A Massachusetts Superior Court judge recently ruled that a high school field hockey coach and the school may be liable in negligence for injuries caused by the coach’s failure to have his own player evaluated after an initial head injury and failure to report the nature of her injury afterward to parents, medical professionals or other school officials.
The coach permitted the player to participate without evaluation in a second game during which she suffered a second head injury and then had serious complications thereafter. At the time Massachusetts regulations required schools and coaches to take steps to prevent players from suffering or exacerbating the adverse impacts of head injuries, and the school had also implemented its own concussion management protocol.
The Court noted that the normal rule where participants in sports are injured by another player or by the negligence of an opposing coach is that the injured player must prove that the player or opposing coach acted willfully or recklessly in causing the player’s injury, as opposed to simple acting negligently. “Vigorous and active participation in sporting events should not be chilled by the threat of litigation.” The Superior Court in the case at hand determined that this rule did not apply. The Court stated, “The duties of a coach to [his or her] own players is different from the duties of a coach to players on the opposing team…. [A] player’s own coach must think about winning to be sure, but must also look out for and safeguard [her] own team’s and [her] own players’ best interest.” The Court therefore refused to dismiss the case at the early stages without further factual development or potentially a trial.
The reported case is Dugan v. Thayer Academy, Massachusetts Superior Court, decision dated May 27, 2015.