Can Kids' Sports Drive You Into Bankruptcy?

November 3, 2014

Kids love to play contact sports. And sometimes, kids get hurt playing contact sports. Indeed, according to information from, 1.24 million children - 3,397 children per day, were admitted to the hospital for sports-related injuries last year.

The bulk of these injuries to young people ages 19 and under happened to 13 to 15 year-olds, and 90 percent of young athletes report they have been injured playing a sport at least once.

Perhaps most disturbingly, 33 percent of athletes report having been injured because of dirty play on the part of an opponent.

What happens if you are coaching or your child participates in a play in which another child is injured. If the injury is severe enough, there will likely be some expenses incurred in treatment. How does that play out in the courts? Can you be held liable for damages as a result of your coaching, or as a result of your child's actions on the field of play? Conversely, if your child is injured in a youth sports setting, and you have to incur significant expenses in treatment - how can you be made whole?

Historic Judgments
These aren't just theoretical questions. There have been a number of very large judgments as a result of youth sports injuries and other torts, some of them for more than $1 million.

The Question of Assigning Liability
Unless the parties come to an agreement among themselves and settle early, this is generally a complex matter for courts to determine - and specifics can vary by state. However, it's not uncommon for coaches, league organizers, school districts and other adult parties to share liability. You should bear in mind that if your child is under 18, you are legally liable for his or her actions.

Courts will generally look for evidence of negligence or recklessness when investigating youth sports injuries. The parties most at fault will naturally incur most of the liability. Sometimes, though, courts find no liability on the part of the league, other players, or any third party. They are quite aware that there is no way to make contact sports entirely injury-free. When that happens, then the costs are borne entirely by the injured party and his or her family - and their own medical, long-term care and accident insurance policies.

Insurance coverage
The first line of defense is generally the players' family's own health insurance plan - but that only covers direct treatment costs. It generally doesn't cover rehab, medical equipment, nursing home treatment, or long-term care issues for permanent disabling injuries, much less damages in compensation for lost wages, lost scholarship or scholastic opportunities, pain and suffering or punitive damages against a negligent, reckless or malicious parties.

The next line of defense for most parents is the homeowners' liability policy. While coverage is not automatic, most homeowners' policies do provide basic personal liability protections which generally apply to claims arising from youth sports activities.

Well-established sports leagues also frequently have liability insurance in place. These are very specialized policies that both protect the organizations involved and their leadership from liability arising from participation in their activities, but also protects children and their parents by ensuring that the league has sufficient capital at their back to provide for the costs of caring for injured athletes. Some non-profit organizations also have specialized liability coverage to cover them for injuries or torts that arise not just from recreational or sports activities, but for anything else.

You may want to verify with your local league to ensure that suitable insurance coverage is in place before allowing your children to participate - especially if the sports organization is small, unknown or run independently of state and national organizations.  Additionally, specialized coverage is available for sports instructors and coaches from a number of organizations. Contact your insurance advisor for additional information.

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