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Who Can Be Liable for Student Athlete Injuries?

Posted on March 4, 2024 in Personal Injury

School sports should offer benefits and learning opportunities for student athletes, not put them at risk of suffering serious and potentially life-changing injuries. If a student gets hurt during a school sport due to someone else’s negligence or lack of ordinary care, the party that can be held financially responsible (liable) depends on the circumstances.

Coaches and Staff

Do not assume that sports injuries are normal or just “part of the game.” While some athlete injuries are innocent, others are a direct result of someone else’s negligence. A common example is a negligent sports coach. Coaches are responsible for the well-being of their athletes during practices and games. This includes ensuring they have enough water, get necessary rest breaks, wear the correct safety gear and train safely. 

If a coach pushes players beyond a reasonable limit, disregards safety protocols, physically or sexually abuses athletes, or ignores their medical needs in an emergency, the coach can be held responsible for related injuries or deaths. Other staff members involved in student athlete training – including assistants, volunteers and sports doctors – could also be found liable for an athlete injury if they contribute in any way.

The School or School District

The entire school can often be held vicariously liable for negligent acts committed by its employees, including teachers, coaches, sports doctors and student athlete program managers. Vicarious liability applies to all employers in California to make them responsible for the actions of their on-duty employees.

If a student athlete was injured while participating in sports at a private school, the owner of the school could be named in a personal injury lawsuit. If the incident occurred at a public school, the school district may be held accountable. For example, Denver Public Schools could be found liable for a student athlete injury that occurs at a public elementary, middle or high school in Denver.

A College or University

Student athlete injuries in college sports could point to the liability of the college or university. Higher education institutions have a responsibility to prevent foreseeable harm from befalling their student athletes. This includes injuries caused by poor field maintenance, abuse or hazing, negligent coaches, and broken or defective safety equipment.

A Sports Organization

If a student played a sport for an entity other than a school, such as a sports program in the community, that organization could be named as the defendant in a lawsuit if the athlete suffers an injury. This includes a professional sports team, a sport or social club, a private or public sports league at a recreation center, and a youth sports program. Examples of sports organization negligence include poor staff hiring or training, inadequate facility maintenance, lack of student athlete supervision, and poor care of its athletes.

Sports Equipment Manufacturers

If a student athlete gets injured due to a defective piece of safety equipment, such as a faulty helmet, the manufacturer or distributor of the equipment could be held liable. A product liability lawsuit can be brought against the manufacturer, distributor, retailer, seller or another party responsible for allowing the defective product to reach consumers.

To learn more about who may be held liable for student athlete injuries in California, request a free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney at Rose, Klein & Marias LLP.