With the NFL lockout still going full force, our attention turns to the NHL playoffs, NBA playoffs and the still new baseball season.  While most people wouldn’t consider baseball a violent sport (save for issues with broken bats), many would consider football and hockey to be “violent sports.”  Historically, courts would rule that consenting to play in these violent sports would bar a plaintiff from filing any type of lawsuit related to injuries suffered.  However, courts have changed their rulings and have found that when a player intentionally attacks or injures his opponent he might be liable for medical bills and injuries.

The classic case, Hackbert v. Cincinnati Bengals, where Booby Clark hit Hackbart on the back of the head and neck with his forearm, knocking him to the ground.  This hit wasn’t in relation to a tackle or an integral part of the game, rather Clark claimed he was frustrated by the fact his team was losing.  Hackbart was actually able to sue for his injuries because the rules of professional football expressly prohibit, “striking on the head, face or neck with…the hand…[or] forearm…”

Should Athletes Be Able To Sue Over Any Injury?

Almost every game has basic rules.  Even violent sports have rules preventing certain actions (like “launching” yourself into a defenseless receiver).  However, courts have been reluctant to allow an athlete to recover for negligent or reckless rule violations.  This is especially true when someone is injured as a “…result from the customarily accepted method of playing the sport.”  For example, while fighting in hockey is a violation of the rules, it is generally accepted that fighting may occur during a game.

Obviously, if any type of injury could bring a lawsuit, there wouldn’t be a single professional sports program.  For many, the defense of “assumption of the risk” will clear the athlete for his actions.  The court may look at the rules of the sport and customary ways the game is played in order to decided if an athlete assumed the risk of rule violations by his fellow competitors.  An example is when Ben, a jockey, is riding a horse in a race against Wendy.  Wendy rides her horse in such a way that Ben’s horse is cut off and jostled, throwing Ben to the ground.  Unfortunately, Ben’s injuries are serious and he may never walk again.  Ben, being upset, sues Wendy for his injuries under the theory that she was “foul riding” which is a violation of the racing rules.  The court would actually rule in Wendy’s favor since Ben assumed the risk that he would be cut off.