Liability in High School Athletic Injuries: Overview
A new academic year has begun and, with it, another season of high school
sports such as football and basketball. In today’s post, the personal
injury and accident lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will begin a series of
articles that discuss the types, severity, and long-term health consequences
of injuries that are commonly seen in high school athletics. Let’s
begin with a general overview of the types of injuries that occur most
often among young athletes.
Types of injuries
Sports medicine is a very complex sub-specialty of medical practice and
it is impossible to provide anything more than the superficial, non-technical,
review of this topic that will be presented in this series of blog posts.
With this in mind, we can now take a look at the general body systems
and organs that are most frequently injured during athletic contests.
Athletic injuries are classified according to 1) the body system or organ
that is directly affected by an injury and 2) by the specific type of
injury. As to the body system or organ, general examples include:
This system is the most frequent site of injuries received during high
school athletics since it is the body system that is responsible for running
or moving heavy objects.
The nervous system provides the body with information about the body’s
external environment and also coordinates the body’s responses to
changes in its environment. Its major components are the brain, the spinal
cord, and the peripheral nervous system. Injuries to the nervous system
can range from “minor” to “serious” to “catastrophic”
and, in rare cases, even fatal.
The gastro-intestinal system regulates how the body absorbs water, food,
and other essential materials.
These systems, and their unique injuries will be discussed in greater detail
in subsequent posts on this website.
Liability in high school athletics
Practically all organized high school athletic departments require that
a parent or the legal guardian of a prospective athlete sign a waiver.
In theory, a waiver releases the school’s athletic department from
future liability for any injuries that an athlete may receive as a direct
consequence of voluntary participation in a sporting event. While a waiver
may look impressive, an accident attorney will tell you that waivers are
all but useless as a defense to a liability claim.
First of all, and depending on the court having jurisdiction over a liability
claim, athletics waivers are usually viewed as contracts. It is an established
principle of law that, in agreeing to the terms of a contract, neither
party may be coerced into participating in that contract. In other words,
the “If you don’t sign you don’t play” argument
will fail because coercion (“… you don’t play…”)
was applied to induce one party to sign the waiver contract.
Next, the common law holds that an individual cannot voluntarily or involuntarily
waive a “fundamental” legal right. Since the right to receive
compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of another is considered
a foundational principle of the Law of Tort (“law of injury or of
civil wrong”), it cannot be waived or surrendered in advance of
some injury that may or may not occur.
Finally, no waiver can absolve anyone of their legal obligation to provide
a safe work or recreational environment. In high school athletics, this
means that anything which could affect player or participant safety must
be taken into consideration. These factors include the level of training
required of coaches and their staffs, proper function of safety equipment,
and supervision by officials whose job is to spot rules infractions and
impose penalties where appropriate. If it can be demonstrated in a court
of law that some event, such as an injury, was caused by an individual
or group, the responsible party can be found to have been negligent and
may be ordered to pay damages to the victim or the victim’s family.
As mentioned in this post, high school athletics, sports medicine, and
liability for athletic injuries are complex topics. This complexity is
often compounded by the fact that actions in one area will sometimes lead
to consequences in other areas as well. In many cases, these relationships
may not be immediately obvious and could require the services of an accident
lawyer to assist in determining who was actually responsible for a given injury.
If you, or a family member, suffered an injury during a high school sporting
event it is strongly suggested that you schedule a consultation with the
sports injury and accident attorney at the Doan Law Firm to review the
facts surrounding such an injury and to explore the possible legal avenues
that may be available to get the compensation that you deserve for your
injury. At our firm, your initial consultation is always free, and we
will assume all necessary legal and case preparation expenses in exchange
for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will in for you.
The Doan Law Firm 1 Riverway Suite 2325 Houston, Texas 77056 (832) 835-0000