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Sports Injuries - Some Risks are Still Assumed (NY)

March 10, 2017

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One piece of common sense courts tend to follow is that people usually assume the risks inherent in the games they play.  Whether it’s a hockey player who might slip on the ice or a gymnast who might fall off the rings, people cannot expect to recover in a court of law just because they hurt themselves while playing a sport.  Liability attaches when a property owner fails to correct risks outside the scope of a given activity.
A recent First Department decision should provide a degree of comfort to property owners whose facilities host multiple sports.  In <em><a href="">Egbebemwen v. Nerw York City Department of Education</a>, </em>the plaintiff was a 15 year old boy who injured himself on a wrestling mat after trying to dunk a basketball.  Though the mat was a few feet out of bounds, the plaintiff argued the defendant was negligent by leaving the mat so close to the court.
The First Department rejected this argument, and held that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment, because the plaintiff was aware of the mat, and that it posed a tripping hazard.  In other words, the risk was open and obvious.
On a personal note, this facts pattern reminds me of a similar situation when I was a junior at Regis High School.  While playing basketball, I sustained a high ankle sprain when my classmates and I neglected to move a small hockey goal from underneath the backboard in our lower gym.   Predictably, I landed awkwardly on the goal and badly sprained my ankle.  Adding insult to injury, I didn't secure the rebound.  Ah, I can still hear the sympathetic cries of one of my classmates:  "Sub!  I'm in for Gibbons, he's down!"  Men for Others, indeed.  (No, there was no insurance claim or lawsuit.  In fact, I think we were reprimanded for being careless and damaging the goal.  The good ol' days.)
Despite this decision, property owners should still take care to properly maintain their facilities.  In <em>Egbebemwen, </em>the Court was careful to note that the Plaintiff had observed the dangerous conditions before.  While a plaintiff who is aware of risk may be barred from recovery by assuming the risk, there may have been a different outcome if a newcomer to the facility had fallen to the mat.      Thanks to Mike Gauvin for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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