A common issue in sports injury claims is consent.  People who play sports should know the risks inherent to the sport.  For example, people who play football should expect that they may collide with other players. 

However, some sports injuries happen outside the game’s normal nature.  Participating in sports does not mean you assume the risk of injuries caused by intentional misconduct, negligence, or defective equipment.  Sports violence, such as fighting, is not acceptable.  Injuries caused by fighting or unnecessary roughness can lead to lawsuits.

Many sports leagues, gyms, facilities, and organizations require participants to sign liability releases called waivers.  The waiver provides that the participant cannot sue the organizer if the participant gets injured during the event.  However, waivers are not always enforceable and do not absolve organizers or facilities from liability for negligence or intentional misconduct.

Waivers may be invalid if they are too broad or violate public policy.  Just because you signed a waiver does not mean that your personal injury claim is blocked.  You may still have a claim against the establishment that caused your injury if they failed to follow reasonable safety measures.

How to protect your legal rights after a sports injury

Go to the doctor and seek treatment for your injuries.  Treat your injuries as instructed by your doctor.  Save all your medical bills and receipts.  Gather evidence like photos, videos, eyewitness accounts, and official reports to document the incident.  Report the incident to the appropriate authorities or regulatory bodies. 

If a defective product injured you, photograph the product and the damage it caused.  Keep the product intact and in a safe place where it won’t be touched.

We suggest contacting a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the incident.  Suppose you make a personal injury claim against a gym, school district, sports league, or other organization.  In that case, an insurance company will likely be involved.  Insurance companies have a long list of dirty tricks to pay claimants as little as possible.  You will likely need a proven trial lawyer to achieve a fair result.

What compensation is available for sports injuries?

Suppose you got injured due to someone else’s wrongdoing.  In that case, you may be entitled to your past and future medical costs, rehabilitation and therapy, lost wages, lost earning capacity, lost enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other damages. 

Some sports injuries involve children.  Calculating damages in these cases presents special issues that typically require expert knowledge of the legal and medical issues involved.

In cases of wrongful death, the victim’s family may be able to recover for loss of financial support, medical expenses, lost companionship, pain and suffering, funeral costs, and other damages.

Common Sports-Related Injuries

Following safety protocols and using proper equipment minimizes the risk of injuries in sports.  However, virtually all sports carry some risk of injury.  Some of the most common sports injuries include:

Brain Injury

Contact sports like football and hockey are prone to collisions that can cause brain injuries. Bicycling, motorcycling, and skateboarding accidents can also cause brain injuries. Any sport that has a risk of a high-impact collision has a risk of brain injury.

If you think you have suffered a brain injury, like a concussion, do not return to activity without being examined and medically cleared by a doctor to return to play.  Returning to activity too soon following a head injury can cause the symptoms to get worse, especially if made worse by another impact to the head. 

Spine Injury

Spine injuries in sports can happen in various ways, such as diving into a shallow pool, falling during a cheerleading stunt, falling from a horse while horseback riding, crashing while skiing, or taking a hit in a football game. 

The effects of spinal cord injuries can be devastating.  Paralysis is the best-known and most obvious result of a spinal cord injury.  However, other damage can include loss of respiratory function, loss of bladder and bowel control, incoordination, numbness or tingling in extremities, changes in sexual function, muscle spasms, and other symptoms. 

Broken Bones

Bone breaks and fractures are more common in contact sports, combat sports, extreme sports, motorsports, and other sports that lend themselves to high impact.  However, dangerous plays in any sport, including basketball and soccer, can cause broken bones.  Broken bones may require surgery, including inserting metal rods or plates into the bones to hold them together.  Such injuries can be extremely painful and affect the victim for the rest of their life.

Cuts, Lacerations, Scars

Cuts and lacerations can result from contact with equipment like sticks, bats, cleats, and skate blades.  They can also occur due to falls and collisions with other players.  Crashes while bicycling, motorcycling, or doing extreme sports can cause serious cuts and lacerations.  Cuts and lacerations may cause permanent scarring that can affect a person’s appearance, quality of life, range of motion, and ability to work.

Tears, Sprains, and Strains

Ligament injuries to knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, and wrists may require surgery and extensive rehabilitation. They can also end an athlete’s career and change their whole life.

