When Can You Sue for Sports Injuries?

Athletes, both professional and amateur players, can get hurt in Denver Colorado. Normally, no one is to blame if you jam your finger catching a football or fall and break a wrist while ice skating. Accidents happen.

However, accidental injuries occur within the normal scope of the sport in question. When you or your child are injured because another party involved in the sport did something wrong, or failed to take reasonable action to prevent harm, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.

Another party may be liable for your injuries when:

  • The circumstances leading to the injury were out of the bounds of ordinary risk assumed by the players
  • The injury was due to the negligence or carelessness of the instructor or coach
  • The injury resulted from the use of faulty sports equipment
  • The injury was caused by playing on a court or field that is in an unsafe condition
  • The owner or operator of the sports facility did not have standard safety measures to reduce the risk of harm to players

Negligent schools, facility owners, personal trainers, coaches, and other players can be held financially responsible for sports-related injuries.

Sports injuries can have long-term implications and can derail a young person’s career options. High school sports athletes who suffer a head injury, or blow out a knee, ankle, or shoulder may lose the opportunity for an athletic scholarship at college.

It helps to understand some legal terms:

“Duty of Care” means a legal obligation to avoid causing harm to others. A sports facility owner has a legal obligation to ensure the playing area is free of hazards.

“Negligence” happens when a property owner, team owner, coach, personal trainer, or other player fails in their duty of care.

“Liability” means responsibility. The negligent party, like a coach, could be liable for an injured player’s damages if the injuries were directly caused by improper coaching.

“Damages” for sports injuries can include medical costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.


Case Example:  Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against NBA

Zeke Upshaw was a 26-year-old basketball player with the Detroit Pistons. On March 24, 2018, Zeke was playing in the final minutes of his team’s last preseason game when he collapsed on the court. His heart had stopped.

Zeke had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. He was transported to the hospital, where he later died.

Attorneys representing the Estate of Zeke Upshaw and his mother, Jewel Upshaw filed a lawsuit against Defendants NBA, the Detroit Pistons, and others.

The lawsuit alleged:

  1. Defendants knew basketball players have a higher risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD)
  2. Defendants knew that if players suffer a cardiac event, they must have immediate and appropriate medical treatment to survive
  3. Defendants neglected to administer life-saving measures such as CPR, or applying an automatic external defibrillator (AED) during the critical window of time after Zeke collapsed, even though an AED was available
  4. Defendants caused Zeke’s wrongful death by the negligent hiring and training of staff and employees, and by the unnecessary, unreasonable, and grossly negligent delays in providing and administering medical care and treatment.

The case was settled before trial for an undisclosed amount.

Premises Liability for Sports Injuries

Every state has premises liability laws, meaning property owners have a legal obligation to keep their property safe for visitors.

When your injury wasn’t caused by the sport but happened because of an unsafe condition on the field or surrounding area, the property owner can be held financially responsible. This includes:

  • Failing to remove rocks and fill in holes
  • Having inadequate or malfunctioning lighting
  • Failing to remove debris
  • Failing to remove ice or snow

Injuries Caused by Defective Equipment

Many sports are played wearing appropriate sports equipment like helmets, pads, face masks, and other protective gear. When helmets, masks, straps, or pads give way, the result can be disastrous.

Sports equipment isn’t limited to what the participant wears. Defective bats, skates, balls, and a myriad of other equipment can fail, causing injuries.

Design defects or manufacturing flaws in sports safety equipment can result in catastrophic injuries. Some of the most serious sports injuries are traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and permanent joint damage.

You have the right to recover damages from the manufacturing company for injuries caused by defective products.

Unreasonable or Malicious Behavior

People can get pretty worked up over team sports, even in pee-wee leagues.

Most folks channel their excitement by cheering louder for their team or playing harder to win. Yet every year we see headlines of parents and coaches brawling at kid’s games, or see pro players penalized for vicious, illegal hits.

A hard tackle during scrimmage is one thing. But if you or your child are physically attacked at a sporting event, you’re probably eligible to bring assault and battery claims against the person who hurt you.

If the coach, school, or sports facility was negligent, you have grounds for claims against the facility. For example, if your daughter was beaten up by another girl at a skating rink, the facility may be liable if the other girl had been warned for fighting in the past, and the facility did not ban her from entering.

If your child is injured by the deliberate acts of another child, you may be able to hold the child’s parents liable.

Injuries Caused by Negligent Coaches

Coaches have a duty of care to protect players from undue harm. For example, pushing players to practice without enough water or rest breaks can make the coach liable for a player’s heatstroke.

Coaching duties include providing safe equipment, adequate supervision, ensuring that the players are properly instructed, and warning the players and their parents (if the players are minors) of the risks associated with the sport.

Coaches have a duty to prevent injuries and to take prompt, appropriate action when a medical emergency occurs. For instance, high school coaches should enforce concussion prevention and response protocol to protect children from serious brain injuries.

A coach who fails to do what a reasonable coach would do after a medical emergency may be held liable for their negligence.

Case Example: Child Injured at Baseball Camp

Brandon Quinn was 12 years old and attending the Mississippi State Baseball Camp. Brandon and some other campers were watching a demonstration by Coach Keith Kosh on hitting a baseball off a tee.

According to Brandon, without warning, Coach Kosh swung the baseball bat, hitting him in the mouth. The blow knocked out one of Brandon’s permanent teeth and permanently damaged four other teeth.

The Quinns’ attorney filed suit against the school, the coach, and others, seeking compensation for Brandon’s injury, alleging negligence for failing to provide baseball instructions to Brandon in a safe manner.

The university argued, among other things, that the Quinns has signed a release “…that acknowledged the risks associated with participating in the camp and agreed to accept those risks.”

The Quinns’ argued the release was not valid, because the document did not release harmful actions by the instructor. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the Quinns, rejecting the release signed by Brandon’s parents as invalid.

The court ruled that the parents could not have anticipated the instructor’s negligence when they signed the release, so they did not knowingly sign away their son’s rights to seek compensation.

Quinn v. Mississippi State University, et.al.

As you can see, liability waivers are not always valid. If you signed a release and you or a loved one were subsequently injured, look closely at the circumstances of the injury to decide whether the injury’s cause was accidental or negligent.

You’ll need evidence to support an injury claim whether you’re injured in your neighbor’s back yard, at school, or at a sporting event at your local park or recreation center. What you do and say following an injury can impact the success of your claim.

As soon as you’re hurt, tell the coach or property owner. Don’t laugh it off or minimize your injury. Adrenaline, distress, and embarrassment can mask symptoms. You could have life-threatening injuries and not realize it.

Take pictures and videos of the injury location and anything that contributed to your injuries, like lifted turf, or broken equipment.

If you were at a public event, there are likely photographs or videos taken by spectators before, during, and after your injury. Ask for digital copies from anyone you know. Talk with your attorney about locating images, posts, and videos from social media that will help support your claim.

Likewise, many community events are covered by local television stations. Contact the station manager to ask for copies of their footage.

Ask other players and spectators for their written statements. Independent witnesses, meaning people who don’t have a personal or financial interest in your claim, are especially helpful, as insurance companies and juries give more weight to their testimony.