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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2001 9:21 pm 
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Location: Framingham, MA USA
With all the litigation which takes place in this society, and the stress on organizers of events resulting from liability claims, a case just was reported from Superior Court which quoted from a prior Supreme Judicial Court case which recognized the need to not impose special duties to participant's in sporting events, and in recognizing assumption of risk by participants.

This is a case arising out of a sport injury sustained when the coaches of a girl’s softball team got together and had an all coaches softball game. The sponsor of the girl’s league was a non profit organization, and the game in which the coach was injured was a game in which only the coaches participated. The suit was brought against the league for injury sustained from an allegedly defective base bag.

The court discussed the fact that the duty of care imposed and that one person owes to the other can give rise to liability only if a special relationship between the parties exists.

The court goes on further to say that the Superior Court has considered the relationship that exists between participants in sports competitions in terms of the duty one owes to another. In Gauvin V. Clark 404 Mass. 450 (1989) the court held that participants in sporting competitions would not be liable to one another for negligence. The court observed that players when they engage in sport, agree to undergo some physical contact which could amount to assault and battery absent the players’ consent. The courts are wary of imposing a wide tort liability on sports participants, lest the law chill the vigor of athletic competition… the majority of jurisdictions which have considered this issue have concluded that personal injury cases arising out of an athletic event must be predicated on reckless disregard of safety. The recklessness standard was found applicable to injuries sustained by participants non-contact sports such as golf. There is no reason to suppose that players who voluntarily associate themselves with a non-professional, sporting competition, such as coaches games in this case, have an expectation that the organizers or sponsors owe them any greater duty than their fellow players.

There is no evidence that any special rules were adopted and were to be enforced by the defendant Association to the players about the safety of the field, the equipment, or any of the other conditions. The game resembled, in all material respects, the sort of pick-up games among friends that take place on ball fields and gymnasiums in the communities throughout our Commonwealth.

“Just as negligence standard made applicable to participant to participant contact occurring during a sporting competition would adversely impact on an individual’s athletic performance, a negligence standard made applicable to a non profit association which organizes such competitions, which often includes securing permission to use a municipalities athletic field, court, pool or gymnasium and their equipment, would diminish the occasions when such socially beneficial competitions would take place.

The court went on to say that the plaintiff’s claim to special care or duty fails, since he as a coach during the girl’s games was aware as anyone else of the filed condition, and was in a good a position as the defendant Association to take steps to avoid it by not playing in the game or by arranging to use other types of bases. The defendant was awarded judgment in this case.

I think that the important aspect of this decision is that the Superior. Court of this state does recognize the assumption of some liability by sport players and the level of contact involved, and the duty of contact players to each other is not to engage in reckless or wanton misconduct.

Lesser degrees of imposing duty would undermine sports and athletics in the state.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that there are no reasonable safety standards such as the use of safety equipment and the regard of organizer’s to competitors well being and the enforcement of safety rules.

I believe that this case has significant importance by defining and recognizing the duties in a single case. Will it reduce your liability insurance? It should, but even if not, should stem some further increases. The case could be appealed, but some of the above language which is pertinent was already decided in an SJC case. This case is Goodwin V. Sports Association Purchasing Group. Essex Superior Court Civil Action No. 00-813-C.


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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2001 10:43 pm 
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Location: Weymouth, MA US of A
If the Superior Court ruling stands, does this give license for one tournament opponent to completely disregard the safety of the other, then willfully and puposefully hit him with such force to cause injury and successfully cite this case to protect himself from criminal or civil liability?

What about the Sensei in the dojo who, to show how great and powerful he is, tees off on a student while said student is standing there in this tremendously powerful Sanchin stance and then subsequently becomes injured?

Gene

[This message has been edited by Gene DeMambro (edited May 16, 2001).]


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PostPosted: Thu May 17, 2001 3:37 pm 
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Location: Framingham, MA USA
Gene DeMambro asks a couple of good questions relating to duties owed by participants an martial arts competition.

I prefer to use the duty standard reasoning as do the modern courts because these standards establish the degree of negilegence or conversely care owed, by participants or sponsors (organizations).

