Ask The Experts
YOUTH SPORTS AND THE LAW: Improper soccer cleats lead to injury
Q: I’m a youth sports administrator for a large soccer program of roughly 500 kids ages 6-16. Players are not allowed to wear metal spikes in any of our leagues. During our pre-season coaches meeting we stress that coaches must check their players’ shoes on game days. Last weekend a player accidentally forgot and wore his metal baseball cleats to his game and no one noticed until he slid into another player, which resulted in that opposing player going to the hospital to receive stitches in his leg. The injured child’s parents of course are furious and as the person in charge I’m concerned where this is headed.
With the large number of kids we have I don’t have the staff to be able to individually check every child’s shoes before their games, which is why we hope the coaches can monitor this aspect for us. If the parents decide to sue is our league going to be in trouble? Am I? Is the coach of the player who wore the metal spikes at risk of being sued and having to pay hospital costs? Is there anything we can do moving forward to better protect ourselves from liability risks in the future?
A: If you establish a rule, you are responsible for enforcing it, even if you do not have sufficient resources. The best thing you can do in the future is to ensure every parent understands the rules and signs a release in order for their child to participate. The release should include:
(1) must abide by all equipment requirements (and you can list those on the release); and
(2) if their child injures another by using equipment not authorized, they are personally responsible for any injuries which may occur, not the soccer organization
In the meantime, you can do everything you can to make your current situation right. Diplomatic efforts can go a long way in preventing the filing of lawsuits.
First, be honest with everyone involved. The rules are published and distributed to everyone. Everyone is supposed to abide by them. Unfortunately, the parents and child did not abide by the rules and the coach didn’t notice until the accident occurred.
Encourage the child who caused the injury to apologize to the injured child and to resolve the issue with respect and straight forward kindness.
If this doesn’t work and the injuries are substantial, the parents of the injured child may file a lawsuit anyway. Your defense would be exactly as stated above. You posted the regulations and distributed them to all parents. Everyone involved was on notice, but regrettably a parent and child failed to follow them.
Given the precautions already taken, the parents have more responsibility, but this won’t stop your organization from being a defendant.
David Langfitt is a partner in the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, Pa., where he specializes in complex commercial, mass tort and fiduciary litigation. He has also litigated multiple patent and copyright infringement claims in federal district and appellate courts. He can be reached at (215) 893-3423 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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