Wrongful death

Wrongful death in sports is often due to inadequate medical attention.  Deaths at sporting events are nearly always preventable if reasonable safety measures are in place. 

Who is liable for sports-related injuries?

Liability for sports-related injuries depends on what caused them.  Nobody is likely liable for injuries within the normal scope of play.  However, for injuries caused by someone else’s wrongdoing, whoever caused the injuries is exposed to liability.

Sports Venues

Sports venues must provide a safe environment for athletes and spectators.  As such,

sports venues should conduct regular inspections, perform proper maintenance, make prompt repairs, and follow reasonable safety guidelines to prevent injury. 

Sports venues must keep playing surfaces reasonably safe.  Sports venues may be liable for injuries caused by dangerous playing surfaces like a wet basketball court that causes a player to slip and fall

Sports venues should have appropriate barriers, such as nets or fences, to prevent spectators from being struck by objects from the playing field (such as balls, bats, pucks, etc.).

Sports leagues and organizations should screen players and coaches for past violent conduct, such as physical or sexual abuse.  If the league permits a dangerous person to participate, and that person harms someone, the league may be legally responsible.

Emergency exits must be clearly marked, and there must be sufficient emergency exits for the crowd size.

Dangerous bleachers, such as broken stairs or handrails, can injure spectators and give rise to liability for sports venues. 

Sports venues must provide adequate security.  Depending on the type of event, this may mean hiring professional security guards, installing security cameras, using metal detectors, controlling means of access, banning players and spectators who have a history of violent behavior, and making sure all areas of the venue are properly lit (including hallways, bathrooms, and parking lots). 

Gyms, Athletic Clubs, and Training Centers

Gyms and training centers must maintain their property in a safe condition.  Dangerous conditions such as wet floors, broken railings, malfunctioning equipment, and inadequate warnings or instructions can give rise to premises liability for the gym. 

Gyms should regularly inspect equipment to make sure it works properly, and remove or properly mark broken equipment.  Gyms should secure weights and racks to prevent falls. 

Gyms should promptly wipe liquids and sweat off the floor.  Wet floors, such as from mopping, should always be marked with clear warning signs. 

Trainers should be properly trained and certified.  Suppose an inexperienced trainer injures a client due to negligent training methods.  In that case, the gym that hired the trainer may be responsible. 

California law requires gyms to have an automatic external defibrillator (AED) device on site.  Furthermore, gyms must have an employee trained to use the AED device available at all times.  Maintaining a staff trained in CPR and basic first aid is crucial to responding to medical emergencies in a gym. 

Gym features such as pools and hot tubs require extra precautions.  California law requires gyms to maintain, clean, supervise, and warn of dangers in and around pools.  Swimming pool accidents may include drowning, slip-and-falls, cuts from sharp objects like glass, burns from excessive cleaning chemicals, and infections due to unclean water.  Children require constant supervision around pools. 

Saunas and steam rooms should have clear rules and warning signs for proper use.  Gym features like trampolines and rock-climbing walls also require extra precautions, such as clear rules and warning signs.  Gyms should post safety rules in a clear and obvious place and enforce the rules to prevent dangerous use.

Sports Leagues and Organizations

Sports leagues and organizations must properly train coaches and staff.  Specifically, leagues and organizations should train coaches to react to an injury properly.  For example, leagues and organizations should train coaches to keep players who have suffered head injuries out of play.  Head injuries are particularly dangerous, and the symptoms may not always be immediately obvious.  As such, a player who has suffered a head injury should not be allowed to return to play until they are examined and cleared to play by a doctor. 

Sporting Event Promoters and Organizers

Promoters and organizers must have appropriate medical staff on hand in case of an emergency.  Some sports, such as combat and extreme sports, have a higher risk of injury.  Accordingly, these events require greater medical precautions – such as having a fully staffed ambulance on site. 

Promoters and organizers must adequately manage crowds.  Overcrowding and lack of exits can cause fire hazards and other dangers like trampling.   

Promoters and organizers must sufficiently manage traffic and transportation.  Congested parking areas, inadequate signage, and poor traffic management can lead to collisions or pedestrian injuries.

