Participation in organized sports is on the rise, with nearly 30 million children and adolescents participating in youth sports in the United States. And this doesn't just mean at the local gym or open field. According to U.S. News & World Report, 7.6 million students are participating in interscholastic athletics nationwide.
In particular, high schools are seeing a rise in student athletes. While this trend of more physically active teens and young adults is a step in a positive direction, it does not come without its own dangers. High school athletes alone account for an estimated 2 million injuries as well as 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. In fact, of all sport-related injuries treated in hospitals, children aged 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of injuries.
When a student athlete is injured, an epic blame game often follows. From opposing athletes pointing fingers to parents expecting answers from coaches, the matter of liability is often confused in these cases. Who is liable? And how often are these cases actually taking place? For these answers and more, keep reading.
Shocking High School Sport Injury Statistics
Each year, over 7 million high school students are taking to the court or to the field, either defending their school's title or working to secure one. Many of these students have dreams of making pro, and while facing pressure from their own personal goals, their parents and coaches, and their team, they can often push themselves or others a bit too hard.
In part, this reasoning explains the variety of startling statistics about injuries surrounding America's young student athletes:
- More than 3.5 million kids ages 14 and under receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
- 90 percent of student athletes report some sort of sports-related injury.
- 54 percent of student athletes report they have played while injured.
- 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice. However, 33 percent of parents do not have their children take the same safety precautions at practice that they would during a game.
- 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children in the United States are associated with participation in sports and recreational activities.
- Between 2008 and 2015, more than 300 sports-related deaths of young athletes occurred in America alone.
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
Common Injuries Sustained from High School Sports
Almost one-third of all injuries sustained during childhood are sports-related injuries. Most kids are prone to scrapes and bruises, but as they age, their injuries tend to become more serious. According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), this is because on average, the rate and severity of injury increases with a child's age. This can be chalked up to the larger size, increased aggression, and a higher knowledge of the sport as the child grows older.
At the high school level, common sports injuries include:
- Sprains and strains
- Muscle injury
- Ligament tear (ACL)
- Heart-related illnesses
- Bone injuries
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Head trauma
- Heat-related illnesses
In general, non-impact sports such as swimming incur far less injuries per year than impact sports such as football. Likewise, sports that require demanding stunts, such as cheerleading, tend to suffer more serious injuries. Estimated injury statistics from the 2009 Consumer Product Safety Commission reports:
- Football - Nearly 215,000 children aged 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for football-related injuries.
- Soccer - About 88,000 children aged 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for soccer-related injuries.
- Baseball & Softball - Nearly 110,000 children aged 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for baseball-related injuries. Additionally, baseball also has the highest fatality rate among youth sports, with three to four children dying from baseball injuries annually.
- Ice Hockey - More than 20,000 children aged 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for ice hockey-related injuries.
- Basketball - More than 170,000 children aged 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for basketball-related injuries.
- Cheerleading - Approximately 400,000 students participate in U.S. high school cheerleading annually, with an overall injury rate of 0.71 per 1,000 athletes.
Who Is Liable for High School Sports Injuries?
Once a student-athlete has been injured, the matter of who was responsible for causing the injuries often turns into who is liable for covering damages incurred from the injury. Prior to the injury, it should have been understood that playing sports is not without its risks, and that these risks are generally considered to be a normal part of competitive school sports.
This is known as "assumptions of the risk," and essentially means that willing participants in a sport usually assume certain dangers that are inherent to it as well as the responsibility of injuries that can result. So, for example, if a child was injured due to a fair tackle during a high school football game, all liability for medical bills or other resulting costs would fall upon the child's parents.
Public Schools vs. Private Schools
Public schools are generally not liable for injuries sustained during a sports event. Typically, receiving compensation for high school sports team injuries is limited due to three factors:
- Athletic teams have been deemed a crucial part of the education curriculum.
- Public schools are considered a government agency or federally-funded agency, meaning that they are shielded from sports liability.
- Athletes (as well as parents) usually sign a waiver containing a release clause. A release clause relieves a school of liability because the participant agrees that they are assuming the risks associated with that particular sport; i.e. tackling, running, errant balls.
On the other hand, liability for private schools often differs from public schools. Private schools often set their own policies regarding sports and other extracurricular activities. In the case of a sports-injury at a private school, inquire with a trusted injury attorney to determine private school liability.
Liability in the Case of Negligence
While schools are generally deemed not liable for student injuries, they may be found legally negligent if they failed to take reasonable precautions and supervision of students in order to prevent sports injury. In some cases, this responsibility could fall on the coach. To recover compensation for injuries, a parent would need to prove:
- The coach owed the student a duty of care.
- The coach breached the duty of care.
- The breach of duty caused the student to suffer measurable injuries.
Types of negligent actions that a coach may be liable for include:
- Failure to provide proper training.
- Allowing unfit, injured, or players with an unfair advantage to compete.
- Allowing unauthorized persons to engage in coaching responsibilities.
- Moving an injured athlete without proper care.
- Inadequate supervision.
Likewise, the school itself can be found as negligent if they failed to provide sufficient emergency medical care, improperly trained their employees, provided teams with faulty or unsafe equipment, poorly maintained facilities, or had a lack of established school policies. If any of these circumstances left students in situations where they were injured during game play or during practice, the school can become liable for these injuries.
Because schools have a duty to provide safe facilities and grounds to students, they should routinely inspect facilities where student sports are taking place. Failure to inspect school property, or correcting any found issues, may be grounds for school liability.
When we sign forms to allow our children to participate in high school sports teams, we do not expect to be liable if unwarranted injury strikes. If your student athlete was recently injured while actively participating with their team, it may come as news to you that schools cannot fully exempt themselves from all liability for injuries to youth athletes. When injuries are caused by activities not inherent to the sport, consider contacting a qualified personal injury lawyer.