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Are Coaches Liable for Injuries to Athletes?

As summer gives way to fall, many of us turn our attention to yet another year of amateur sports at both the high school and college levels. In fact, many of us have children who are active participants in organized sports and we look forward to watching them compete. Unfortunately, there are times when accidents occur on the playing field and sometimes those accidents have catastrophic consequences. In many cases, the circumstances of such injuries suggest that a coach or member of the coaching staff may have played a role in an injury.

On this page the sports injury lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will review the basics of personal injury law as they apply to the coaches and trainers of amateur athletes. He will then offer suggestions as to how potential cases of coaching negligence can be investigated and then explore the legal options that may be available to those athletes who believe that their injury was due to coaching staff negligence.

What is liability?

In law, liability can be generally defined as the concept that everyone is responsible for the consequences of their actions. In more specific terms, liability results at the intersection of duty and causality.

By “duty,” civil law means standards of conduct that each of us owe to each other. As an example, if I am an auto mechanic, I owe a duty to my customers and that duty is to make sure that their cars are safe to operate. If I forget to check something, or if I deliberately fail to check something such as the brake lines, I have breached my duty and I am therefore liable for any damage or injuries that are caused by my breach of duty.

Who can be held liable?

Again, generally, if a court can be convinced that a duty is owed and that duty was breached, then the party that was injured by that breach (the plaintiff) has the right to demand payment of damages from the party that breached their duty (the defendant). For the rest of this page, we will assume that a high school coach (defendant) breached a duty to protect one of his or her athletes (plaintiff).

Once a lawsuit has been filed, the defendant has a number of defenses that may show that he or she is not liable.

Although the terminology and definitions will vary from one state to another, an allegedly negligent defendant in a personal injury lawsuit will usually raise one, or more, of three general defenses:

  • denial of duty
  • acceptance of risk
  • sovereign immunity

We may now take a look at each defense in more detail.

Denial of duty

Probably the most frequently-raised defense in a case alleging negligence is to deny that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of some type. In many cases, that duty was to “supervise” or “protect” the plaintiff during some activity such as a sports event.

Acceptance of risk

A second defense to an allegation of liability by negligence is that the plaintiff knew of the risks involved in participating in a sports event but elected to participate nonetheless.

Probably the most commonly-cited example of assumption of risk is a “release from liability,” usually known as simply a “release,” that was signed by a participant or a participant’s parent/legal guardian and purports to “absolve” or “release” an organization from any responsibility for injury that might occur as a consequence of participating in an activity.

Although a release may seem to be an effective defense, a sports injury lawyer will be able to challenge a release for a number of reasons. Since these reasons can be complex, in a legal sense, they are best explained by a sports injury lawyer who is familiar with all aspects of a given case.

Sovereign immunity

Although the previous two defenses are available to any defendant, the last defense (“sovereign immunity”) is reserved to a select group.

Under the general doctrine of sovereign immunity, a government (e.g. city, county, state) or any of its subordinate agencies (e.g. “Parks and Recreation,” streets and roads, education), as well as their employees, cannot be sued unless it consents to being sued.

As you can imagine, a strict interpretation of sovereign immunity could easily lead to abuses where a defendant could do as he or she pleased and, so long as no criminal offense was committed, could avoid being held liable for their actions. Fortunately, each state has adopted its own legal procedures for “overriding” sovereign immunity if there is evidence of gross negligence, incompetence, or malice on the part of a defendant.

Talk to a sports injury / coaching negligence lawyer

From the above, you have seen that coaches and their staffs owe certain duties to their players and that if they breach some duty, the injured party can file a lawsuit against those believed to be responsible for any injuries caused by that breach.

If your child was injured in a sporting event, and you feel that a coach or some member of the coaching staff may be responsible for that injury, we invite you to contact the sports injury lawyer at the Doan Law firm, a nationwide law practice with offices located throughout the country.

When you contact our firm regarding your potential coaching negligence case, we never charge you a fee to review your case and we do not require you to use our firm if you decide to pursue a lawsuit. Should you ask us to represent you in your lawsuit, we are usually willing to assume full responsibility for preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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