Articles Posted in Sports Injuries

Settlements are agreements to resolve a lawsuit or a dispute through the terms of the agreement. In most agreements, the parties agree not to admit any wrongdoing. The amount of compensation and terms of the agreement may be confidential, as well as other details about the case. In fact, these days most civil cases are resolved through a settlement.

How Does the Personal Injury Settlement Process Work?

After a D.C. injury case, the parties reach out to one another to discuss a settlement—and in some cases, a court may require the parties to discuss settling the case. Settlements may allow the parties to avoid the time and stress of a prolonged court proceeding, which could take years in some cases. Courts often encourage settlements because it allows courts to conserve their resources for cases in which no agreement can be reached. But the parties must come to an agreement voluntarily. They cannot be forced into an agreement.

Some settlements also require the approval of a court. In Washington, D.C., if a person entitled to file or defend a claim on behalf of a minor child agrees to settle the case, a court must approve the settlement after details of the injuries, costs, and the settlement are provided to the court. There also may be a hearing on the matter.

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A release of liability is a type of contract by which one party releases another party from liability that may otherwise have been the basis for a Washington, D.C. personal injury case. Releases of liability are sometimes separate forms that must be signed by the participant or their parent, as in the case of school field trips. However, releases of liability are also frequently on the back of tickets to events such as concerts, festivals, museums, or certain pay-to-play activities such as skiing, bungee-jumping, biking, and rafting.

Liability releases are contracts, and are often found to be enforceable by the courts. If enforceable, a release may excuse the negligent conduct of an operator, preventing an injury victim from pursuing a claim for compensation. However, courts carefully review liability releases to ensure that they are valid. A recent case involving a skiing accident illustrates how courts analyze releases of liability.

According to the court’s opinion, a ten-year-old boy was injured while skiing after he slipped and fell on a patch of machine-made snow. The boy was a member of a local ski team, and regularly skied expert terrain. Before the season began, the boy’s father signed a release of liability on behalf of his son. The release purported to waive the boy’s right to sue the ski team or any ski resort for any injuries he sustained, including injuries that were the result of another party’s negligence.

Most Washington, D.C. personal injury cases are based on the theory of negligence. In Washington, D.C., there are two primary defenses to personal injury lawsuits: contributory negligence and assumption of the risk. As we have discussed at length in other posts, contributory negligence refers to an injury victim’s shared responsibility in bringing about their own injuries. Under Washington, D.C. personal injury law, if a plaintiff is contributorily negligent, they are precluded from recovering for their injuries.

The assumption of risk is a different, but related concept. Under an assumption of the risk defense, a defendant is claiming that the plaintiff voluntarily entered into a situation with full knowledge and appreciation of the risks involved. In these situations, while a plaintiff’s actions may not have contributed to their injuries, their acceptance of the risks involved with a particular activity prevent them from holding others responsible for their injuries. The doctrine of assumption of the risk only rarely applies to Washington, D.C. car accident cases. That said, it is much more common in premises liability cases and sports injury cases.

A recent state appellate opinion discusses the concept of assumption of the risk as it relates to skiing.

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In many Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, the issues raised in the case are within the common understanding of jurors and the jurors are able to resolve the issues on their own. However, in more complex cases, or those that raise issues involving professional standards of care that may be beyond the scope of jurors’ common understanding, the plaintiff may need to present an expert witness in order to effectively explain certain issues.

Expert witnesses are most common in Washington, D.C. medical malpractice cases, but they are also used in other types of negligence cases. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 explains that a person may be considered an expert if they possess “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” Once an expert is qualified, they are able to present opinion testimony if certain additional facts are met.

Expert witness testimony is critical in some Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, especially those involving issues that are unfamiliar to the jurors or in situations where the opposing party is presenting expert testimony. A recent case illustrates the importance of expert witness testimony.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case raising an interesting issue that may arise in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases involving sports related injuries. The question involved the duty of care owed among co-participants in a sport event, and under what circumstances that duty applies.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and defendant were golfing together when the defendant struck the plaintiff while driving the golf cart. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, seeking compensation for the injuries he sustained in the accident.

The defendant claimed that, as a co-participant in the golfing game, he owed the plaintiff a duty to refrain from acting recklessly. The plaintiff argued that the standard was one of “negligence.” The trial court agreed with the defendant, imposing a reckless standard, and the jury resolved the case in the defendant’s favor. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the court improperly applied the reckless standard.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving the question of whether a man who died while on a horseback-riding excursion assumed the risks involved with the activity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the type of accident in which the man was involved was the type that is commonly associated with horseback riding. The court determined that the man assumed these inherent risks by agreeing to participate in the activity, and therefore his loved ones could not hold the company that provided the ride legally responsible for his death.

