky sporting activity.

The doctrine of assumption of risk does not apply when a person is injured in a sporting activity because of a defective product. A product manufacturer has a duty to provide safe equipment. If that equipment is defective and causes injury, the injured person may recover against the manufacturer, even though he was engaged in a high risk activity at the time of the injury.

In conclusion, participants in dangerous sporting events and other high risk activities may be barred from recovery against others by application of the assumption of risk doctrine. However, numerous exceptions to that rule exist. Each case must be carefully analyzed by legal counsel to determine whether any laws were broken, whether defective products were involved, or whether other exceptions to the assumption of risk doctrine apply.

If you have questions about a sports injury, please call us toll-free at 800-856-7506 or email us at tlewellynlaw@sbcglobal.net for your no obligation, free consultation.


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