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Sports Law

Torts In Sports

Many sports pose serious dangers to participants. Generally, a person who suffers a sportsrelated injury may recover for medical expenses and other losses if the injury was caused by the NEGLIGENCE of another party. Injuries and damages resulting from intentional torts, such as BATTERY or assault, likewise are recoverable.

Courts generally decide suits involving injuries to athletes, spectators, and other parties involved in sports according to basic tort laws. If a party owes a duty of care toward another party and that duty is breached, the party owing the duty is liable for any injuries suffered by the party to whom the duty is owed that result from the breach. The level of care that must be exercised depends on the situation: dangerous situations require a high degree of care, whereas less dangerous situations require less care. Expectations may also play a part. For example, a spectator who is hit by a foul ball while sitting in the stands at a baseball game cannot recover for injuries because most fans know that stray balls in the stands are an inescapable by-product of baseball. However, a patron who is standing in the interior walkway of a stadium concourse may recover for injuries resulting from a foul ball. A spectator in the unfamiliar environs of a stadium is not aware of the dangers and thus is owed a greater duty of care by the baseball organization.

Athletes may recover for injuries resulting from another party's negligence or intentional acts. In both professional and amateur contact sports, athletes consent to some physical contact, but courts do not find that participants consent to contact that goes outside the bounds of the game.

In some cases schools may be held liable for injuries to athletes. If an employee of the school, such as a coach, teacher, or referee, fails to properly supervise a student and the student suffers an injury as a result of the failure to supervise, the school may be held liable for its employee's negligence. Generally, coaches, teachers, and referees must exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injuries.

Defendants in sports-related personal injury suits may possess any number of defenses. One of the most successful of these defenses is that the party assumed the risk of being injured by playing in or watching the sporting event. Defendants also may argue that the plaintiff was negligent and therefore should recover only a portion of his damages or nothing at all. For example, a plaintiff may have ignored warnings or signed a document that waived the defendant's liability for any injury suffered by the plaintiff. Finally, public institutions may argue that they are immune from suit under the doctrine of SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY, a judicial doctrine that prohibits suits against government entities unless such suits have been explicitly authorized by the government. Legislators have made many public institutions open to lawsuits, and in cases in which a public institution still enjoys IMMUNITY, courts often find ways to circumvent immunity and attach liability.

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