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Can You Sue for a Sports Injury Caused By a Poor Playing Surface?

Whether you’re a professional playing at the highest level or someone enjoying a pickup game down at the park, there is always a risk of injury when we play sports. Judges and attorneys have spent countless hours over the decades determining what types of injuries are legally compensable and when players just need to accept getting hurt as part of the game.

The legal principle often raised in association with sports injury claims is “assumption of risk.” In plain language, this means that when someone voluntarily engages in a sport or some other type of physical activity, there is some inherent risk of injury that cannot be eliminated even when all parties take proper care. For example, the speed and nature of hockey means that players will occasionally be hit with an errant puck. Accordingly, the rink owner or league operator typically would not be held liable unless the injury is partly attributable to some type of negligence, such as the failure to require helmet use.

When someone is hurt because of a poor playing surface, there is a gray area. Ruts on poorly maintained baseball fields and cracks on outdoor basketball courts are not inherent to their respective sports, so plaintiffs have argued that defendants responsible for conditions such as this should not be protected by the assumption of risk doctrine.

However, the Second Department of New York’s Appellate Division upheld the dismissal of a case stemming from an injury occurring on a Merrick Union Free School District field. In this matter, a 14-year-old was throwing a football around on a grass school athletic field when he suffered a slip and fall injury after stepping into a “hole” that was described as being anywhere from two to five inches deep. In the decision, the court notes that careless landowners are not necessarily excused for injuries that occur while people play on their property, but the irregularities on the grass field in question were apparent, so that it could be said the victim voluntarily assumed the risk of playing there.

There are examples where New York defendants were held liable for sports injuries due to problematic playing surfaces. In one case, a tennis player was allowed to recover damages after snagging his foot on the hem of an indoor tennis court divider that had been torn for two years. Likewise, despite the danger of the sport, a bobsled rider prevailed because the track’s design was unsafe.

If you or your child was hurt during a recreational activity and you think someone might be at fault, the experienced New York attorneys at Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, LLP can evaluate the facts and represent you if a potential legal claim exists. We serve clients throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.