For many families who have children participating in school athletics, a common fear is that those children may get seriously injured. The stories of kids being permanently or fatally injured while participating in football or gymnastics, for example, are not unusual. But, where does potential liability for catastrophic sports injuries lie? The reality is, the athletic trainers, coaches, and schools all face potential liability.
A general duty of reasonable care
Tort cases are typically based on a general duty everyone owes of “reasonable care” to others. Whenever someone fails to act “as an ordinary and reasonably prudent person under similar circumstances,” and that failure causes injury to someone else, there may be liability.
Beyond that general duty, if an individual possesses a greater degree of skill and training in a particular field, he or she must act as a reasonably prudent person who possesses similar skill and training would act. For instance, a licensed physician would obviously be held to a higher standard of care, based on his or her special knowledge and skill. The duty in that case would then become to act as a reasonably well-qualified physician providing professional services under same or similar circumstances would act. The standard becomes higher the more specialized an individual’s skill may be. So a cardiac surgeon may be held to a higher standard of care than an internist.
The duty a school has for its students
There is also a standard of care that public and private schools must meet in caring for the students under their care. So, a high school would have a legal duty to exercise reasonable care toward its students. Many courts have held that this duty includes the duty of coaches and athletic trainers to exercise reasonable care for the health and safety of student athletes.
Areas of potential liability relating to sports injuries
Although not a complete list, there are numerous recognized areas of potential liability in the area of organized athletic events at the high school level:
- Physicals and screening examinations
- Initial medical clearance to play in an athletic activity
- Adequate facilities and medical equipment
- Adequate training in the use of safety equipment and gear for the athlete
- Planning for athletic injuries and emergency situations
- Diagnosis and treatment of injuries occurring during the athletic activity
- Return-to-play medical decisions
- Informed consent regarding clearance to play
- Recommendations for and follow-up medical care and assessments
- Inappropriate disclosure of confidential medical information, including
- Inadequate certification/training/supervision of coaches, physicians, athletic trainers, and others
These are just examples of possible areas of liability. You should discuss the facts of your specific situation with your personal injury attorney to determine whether or not a claim for liability may exist.
If you have questions regarding catastrophic sports injuries, or any other personal injury issues, 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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