Heads up! NJ Appellate Division Holds That An Injured Plaintiff Need Not Establish Reckless Conduct On The Part Of Her Field Hockey Coach (NJ)
A recent decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division held that a student-athlete does not have to prove reckless conduct on the part of her coach to sue the coach and the board of education. See Dennehy v. East Windsor Regional Board of Education.
In this instant case, the girls’ field hockey team were performing corner drills while the other members of the team were observing the drills from a “safe area” behind a ball stopper. At that time, the boys’ soccer team was practicing on the adjacent field and plaintiff observed several soccer balls vault the ball stopper. After the team had finished the corner drills, plaintiff asked her coach if she could take a shot on goal. The coach agreed because plaintiff, who was the goalie, rarely had an opportunity to take a shot on goal. Plaintiff left the area directly behind the ball stopper. Plaintiff was then struck in the back of the neck by a soccer ball.
The trial court, of course, granted summary judgment, holding that case law required plaintiff to show that the coach engaged in reckless conduct. The appellate division reversed, reasoning that recklessness is the standard when the alleged tortfeasor is a co-participant in the sport. The Court distinguished the instant matter on that basis as here the coach was not a participant.
This case is a good illustration of how an innocuous “instruction” by a coach led to tort liability on behalf of the school district. Nonetheless, this illustrates that Courts will occasionally bend over backwards to allow suits with minors to survive.
Thanks to Michael Noblett for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions, please email Matthew Care