The case illustrates an important legal issue for Washington, D.C. personal injury victims who have agreed to participate in what can be considered a dangerous activity.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving wife of a man who died while on a horseback-riding excursion that was provided by the defendant resort. On the day of the accident, the plaintiff’s husband joined about 20 others for a horseback ride. Prior to embarking on the ride, the man signed a release of liability indicating that he was aware that horseback riding presents certain risks, including falling off the horse, and that when these accidents occur, they can result in serious injuries or death.

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Earlier this month, a settlement was reached between a woman who was seriously injured while attending a track-and-field meet and the school where the injury occurred. According to a national news source covering the case, the accident occurred back in 2014 at a track meet for a local high school.

Evidently, the 85-year-old plaintiff was struck by a discus that had been thrown by a student athlete while she was standing in an area that was designated for spectators. The woman and her husband filed a personal injury lawsuit against the school under a premises liability theory. The couple alleged that the area designated for spectators was negligently placed in a dangerous location. Specifically, the couple claimed that since the spectator area was too close to where the student athletes were competing, spectators were at an unreasonable risk of being injured.

After the incident, the school decided to push back the spectator area and install signage, warning spectators about the potential dangers. Ultimately, the plaintiff was offered $350,000 for her injuries by the school, and she accepted.

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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been making headlines for the past year or so, as it was detected that this tragic degenerative brain disease has been affecting professional athletes. CTE has recently begun to be studied in-depth by many doctors and scientific researchers throughout the country. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease that generally affects individuals who have incurred a significant amount of trauma to their head. Although CTE has just recently been garnering national recognition as a serious disease, it has actually been detected in professional boxers as early as the 1920s. However, recent studies focusing on the brains of deceased football players revealed that these players’ brain structures were severely damaged and included a build-up of abnormal proteins.

Unfortunately, individuals experiencing this trauma often suffer significant and life-changing experiences. Some common symptoms that people report are depression, anxiety, aggression, memory and cognition problems, lack of impulse control, and impaired judgment. There have been tragic instances where athletes have committed suicide and it was later discovered that they were suffering with CTE.

The New York Times recently published an article focusing on a college football player who was discovered to be suffering from CTE. The football player was an offensive lineman for the University of North Carolina and was by all accounts a well-adjusted individual. However, after sustaining repeated injuries he ended up homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol. His family noted that he often complained that he felt that he was different and that “something was wrong with his brain.” The young college athlete ended up riding his bike straight into oncoming traffic and was killed after being hit by a car. His mother argued that she is sure that his actions qualify as suicide.

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Over the past few years, the National Football League and the National Hockey League have been involved in lawsuits brought by players, alleging that the league failed to adequately prevent and treat serious head injuries that can lead to life-threatening diagnoses, including Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). New research indicates that professional athletes may not be the only ones at risk.

The Theory of Liability

Players in these lawsuits claim that the leagues they play in failed to adequately warn them of the potential for serious, life-threatening harm that can result from participating in the sport. Players claim that they were encouraged to get back onto the field or ice shortly after they suffered serious head injuries or concussions, and this has resulted in an increased risk of developing CTE. CTE is only diagnosable after someone has died, but people who suffer from the disease experience myriad symptoms, including anxiety, aggression, parkinsonism, depression, dementia, and even suicidality.

The crux of the players’ claim is that the league knew or should have known of the dangers present in playing the high-contact sports and should have taken more precautions and taken head injuries more seriously when they did occur. In fact, a group of NFL players recently reached a settlement with the NFL to establish a fund to compensate injured players. The details of that settlement are still being worked out.

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Earlier this month, a former football player for the University of California, Berkeley, has filed suit against the regents of the University, as well as several others, seeking damages for the long-term injuries he sustained as a result of his participation in the school’s football program. According to a local California news report, Bernard Hicks played in the position of safety for the Golden Bears for a period of about four years between 2004 and 2008. In all, Hicks played 32 games with the team.

Evidently, during his tenure with the team, Hicks suffered numerous concussions during both games and practices. After leaving the team in 2008, Hicks alleges that he suffered from permanent and debilitating injuries, including depression, suicidal thoughts, memory loss, and problems with his vision.

The lawsuit, which also names the school’s head coach and athletic trainer, claims that the school should have been more proactive in educating the players regarding the long-term risks of neurological damage associated with participating in a high-impact sport such as football. Hicks claims that, had he been properly educated about the risks involved, he would have not participated or at least taken off more time in between games to allow himself to heal.

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