Who is Accountable When a Student-Athlete is Injured on School Grounds?
Schools and universities, like any other property owners and supervisory entities, are legally obligated to provide a safe environment for employees, students, and visitors. Safety should be a top priority for all student activities, from playing fields to classrooms. While sports activities on their own may create dangerous situations, the supervising organization remains accountable for student-athlete safety while on school property.
A lawyer can help determine if a personal injury case is the best route for a student injured on school grounds. A range of factors will come into play when determining if legal action is an option, but foreseeability of the threat of injury on the part of an organization is a key factor.
Responsibility to Ensure Student Safety while Playing Sports
Playing sports, especially contact sports, may create hazardous conditions by the nature of the game. It is still the responsibility of the university to protect student-athletes, even during these inherently dangerous activities.
On a playing field, the activity itself must be organized and secured to protect the athletes. If the activity itself creates a dangerous condition, the school must work to minimize that danger with protective gear, guidance, and supervision.
Here are other ways schools and universities should be working to protect students who participate in sports or other activities on school property:
- Property and equipment must be well maintained, in good working order, and free of defects.
- Students must be required to wear necessary protective gear while playing.
- Staff must supervise students when training in school gyms and on playing fields.
- Teachers, trainers, coaches, and other personnel should be well trained, adequately screened, and prepared to help athletes in an emergency.
School and University Accountability for Student Safety
Universities must be held accountable when they knew or should have known about a dangerous condition or situation. When a student-athlete is hurt on school grounds, the university is responsible for ensuring that the grounds were well maintained and that any hazardous condition is removed. If a danger exists on their grounds, they must ensure that a clear warning is posted to alert the students about the situation and how to avoid injury.
In cases where a rogue teacher, trainer, or coach causes a student to be injured, an experienced lawyer would look to the university to investigate what precautions were taken in hiring, retaining, and supervising the personnel. If it is found that a school or university did not adequately protect an injured student from a dangerous condition, event, or staff member, they will be held accountable for negligence.
How Releases Come Into Play
Sometimes, organizations and facilities will have athletes or parents of athletes sign a release before engaging in activities on their premises. Each case is different, but signing a waiver or release may relieve an organization of liability in the case of injury depending on the language in the release and how it was executed.
A Florida appellate panel recently refused to revive a student athlete’s case against the School Board of Broward County, ruling that his signature on a pregame release relieved the organization from liability. In Elalouf v. School Board of Broward County, a high school soccer player was injured after colliding with an unpadded cement barrier. Before the game, the student and his parent voluntarily signed a release, allowing the student to play for his high school soccer team. In this case, the release insulated the school board from liability for personal injury claims.
Protecting Injured Students’ Rights
A school or university’s top priority regarding their students and athletes is safety, whether it is on playing fields, gyms, in classroom settings, or during the activity itself. When a school or university is negligent in its legal obligation to provide athletes and students with a safe environment, the organization will be held responsible.
Even if a release or waiver was signed before the activity, an experienced lawyer can offer advice on how someone may choose to proceed with a case. Every case is unique, but the wording of the release and how it is executed before athletic participation are just two pieces a lawyer will look at in a student’s personal injury case.
The team at Panter, Panter & Sampedro treats our clients like family and many of us are parents. We understand how important it is to keep our children and families safe. Contact us for a free consultation with any questions you may have at (305) 662-6178.
Rady, K. (2021, March 3). Student-Athlete’s Signed Release Insulates School Boards From Personal Injury Claims. Retrieved from: https://jdsupra.com/legalnews/student-athlete-s-signed-release-9327611