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Who’s Responsible for School Sports Injuries?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jan 06, 2024

When students participate in school sports, you anticipate the early morning and late-night practices, the travel games, and worry over the snack parent rotation. While every sport involves some risks of injury, rarely do you worry about who is responsible for that injury if your child gets hurt before signing them up to play. 

But, if school officials do not create safe environments for these practices or games, and your child is injured, you may be able to pursue legal action.

How to File a Lawsuit for School Sports Injuries
A student-athlete may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for injuries based on negligence.

Suppose a student is injured during a school sports activity, such as practice or a game. In that case, the liability might fall on several parties. Teachers, coaches, and school administrators generally have a duty of care to their students. When they fail to follow their duty of care, which results in an injury, they might be liable for damages.

The school district might also be liable for unsafe conditions on school property. For example, suppose the school does not correctly keep school property in a reasonably safe condition, causing an accident. In that case, the school may be liable under premises liability laws.

Suppose a coach, manager, trainer, or teacher was negligent in causing the injury. Then, the school district may still be liable for damages. Respondeat Superior laws say an employer can be held vicariously responsible for the negligence of their employees.

Frequently, schools have parents sign waivers to allow their children to participate in school sports. While schools can exempt themselves from inherent risks related to school sports, they may not force you to waive all risks not inherent to the sport.

Parents must usually sign a waiver of liability form before their child can participate in a school sport or other activity. These waivers, known as “consent forms,” prevent you from filing a lawsuit against the school due to a student injury from ordinary negligence. Notably, however, certain types of risk cannot be waived because they are part of a school's duty to keep students safe from harm.

What Types of Risks Cannot Be Waived? 

Not all school sports injuries are characteristic of the sport and cannot be waived. For instance, if your child is on a bowling team, you do not expect them to suffer from a concussion like they would if they were on the football team. 

But sometimes, school sports injuries occur because of negligence. Some examples of negligence that might lead to injuries include:

  • Using damaged, inadequate, or inappropriate safety gear while batting at home plate.
  • Being bullied at the game or practice by other players.
  • There was no adult present to supervise the game or practice.
  • The athlete was encouraged to overtrain and was hurt in the process.
  • There is a dangerous condition at the facility or park where the practice, game, or other workout occurs.
  • The coach did not follow the laws around athletes with a concussion.
  • The student wasn't given medical attention after being injured.

Before most school sports seasons begin, parents are asked to sign waivers of liability forms. It is important to remember that these forms cover ordinary negligence – injuries that happen even when the sport is played safely. For instance, in lacrosse, your student could be accidentally hit in the face with a lacrosse ball while playing. 

While you have signed away the right to bring claims for those accidents, you did not waive your right to bring claims for other acts of negligence, such as known defects in equipment, improper field, court, or track maintenance, inadequate supervision, coach or staff negligence, or intentional harm by the coach or staff.

Suppose a coach or instructor fails to correctly oversee the students under their care, and the oversight would have prevented that injury. In that case, the school might be liable for the student's injuries. The level of supervision required often depends on the activity's dangerousness and the student's age.

What is the Respondeat Superior Law?

California's respondeat superior law holds employers liable for their employee's negligence. For respondeat superior to be applied, the employee must act within the ordinary scope of their employment and have caused an injury because of their wrongful actions. 

If a school is hosting a game or practice, they can be held liable for the actions of their negligent employees – the coach, assistant coach, nurse, etc. 

Respondeat superior can also be applied to school employees who fail to act appropriately when a student-athlete is injured. It's not just the school at fault; the entire school district may be liable for that negligent employee's actions. 

How Can You Prove Negligence?

Under California law, in a personal injury case, plaintiffs must prove negligence by showing that:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • The defendant breached that duty somehow.
  • That breach was a substantial factor in the harm the plaintiff received.

When a parent can prove that a school employee acted negligently and their negligence was a substantial factor in their child's injury while playing a school sport, they will be entitled to compensation.

Compensation from such a lawsuit might go towards more than medical bills. Some parents might be able to claim loss of income for when they had to leave work to stay with the injured child, the pain and suffering experienced by all parties, and loss of limbs, scarring, or disfigurement. 

What Are the Most Dangerous School Sports?

All school sports have some level of risk, but the ones that cause the most common injuries include:

  • Football,
  • Cheerleading,
  • Basketball,
  • Wrestling, and
  • Lacrosse. 

These sports are both aggressive and fast-paced, leading to injury rather quickly. Student athlete injuries are more devastating than adult ones because their bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles are still growing. Unfortunately, these types of injuries can impact their ability to grow and incur more costly medical bills and treatment. 

How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit for School Sport Injuries

To bring a personal injury lawsuit against your school or school district, you must determine who is at fault for the injury, whether the case falls within your assumed risk for letting your child play this sport, and whether the school has some sovereign immunity.  Some of the potentially responsible parties are the following:

  • Coach,
  • School,
  • Staff instructor,
  • Another student-athlete,
  • Equipment manufacturer.

Sometimes, multiple defendants share in part or all the liability for the student's injuries. Our experienced personal injury lawyers can help determine which parties should be included in your lawsuit.

Many jurisdictions require lawsuits against government agencies, such as school districts, to file a “notice,” which has strict guidelines. There are often set timelines to file a claim or risk losing the chance to recover damages.

A knowledgeable and proficient personal injury attorney can help you navigate these steps and gather evidence and witnesses to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Contact our injury lawyers for a free case consultation. The Injury Justice Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...


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