Event promoters and organizers must adequately address weather-related hazards.  Extreme heat, cold, lightning, storms, and rain can endanger participants. 

Promoters and organizers should remove or clearly mark dangers like slippery surfaces, damaged structures, and fire hazards.

Schools and Educational Institutions

Schools must take reasonable safety measures to protect their students and athletes from injury – such as providing proper coaches, adequate equipment, and well-maintained facilities. 

Poorly maintained fields can cause injuries, such as by twisting an ankle on a soccer field with potholes.  Improperly trained coaches may provide inadequate instructions and supervision, which leads to preventable injuries.  Inadequate equipment, such as damaged or poor-fitting football helmets, can also lead to injuries. 

Physical or sexual abuse by a coach or assistant can give rise to liability for the school.

Equipment Manufacturers

Helmets, pads, and other gear are meant to protect athletes from injury.  When protective equipment does not work as it should, the manufacturer may be liable for resulting injuries.  Equipment manufacturers can be liable for injuries caused by design flaws, manufacturing defects, inadequate warnings and instructions, false advertising, and breach of warranty.

Helmet manufacturers represent that their products protect the head from concussions and traumatic brain injury.  Companies whose helmets do not accomplish these goals are liable for injuries caused by false representations.

Third-Party Service Providers

Third-party service providers include food, transportation, sanitation, and security.  Service providers may be liable if they are negligent in providing these services.  For example, shuttle companies may be liable for reckless driving that injures someone. 

Coaches and Trainers

Coaches and trainers must follow basic safety measures, such as allowing players proper rest breaks and hydration.  Coaches should ensure that training equipment functions properly and provide adequate instruction.  Coaches should explain how to practice and play the sport safely and oversee players to the extent necessary to protect their safety. 

Coaches should treat medical emergencies as such and respond to them immediately.  When a player is injured, the coach should respond appropriately without further endangering the player.  For example, suppose a coach tells a player to keep playing after they got injured, and the medical staff says they shouldn’t play.  In that case, the coach may be liable if the injury gets worse as a result. 

Sexual assault is a serious crime.  Thus, coaches and trainers can face both civil and criminal penalties for sexually assaulting players or other staff.

Other Players

In some cases, players injure other players.  If the injury happens within the normal course of the game, there is likely no liability.  However, for injuries caused by another player’s intentional misconduct – or overly aggressive or reckless behavior – the player who caused the injuries may be liable.

For example, a fight or physical attack during a ball game is not part of the sport.  If a player attacks another player, causing injury, the player who caused the injury is liable.  Moreover, assault and battery are crimes, which means the player who made the attack may also face criminal charges.  Coaches, sports leagues, and venues may share liability for an assault if they knew that the attacker had a previous history of violent conduct and allowed them to participate.

Medical Professionals

Medical personnel are indispensable in the world of sports.  Athletic trainers, doctors, and nurses help prevent and treat sports injuries when they occur.  However, this important role comes with the responsibility of following professional protocol.  Medical personnel must diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate injuries according to the standards of the medical profession.  Failure to follow professional guidelines can lead to misdiagnosis and cause further injuries and complications for the athlete. 

Referees and Officials

Referees and officials must enforce safety rules.  Enforcing safety rules prevents dangerous play and reduces the risk of injury.  Failure to implement the rules may give rise to liability for referees and officials if someone gets injured as a result. 

How We Can Help

We are a small law firm that takes a personal approach to the law.  We take a limited number of cases and thoroughly investigate each case.  We give each case the highest attention to detail. 

Bigger law firms administer their work to less experienced lawyers.  When you hire us, you will have one of San Diego’s best personal injury lawyers handling your case directly.  Contact us today.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Returning to Sports and Activities

California Legislative Information – Health and Safety Code § 104113

San Diego County – Health Club AED Requirement Guidelines

California Legislative Information – The Swimming Pool Safety Act

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Concussion Signs and Symptoms

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Get a Heads Up on Football Helmet Safety

California Legislative Information – Business and Professions Code § 17500

California Legislative Information – Penal Code § 243.4

California Legislative Information – Penal Code § 240

California Legislative Information – Penal Code § 242