Negligence in School Sports

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We have all heard of a lawsuit that was filed for one reason or another. Whether it was over hot coffee spilled at McDonald’s or lying to the EPA from Volkswagon, lawsuits happen. Students in our Interscholastic Sports Administration course were asked to research a negligence lawsuit related to school sports and comment on the implications to athletic administrators. Read a few of their responses below.

By: Samantha Bohy

The case I chose to summarize deals with a high school football player catastrophically injured after suffering a minor injury in the same game.  The athlete injured his ankle early in a high school football game and continued to play. Several plays later, the coach made the athlete go get evaluated by the athletic trainer. The certified athletic trainer was not present, so the volunteer student athletic trainer evaluated, taped, functionally tested the athlete, and released him to return to play.  He later sustained a debilitating spinal fracture and spinal cord injury.  The lawsuit was filed against the coach, certified athletic trainer, and athletic training student for negligently returning the athlete to play after the ankle injury, leading to the athlete suffering the spinal cord injury.  The court ultimately ruled in favor of the school district, claiming that the California Interscholastic Federation’s sports medicine handbook should outline the standard of care provided to the student, not the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, since California does not regulate athletic training standards.  There are many issues with this case, even more than are outlined by the article, but basically the athletic trainer was not found negligent because of the lack of athletic training standards and regulations in the state of California.

The implications for athletic administrators are to be aware of the standard of care necessary to different groups of people and to know the standards of care provided by any national or certifying agency regarding a healthcare professional.  These are outlined explicitly in this case since the jury was allegedly not provided a descriptive enough standard by which to determine if the athletic trainer acted as a reasonably prudent person would have.  When there are higher standards of practice set forth by certification agencies (Board of Certification), the athletic trainer or healthcare provider at the school may be held to a higher standard than a lay person.  Also, California is one of few states without regulation of athletic trainers.  This means a person must only obtain a certification to practice as an athletic trainer and the profession is unprotected.  In other states, it is a requirement that the athletic trainer be certified by the Board of Certification (BOC) as well as be licensed by the state they practice in.  This means not just anyone can call themselves an athletic trainer and the athletic administrator should know exactly what training the individual has had.  Student athletic trainers are bound by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) and may not perform any duties without direct supervision of a certified athletic trainer.  It is important for the administrator to be aware of these issues to protect themselves against future or current lawsuits.

Wolohan, J.T. (2014). Negligence, Athletic Trainers at Heart of Football Lawsuit. Athletic Business. Retrieved from http://www.athleticbusiness.com/civil-actions/negligence-athletic-trainers-at-heart-of-high-school-football-lawsuit.html

By: Ashley Long

Donna Andreozzi PPA Nicholas Andreozzi v. Town of East Haven et al., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 854.

While at practice, a middle school cross-country runner fractured his wrist after tripping over a bench that was placed in the middle of the track. His mother sued the coach and school for negligence, citing the school handbook’s statement that all coaches are to provide safeguards for their athletes. She claimed that the coach should have removed the bench prior to allowing the students to run, as it is his job to provide a safe and secure environment for his team. The court ruled in favor of the school, claiming that the coach had governmental immunity in this situation. Several exceptions could have been met to remove immunity from the coach, but the court found that because the event was voluntary and occurred after school, none of the exceptions could be met.

The implication for athletic directors is that we need to be very aware of the “small stuff.” A bench in the middle of the track seems like an obvious obstacle for an athlete to both see and run around. A coach may not see that as a liability. However, it’s also an obvious obstacle that should not be on the track while kids are running in the first place; which means the coach should have noticed it and moved it—if only to make the run less annoying. We can never assume that students will do the “right” or common sense thing.

By: Zach Johnson

Rios v. Grossmont Union High School District is the first negligence court case that I decided to look at. This case revolves around a junior varsity football player at Grossmont Union High School in California in 2008. The player, Colton Rios, felt his ankle pop when he was tackled but was left in the game after telling a coach what happened. After a couple plays he was sent to see the trainer as get his ankle taped. The head athletic trainer was not present so Rios saw an athletic training student and after an examination was cleared to return to play. After returning to play Rios fractured two vertebrae. Rios’ mother then filed the law suit stating that the athletic department was negligent in allowing her son to return to the game after his initial ankle injury.

During the case, Rios fought that the National Athletic Training Association (NATA) standards should have governed in this situation because athletic training certification is done exclusively through NATA. The school district argued that the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) should be the governing standards because the state of California does not require high schools to have a certified athletic on staff, and the CIF has their own sports medicine handbook.

The court found that the district was not negligent in this situation, but Rios appealed the decision. During the appeals process it was also found that the district was not negligent. The thing that was learned from this case is that it is always important to know the standards that you are working under. (Wolohan, 2014)

Wolohan, J. T. (2014, August). Negligence, Athletic Trainers at Heart of Football Lawsuit. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from Athletic Business: http://www.athleticbusiness.com/civil-actions/negligence-athletic-trainers-at-heart-of-high-school-football-lawsuit.html

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