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Cape Cod Personal Injury Blog

Can you sue a coach for your child's sports injury?

Have you ever signed one of those "waiver of liability" forms required for your child's participation in organized sport? You know, the one that states you are accepting all the risks involved in participating in that sport, and you agree to hold the organizers, coaches, referees, advertisers and everyone else blameless should your child be injured playing said sport?

Those liability waiver forms are designed to protect an athletic program and its affiliates from sports injury lawsuits when an athlete is hurt during situations of competition due to the risks inherent in the nature of the sport. Most even go as far as to attempt to protect the program from liability due to negligence on the part of the coaches, refs, etc.

A Superior Court judge in Massachusetts has ruled that Amy Dugan, a junior at Braintree's Thayer Academy when she suffered a head injury in 2011, can sue her former field hockey coach for negligence.

In 2010, the Commonwealth passed a law regarding head injuries and extracurricular athletics (G.L.c. 111, §222) which established a head injury safety training protocol for all Massachusetts public schools. Although Thayer Academy, as a private school, may not be subject to the statute itself, the school - and its athletic coaches - still owes a "duty of care" to its players.

In the Thayer Academy case, plaintiff Amy Dugan suffered an initial head injury on October 7, 2011, when she was struck in the head by a ball during a field hockey game. According to Dugan, Coach Erin Cash witnessed the injury but did not remove her from the game, nor did she attempt to evaluate her injury as a potential concussion. On October 12, the coach put Dugan on the field again, where she collided with another player and was struck in the head. Again, the coach did not try to determine whether Dugan had suffered a head or other injury and did not remove her from the game, nor did she notify the school or Dugan's parents about the incident.

The judge ruled that although Thayer Academy was not required to adhere strictly to the Massachusetts regulations, the school neglected its own "concussion management protocol" which called for "involvement and evaluation by a primary care physician, notification of parents, and action by an athletic trainer or nurse." On the field, athletes play hard despite the inherent risks in any sport. Off the field, the issue is not the competition itself, but a coach's responsibility to keep his or her players safe. This includes evaluating a player's capability to compete on a playing field, especially with regard to head injuries.

At issue here are allegations involving a failure to obtain medical care, not the inherent risks in participating in competitive sport. A coach's responsibility includes using care to evaluate his or her players' fitness for participation on an ongoing basis, both on and off the field.

You can read about the head injury training statute in Massachusetts by clicking HERE, or more on Dugan v. Thayer Academy by clicking HERE.

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