Summer and Youth Sports: Recognizing Liability When a Child is Injured

Summer and Youth Sports: Recognizing Liability When a Child is InjuredAs summer comes, the weather starts to become ideal for summer sports, especially when it comes to our kids. Whether it’s youth athletic leagues, summer sports camps, or school athletic team summer practices, more and more kids will engage in summer organized leagues and sports.

And with those sports come the natural risk of injury. Certainly, injury is inherent in almost every sport, and the risk of injury shouldn’t deter anybody from playing a sport. Likewise, injury in sport isn’t automatically a sign that someone was negligent.

Still, there are basic precautions that you can take, and legal issues that you can be aware of, to make sure the kids are as safe as possible, and to ensure you know your rights if someone is injured.

How Did an Injury Happen?

When a child is injured when playing an organized sport (by organized, we mean sponsored by or run by a recreational league, school, or company), the first step is natural: try to see how the accident happened.

Don’t assume that every organized league understands basic concepts of safety, or that every athletic facility is properly maintained. Like any business—supermarket, mall, or restaurant—athletic facilities have an obligation to keep their premises clean, organized and free from debris or objects that can cause injury.

As an example, a recently, a Wisconsin teenage basketball player was impaled by flooring which was protruding from the ground. She was eventually OK, but the injury highlights how important it is to get to the root cause of an injury–was it from the sport itself, or poorly maintained facilities?

We have unfortunately seen many instances where basketball courts had protruding floors, or football or soccer fields had potholes or poor footing, leading to foot, knee and ankle injuries.

League Obligations to Train Coaches and Staff

With any youth sports, we entrust our children to athletic coaches. Unfortunately, coaches may not receive the training they need to evaluate and react to player injuries. Whenever a child is injured during a sporting event, a league’s policies and procedures should be investigated, to see if the injury could have been lessened with proper training.  Remember that even if a coach or a league didn’t cause an initial injury, an organization can be legally liable for exacerbation to injuries which are due to a failure to properly react to an injury. 

You may be surprised to learn how little time and training many sport leagues put into educating their coaches as to basic first aid, or even recognizing injury.

Surely, a coach in a recreational league can’t be held to the same standard as a medical doctor. But coaches should be trained in basic first aid, and to react to player injuries.

For example, coaches should be aware to keep children out of play who have sustained head injuries, or to recognize the severity of injuries that may require 911 be called. Head injuries in particular are dangerous, as the symptoms may not be immediately apparent. Leagues without a concussion policy are at risk for civil liability if a child suffers such an injury that isn’t properly and immediately dealt with.

As we start to realize that sports will naturally involve injuries, more and more, courts are also finding an obligation for sports leagues to have first aid equipment on hand to deal with injuries. This may include simple first aid kits, to full scale defibrillators. Leagues may have an obligation to not just have this equipment nearby and in working order, but may be obligated to train staff to use them.

Younger Children

Leagues often have a heightened legal duty when dealing with very young children, who are prone to roughhousing, running in every direction, or simply letting their curiosity get the best of them.

For example, if a young child is injured during a soccer practice because he was climbing a fence, it may be easy to say the child shouldn’t have been climbing the fence. But climbing fences may be a completely foreseeable and predictable event with a 7 or 8 year old. This means that a league shouldn’t leave a coach handling or supervising more players than an adult can reasonably handle. When they do, and a child is injured climbing the fence (or engaging in any number of child-like activities), the fault may not be the child’s. There may be liability by the league that’s worth investigating.

Danger From the Elements

Summer also means the risk of injury from the elements—usually, heat exhaustion, and lightning caused by summer storms. Even professional athletes have fallen prey to the summer sun. 

Again, it’s easy to say that a child “overheated,” or “worked too hard.” In fact, the child may be practicing for too long, or with too few breaks or liquids in sweltering heat. Don’t assume that the child voluntarily engaged in the activity, or that the child knows enough to get a drink or get out of the heat. That’s an obligation that leagues and coaches need to take mind of.

Heat can be a silent killer. Players and leagues should be trained to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, which include:

  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness, vertigo or confusion
  • Chills
  • Trouble with speech

Older children are particularly subject to heat-related injury, as they tend to be pushed harder by athletic coaches, and may have a “tough it out” mentality. Older kids seeking to make school teams, or achieve athletic recognition from their peers, are more likely to ignore the signs of heat exhaustion. The problems are made worse in situations where leagues or coaches don’t provide water breaks, shaded areas, or access to liquids.

Summer sports can and should be fun. And when injury happens, we shouldn’t assume that anybody was negligent. What we should do, is investigate how the injury happened, to make sure that it wasn’t preventable. We entrust our children to leagues and coaches, all who have a responsibility to do the best they can to make sports as safe as possible.

If your child has been injured playing a sport or during a recreational activity, and you think someone may be at fault or that the injury could have been avoided, speak to attorneys who understand how to analyze a potential personal injury case. Call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation.