When Can You Sue a School or Athletic Organization for Your Child’s Sports Injury?

By Larry Bodine Publisher of The National Trial Lawyers

With the World Cup capturing attention worldwide, student athletes and parents may be surprised to learn that soccer is the second most dangerous sport for young people to play. Each year, more than 3.5 million children suffer severe sports-related injuries from soccer and other games that require medical attention, according to Safe Kids USA. Playing soccer can cause traumatic brain injury from head blows from colliding with another player in the air, a hard fall, or hitting their head on a goalpost. Evidence is mounting that the “header,” which is a move that occurs when a player redirects the ball in flight with his or her head, can also lead to traumatic brain injury. Also common are anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and overuse injuries of the leg, like shin splints and stress fractures. Sometimes the danger is worsened by an organization or school’s negligent supervision of a sport, including overtraining of the athletes or use of defective equipment.

Most dangerous sports

In a study in the journal Pediatrics, football is ranked as the most dangerous youth sport. It has the highest concussion rate in children and adolescents. Football players also have a higher chance of knee and ankle injuries. Lacrosse ranked third on Pediatrics’ concussion list. Head and face injuries, including concussions, result from collisions with other players or the ground. For girls, unintentional stick or ball contact accounts for most concussions. Wrestling also has one of the highest rates of concussions for kids. Other common wrestling injuries include cauliflower ear (caused by severe bruising of the ear) and knee and shoulder injuries. Injuries to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) or lateral collateral ligament (LCL) to the knee can result when the leg is twisted outward. Surprisingly, cheerleading is the fifth most dangerous youth sport. Cheerleaders get hurt doing complex, athletic tumbling passes and aerial stunts. Cheerleading injuries to the wrists, shoulders, ankles, head, and neck make up more than half of the catastrophic injuries in female athletes.

Waiver and Consent Forms

Prior to participating in youth athletics most parents or guardians are asked to sign a mandatory consent waiver as a condition to their child participating in the activity. These forms prevent you from suing the school or athletic league for “ordinary negligence,” which means injuries arising from inherent risks in the sport. Examples of inherent risk include:

  • Football – injuries sustained as the result of a false start or tackle made after the whistle blew.
  • Basketball – collapsing from wind sprints or other training exercises because the student didn’t take asthma medication or experienced dehydration from forgetting to drink before practice.
  • Baseball – a foul ball that hits a player in the face while sitting in the dugout.

When Are Schools or Organizations Liable?

The school or sports organization is, however, responsible for risks that are not inherent to the sport, regardless of a signed form. Institutions cannot exempt themselves from all liability for injuries among student athletes. When injuries are caused by activities not inherent to the sport then you should consider speaking to a lawyer.

A Colorado jury awarded $11.5 million in 2013 in a lawsuit brought against helmet maker Riddell and several high school administrators and football coaches over brain injuries suffered by teenager Rhett Ridolfi. The jury found that Riddell was negligent in failing to warn people wearing its helmets about concussion dangers. The Ridolfi family sued Riddell and his coaches after the boy suffered a concussion in a high school football practice. He wasn’t immediately taken to the hospital and now has severe brain damage, as well as paralysis on his left side.

Elsewhere, a jury in Tampa, Fla., awarded more than $800,000 in 2011 to the family of an Alonso High School baseball player who died during a preseason workout nearly seven years earlier. Matthew M. Miulli, then 17, had a dangerous heart condition but was cleared to participate in conditioning workouts. He collapsed after running a mile on the high school track and was declared dead at a local hospital from congenital aortic valve disease.

Schools and sports organization can be held responsible for failing to remedy a known, dangerous condition promptly, such as a dangerous stone on a soccer field, damaged equipment like cracked helmets or a ceiling leak that creates a slippery gym floor. Similarly, ignoring state-mandated safety procedures after an injury like a concussion or other trauma, will give rise to liability, as does excessive training of student athletes that goes beyond reasonable methods. Like the list of prevention factors above, each of these examples is fact specific. You should consult a lawyer if you suspect that your child has sustained an injury because a coach or institution created or contributed to unexpected risks.


Larry Bodine is a lawyer and journalist. Currently he is the publisher of the National Trial Lawyers and is the former Editor in Chief of Lawyers.com. Readers can follow @Larrybodine on Twitter, on Google+ and on LinkedIn, where he moderates several marketing groups.