Youth Sports Injuries: What to Know to Minimize Risk, and How to Proceed if Your Child Has Suffered an Injury
By Adam J. Langino, Esq.
Sports are a fun and essential way to keep kids active. They also help build life skills like cooperation, teamwork, self-reliance, and responsibility. However, with all the positive effects of sports comes increased risk of physical injury. Does this mean children shouldn’t play sports? Of course not; the benefits far outweigh the risks. However, it does mean that it’s important to be aware of the risks and to take precautions to try to minimize risks of sports-related injuries for your children. Sports injuries can also carry long-term consequences that can be both physically, emotionally, and financially harmful to your child and to your family. This article aims to help you understand the risks of sports-related injuries, as well as how to respond to protect your child in the unfortunate event that they suffer a serious injury from playing sports.
What are the risks of youth sports?
With a number of physical, emotional, and developmental benefits to sports, it’s no surprise that youth sports are popular in the U.S. A study1 conducted by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reported that over 70% of children ages 6-12 played a team or individual sport in 2018, and nearly 3 out of 4 children play a team or individual sport in the United States. More than 3.5 million children under 14 years old get hurt every year playing sports and participating in recreational activities.2 Not all injuries are serious, but more than 775,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year for sports-related injuries. The sport your child plays often affects the likelihood of the type of injury they may suffer. Youth sports injuries can be less serious, like minor broken bones or muscle strains, or they can have potentially serious consequences, like traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), spinal cord injuries, or even death.
High impact sports like football, basketball, and hockey come with increased risks of sports-related injuries, including TBIs. It’s estimated that between 1.1 and 1.9 million sports and recreation related concussions (SRRCs) occur annually in U.S. children.3 Most of these SRRCs required minimal treatment, with less than 170,000 requiring emergency room care, and less than 5000 requiring hospitalizations. Concussions can be very serious and always require medical attention, but they are often under-evaluated and undertreated. In fact, 5 in 10 concussions go unreported or undetected.4
The statistics reflect that 10% of all contact-sport athletes sustain concussions yearly, which makes the risk worth understanding and attempting to mitigate.5 The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study that concluded the number of sports-related concussions is highest in high school athletes, but they are significant and on the rise for younger athletes. Signs and symptoms of concussions include confusion, forgetfulness, glassy eyes, disorientation, clumsiness, lack of balance, slowed speech, and changes in mood, behavior, or personality. Though most children and teens who suffer a concussion feel better within a few weeks, others experience symptoms for months or longer and can suffer short- and long-term problems affecting their brain. Athletes of all ages should rest before resuming light exercise and then returning to sport-specific training or contact drills. There are a number of resources to ensure you and your child’s coach understand how to respond after a concussion.6
Though the more serious sports-related injuries involve player contact and collisions, the most common injuries involve sprains, strains, repetitive motion injuries such as stress fractures, and heat-related illnesses.7 Different sports are more likely to cause certain injuries. For example, basketball is linked to the most injuries across all age groups, particularly knee and ankle injuries. Baseball and softball are more commonly the cause of soft-tissue injuries like rotator cuff shoulder injuries and elbow strains. Unsurprisingly, football injuries more often include serious head and neck injuries, broken bones, and concussions. Hockey players also suffer comparatively high incidents of broken bones, concussions, and muscle strains. Soccer injuries are more likely to affect ankles, knees, and broken foot bones, but concussions are also more common than in many other sports. For girls, cheerleading is the leading cause of sports injuries, but basketball and soccer cause a fair number of injuries, too.
What are the consequences of childhood sport injuries and can my family recover damages in the event of an injury?
Serious sports injuries can lead to significant medical expenses in addition to your child’s pain, suffering, loss of quality of life, or loss of future earnings. In many cases, the ability to sue to recover for these losses will be limited. If the injury occurs during the normal course of a sporting event and was reasonably assumed to be a possibility of engaging in the sport, this is viewed in legal terms as “assumption of risk.” This is a defense a party would use to assert the injured party cannot recover damages for an injury that occurred after he or she knowingly and willingly engaged in an activity that could cause such an injury. Most schools, camps, after-school activities, and travel sports teams require parents or guardians to sign a mandatory consent waiver in order for the child to participate in a sports activity. Signing a waiver limits the right to sue the school or athletic league for injuries arising from inherent risks in the sport (otherwise known as “ordinary negligence”).
There are, however, some exceptions to the limitation of the right to sue after a sports-related injury. If a player intentionally injures your child, the intentional act may be grounds for suing. If an athlete is reckless and causes an injury, they may also be held liable depending on the extent of recklessness. Negligent coaching, including but not limited to the failure to offer hydration breaks or allow rest after a concussion, may be a cause of a sports injury, as well. In some cases, sports equipment that was defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed can give rise to a products liability claim if it resulted in sports injuries. Schools and sports organizations can also be held responsible if they fail to remedy a known dangerous condition promptly, and that condition causes an injury. An example would be a known hole or stone on a field that wasn’t remedied or removed. Ignoring state-mandated safety procedures after an injury, like required concussion protocol8 can also result in liability.
Every situation is different, and an attorney can help you understand whether your child can recover from their sports-related injury. I am sorry if you are reading this because your child was injured playing sports. Over my career, I have successfully resolved many child injury claims, and I am licensed to practice law in Florida and North Carolina and co-counsel claims in other states. If you would like to learn more about me or my practice, click here. If you want to request a free consultation, click here. As always, stay safe and stay well.