Millions of Americans engage in recreational sports each year. Sports are an everyday part of our national culture. From children’s little leagues to adult recreational activities and family pursuits, all of us have participated in sports at one time or another. Sports are a great form of exercise and fun for young and old alike.
Unfortunately, many people are injured each year in the course of their athletic pursuits. Sometimes these injuries are caused by the actions of other participants. This website gives you an overview of the New Jersey law on this subject and will try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions people have when injured as a result of another person’s actions during a sporting or recreational event.
Negligence is the general standard of care applied in the vast majority of personal injury cases involving accidents and injury in New Jersey. A person’s actions are considered to be negligent when that person fails to exercise care for the safety of others that a person of ordinary prudence would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. Recklessness is a different standard of care used in some cases. Recklessness, unlike negligence, requires a conscious choice of a course of action, with knowledge or a reason to know that it will create a serious danger to others.
New Jersey law is similar to the majority of states, which apply a heightened standard of care to participants in sporting activities.
Participants in recreational sporting contexts are only liable for their reckless or intentional conduct and not for mere negligence. When participating in recreational sports, each person’s duty is to avoid the infliction of injury to others caused by their reckless or intentional conduct. Therefore, in most circumstances someone injured by another individual in the course of a sporting activity does not have the legal right to recover money damages for their injuries.
There are two specific reasons why New Jersey law does not allow simple negligence to be actionable. First, the law seeks to promote vigorous participation in athletic activities. Second, it prevents a flood of litigation that would probably be generated by participation in recreational games and sports.
Following is a list of commonly asked legal questions concerning the subject of sports accidents. Most of the answers to these questions are covered in the above sections.
If I injure someone during a sporting event, can I be held liable if sued?
Under New Jersey law as it now stands, you are not liable for injuries you cause as a result of your negligence. For example, injuring someone by sliding into a base during a baseball game or while trying to stop someone in a game of touch football is not actionable. But if your actions were reckless or intentional as defined by the law then you may be held accountable for your actions and the damages and injuries they caused. For instance intentionally or recklessly jumping on top of a person who was already down and clearly stopped in that same touch football game might be actionable.
If my recklessness injures someone during a sporting event, do I have insurance coverage?
If you own a home or rent a property and have either homeowners or renters insurance it may provide coverage to you and your family members who live with you for liability claims made against you. You must check your policy because there may be coverage exclusions for reckless or intentional conduct.
What rights do I have if injured during a sporting event?
If you are injured as the result of another person¹s action you may or may not have the legal right to recover money for your injuries and other damages. Your rights are dependent on the level of the other person’s conduct. In most instances unless you were injured as the result of someone’s reckless or intentional actions, you will not have a claim against that individual. You may have valid claims for health benefits if you have personal health insurance or claims for state or private disability insurance if you are required to miss work as a result of your injuries. But these are separate claims not made against or recoverable from the individual who actually injured you. There also may be potential claims against the league or property owner depending on the cause of your injuries. These claims must be considered in each instance, but the numerous legal issues involved with those claims are not discussed in this section.
Is there any distinction made between contact and non contact sports?
In New Jersey and most other states there is no legal distinction made between contact and non contact sports. The recklessness standard for individual conduct applies in many sports including, but not limited to; softball, karate, roller skating, golf, touch football, ice skating, pick up basketball, polo and almost all similar activities.
What if I am injured during a work sponsored sporting event?
If you are injured at a work sponsored or required event you may under certain circumstances be able to pursue a claim for medical benefits, lost wages, and other compensation for your injuries from your employer but not against the individual who caused the injury. See the sections on Workers Compensation and On the Job Injuries within this website for more thorough discussions of those areas.
What if I am injured because of a defect or dangerous condition on the playing field?
Being injured as the result of dangerous conditions or defects on the actual playing field or property is a completely different situation than being injured by another person. In general, regular negligence laws would apply to this type of accident and not the heightened recklessness standard. Therefore, this type of accident must be thoroughly investigated to determine if it is meritorious. See the section on Premises Liability within this website for further discussion on similar issues. Potential issues of charitable immunity and public entity tort limitations (not discussed here) may also have to be considered depending on who owns the property.
What legal rights does my child have if injured during a sporting event?
Your child generally has the same legal rights and limitations as an adult in a similar event. But different legal principles may apply to children of different ages. For instance children less than seven years of age are generally held immune from their negligent actions. Also, different time limitations for filing a claim or lawsuit apply to children less than 18 years of age. See the section on Child Accidents within this website for a more complete discussion on similar issues.
Can I be held responsible for the actions of my child during a sporting event?
Generally, an adult or parent is not personally responsible for the negligent or even reckless actions of a child unless the parent failed to properly supervise or monitor the actions of their child. This is a form of actual negligence against the parent rather then implied negligence of the child. This is generally inapplicable during organized sporting activities or leagues but may become applicable in neighborhood or home-related games or activities.
The above legal principles and answers are only to be considered general guidelines. Each individual case must be examined and investigated to determine what, if any, legal rights you may have in a particular situation.
If you are ever injured during the course of a recreational or sports activity, it is always wise to seek the advice of an attorney who can answer all questions you have and properly advise you of all your potential rights.