It is true that if you are injured while playing in a sporting event you may be able to recover damages. However, it is important to know that in two recent cases the New Hampshire Supreme Court limited a player’s ability to recover for an injury sustained during a sporting event.
In the first case, Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, the plaintiff was injured when she was struck in the head by a poorly thrown ball. She filed suit alleging, among other things, that the softball league was responsible for her injury since they did not require players to wear helmets, that the ratio of male to female players was contrary to the league rules and the ball may have been an incorrect size.
The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim stating that the defendants can only be held liable if they exposed the plaintiff to a risk that was outside those normally encountered during the game. The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim, agreeing that the risks that the plaintiff alleged were inherent in the game of softball. Therefore, the defendants had no obligation to protect her from those risks and could not be held liable for her injuries.
Last month, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, relying upon the Allen case, prevented a plaintiff from bringing suit when she was injured during a game of “glow golf.” In Werne v. Executive Women’s Golf Association, the plaintiff was participating in a game of glow golf when she was struck in the head by a golf ball. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim saying that she had failed to allege sufficient facts showing that the defendants unreasonably increased the inherent risks of the game.
The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal, reaffirming the notion that organizers in a game owe only a duty not to increase the ordinary risks that are inherent in the sport. In Werne, the plaintiff failed to allege any facts showing that the defendants unreasonably increased the risks associated with the game of glow golf. Therefore, under the facts alleged by the plaintiff, defendants owed her no duty of care and her claim was dismissed.
Werne and Allen both demonstrate that organizers in organized recreational sporting activities generally owe no duty of care to protect players from the risks normally associated in the game. It is only if the plaintiff can allege that the defendant unreasonably increased those risks or exposed the player to a risk that is not normally inherent in the game that a claim can be established. Therefore, claims involving sport injuries must be carefully analyzed by counsel and the complaint should be drafted with an eye towards identifying the risks that were unreasonably increased or were outside the scope of the game
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].