Sports injury lawsuits, particularly at the prep level, frequently are dismissed after depositions.


High schools hit with a sports injury lawsuit enjoy inherent, institutional advantages that help keep such cases from being settled in favor of the plaintiff - or even from going to trial. An injured student-athlete often is unable to prove negligence on the part of a coach, administrator or school, either because case precedent has already been established in the defendant's favor or, perhaps most significantly, existing state and federal statutes protect schools and their employees.

For example, the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year upheld a lower court's ruling that Brittany Noffke, a high school cheerleader who was injured when she fell from the top of a formation during practice, could not sue the school district for her coach's alleged lack of supervision. Cheerleading is covered by the state's recreational immunity statute, which limits a school's liability for an injury sustained by someone engaging in an athletic or recreational activity on school property.

To cite another instance, in 2007, high school basketball player Tracey Yatsko, who sustained head injuries as the result of an on-court collision, lost her federal lawsuit against her coaches and the school district. She claimed they violated her constitutional right to be free from "harm to her bodily integrity and health," pursuant to Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. The only way the school and its coaches could have been held liable, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled, would be if they had been acting under an official policy or custom.

John Hochfelder, a White Plains, N.Y.-based personal injury lawyer who has been practicing law for more than 30 years, is one plaintiff's attorney who would wholeheartedly agree with the courts' decisions in both of those cases. "Personal injury lawyers are often asked, 'Can I sue?'" he recently wrote in his law blog at "I always answer, 'Yes, of course.' But the real question is whether the inquiring plaintiff will win, and in school sports injury lawsuits, the answer is almost always, 'No way.'"

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Hochfelder also uses his blog (which he claims is read by potential clients and both plaintiff's and defense lawyers), to question why other attorneys take on sports injury cases involving minimal injuries and with little hope of proving fault on the defendants' part. "I'm not interested in taking sides," he says. "Although, frankly, if I had to take sides in these sports injury cases, more often than not I would be on the defense's side. Ridiculous lawsuits do nobody any good."

Sports injury lawsuits - especially at the high school level - frequently are dismissed after depositions, without a settlement and monetary gain for the injured student-athlete. By then, though, it's quite possible that the defense could already have spent thousands of dollars on hourly lawyer fees, while the plaintiff would have doled out plenty for depositions (which might cost between $200 and $500 each, Hochfelder estimates). Plus, both sides also may have hired investigators and doctors.

Hochfelder, a former youth baseball coach-turned-attorney and college baseball scout, learned his lesson several years ago while handling a case involving a high school soccer player who was punched in the face by an opponent and suffered a broken jaw. The case was settled during the deposition phase. "While it's pretty traumatic for a kid to have his jaw wired shut for six weeks, it's not the kind of thing that, even assuming a complete victory, makes it worth the cost of going to trial," Hochfelder says.

Which brings up another point: Many sports injury lawsuits also lack merit. The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, in 2009 agreed with a lower court's decision to grant summary judgment to a school district that was sued by Tatiana Saracino, who suffered a nose injury during a floor hockey game in a high school physical education class. The court concurred that "there are insufficient facts in the record" to satisfy the state's threshold for recovering damages. That threshold includes "permanent loss of a bodily function, permanent disfigurement or dismemberment where the medical treatment expenses are in excess of $3,600."

As the courts like to say, injuries are part of the inherent risk associated with a given athletic activity. But when someone does get hurt, especially a minor, the blame game starts. Parents, frustrated with and angry at the circumstances, often seek comfort in the deep pockets of a school district's insurance company. "It really doesn't matter what the injury is," Hochfelder says. "We're in the era of no responsibility. So people think, 'Hey, my kid was injured, and somebody's at fault.' That's the philosophy that permeates society today. If I tripped and fell, I'd feel like an idiot. I wouldn't think of suing somebody."

But many other people do - despite the long odds of the case actually making it to trial or reaching a settlement. "Once those depositions are done, the defense is usually in a position to petition the judge for summary judgment, saying to the judge, 'Here's the summons of complaint, here are the transcripts of the depositions we've taken, and here is the law,'" Hochfelder says. "If the defense wins that motion, the case is now over unless the plaintiff feels he has grounds for an appeal. But if the defense loses the motion, that doesn't mean the school's case got weaker or the plaintiff's case got stronger; it just means that a single judge out there decided to let the case go to trial."

