Review of Lawsuits for Sports-Related Heat Stroke or Wrongful Death
Heatstroke is a common form of injury occurring during the summer and happens when someone's body temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher while being exposed to the sun.
Temperatures throughout the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles region have set records in recent years. These extreme heatwaves have led to alerts and warnings.
If someone suffers from heatstroke and doesn't receive medical attention right away, they could face damage to their brain, kidney, heart, or other organs.
While some people find it easy to cool down their bodies by jumping into a pool or finding shade, other people, such as athletes who are practicing, are not in a position to cool down right away. If heatstroke is untreated, it could cause death.
While the weather routinely causes dehydration and other injuries, many have asked whether there are situations where an injured person from heat exposure can hold others responsible.
Heat exposure can be incredibly concerning for children and adults, especially those participating in sports or recreational activities at school or summer camp.
Injuries from heat exposure can be particularly damaging. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries due to heat exposure, you must understand what you may be dealing with and how to best address it.
There are some common examples when it's possible to hold at-fault parties responsible for heat exposure injuries. Our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys will review below.
Heatstroke Injury Case Example
In February 2021, Cal State agreed to pay nearly $40 million to a San Bernardino student who suffered heatstroke and subsequent brain injury.
The lawsuit alleged that Freeman's instructor and the university were negligent, failing to provide sufficient supervision and rest for students, to call for medical aid in a timely way, and to respond adequately with cooling measures after the heatstroke happened.
It also alleged that the university system was negligent in the hiring, retention, supervision, or training of Freeman's instructor.
What are Some of the Different Types of Heat Exposure?
There are varying degrees of concerning heat exposure-related illness. The two main ones are heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Heat exhaustion: according to the Mayo Clinic, heat exhaustion is “a condition with symptoms that include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, a result of your body overheating.” Causes can include high temperatures combined, especially with high humidity and strenuous physical activity.
- Heat stroke: the CDC describes heat stroke as the most serious of heat stress where “the body becomes unable to control its temperature: … it rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and it's unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heatstroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
Coaches and athletes need to pay close attention to signs of heat-related injuries.
Dehydration and heat exhaustion could become evident through cramps, headaches, and dizziness. Once a player develops any symptoms that might be suffering from heat exhaustion, they could suffer a heatstroke.
So, what exactly happens when someone gets sick from heat exposure? Can the school or coaches be held liable?
You should consult with a personal injury lawyer who can give you information about the legal implications when a young athlete sustains heat-related injuries during a school training program.
The school or coaches might be liable if they failed to protect an athlete from the dangers of heat exhaustion, such as holding practices during heatwave warnings from authorities.
The administrators of a school athletic program could also be potentially liable if they ignore a player's complaints and continue to push them during practice.
Further, they could be held responsible for not providing medical assistance or calling an emergency team when symptoms are severe.
What are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion symptoms may be the ones that are most associated with high temperatures. Some of the symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps,
- Heavy sweating.
Heatstroke, on the other hand, has more severe symptoms, such as:
- Slurred speech or other indicators of a different mental state,
- Very heavy sweating,
- Liver failure,
- And even death,
When heat stroke occurs, many of the symptoms result from the central nervous system not working properly.
Heat stroke must be taken care of promptly, beginning with decreasing the core body temperature as quickly as possible. If not treated promptly, the damage can be long-term and result in brain injury and organ failure.
Are You Entitled to Financial Compensation?
If you or a loved one has suffered from heatstroke or heat exhaustion due to over-exertion or negligence on the part of an instructor or director, you may be entitled to compensation.
The Cal State case above demonstrates that the effects of heatstroke can have a significant long-term financial impact.
Medical treatment and care can be very expensive, and that is not something that should be on your mind while you're trying to navigate an already stressful circumstance.
A skilled attorney will be able to help determine whether or not you have a potential case.
How is Negligence Determined?
According to California state law, negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to an individual. Gross negligence is more serious than ordinary negligence but not as severe as recklessness.
The distinction between gross and ordinary negligence is whether or not the defendant's behavior was “extreme.”
California Civil Jury Instructions 425 defines gross negligence as:
- “the lack of care or an extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation to prevent harm. A person could be grossly negligent by acting or by failing to act.”
To establish negligence (gross or ordinary), the plaintiff must prove that the:
- Defendant had an actual duty of care to the individual;
- Defendant breached (failed to follow through on) that duty;
- Plaintiff's injury was caused by the breach; and
- The injuries resulted in damages.
Occasionally the defense will attempt to prove that the plaintiff was responsible for the injury. This is outlined in California Civil Jury Instructions 405, which discusses the “comparative fault” of the plaintiff.
What this means in practice is that whether a plaintiff holds some fault or not, they can still attempt to recover damages if they are due them.
The Challenge for a Plaintiff
Parents of injured athletes due to heat exposure could find it challenging to file a lawsuit against a school or the coach.
Courts are aware that injuries are risks that are naturally inherent to sports and some laws protect some sports injuries and these institutions that will not favor the plaintiff.
In certain personal injury cases, insurance company representatives will contact the plaintiff and attempt to persuade them to accept an early settlement offer.
However, when there is significant evidence of negligence, such as similar testimony from other athletes, then the school or coaches could be held liable for injuries from heat exposure.
If you are seeking to file a personal injury lawsuit for negligence in a heat exposure case, then contact our firm to review the details and legal options.
Injury Justice Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County and we offer a free case evaluation at (818) 781-1570 or fill out our contact form.