Assumption of Risk Doctrine in NY Sports Injury Cases: Recent New York Court of Appeals Decisions
Updated: Jun 14
Are you a sports enthusiast in the five boroughs of New York City who's been injured during a game or practice? Or perhaps you're a parent whose child has suffered an injury during a school sports event? If so, you might be wondering about your legal rights and whether you can seek compensation for your injuries. Today, we're going to discuss two recent decisions from the New York Court of Appeals that shed light on the legal landscape of sports injury liability.
The Facts Behind the Cases
In two separate incidents, high school students were seriously injured during sports practices. Mr. Secky, a basketball player who had played at the highest amateur student level, was injured during a unique drill at New Paltz Central School District. The drill involved players competing to retrieve a rebound, with the boundary lines of the court not in play and only major fouls being called. During the drill, Secky pursued a loose ball from the top of the key towards the retracted bleachers. Another player collided with him, causing Secky to fall into the bleachers and sustain an injury to his right shoulder. Secky, through his mother, sued the coach and the school district for his injuries.
In the Grady case, Kevin Grady, a senior on the Chenango Valley High School varsity baseball team, was injured during a fast-moving, intricate drill. The drill involved two coaches hitting balls to players stationed in the infield, with one coach hitting to the third baseman, who would then throw to first base, while another coach hit to the shortstop, who would throw to the second baseman who would, in turn, throw to a player at “short first base,” positioned a few feet from regulation first base. Because the drill required baseballs from two parts of the infield to be thrown to two players in the same area by first base, the coaches had positioned a protective screen, measuring seven by seven, between the regulation first baseman and the short first baseman. Despite these precautions, Grady was injured when an errant ball, intended for the short first baseman, bypassed the short first baseman and the protective screen and hit him on the right side of his face, causing serious injury to his eye, including significant vision loss. Grady sued his coaches and the school district for his injuries.
The Legal Journey: From Supreme Court to Court of Appeals
Both students sued their respective schools and coaches for their injuries. The defendants sought summary judgment, which the Supreme Court granted in both cases. The students appealed these decisions, but the Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's rulings. Undeterred, the students took their cases to the New York Court of Appeals.
The Role of Assumption of Risk Doctrine in Sports Injury Cases
The Court of Appeals' decisions in these cases hinged on the primary assumption of risk doctrine. This legal principle suggests that individuals who participate in a sport willingly accept the inherent and obvious dangers of that sport. The doctrine can be traced back to ancient Rome and was famously articulated by Judge Cardozo. The doctrine was codified in New York law with the enactment of the comparative fault regime of CPLR article 14 in 1975, specifically in the context of athletic and recreational activities.
How the Court Distinguished the Two Cases
In the Secky case, the Court ruled that the modifications to the rules of the drill (removal of the boundary line and calling of major fouls only) did not unreasonably increase the inherent risks of playing basketball. The Court specifically highlighted that Secky was injured due to a "collision", which, according to a previous holding, was inherent in playing basketball. Essentially, the Court found that the circumstances of Secky's injury fell within the expected risks of the sport and that the modification to the rules was not unique and/or created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in basketball.
On the other hand, the Court's decision in the Grady case was different. The Court held that it would be up to a jury to decide whether the manner in which the drill was run (use of multiple baseballs in a contained area of the field with a small protective screen as protection) "was unique and created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent” in baseball (Owen v R.J.S. Safety Equip., 79 NY2d 967, 970 ). This suggests that the Court found potential for the argument that the drill's setup may have unreasonably increased the inherent risks of the sport.
These decisions highlight the Court's nuanced approach to the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine, taking into account the specific circumstances and setup of each sport or drill.
What Does This Mean for Your Sports Injury Case?
These cases underscore the complexity of sports injury liability in New York. If you or a loved one has been injured during a sports event in the five boroughs, it's crucial to consult with a seasoned personal injury lawyer who can navigate these complexities and fight for your rights.
Yassi Law specializes in personal injury cases, including sports injuries. We understand the nuances of New York law and have a proven track record of helping our clients secure the compensation they deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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