Whether one has a valid claim for injuries involving sports involves many factors. Most commonly in Illinois there is a web work of numerous immunities for persons supervising or engaged in sporting activities through schools[i] or at public facilities used for recreational purposes[ii] (swimming pools, parks, bike paths, playgrounds, etc.), each of which have special provisions limiting the ability of an injured persons right to recover. Generally, but not always[iii] one can recover for willful and wanton or intentional conduct.
There are two categories of plaintiffs (persons who are bringing a suit) for sporting injuries sports for purposes of liability under Illinois law. The two categories are participants and spectators. Illinois courts have held that “merely watching a football game, as a spectator, from behind a wall” does not make the injured person the same as the participants in the game.[iv] Spectator injuries are governed by the rule of reasonableness given that there are inherent risks in merely observing sporting contests.
For participant injuries the type of sport involved is very important. Illinois recognizes three general categories of sports non contact sports such as downhill skiing[v] and golf[vi], contact sports such as softball and floor hockey[vii], and “full contact sports” such as ice hockey and tackle football where bodily contact is not merely an expected byproduct of the game; it is an objective. The test to determine whether a sport is non-contact or contact “is on whether, in reality, physical contact occurs on a regular basis, i.e. whether it is "part and parcel" of the sport.”[viii] In full contact sports players “deliberately set out to engage in physical contact with their opponents, and subject them to the risk of physical injury, by tackling them, ramming them, or body checking them.”[ix] “[I]n full-contact sports, a conscious disregard for the safety of the opposing player is inherent in the game, as all the participants fully understand before they skate into the rink or set foot on the field.”[x]
The law looks upon participants differently than spectators for a number of reasons, participants in contact sports have an expectation or understanding--perhaps even an implied agreement among themselves--that the game they voluntarily were going to play would involve bodily contact, including bodily contact that was negligent.”[xi] One reason for this rule is that physical contact between contestants is an essential part of contact sports, and injuries from such contact are to be expected as an intrinsic risk related to playing a contact sport.[xii] Another similarly significant rationale is the desire to avoid a "chilling effect" on the way contact sports are played so as not to discourage "vigorous participation" in a sport or essentially change the way it is played.[xiii] This analysis extends to the way coaches and referees enforce the rules and protection for their conduct as well.
Separate and apart from claims based for contact injuries claims for injuries may be brought for unsafe conditions of the facilities or equipment that are used.[xiv]
Illinois courts have adopted a "zone of danger" analysis requiring a golfer to exercise ordinary care for the safety of persons reasonably within the range of danger of being struck by the ball.[xv]
Given the many immunities and hurdles in establishing liability for a sports related injuries generally only very serious injuries merit consideration. If you have an inquiry about a serious sports related injury please feel free to give us a call.
[i] Tort Immunity Act §3-109, §3-108(a), and §2-201, Murray v. Chicago Youth Center, (Ill. 2007) 864 N.E.2d 176, 224 Ill.2d 213
[ii] 745 ILCS 10/3-106
[iii] Henrich v. Libertyville High School, 186 Ill.2d 381, 238 Ill.Dec. 576, 712 N.E.2d 298 (1998) where the Illinois Supreme Court held that a public (as opposed to a private school) was absolutely immunized where its teacher forced a student to engage in water basket ball although they were aware that the student had a spinal fusion and his surgeon told him that he was permanently restricted from participating in contact sports during his high school physical education class. The statute upon which that decision was based was amended shortly after that decision. 745 ILCS 10/3-108. Amended by P.A. 90-805, § 5, eff. Dec. 2, 1998.
[iv] Pickel v. Springfield Stallions, Inc., (Ill.App. 4 Dist. 2010) 926 N.E.2d 877, 398 Ill.App.3d 1063
[v] Novak v. Virene, 224 Ill.App.3d 317, 320-21, 166 Ill.Dec. 620, 586 N.E.2d 578 (1991)
[vi] Zurla v. Hydel, 289 Ill.App.3d 215, 224 Ill.Dec. 166, 681 N.E.2d 148 (1997)
[vii] Keller v. Mols, 156 Ill.App.3d 235, 237, 108 Ill.Dec. 888, 509 N.E.2d 584 (1987)
[viii] Lang v. Silva, (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 1999) 715 N.E.2d 708, 306 Ill.App.3d 960
[ix] Pickel v. Springfield Stallions, Inc., (Ill.App. 4 Dist. 2010) 926 N.E.2d 877, 398 Ill.App.3d 1063
[xii] Karas v. Strevell, 227 Ill.2d 440, 452, 318 Ill.Dec. 567, 884 N.E.2d 122, 130 (2008).
[xiv] McGurk v. Lincolnway Community School District No. 210, 287 Ill.App.3d 1059, 223 Ill.Dec. 127, 679 N.E.2d 71 (1997); and Lynch v. Board of Education of Collinsville Community Unit District No. 10, 82 Ill.2d 415, 434-35, 45 Ill.Dec. 96, 412 N.E.2d 447 (1980).
[xv] Zurla v. Hydel, 289 Ill.App.3d 215, 224 Ill.Dec. 166, 681 N.E.2d 148 (1997); see also Liability to One Struck by a Golf Ball, 53 A.L.R.4th 282, 289 (1987).
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