Sunday, April 5, 2015

The lawsuit that could be the end of pee wee football?

Here is a story about a lawsuit recently filed in federal court in Wisconsin by the mother of a young man who committed suicide.  The lawsuit claims that the plaintiff's son’s involvement in a football program for children between the ages of 11 and 14 led to traumatic brain injury that eventually sent him into a spiral of paranoia and depression, culminating in his death.  You can read the complaint here.  It reads like a protest poster against football.  In it, the complainant argues that football is not a contact sport, but a combat sport and cites a number of famous football personalities describing the violent culture of the sport.  In short, the complaint argues (using several different theories of liability) that the defendant should be liable for allowing young children to play football.

The argument is interesting, but I don't think it has a good chance. There is no question that football is a dangerous sport, but courts are reluctant to recognize claims for injuries suffered in sports as long as the injury occurs as part of the rules and customs of the game.  Also, participating in the sport is voluntary and I am sure the parents signed a waiver when they decided to sign up the child for the league.  This brings up the defenses of implied assumption of the risk and express assumption of the risk.  Finally, the defendant will probably argue that the decision to commit suicide should be seen as a superseding cause - although that may be left to the jury if it can be argued that it was an "irresistible impulse."

The article points out that the plaintiff has been "quite vocal in her position that tackle football for kids should be abolished, and she hopes that her suit will lead to exactly that result, by making the activity too expensive to carry on."  Frankly, maybe kids football should be abolished, but I am not sure that this lawsuit is the best way to achieve that goal.

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