Personal Injury Liability in Amateur Sports

If you're injured playing sports, can you hold another party liable for your injury in a lawsuit? Probably not.

Injuries are commonplace amongst amateur – and professional – athletes, but does the law afford the injured party any recourse? This article addresses the legal issues of assumption of risk, and liability for injuries sustained in amateur sports.

General Rule – No Injury Liability

In many cases, you won’t be able to hold anyone else liable for an injury you suffered while participating in amateur or recreational sports activities. Injuries are an accepted risk of playing amateur sports, so bringing a successful personal injury claim is very difficult, if not impossible. But there are a few scenarios that might trigger the legal liability of another participant in the sport, or the liability of a third party.

Assumed Risk of Injury in Sports

The legal doctrine of "assumption of the risk" bars you from trying to hold fellow participants or property/facility owners liable when you are injured while playing a sport or game, as long as the circumstances that led to your injury were inherent to -- or at least reasonably related to -- the sport. The idea behind “assumption of the risk” in this context is that, by agreeing to participate in the sport or activity, you’ve also agreed to assume the possibility that you’ll be injured.

So, if you blow out your knee playing Ultimate Frisbee or get a concussion in a pick-up game of tackle football, you probably can’t hold anyone else liable for those injuries.

Injury Caused by "Unreasonable" Behavior

But if your injury was the result of unreasonably aggressive behavior on the part of another participant -- you’re playing basketball and the guy you’re guarding punches you in the face because he doesn’t like the way you play defense -- assumption of risk wouldn’t bar you from pursuing an intentional tort lawsuit against the person who hit you.

Injuries Caused by Equipment Failure

Also, if your injury was caused by (or made worse by) sports equipment or some other product that was defective or didn’t perform the way it was supposed to under the circumstances, you may be able to bring a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.

For example, if the head of a golf club detaches mid-swing and strikes someone in the temple causing permanent brain injury, the manufacturer of the golf club may be held liable for damages.

More Information

To learn more about the legal issues unique to sports injury claims, see our section on Sports & Recreation Accidents.

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