I have noticed through the years the expansion of martial arts contact or sport competition which encompass many phases of the martial arts with an ever widening emphasis on "Junior Division" competition, as a separate event, not co-mingled with an adult event.
This is healthy since it gives reverance to our youth and their passion for the martial arts.
All sports continuity is derived from our youth and without that base, the future is bleak. To this end I am quite pleased to see our seniors develop the Junior League aspect of the Martial Arts World.
Sponsors, organizers, promotors and participants should be aware of the some of the legal aspects of sports injuries, and to help eliminate liability because of not knowing responsibility.
In early November I reported a case out of California sent to me by Jake Schaffer, a fellow martial arts practicioner and attorney.
This case reported in this forum was captioned "A must case regarding liability in martial arts injury".
A fairly recent Massachusetts case also discussed the law and issues regarding liability in sports injury cases:
Here is the report:
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. (end of case report).
In the case of minors involved in competition, event registration should always have information informing participants and their signing parents or custody authorized adults to sign waivers and grant permission of enter the event, whether it be kumite, Kata or weapons.
While this is no guaranty that you won't be sued, it sure helps in any legal imposed duty to inform participants or their legal guardians, parents etc. that injury could possibly occur.
Knowing that these procedures are followed may attract many more seasoned martial artists to be volunteer participants in helping out at these events.
Above all, awareness in this area may result in good practical rules which prevent injury without diluting the spirit and purpose of the sport.
"The Goddess of Justice is Blind"