Can you sue if your child is injured in a school sport?

If your child has ever joined a sports team at school, you've probably had to sign a liability waiver in order for them to participate. This waiver protects the school from litigation if your child is injured while playing.

But is such a waiver enforceable in all cases--regardless of the injury or its cause? The answer is no. A liability waiver may hold up in court for certain types of accidents or injuries. However, as a parent, that doesn't mean you're giving up all your rights to protect your child.

Basketball coach negligence

In a recent case at Howard University, former basketball players filed a lawsuit against coach Kevin Nickelberry for gross negligence. The players claimed that the coach's extreme coaching style constituted physical and emotional abuse. The lawsuit alleges that Nickelberry showed wanton disregard for player safety, and that he regularly forced players to practice beyond what is allowed under National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulations. Players even had to play when they were injured.

When a liability waiver is invalid

For many sports injuries, a liability waiver prevents any injured participant--or their parents--from suing. However, there is an exception to this restriction. The reason that the basketball players on Howard University's team were able to file a lawsuit against their coach is due to their allegation of gross negligence. In sports, gross negligence occurs when a school or coach:

  • Fail to take steps to protect the safety of their athletes or
  • Take actions that put their athletes in harm's way

Tragically, gross negligence towards children in the athletic community is more common than we'd like to admit. If your child has unnecessarily suffered due to a coach's gross negligence, it's important to seek out an attorney who has experience seeking justice in such cases.

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