Once a case goes to trial and the wheels of justice start spinning, both defendant and plaintiff are at the mercy of judge and jury. Hochfelder suggests that administrators at a school in which a student-athlete has suffered a personal injury work fast to avoid a lawsuit in the first place. His advice? Be nice.

"It begins at the very beginning, and I'm not talking about preventing the injury, because that's part of practicing good safety," he says. "But when the injury happens, everybody at the school is nervous and afraid of a lawsuit. If the school and the coaches would express remorse about the injury and communicate with the family, I think you'd see fewer lawsuits. That's sometimes what people want. But everybody gets lawyered up so quickly and is afraid to say anything that walls get built immediately. I would bring down those walls a bit."

My child got injure while a competition in his HS. He has a fracture. I can understand that the risk exists but the child is brain wash to defend his school title; the chant, the scream to push him to win. This children are giving their life to obtain trophies for the school. They should be treated as worker and compesation should be provided under worker compesation since they are working to get a trophy for the school. I feel my child was used and now I being left alone to deal with the problem. I have to drive him every where. I'm afraid to leave him alone because I see his depression. His grades are dropping. He lost the chance to win a scholarship because it is hard to be yourself while one is in pain and waiting a cast. This children should be treated as worker and be compensated no matter whose fault it is. My case is in the BRONX, NY. Any interest lawyer please contact me.
I think she is right!! (Damajusta) I belive that school should be like the work place if you were to get hurt at work most of the time your work will take care of the medical. It should be the same way with school and HS sports if you get hurt during school or school grounds (such as in school or school sports) your school should be the one who gets the medical bill your are there working to either better yourself for college or trying to get a scholarships. I got hurt in football my senior year of HS i got a really bad concussion and the EMT told my parents to take me to go get my head looked at and so they did and i had a MRI done. And i took insurance threw the HS as well so we all thought they would take the bill or most of it anyways. So the HS was getting the bills for my MRI ( it was about 6,000+ that i found out later and they paid $500 of it that i found out today this was back in 07). Well now they are after me for me to pay the rest of it and they froze my bank account and took 3,500 of my money and still want more. They never sent me the bill but when i asked where the bills were sent it was the HS they were sending it to and the HS never thought of telling me or anything. So now im faced with no money my credit is now bad as well for it was collections who took my money and im still faced with paying more. I have a family of my own now and i just dont know what to do. I would like to go after the HS and have them pay the rest of the bill and get my money that was taken from me! Like i said before school is the work place for kids to better them self in life and to get ready for what is coming at them! Not to flip the bill on some one who got hurt on there grounds who played for them! Just like every work place if you get hurt at work your work will compensate you ( as in pay for you to get treatment ). Why wouldnt a HS. So do you think i have a case here! contact me and let me know what you think!
UM, are you willing to pay double or triple [property taxes for the insurance coverage the high schools would have to pay for. Colleges with football programs, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, just in premiums. Double that for a HS which may have 150 - 200 kids out for football alone. Even at the college level, where most collages provide some coverage, it is a supplemental insurance. Which means, mom and dads insurance is billed 1st, and then what ever is left, is mostly covered. Schools could potentially be driving the districts into bankruptcy, if they had to cover the costs for the athletic injuries.
You people are taking it way to far!!!! I do NOT think any parent should be able to sue a school because their child was hurt during a school atheletic event!!! However, I do believe that the school should have some kind of insurance to cover our out of pocket costs. My daughter tore her ACL during a Lacrosse game and all I ever asked for was for the school to cover my Insurance deductibles. Now, if you calculate the rehab time for ACL repair you are easily looking at 6-8 months of rehab 3-4 times a week @ 30.00 co-pay each visit. Thats about $360.00 a month @ 8 months =2,880.00. The cost of my out of pocket expenses were approximately 4500.00!!