These are the questions posed by Gene:

If the Superior Court ruling stands, does this give license for one tournament opponent to completely disregard the safety of the other, then willfully and puposefully hit him with such force to cause injury and successfully cite this case to protect himself from criminal or civil liability?
What about the Sensei in the dojo who, to show how great and powerful he is, tees off on a student while said student is standing there in this tremendously powerful Sanchin stance and then subsequently becomes injured?

The Superior Court decision was in accord with the quoted SJC case which established a precedent that the court recognizes the need to allow participants in sporting events to assume some degree of risk in their sport engagement.

The court also further acknowledged that the degree of risk was directly related to the nature of the sport, citing non contact sports such as golf and other sports where there is expected to be some contact.

To me, karate/martial arts would be good examples of contact sports, as would be tackle type football.

The court merely points out that to create vast duties on sponsors or participants beyond normal reasoning would dilute or frustrate the performing of these events in the Commonwealth.

In the case presented, we had a volunteer girls softball coach who coached for a non-profit girls softball league, who entered into a competititve softball game with other coaches in the league. He was injured as a result of a defective base pad and sued the non-profit sponsor.

What the court did in its decision was to elaborate on the various types of sports and their incidence of risks, and declined the theory of some special duty, the breach of which would create negligence.

The court recognized that sports have varying degrees of risk, and that participants who volunteer assume such risks.Language in the decision als recognized the need for some protection to non-profit sponsors and to municipalities allowing the use of their facilities.

To directly answer your first question, we all have to be aware of the doctrine of reasonable conduct owed by sporting participants to the other.

Any unprivileged contact by one to another is normally assault and battery, or negligence.

The courts recognize that participants in MA events have assumed the normal risk of injury associated with contact. However, while normal or accidental contact may result in injuries wherein the injured may not recover for negligence on the voluntary assumption of risk theory, the question you pose is one of gross negligence, or wilfull wanton misconduct which is actionable, and in its extreme tantamount to assault and battery.

The second question you pose concerning the abusive sensei who injures a student to advance is own ego, while sanchin testing,would create civil liability, making the assumption that credible witnesses could testify that the testing was in fact excessive to that particular student.
There have been such actions brought for this type of injury in the past.

Here again, one cannot say that all tough testing in sanchin would be actionable.

If two high dan rankin karate students volunteer to demonstrate the hard style of testing, each knowing the other, and each equally participating there would be no liability other than if the testor went nuts and really slammed his partner (reasonable rule)

I had the good fortune, a few years ago, to watch a demonstration of Sanchin testing the likes of which I had not seen in many years.

Justin Testa was the testor (no pun intended) and Paul Giella was the testee.
This, in my humble opinion, was classic uechi ryu which demonstrated what force and power an advanced Uechi student can absorb without loss of balance, and without injury.

This would have probably dropped me or any number of lesser students at the test directly on opening.

The point is that in many aspects of applying law in this state (and most others),the courts utilize the "reasonable man theory" and in the cited case the court does relate that cases "in sporting events brought as the result of injury are predicated upon reckless disregard of safety."

Summing it up, the case does present good news, but also warns about recklessness and the varying degrees of duty.

Safety standards must still be maintained in the dojo, or at sporting events both in terms of safeguarding the participants and the fans observing the event.

Alan K


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PostPosted: Thu May 17, 2001 4:32 pm 
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This is indeed good news Al. The law may protect everyone from frivolous law suits. However, as you pointed out, willful and negligent behavior is not protected.

In a Kumite match, the organizers post the rules and assume all competitors will abide by them. Should one competitor hurt another in a match, with excessive contact, the injured competitor would have a good case against his negligent opponent. You are, even in a tournament, responsible for your actions.

Now, if the organizers allowed the competitors to spar without protective equipment. . . even if the competitors didn't complain. . . the organizers would probably be liable for injuries.

I know a lot of Uechi competitors would like to fight without all the equipment, but to allow them to do this would put the organizers at-risk.

When WKF equipment rules become accepted by the courts, we will probably adopt the small handpads and no foot pads. Right now, most insurance companies require that full safety equipment be used by all.

------------------
GEM


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