Suing Over Sports-Related Injuries

Personal injury lawyers are often contacted regarding injuries sustained in sporting events, recreational sports, or athletic contests. These injuries can be severe, including quadriplegia, paralysis and traumatic brain injury from a concussion, or moderately severe, including a fracture, shoulder dislocation, knee injury or ligament damage. These injuries pose problems for personal injury lawyers.

Personal injury laws vary from state to state. In Ohio, where I practice personal injury law, a recreational user statute confers immunity on a wide variety of sports, outdoor and recreational activities.  This immunity can only be overcome by showing reckless or intentional misconduct, which is hard to do. 

A recent lawsuit arising out of severe injuries sustained by a retired judge who was injured playing pickleball, suffering a broken neck, according to media accounts, provides some context for discussion. The judge, speaking through his own personal injury lawyer, alleged that he was taking pickleball lessons when he ran into a wall and sustained the fractured neck. The lawsuit alleges that the pickle ball court was dangerously designed in that the pickle ball court was located too close to the walls and was not padded.

So, rather than arguing that the injury occurred as a result of participation in a recreational activity, the judge alleged that the premises were unsafe. This strategy may or may not pay off, depending on the applicable state law. In premises liability cases, the plaintiff must prove that the premises contained a hazardous condition that the landowner created or knew or should have known about. A defense to trip and fall, slip and fall or other types of premises on liability cases is that the defect on the property was open and obvious. Guests on a property have a duty to act in their own self interest, to protect themselves against obvious hazards like large holes or flying baseballs at a ballpark or farm animals on a farm. 

Lawyers will sometimes hire experts to overcome the open and obvious defense. Human factors experts can show that particular defects are not open and obvious in real time, such as certain architectural defects, like stair risers that are inconsistent heights or lighting that blinds a passerby.

Many recreational user cases are made difficult by the economic reality of insurance coverage.  If a plaintiff can overcome immunity to show that one sporting participant intentionally injured another, then the lawsuit would be made against the individual wrongdoer. The wrongdoer may not have insurance or assets to pay for a judgment, or if the wrongdoer does have insurance coverage, the policy likely excludes intentional acts.

Like many personal injuries and wrongful death lawsuits, facts matter. You need to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer like the ones at Mishkind Kulwicki Law to investigate your case.