Massachusetts Court Discusses Liability for Injuries Sustained During Athletic Practices

Organized sports often involve some degree of risk of bodily harm. Thus, acts that under normal circumstances may constitute tortious behavior will be deemed acceptable, and people who engage in such activities are typically deemed to waive the right to pursue damages for injuries. There are some exceptions, though, as discussed in a recent opinion set forth by a Massachusetts court in which the grounds for imposing liability for harm sustained during an athletic practice were discussed. If you were hurt while engaging in a hobby, you may be owed damages and should meet with a Massachusetts personal injury attorney to evaluate your possible claims.

The Plaintiff’s Harm

It is alleged that the plaintiff played softball for the team of a Massachusetts university. Prior to joining the team, the plaintiff had to sign a form indicating that she waived her right to pursue damages and released the university and its agents and employees from liability for any harm she might suffer. One day the plaintiff was practicing in an indoor facility where she and her teammates were engaging in batting practice. A teammate hit a ball off of a tee and, in the process, struck the plaintiff in the head.

Reportedly, she suffered a concussion and needed stitches. A few days after the incident, it became clear that the plaintiff sustained significant injuries, as she was having severe symptoms, including difficulty reading.  The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit alleging negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness claims against the teammate that struck her and the university. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and the court granted the motion, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims. She then appealed.

Liability for Harm During Athletic Practices

Under Massachusetts law, participants in an athletic event have an obligation to other parties participating in the same event to refrain from engaging in reckless conduct. While the standard for participants in athletic events was well established, the standard that applied to parties engaged in practice for a sport was unclear. Ultimately, however, the court found that the same level of care was required in both athletic events and athletic practices, which is to say that in both instances participants have a duty to refrain from committing reckless acts.

The court explained that if athletes could not practice as diligently as they play, they would, at a minimum, be unprepared for the rigors of actual competition. Additionally, the inability to practice properly could leave them exposed to a risk of injury during games. Thus, the court found that evidence of a reckless disregard of safety was necessary to impose liability on a person practicing for an athletic event. Here, the court found that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the defendants engaged in any recklessness. As such, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

People who play sports are likely to suffer some degree of harm, but that does not mean that they are barred from recovering damages for injuries. If you were injured while engaging in a hobby or sport, the experienced personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan, can advise you of your options for pursuing damages and help you to seek the best outcome available under the circumstances. You can reach us via our online form or by calling us at 508-822-6600 to set up a meeting.