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National Football League and Sports in New York, Part 2

This is the second part of a series of entries. The first part can be accessed here

What if you are not NFL material but become injured while playing sports and want to recover money for your injuries? In most cases there will likely be no issue with fraudulent concealment, workers’ compensation, and collective bargaining. Aside from that, the rules are the same. The assumption of the risk doctrine applies to a range of physical activities from children playing catch to little league teams, school athletic activities, and professional sports activities. In New York, the assumption of the risk doctrine has been applied to virtually every sport, including baseball, softball, football, basketball, tennis, soccer, hockey, golf, skiing, horse racing, track and field events, wrestling, and the martial arts.

The determinative queries on liability are whether the risk that resulted in the injury was the type inherently associated with the sport in question and whether the risk was obvious to the participant but he or she nevertheless opted to assume the risk by participating. The participant’s experience with the sport in question will also come into play, but some risks have been found by New York Courts to be obvious to even the most novice of players. The defendant’s duty is limited to not concealing or increasing the inherent and assumed risks and not engaging in reckless or intentional conduct to subject participants to risks. “Participation” and “sports” have been loosely interpreted by the courts and applied to people of all ages. Thus, one who is a mere spectator may be subject to the rules detailed above.

For purposes of illustration, let’s use golf. In one case last December, the Appellate Division of the Second Department determined that a plaintiff who slipped and fell when he descended a staircase leading from the cart path to the eleventh tee box on a golf course assumed a risk that was inherently associated with golf. His case was dismissed. Similarly, the New York Court of Appeals dismissed the case of a doctor who was blinded in one eye by a fellow golfer’s ball while playing on a nine-hole Long Island course in October 2002. The court found that the fellow golfer’s failure to yell in advance of his errant shot was not intentional or reckless conduct and that “being hit without warning by a ‘shanked’ shot while one searches for one’s own ball — reflects a commonly appreciated risk of golf “.

On the other hand, another golfer sued when she fell on a pile of approximately thirty golf balls that were gathered together and concealed by grass clippings and leaves in Rockland County, New York. The court denied the defendant’s summary judgment motion, finding that it failed to show that tripping on a gathered and accumulated cluster of golf balls was an inherent risk of the game of golf and not a unique and dangerous condition-an aberration-beyond the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport. As can be seen from these three golf examples, whether a lawsuit will be successful for sports related injuries is largely sui generis, or dependent on the facts of each case.

This entry addresses general matters and should not be relied on by readers or considered legal advice.