Can An Injured Athlete Sue The Athletic Organization?

The quick answer is, in general, “no.” Athletic organizations do assume liability for certain kinds of fault. For example, they have the responsibility for the upkeep of equipment and other types of infrastructure including buildings. An injury that results from a failure to maintain the infrastructure might open a sports organization to serious liability. By contrast, players must sign waivers before they are allowed into the field. A tackle that results in a major injury doesn’t open up a sports organization to liability.

Any personal injury law firm would be happy to take on a case with a justified foundation, but because liability on behalf of sports organizations is rare, these cases are equally uncommon. Instead, injured players tend to seek compensation of the mind instead of compensation of the purse. What do we mean by that?

Take Victoria Hensh, for example: She enrolled in College Park in August 2019 as an NCAA Division I lacrosse player — until she tore her ACL and meniscus. It wasn’t a permanent injury, but it was more than enough to put her on the bench for months.

Hensh said, “It is so hard coming into a school. That was my freshman year, and I didn’t really know that many people, and I wasn’t really sure how to open up to people about an injury that was so serious. After the first few weeks, I just felt like I didn’t know what to do.”

But other players had already found a way to cope with the personal struggle of injury at the beginning of what one would hope to be a storied career in athletics. Other Terps players had formed the “Injured Athletes Club,” meeting bi-weekly as a group to speak with the university psychologist about their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes talking is better than a paycheck.

Hensh eventually returned to lacrosse triumphantly. But she said it was thanks to the club: “Without that, I think that would have been really tough for me, that feeling every day like I’m going through it alone when I was going through it with some of my best friends on the team. I think having such a place, I brought up a lot of things that I wouldn’t have thought to tell people. Even on days when I didn’t feel like talking, in those meetings, I talked, and that ultimately made those days better. So I think it really limited the number of bad days that I had, and it helped me cope with how to handle coming back from an injury.”

Dr. Michelle Garvin said, “We thought it might be good for me to come in and talk to them about what to prepare for. We decided to do it as a group, and after the first session, we thought that it was great and was going well.”

Garvin acknowledges that there is a surprising lack of emotional support for those training to become professional athletes because we perceive these people as “stronger” as the rest of us. But that’s not always the case — and everyone needs a shoulder to cry on sometimes.