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:
- Muscular-skeletal system
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.
- Nervous system
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 2500 Houston, Texas 77056 (832) 835-0000