Nearly 30 million children and teens take part in youth sports in the United States. If your child is injured playing organized sports – at school or anywhere else – do you have legal options? What is the law in the state of Florida? Is your child at risk? Keep reading, and you’ll learn what every parent in Florida needs to know.
These statistics will offer some perspective. High school athletes account for about two million injuries and approximately 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year. More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 are treated for sports injuries each year. Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals.
Generally speaking, if your child is insured through your own health coverage or through another health insurance policy, treatment for injuries and follow-up care is covered, up to the policy limits. Of course, you will have to pay any deductible or co-pay that is spelled out by the policy, and if an injury is severe, that cost might be substantial.
IF YOUR CHILD IS INJURED, WHAT ARE YOUR LEGAL OPTIONS?
You may also be able to pursue a third-party insurance claim against the liability coverage of the school, youth league, or business that organizes or sponsors the sports activity, but always keep in mind that the insurance companies are concerned with their own interests and not with yours. They want to pay out as little as possible to settle your claim.
Do not sign any documents from any insurance company until the full extent of your child’s injuries has been determined by a doctor and all of the costs have been determined and included in the insurance company’s settlement offer. You might be signing away your right to take any legal action in the future.
In fact, if your child’s injuries were catastrophic, disabling, and/or permanent, do not even talk with an insurance company first. Instead, if an injury is anything more serious than minor scrapes and bruises, take your case and concerns directly to an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney, and let your attorney handle the negotiations with the insurance company.
HOW CAN AN INJURY ATTORNEY HELP AN INJURED CHILD’S FAMILY?
An experienced personal injury attorney routinely negotiates with insurance companies on behalf of injury clients, so he or she knows what to expect and how to obtain the settlement amount your family needs. Anyone who is injured by another person’s negligence in Florida is entitled by law to full compensation for all medical costs, lost income, and all other injury-related expenses and damages.
After a sports-related accident, it cannot hurt – and in fact, it is probably wise – to discuss your options with a personal injury lawyer. Insurance should pay for all documentable medical expenses but usually will not compensate an injured person for pain, suffering, sleeplessness, emotional distress, and the other negative effects of serious injuries.
In most cases, to receive full compensation after a child’s sports injury, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed. At a minimum, the option to file a lawsuit can be a powerful bargaining chip during settlement negotiations with the insurance company. A lawsuit filed against a business, a non-profit, or a private school is fairly straightforward, but if your child was injured in a public school, suing becomes more complicated.
IF YOU FILE AN INJURY LAWSUIT, WHAT WILL YOU NEED TO PROVE?
Your personal injury lawsuit will need to explain precisely how the defendant’s negligence resulted in your child being injured. Exactly what was done – or was not done – that led to the injury?
Depending on the details of the injury, you might claim that your child was injured due to:
– improper or inadequate training of staff
– improper or inadequate supervision
– poorly-maintained premises or facilities
– faulty or defective sports equipment or safety equipment
– improper or inadequate on-site emergency care
IS EVERY YOUTH SPORTS INJURY THE RESULT OF NEGLIGENCE?
If your child is injured in the normal course of playing a sport, the legal doctrine of the “assumption of the risk” comes into play and may make it difficult to hold another party legally responsible. A lot of sports injuries happen simply because injuries are a natural consequence of the sport, and those playing the sport “assume” that risk.
Thus, an injury doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone was legally negligent. However, if an injury is a result of negligence – for example, children were left unsupervised, or defective equipment was not replaced – you may have a cause of action. Your attorney will assess the details of the case to determine if you have legal grounds to move forward with a personal injury lawsuit.
As mentioned previously, if your child is injured in a sports activity conducted by a Florida public school, the legal situation is more complex. Most governmental bodies and agencies, in most cases, are protected against personal injury lawsuits by a legal principle called “sovereign immunity.”
HOW FAR DOES SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY EXTEND?
However, in the state of Florida, sovereign immunity does not protect a school district against an injury lawsuit when the injury is severe and the injury victim is a minor. Public schools in this state can and do get sued for negligence when children suffer personal injuries while participating in school-sponsored sports activities.
In 2010, for example, the family of 12-year-old Miami middle school student Pateesha Clinch received a $700,000 wrongful death settlement after suing the Miami-Dade School Board. The girl had been playing at school with friends when her head struck the side of a portable classroom and she went into cardiac arrest.
Sovereign immunity laws in Florida restrict the amount of compensation available to victims and set forth the procedures for suing a school district, but negligent school employees do not have legal immunity. However, if a child is injured at a public school, parents will need an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney to explain the special rules and procedures for bringing a lawsuit against “the government.”
Even if an injury seems trivial, have your child examined by a doctor at once – a school nurse cannot conduct the full medical examination that will be needed. Medical bills can pile up swiftly, so when a child is injured because a coach, a teacher, or a daycare worker was negligent, discuss the case at once with an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer – because nothing is more important than your child.