Injuries Sustained in Recreational Sporting Events – Who Can Be Held Liable?

Posted in Injury Law

Springtime has finally arrived in full force, and the frozen days and nights of the past winter are quickly becoming a distant memory. After months of being stranded inside our homes, we are finally back outdoors, enjoying the beautiful weather in many different ways. One popular warm weather activity for men and women and boys and girls is participating in team sport activities, such as softball and baseball. An unfortunate byproduct of participation in sporting activities can be injury, and injuries received as a result of the actions of co-participants in a recreational sports setting are the subject of today’s blog.

There is a mistaken belief that a participant in a recreational sporting activity is immune from a claim from a fellow participant.  It is thought that there is an assumption of the risk of injury by the injured party, and there is no responsibility on the party causing the harm because of this. There is also a mistaken belief that an enhanced level of negligence is required to find liability on a person in this same setting. This means that something more than mere negligence, such as recklessness or willful or wanton disregard for the rights of others, is needed to bring such a claim.  Both of these beliefs are incorrect.

The New Jersey Supreme Court, in adopting the Appellate Division opinion in Crawn v. Campo,  136 N.J. 494 (1994) held that the standard of care to be applied to claims resulting from injuries sustained in recreational sporting events is ordinary negligence.  A co-participant who creates only risks that are “normal” or “ordinary” to the sport acts as a ‘reasonable person of ordinary prudence under the circumstances. If the co-participant creates an unreasonably great risk, he is negligent. In practical application, this means that foreseeable injuries that occur within the bounds of ordinary participation in the sport will not subject an actor to liability. For example, an unintentional collision on the basepaths between a fielder and a runner may not be unreasonable or unforeseen, and can be seen as an event incident to the ordinary course of a baseball or softball game. But when a participant acts unreasonably – doing something that shouldn’t be done, for example – liability may attach.