Liability of University for violent conduct of student athlete
Some to the legal principles and theory in this case decided by the SJC (Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ) may be applicable to martial arts sports events. I believe that the court was realistic in its approach and that this case is important to the extent that it respects the realtiies and problems of athletic events, and some of this reasoning can be applied to martial arts events.
A synopsis of the case is as follows;
A College basketball player brought suit for negligence against Boston University and its basketball coach for injuries after being punched by one of BU’s players during a game.. The student player injured was a team member of Manhattan College.
The lower court found in favor of the defendants on the ground that the plaintiff had set forth no theory on which the plaintiff could recover, and the case was appealed from the Superior Court to the SJC.
IMHO, the plaintiff’s counsel did a good job on presenting theories, but here is what the court said.
In addition to negligence, the plaintiff player asserted intentional infliction of emotional distress., and vicarious liability. The court upheld the lower court’s decision dismissing those counts of the complaint.
Another complaint theory charged that the defendant player acted as an agent for the school, and was a scholarship student. “We reject the proposition that the doctrine of respondeat superior renders schools liable for the acts of their students , and decline to treat scholarship students differently from paying students for these purposes”.
The next plaintiff theory is that there was a special duty of the defendant to protect plaintiff from assault and battery, and did acknowledge that there was no duty to protect resulting from unforseeable criminal acts, but did allege that there was a special relationship between the defendant and the injured victim. The court decided that there was no relationship with the university, special or otherwise and the sources cited by the plaintiff, and even if the cases cited were applicable to Massachusetts, they would place this duty on his own school, Manhattan college and not on the university
The plaintiff’s negligence claim fails on the grounds that any duty to protect him from harm of another’s criminal acts extends only to such acts as are reasonably foreseeable
The court held that the acts of the university and the coach were proper with no expectation or reason to believe there would be an altercation. Also there was never a history of any violence on the part of the student.
On the part of the defendant coach. the court found that the coach did have an animated style and there was no evidence that the coach instilled or suggested any aggressive action by the defendant player.
Here is the good part for seminar and tournament martial arts promoters or sponsors:
“Here Kavanagh (plaintiff) cannot demonstrate any recklessness on the part of coach Wolff to the extent that Wolff’s demeanor was excited and aggressive, that is demeanor appropriate for a coach during a game. As to plaintiff’s contention that Wolff encouraged violence by failing to send in substitute players for players who were allegedly committing fouls, that contention would effectively require Wolff to be more sensitive to possible fouls than the referees. Under the rules of any sport, fouls or other violations carry their own penalties, and it is up to the officials refereeing the competition to enforce those rules and impose those penalties It is not up to a coach to remove a player who may, conformably with the rules of the sport and the judgment of the referees, remain in the game despite the infractions allegedly committed. Finally plaintiff contends that Wolff yelled encouragement to aggressive players, praising their play when those same players, were, in Plaintiff’s judgment committing fouls. Again, the policing of fouls is up to the referees, and the mere fact that a player has committed a foul, or even multiple fouls, does not preclude a coach from encouraging a player to play aggressively
Coach Wolff’s behavior, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, amounted to nothing more than aggressive coaching. It did not amount to reckless conduct”.
More and more cases are coming down with decisions which reflect that the courts are beginning to recognize the reality that injuries may occur in sporting events, and that there cannot be duties imposed by the suggestions of lawyers seeking deep pockets, and whose theories, if adopted, would water down sports like a game of dominos.
It should be understood that the aggressive player was not protected from criminal penalties.
The case citation is Kavanagh v. The Trustees of Boston University et al Decided September 19, 2003. Docket Number SJC 08926
"The Goddess of Justice is Blind"