Sports injuries may occur in youth, teen, amateur or professional sports. The injuries may be traumatic or occur after overuse. Lawsuits filed because of a sports injury typically come about after a traumatic injury, however, rather than an injury caused by overuse over an extended period of time. The injured participant may file a civil lawsuit against the individual, business or organization overseeing the sporting activity or event and sue for damages.

Injuries among sports participants

Common acute sports injuries usually happen after a sudden, sometimes violent, force or blow to the body, such as getting tackled while playing football. The most common sports injuries include the following:

  • Head injuries
  • Concussions
  • Broken bones
  • Fractures
  • Sprains and strains
  • Leg injuries
  • Shoulder and knee injuries

High-impact sports are usually involved in these kinds of injuries. Popular high-impact sports are:

  • Football
  • Boxing
  • Soccer
  • Baseball
  • Lacrosse
  • Skateboarding
  • Hockey

Sports injury statistics

There are an estimated 30 million children and teens participating in organized sports every year. Of these participants, there are 3.5 million injuries reported every year, with one-third of all child injuries occurring due to sports-related activities. Further, there are 775,000 children under the age of 14 who receive emergency room treatment for their injuries. These emergency room visits often deal with head-related injuries. For example, in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that an estimated 273,272 children under the age of 17 were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that occurred during a sport or recreational activity. Though many of these injuries are more minor, like sprains and strains, more serious injuries do occur, with the leading cause of a sports-related death being a head injury.

Collegiate sports also see many student-athlete injuries. For men’s collegiate sports, football has the highest percentage of injury, with football teams having the most injuries of any sports teams per year. Often, football injuries keep a player out for over 7 days, indicating the seriousness of the physical harm the student-athlete endures. Also, these student athletes were more likely to undergo an injury during competition than practice, with up to a five-fold increase for football and hockey. For women’s collegiate sports, soccer has the greatest number of injuries, and gymnastics had the highest rate of injury each year.

Sports injuries among non-participants, such as sports fans

Other sports injuries occur during incidents that are unrelated to sports participation. For example, fans may file personal injury lawsuits against the sports team or organization if they become injured while watching a sporting event. For example, a sports fan sued the Dallas Cowboys because of burn injuries she suffered while sitting in a hot seat in the stadium.

Injuries that occur while exercising

Many people and children use exercise equipment and structures to workout. Accidents that occur using exercise and equipment may lead to a range of injuries. Individuals may become injured while using at-home exercise equipment or going to a gym. In 2019, the number of injuries that occurred while individuals were using exercise equipment was 468,315. These injuries may be minor to severe. If someone has been injured because of exercise equipment, they may want to file a lawsuit against the equipment manufacturer (in the case of a defective product) or the business that purchased and maintained the equipment.

Reasons to file a sports injury legal claim

If a participant or sports fan was injured due to negligence by the overseeing organization, faulty equipment from a manufacturer, or “wanton or willful” actions from another player, then they may be able to hold the responsible party liable for their injuries.

Negligence

Negligence in a sports injury case relies on the four elements that are used in other personal injury lawsuits. A situation in which a sports injury claim arises out of negligence is when the athletic association, sports organization and coaches supervising the school-age sports activity fail to provide reasonable care. As such, athletic associations, sports organizations, and coaches are expected to provide reasonable care in order to protect its participants; moreover, failing to do so could potentially result in a lawsuit. Lawsuits filed by sports fans against a sports team or organization often rely on the theory of negligence as well. The four elements of negligence include:

  • The defendant had a duty of care
  • The defendant breached that duty
  • The breach of that duty was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
  • The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the injury

Examples of negligence regarding a minor or student-athlete’s sports injury include:

  • Lack of supervision over players
  • Inadequate training for coaches and assistants who are supervising games and practice
  • Lack of medical personnel and/or treatment following an event in which an injury occurred
  • Coaches, association or organization fails to recognize a player’s injuries and call for the appropriate medical care

Faulty equipment

If the sports participant was injured as a result of defective equipment, the equipment manufacturer, others in the chain of distribution or the property owner may be held liable. Exercise-related injuries may also occur due to faulty equipment.

“Wanton or willful actions”

While most contact sports are expected to involve a degree of physical contact, actions that are intended to harm another or are not typical of the sport would make a defendant liable. For example, if a participant is playing basketball and decides to punch another player in the face, that action is not foreseeable and atypical of sports conduct. In these situations, the

Damages

Damages in a personal injury lawsuit may include medical expenses, disfigurement, lost wages (depending on the details of the case) and pain and suffering. Damages may vary significantly. For example, a high school athlete was awarded close to $1 million for a head injury he suffered while practicing football. The victim had permanent brain damage from the incident. A sports fan suffered an injury after a professional team’s mascot threw a hotdog into the crowd, hitting the man’s eye. The victim sought $20,000 in damages for the incident.

The defendant’s position in sports injury cases

Commonly, participants play sports with the assumption of risk, meaning that the participants have knowledge of the risk involved in an activity and voluntarily accept such risks, either implied by a written agreement, verbal consent, or their conduct. Therefore, since the injured person had knowledge of the risks and still voluntarily participated in activities it becomes difficult for them to hold another liable for any damages they incurred while playing.

Further, if a participant signs a waiver that states the other participants or the organization involved in the activity cannot be liable for any injuries that occur, it may be possible to file a lawsuit against them. Usually, a written agreement is referred to as an “express” agreement. An agreement is “implied” if it is based on a verbal exchange or conduct. An implied agreement may be as simple as saying “okay” or nodding “yes.” Express agreements are typically difficult to challenge. Exceptions to this happen when an individual was intentionally injured or signed the waiver without the capacity to understand the details of the agreement.

What to do if you have a sports-related injury

Once you have received medical care for your injuries, you will want to contact an experienced attorney about your legal options. Other steps to take after a sports injury include:

  • Take photographs of your injury or injuries and the scene of the incident;
  • Ask witnesses, if there are any, what happened;
  • Document what happened by writing down your account of the incident;
  • Keep all medical records and expenses related to the sports injury.