As parents, we truly enjoy watching our children participate or compete in school sports. But, when your baby gets hurt on the field, your pride as a parent can quickly turn to panic, as you worry about the severity of your child’s injury. If this happens, the concern over who should be held legally responsible for your child’s injuries will eventually take center stage. Whether a school is ultimately responsible for your child’s injuries depends on many factors. There are also legal issues, such as inherent and assumed risks, that may affect whether or not you and your child will be compensated for school sports injuries.
What is an “inherent risk?”
The concept of inherent risk simply means that, with certain activities, there is a risk of injury that can be expected. For instance, in many sports, there is an inherent risk of physical contact from other players, a risk of falling down and a risk of becoming physically fatigued. In fact, personal injuries are an unavoidable consequence of most sports. Some statistics show that, in the U.S., more than 3 million emergency room visits each year are the result of a sports-related injury of some type. Unfortunately, statistics also suggest that approximately 150 student athletes in our nation sustain fatal injuries during sporting activities.
How does the concept of assumption of risk apply?
The legal doctrine “assumption of risk” is often a defense to personal injury, where the defendant asserts that the injured party voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks, which were inherent to the dangerous activity in which he or she was participating at the time of the injury. So, under this doctrine, athletic trainers, coaches, and other school officials could be under no duty to protect their players from the “inherent risks” associated with their respective sports.
How does inherent and assumed risk affect liability?
Because there is an inherent risk of some injury in school sports, that risk serves to modify the legal standard of care to which the school and its officials will be held. In other words, what constitutes reasonable care will depend on the dangers a student athlete might reasonably expect to face. However, the mere presence of an inherent risk in a sporting activity does not fundamentally change the nature of a relationship between the students and the school, so as to eliminate a duty on the part of the school altogether. Instead, the customs, practices and rules of each sport will guide the court in determining the standard of care to apply in each case.
For example, in Missouri courts it is recognized that the risk of being hit by a baseball is a risk inherent to the game of baseball, and everyone who participates in or attends a baseball game assumes the risk of being hit by a ball. However, “[t]he assumed risks in such activities [that fall within the primary assumption of risk category] are not those created by a defendant’s negligence but rather by the nature of the activity itself.” Sheppard by Wilson v. Midway R-1 School Dist., 904 S.W.2d 257, 262-63 (Mo.App. W.D. 1995). So, if you have questions about proving liability in your case, speak to a personal injury attorney.
If you have questions regarding school sports injuries, or any other personal injury concerns, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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