Sports injuries: What are my rights?

Updated article - Original Publish Date: 9/23/15 Jasiel

Favors, a high school student from Texas, was playing a football game when he collided with two other players. The injury left him in the hospital with severe injuries, unable to move his legs and unsure of whether he would walk again. For Jasiel and his mother, what should have been a fun afternoon playing his favorite sport quickly became a life-changing experience, and the medical bills have been steep. Even with insurance, deductibles and the ongoing cost of care have caused financial strain on the Favors family. Should Jasiel remain paralyzed as a result of his injuries, he will have a lifetime of therapy and medical care, and someone has to foot the bill.

While many parents will simply turn to their insurance provider for help in these instances, you may be able to seek compensation from another source.Sports injuries can sometimes fall under the personal injury heading, meaning you have the right for compensation and support from the at-fault party. Parents of athletes and the athletes themselves need to know what those rights are, and how they apply after a serious sports injury.

Sports Injuries Common, But Rarely Severe

Approximately ever 25 seconds, a child or young adult athlete suffers a sports injury that sends the athlete to the emergency room, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Of those 1.35 million ER visits, 12 percent, are for concussions. Almost half of those concussions are seen in children between the ages of 12 and 15. Also, individual sports, like gymnastics, typically have the more severe injuries, even when compared to contact or collision sports, like football.

Interestingly, families often assume that these injuries happen during games. While they can, statistics show that over 60 percent of the injuries happen during practice. Why would this be? Parents and coaches are less focused on safety during practice, and often do not provide the right protection or attentiveness because practice is not viewed as seriously as games are. It's not uncommon to see players playing without full protective gear during a skirmish, whereas that would be cause for penalties during a game.

In spite of these high numbers, the number of severe injuries, those injuries requiring a lifetime of care or greatly impacting an individual's quality of life, is thankfully much lower. Broken bones and torn ligaments typically heal without ongoing problems, and typically are covered by insurance providers. It's those families dealing with severe injuries, often head or spinal cord injuries, that need to better understand their rights.

Know Your Coverage Before You Begin Sports

To avoid the struggle from a hefty bill due to an unexpected sports injury, make sure you understand your rights and your coverage before you allow your child to begin a sport. First, talk to your insurance provider to determine if sports-related injuries are covered, and be specific about your sport, as it may affect coverage. Some states, for instance, do not call cheerleading a sport, so your insurance provider may refuse to cover "sports injuries" sustained in this "non-sport."

Next, talk to the school or the athletic organization to see if there is insurance coverage for your child's injuries if they happen. If you have to sign a waiver, chances are that you will not be eligible for insurance coverage if an injury occurs. In that case, you will want to move forward only if you know that your own insurance coverage will cover any injuries sustained. No matter how good of an experience a sport may be, you do not want to risk a lifetime of insurmountable medical bills because you lacked sufficient coverage.

What can you do if you feel that insurance coverage is not adequate for the risk posed in the sport? Consider looking for different venue for your child's athletic needs. All it takes is one tackle or improperly executed cheerleading flip to change your child's life forever, and you need to know that you are protected.

Sports Injuries - You Do Have Rights

Once you have determined what coverage is in place and have decided that your child can play the sport of his or her choice, you should be aware that you might still have a battle if an injury occurs. Serious injuries are costly for insurance providers, and they will often fight against covering these. Knowing your rights is vital in these cases.

Even with waivers in place, families may still have the right to file a lawsuit after a sports injury. Under current personal injury law, you may be eligible for compensation from other parties or sports organizations if the injuries were caused by:

  • Negligence
  • Unlawful activity
  • Violence from other players

Consider, for example, the story of Preston Plevretes, a La Salle University student who suffered a life-altering head injury in a college football game. According to the lawsuit the Plevretes family filed against La Salle University, Preston showed signs of a concussion during a practice when he was hit in the head. The family claimed the medical staff at the university did not provide adequate care for the concussion, and he was entered into a game a few weeks later in the season. A tackle caused another head injury, leaving Preston with a lifetime of medical concerns, including the need for 24-hour care.

In the case of the Plevretes family, a lawsuit was filed against the school claiming that the medical team and coaching staff did not properly care for Preston after his initial concussion. While the school admitted no fault, they did settle the case out of court, providing the family with much-needed funds to support Preston's treatment and ongoing care.

The Plevretes family case shows one example of a situation wherein negligence on the part of the coaching and medical staff of an organization likely caused a traumatic brain injury. Since the case did not go to trial, no legal precedent was set, but the family was able to use the legal system to protect their rights and get the help they needed for their son.

Negligence can fall under several different categories. Example of negligence that could lead to sports injuries include:

  • Improper use and care of protective equipment
  • Failure to give injured players sufficient rest
  • Failing to notice signs of trauma
  • Failure to insist on safety protocol during practice

In addition to negligence, unlawful actions can also give you rights in the event of a sports injury. Many states have passed laws to protect young athletes from head injuries, requiring a doctor's release before a player is allowed back on the field or court after a concussion. If these laws are not followed, and a player is injured as a result, the family has the right to expect compensation.

Finally, sporting events can often turn violent, especially in contact sports like football. While some amount of injury is expected in a contact sport, if the other team is intentionally targeting a player with violent actions, and that player is injured, the family may have the right to seek compensation or file a lawsuit against the opposing team and coaching staff.

How to Get Help

If your child has been severely injured as a result of a sports related injury, you may feel alone. Other parents do not understand the ongoing stress that comes from these injuries and the concerns they bring for your family. Because of this, you need to seek help from a qualified attorney to ensure you know your rights.

As a parent of an injured player, or an injured player yourself, your job is to focus on recovery. You do not need to know whether or not your case is worth pursuing. That is the job of the attorney. However, you do need to act as soon as possible, because your state will have a statute of limitations in place that prevents you from filing a lawsuit if too much time passes between the injury and the lawsuit. The sooner you talk to a lawyer and begin the process, the better your chances of a successful outcome will be.

Most legal offices will provide clients with a free or low-cost initial consultation. Gather the facts surrounding the injury event, and schedule one of these consultations with a skilled personal injury attorney. This will give you the opportunity to discuss the case with an attorney to determine if you have cause to pursue further action.

At the consultation, your attorney will determine if negligence, violence or unlawful actions put your child at undue risk, and if that risk was the cause of the injury. If it is, you have the grounds for a case. The lawyer will then outline the process, so you can understand what is ahead of you as you fight for your rights and the compensation your child deserves and needs for the future.

No matter what waivers you signed or what risk you knowingly took on, sports injuries are not necessarily a cut and dried situation. You may be due compensation and you do have the right to file a lawsuit against the sports organization or school if someone you love is injured due to negligence or unlawful activity. Do not assume that the lifetime of financial pressure you have after an injury is yours to bear alone. With the help of a personal injury attorney, you may be able to get compensation to help your child recover and adjust to life after a serious injury.