I don't know what happens in other states, but in mine you are required to have insurance in order to play a sport. Students are covered by the school's insurance as a secondary source of coverage, but it is generally not advertised. What you need to understand is that the forms you must fill out at the beginning of the season have statements to protect the school and the state athletic association from liability. You and/or your parent/guardian sign that you understand the risk associated with sports and give permission for the athlete to play anyways. In which case, you assume liability. Unless you have any reason to suspect neglect or other inappropriate behavior, there is no reason for you to be upset or to go after the school. You or your child wanted to play the sport. Sports are a privilege provided to the athlete. You can't compare that to workers' compensation, and you can't expect the school to take care of every need for your child, athlete or not. That is your responsibility as a parent.
@ TheBears. OK, lets provide supplemental coverage. Who then provides the primary coverage if the student doesn't have primary coverage. At any given high school, on average1/3 of the athletes won't have insurance. Does the school then cover that athlete 100%. What then happens? Is it fair for the school to cover 100% for some but not others? I know some primary coverages also specifically excludes athletic injuries. So that further increases the burden on the schools. Again, the schools insurance premium would be at least $100,000, then add the actual payouts for the bills (i.e. $500, $1000 deductible, if $0 deductible, then premiums will triple), you could easily be looking at somewhere between $200,000-$300,000 per year. That is the cost to run 2-6 sports programs. Which ones are going to be cut to cover that extra cost? Not sure myself what the answer is, but i feel that schools just can't afford to provide the insurance coverage to the athletes.
Participation in high school sports is voluntary, you are making a decision to allow your child to play. There are inherent risks associated with participation in athletics up to and including serious injury and death. So how about some personal responsibility? You made the decision to allow your child to participate, you need to live with the fallout of that decision. Freedom of decision means being responsible for the consequences of those decisions. If you can't afford to pay for the cost of a potential injury then don't make the decision to participate.
My son is captain of his HS varsity baseball team and was playing a home game on 4/21/11. In his 1st at bat, he got a base hit. In his second a bat, the pitcher beaned him in the head with a fastball. He now has a concussion. On browsing the opponents school website the coach commended his pitcher, "Starting pitcher (kid name) possessed solid command for all six innings". I believe it may have been intentional. My son has headaches and his computer test results aren't the same as they were prior to the injury. As a parent, what can I do to hold the school reponsible for hurting my son?
There is no way high school - or college - athletes should be treated as if any injury is workers comp! I am an athletic trainer at a NCAA Div 1 University - we cover injury costs for our student-athletes AFTER the insurance for the parents covers as primary. We pay any deductibles, co-pays, etc so there is no out-of-pocket cost to the student-athlete and/or his/her family --- for injuries that occurred during athletics only! We have a secondary insurance that covers excess costs beyond the student-athlete's primary insurance. (BTW, our premium is in excess of $125k annually with $1500 deductible per occurrence...not cheap!) As far as the "Can I sue?" attitude regarding sports injuries...can you prove negligence on the part of anyone? Many sports injuries occur in the normal participation in sports! It is a risk you (or your son/daughter) ASSUMES in order to participate. You can't honestly believe that you will be able to play sports for XX number of years and NEVER have an injury, can you?
As a student of Athletic Administration(Masters) I was perusing the internet in search of reference material on this subject and found this sight. There are inherient risks to playing sports. That is a choice and risk that the student and parent take to participate. However, if there was negligence and the ACL lacrosse play doesn't pan. Negligence is not a viable reason to sue a school and most public entitiy can not be sue or can not be sued over a certain amount. If you bring a suit filing negligence then 4 factors must be proven and it doesn't seem like any of the above fit the "iintentional negligence tort" requirements. Sorrry. Now as a educator in a urban school district who is tired of everyone blaming someone for their mistakes and renigging orn their responsbility. Grow up and be a real parent and stop showing your kids how to get by in life without learning responsibility. I understand you are angry. Your kid was hurty. I am too, my daughter was a victim of negligence that cause her to hit her head on a bulk head of a swimming pool due to the coaches in-ept and negligence of making sure the backstroke flags were legally positioned at the right distance. (concussion and loss of practice time with her club team, don't really care about the high school team) My kid will NOT be swimming on the HS team this year because of this coaches negligence BUT I don't think I can prove all 4 requirements and the coach is protected as an employee and the school is protected as a public enitity. Good luck proving it. Back to my sports law paper.