Risk and Spectator Sports

Youre having a great afternoon watching your favorite ball team. Just as you open your mouth to take another bit of your hot dog, a baseball slams into your face. Who is going to pay your dental bills?

Or, you're looking forward to an exciting run down a new ski hill when the chair lift breaks down leaving you stranded above the ground so long you develop frost-bite. Who can you expect to pay your salary while you recover?

Most sports involve some element of physical danger. People who play or watch sports know this, so they usually have to cover their own costs if they are hurt. Sometimes though, an injury occurs because the place where the sport was played was unreasonably dangerous. Then it may be possible to sue the owner or operator of the sports facility where the injury occurred.

The owners of sports facilities, such as skating rinks or swimming pools, are required to take reasonable steps to make sure that people who spend time on their property taking part in or watching a sport are safe. This means that the building and equipment must be constructed in such a manner that it is reasonably safe.

For example, you will not likely successfully sue if you get hit by a baseball or hockey puck because that is a fairly normal risk of the game. But, if the ski lift was not properly built or maintained - and you suffer a serious personal injury due to a malfunction - you may well be able to sue the owner of the ski hill.

When people organize a sports event, usually for profit, they must take a reasonable amount of care to make sure that no one is injured. The organizer may require players to sign a contract agreeing not to sue if they are injured. In some cases, such a contract will be found valid but not always.

For example, in one relatively recent case an operator of a ski resort allowed a drunk contestant to take part in a very dangerous event. When he was severely injured, he sued. The court decided that organizers of the competition should have prevented such an obviously drunk person from participating. So the resort owner was required to pay for most of the injured mans loss even though the entry form he signed said the owner would not be responsible.