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What’s a sport tort?

Posted by Steve Vondran | Sep 27, 2014

Our law firm is a leader in civil litigation cases.  We have filed and defended a large number of state and federal lawsuits.  This blog post deals with “sports torts.”

What is a Sports Tort?

A “tort” is a civil injury committed by one person against another.  In the context of sports law, this refers to intentional or negligent acts or omissions involving athletes, coaches, schools, cheerleaders, referee's, umpires, officials, and others in regard to either professional or amateur sports and which tortious conduct result in physical or economic injuries.  Our law firm is a civil litigation firm that handles accidents and injuries that arise in the world of sports.

What are some examples of things that can go wrong in the context of sports?

  • Players hitting each other with baseball bats or hockey stick (or lacrosse stick)
  • Stadiums sustained by fans at a baseball, football, basketball or soccer game
  • A coach intentionally injuring a player or subjecting the player to cruel and unusual punishment
  • Swimming pool accidents at school (swimming and diving incidents)
  • A yoga instructor who does not let a person out of a yoga hot room
  • A personal trainer that commits negligence in the performance of weight or strength training
  • Fist fights outside the normal rules of the sport
  • Failure to supervise by teachers, or coaches (ex. negligence)

This is just a short list of common types of problems that arise in the field of sports. In many cases, the argument will arise that the spectator, professional or amateur athlete “assumed the risk” of injury or waived their rights contractually.  These types of legal arguments must be closely examined.

What is assumption of the risk in a sports game?

Assumption of the risk basically means that you were aware of the risks involved in a particular sport, and that by playing, you agree to voluntarily assume these known and appreciated risks.  This concept was discussed in Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 315-16 [11 Cal.Rptr.2d 2, 14-15, 834 P.2d 696, 708-09] which held:

“Although defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself, it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport. Thus, although a ski resort has no duty to remove moguls from a ski run, it clearly does have a duty to use due care to maintain its towropes in a safe, working condition so as not to expose skiers to an increased risk of harm. The cases establish that the latter type of risk, posed by a ski resort's negligence, clearly is not a risk (inherent in the sport) that is assumed by a participant.” The Knight Court continued: “In some situations, however, the careless conduct of others is treated as an “inherent risk” of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff. For example, numerous cases recognize that in a game of baseball, a player generally cannot recover if he or she is hit and injured by a carelessly thrown ball (see, e.g., Mann v. Nutrilite, Inc. (1955) 136 Cal.App.2d 729, 734–735, 289 P.2d 282), and that in a game of basketball, recovery is not permitted for an injury caused by a carelessly extended elbow (see, e.g., Thomas v. Barlow (1927) 5 N.J.Misc. 764, 138 A. 208). The divergent results of the foregoing cases lead naturally to the question how courts are to determine when careless conduct of another properly should be considered an “inherent risk” of the sport that (as a matter of law) is assumed by the injured participant.

The precise details of your sports law case need to be examined by a skillful lawyer in order to determine whether you have assumed the risk of your injuries incurred, or whether you have a possible personal injury chase with a chance to recover monetary damages.

What is “negligence” in tort law?

The concept of negligence was discussed in Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990, 1023 [4 Cal.Rptr.3d 103, 129, 75 P.3d 30, 51] wherein the California court stated:

Negligence consists of creating or failing to avoid unreasonable risks of foreseeable harm to others. (1 Dobbs, Torts (2001) § 166, p. 275.) That rule is reflected in California Civil Code section 1714, which makes every person responsible for “an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care.  In general, the standard of ordinary care is satisfied when the conduct conforms to that of “a reasonably prudent person under like circumstances.” What a “reasonable” person would do is normally a point or argument and legal debate and cases are won and lost on the issue.

Can a sports stadium (such as a baseball stadium) be sued for a flying baseball bat that injures a sports spectator?

The general rule is that the sports spectator realizes the risk of injury (ex. a line drive being hit in a baseball game, or a baseball bat that flies into the stands when a player swings and misses) and courts in California have addressed this sports law issue.   See Ratcliff v. San Diego Baseball Club of Pacific Coast League (1938) 27 Cal.App.2d 733, 735-36 [81 P.2d 625, 626] which laid out what might be considered the general rule: “With respect to the law governing cases of this kind, it has been generally held that one of the natural risks assumed by spectators attending professional games is that of being struck by batted or thrown balls; that the management is not required, nor does it undertake to insure patrons against injury from such source. All that is required is the exercise of ordinary care to protect patrons against such injuries (Edling v. Kansas City Baseball, etc., Co., 181 Mo.App. 327, 168 S.W. 908), and, in doing so, the management is not obliged to screen all seats, because, as pointed out by the decisions, many patrons prefer to sit where their view is not obscured by a screen. Moreover, the management is not required to provide screened seats for all who may apply for them. The duty imposed by law is performed when screened seats are provided for as many as may be reasonably expected to call for them on any ordinary occasion (Wells v. Minneapolis Baseball, etc., Assn., 122 Minn. 327, 142 N.W. 706, 46 L R.A.,N.S., 606, Ann.Cas.1914D, 922; Brisson v. Minneapolis Baseball, etc., Ass'n, 185 Minn. 507, 240 N.W. 903); and if as in the cases of Wells v. Minneapolis Baseball etc. Ass'n, supra, and Kavafian v. Seattle Baseball Club Ass'n, 105 Wash. 215, 177 P. 776, 181 P. 679, a spectator chooses to occupy an unscreened seat, or, as in the Brisson Case, supra, is unable to secure a screened seat and consequently occupies one that is not protected, he assumes the risk of being struck by thrown or batted balls; and, if injured thereby, is precluded from recovering damages therefor.” However, this was a case where the sports spectator DID recover ($2,000 but keep in mind this was back in 1938). The holding of the Court affirmed the verdict for the Plaintiff in the trial court and the Court discussed:

“The respondent having purchased a ticket which entitled her to a seat in the protected section of this grandstand was proceeding thereto along the passageway which had been provided for that purpose by the appellant.

While the appellant was required to exercise only ordinary care in protecting the respondent from such an injury as this while she was proceeding along the passageway thus provided, that duty was not performed if such an occurrence as this should have been reasonably anticipated by the appellant.

Under the circumstances here appearing it cannot be said, as a matter of law, that such a happening as here occurred could or should not have been anticipated. There is ample evidence that bats rather frequently slip from the hands of batters and that such occurrences are not unusual, although they may not occur in every game. It appears that occasionally such bats fly into the grandstand and that such an occurrence has been many times observed by each of the witnesses who were professionally engaged in the game. It further appears that not infrequently a bat so slipping from the hands of the player goes a distance of ninety feet or more……….It was a question for the jury whether such an accident as this could have been reasonably anticipated and we think the evidence is sufficient to sustain their finding upon that question.”


Every sports injury case is different.  The best bet is to contact a personal injury civil litigation law firm at the earliest possible moment to have the evidence preserved and your case analyzed for potential personal injury recovery.  We can help you recover money damages in your sports tort case.  Contact us with questions by phone at (877) 276-5084 (there is no charge for the call – we only recover fees when we win a personal injury case), or fill out the form below to have one of our personal injury attorneys contact you, normally within the hour.

About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337

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