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New York High Court Retains Assumption of Risk Doctrine for High School Athletes

April 28, 2023

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<p style="text-align: justify;">With spring baseball in full swing, in a consolidated decision issued April 27, 2023, the <a href="">NY</a> Court of Appeals recently considered whether high school athletes across the state assume the risk of potential injury when they participate in high school athletics. Over two dissents, the Court retained the longstanding primary assumption of risk doctrine in the limited context of athletic and recreative activities, applying it two different cases in which a high school athlete was injured, leading to litigation against their coaches and school districts.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;"><em>In Secky v. New Paltz Central School District</em>, the Court affirmed summary judgment for a coach and school district after a student suffered an injury during a rebounding drill at basketball practice. In the drill the coach eliminated the boundary lines of the court. The plaintiff was injured when he chased a loose ball towards the bleachers and collided with another player, causing him to fall into the retracted bleachers and injuring his shoulder. The trial court denied defendants’ motion, but the Appellate Division reversed, holding that no fact question existed because the elimination of the boundary lines “did not unreasonably increase the inherent risks” for the player. The Court affirmed summary judgment for defendants because the injury was inherent in the sport of basketball and the risk of collision with the bleachers, an open and obvious item near a court, was inherent in playing on that court.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em>Grady v. Chenango Valley Central School District</em>, the Court examined whether a creative drill during a baseball practice was as safe as it appeared to be such that plaintiff assumed the risk. In a complicated drill, two coaches hit balls to infielders, one at third base and another at shortstop. The third baseman would throw to first base, and the shortstop would throw to a second baseman, who then threw to a player at a differently positioned first base (“short first base”) several feet away from regulation first base. Coaches placed a 7x7 protective screen between the two different first bases, but the screen did not protect plaintiff’s eye when he was hit by an errant throw. Because multiple balls were thrown in the same direction and separated by a relatively small protective screen, the Court could not hold as a matter of law that the drill was as safe as it appeared to be. The Court reversed summary judgment for defendants, holding that a jury should decide whether the drill uniquely presented a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in baseball and whether the player’s awareness of risks inherent to baseball and team practice encompassed the risks from this unique drill.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Abed Bhuyan for his contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.</p>


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