Is Your Child’s School Liable for Injuries on the Sports Field?

Back-to-school season is rapidly approaching, and many students won’t just be hitting the books – they’ll also be hitting the sports field. Football, soccer, cross country, volleyball, softball, swimming and cheerleading are just some of the fall school sports intended to keep kids active and healthy. But there’s a dangerous downside to these activities: Sports injuries can be serious, expensive to treat and even cause permanent harm. If your child is injured, who is responsible for the cost medical treatment? Before contacting a Chicago injury attorney, it helps to understand Illinois’s personal injury laws.

Basics of Illinois Personal Injury Law

Before we get into sports injuries in particular, it helps to have a basic understanding of how personal injury law works.

Under Illinois law, your personal injury lawyer must demonstrate three things to win a lawsuit case:

  1. The person or organization you’re suing (the defendant) had a legal responsibility, called a duty of care, to act in an attentive, prudent manner toward your child
  2. The defendant was negligent and failed in that duty , and your child was injured as a result
  3. As a result of those injuries, your child suffered damages, or financial expenses

In a sporting context, a school would have a duty of care to provide athletes with well-maintained facilities and (depending on the sport) equipment. Take for example a school’s football field. The school has an obligation to promptly fill any holes in the field so an athlete doesn’t trip and break an ankle. Or gymnastics equipment, such as a balance beam and vaulting horse, must be properly maintained so the equipment doesn’t break while an athlete is using it. Similarly, a sports coach has a duty of care to ensure that players are only allowed to participate if they are wearing the appropriate protective equipment (even if the players themselves are responsible for purchasing that equipment).

Illinois personal injury law also follows a rule known as comparative negligence. In essence, it attempts to determine how much of a role, if any, the victim played in his or her accident. If the victim was 51 percent or more responsible, then he or she could not recover any damages. If the victim bears less than 51 percent of the blame, then he or she can recover damages, but those damages are reduced proportionately to the victim’s share of the blame.

Imagine, for example, that a baseball player’s team is up at bat. Rather than standing in the on-deck circle, a player instead moves behind the batter and is hit by the bat. The injured player bears some responsibility for his injury because he was not standing in the designated area. If a jury found that the player was 51 percent responsible for his injuries, he would be unable to recover any money in connection with his accident. If, on the other hand, the court found he was only 25 percent responsible for his injuries, then any award would be reduced by 25 percent.

Illinois School Liability Law

If your child is injured on the sports field, there are some high hurdles that must be overcome for a personal injury lawsuit to be successful.

When you signed your child up for school sports, you were probably asked to sign a waiver releasing the school and its coaches from any liability should your child be injured during while participating in a school sport. In other words, you agreed not to sue. Your personal injury attorney can review that agreement to determine if it is legally binding.

Courts also recognize that the nature of some sports means that injuries are inevitable, and those who typical injuries in the normal course of playing a sport cannot sue other players, coaches or schools.

Furthermore, Illinois has two laws – the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act and the Tort Liability of Schools Act – that make public schools and their employees immune from lawsuits unless the school or its employee was acting recklessly and that reckless behavior caused an injury. You may, however, be able to sue a private school or private school employee, as well as other players, if they bear some responsibility for your child’s injury.

Talk to Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers Today

It may sound as if student athletes and their families are out of luck if the athlete is injured, but it’s not entirely hopeless. Your personal injury lawyer can review the specific facts of your situation to determine whether your family has grounds for a lawsuit. And in 2013, Illinois passed a law known as Rocky’s Law, which requires public and private high schools to have insurance policies that cover student athletes in the event of a catastrophic injury suffered while participating in a school sponsored or supervised athletic event.

If a loved one has been injured while participating in a school sporting event, contact the Chicago injury attorneys at Cogan & Power, P.C. today. We will meet with your family, review the specifics of your case and help determine whether you have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.