Coaching Negligence in Sports Accidents

by | Aug 5, 2017 | Sporting Accidents

Coaching Negligence in Sports Accidents

Anyone who has ever played a sport understands the risk involved. A collision at centre ice, a high inside fastball or a hard elbow while rebounding a basketball—accidents do happen. While some risk is inherent, when an accident occurs, coaches can be held responsible.

What is Negligence?

Under Canadian law, negligence is defined as when a person’s actions or lack of intervention exposes others to harm. It requires people to act with prudence and conduct themselves with a reasonable level of caution to limit risk to others.

In the case of coaches, they must provide a reasonable standard of care and guidance for their athletes. Failure to do so, could result in a coach being held liable for an accident that happens during a game or practice. From the professional ranks to a high school gym class, there are precedents for coaches being sued for negligence.

Encouraging Violence

In 2004, the Vancouver Canucks forward, Todd Bertuzzi, horrifically injured Steve Moore, a forward for the Colorado Avalanche. After Moore sued Bertuzzi and the Canucks, Bertuzzi accused head coach, Marc Crawford, of encouraging his retaliation towards Moore, who had injured Canucks captain, Markus Naslund, in an earlier altercation.

Bertuzzi claimed that Crawford was negligent during his pregame speech and in his usage of Bertuzzi during the game. The charges against Crawford were eventually dropped, but the perception of how much liability can fall on a coach’s shoulders had shifted.

Coaches impact the game far beyond teaching systems and kicking dirt on an umpire. A coach must fulfil their role with diligence and caution, and if they don’t, they could be found negligent if an accident occurs.

Negligent Teacher Found Responsible

In 1998, a Physical Education (PE) teacher encouraged a student to participate in a game of field hockey. The student, Devon Hussack, had a history of truancy, having missed much of the school year, including the entire field hockey unit. Hussack was at risk of failing PE, a mandatory requirement to advance to the next grade. Wanting Hussack to receive a passing mark and knowing his history of ice and floor hockey, the teacher allowed him to participate.

Around the midpoint of the game, Hussack attempted to check another student from behind only to be struck in the face by a stick. Weeks later, he complained of sleep disruption, altered concentration, tiredness and weakness.

The Hussack family sued the school district for failing to coach Devon in the skills needed to safely play field hockey. The court ruled in favour of Hussack, citing that the teacher was negligent in providing a reasonable standard of care.

A Coach’s Responsibilities

Whether an employee or a volunteer, a coach’s responsibilities and expectations include:

  • Providing a safe playing area
  • Catering to varying skill levels
  • Providing medical attention, if required
  • Providing proper supervision, instruction, training and practice time
  • Balancing the needs of the athlete with that of winning

Ultimately, a coach must keep an athlete from harm. In the case of Devon Hussack, his teacher should have prevented him from playing. In the case of Todd Bertuzzi, his coach should have quelled the tension instead of fueling it further.

Negligence Isn’t Black and White

The quarterback position illustrates some of the grey area of negligence. A quarterback is taught plays, schemes, footwork and how to read defenses but they are rarely taught tackling skills. What if a quarterback is hurt while performing a tackle during a game? It’s reasonable to think that a coach can still be found negligent in not preparing a quarterback, even though the task is irrelevant to the position.

Negligence can be interpreted many ways, which is why involving a personal injury law firm to provide clarity to your situation is recommended.

Coaches Should Take Preventative Measures

Many sports accidents can be prevented if a coach is pro-active and diligent. A coach should always select a playing surface that is as safe as possible, and ensure that all sports equipment is functional & defect free. They also must be knowledgeable in training & learning procedures surrounding the sport being played, and offer sufficient closely supervised practice time for all players.

To protect themselves legally and their players physically, a coach should:

  • Never assume that all participants are equally trained
  • Outline the risks involved in participating
  • Inquire about any illnesses or injuries prior to play
  • Provide competent instruction
  • Be aware of players varying skill levels

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Negligence

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) links brain trauma to repeated blows to the head and is commonly found in athletes who participate in football, hockey and boxing. Knowing the dangers of this degenerative disease doesn’t absolve a coach of negligence. Coaches & teachers can still play a vital role in preventing CTE by instructing athletes on proper techniques to minimize head injuries, or by refusing to play someone who is experiencing symptoms.

In the Event of a Sports Accident

First and foremost, make sure that appropriate medical attention has been administered. From there, it’s critical to document as much as you can, including all medical reports. In addition, it’s extremely helpful to obtain video footage or photographs of the accident.

Once you have everything in order, consult with a personal injury lawyer to determine if you have a case against a negligent coach.

Your Case Needs to be Handled Properly

A coach has a responsibility to their athletes and if they are negligent in their duties then they should be held liable. Mackesy Smye has a team of dedicated and knowledgeable personal injury lawyers that will examine your situation and determine the best way to proceed.

If you’ve been negatively affected by a sports accident then click the button below to contact us today for your free personal injury consultation.


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