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Sports Torts: Can You Sue for Injuries Sustained in a Karate Match?

If you choose to participate in a contact sport — such as football, soccer, or some form of martial arts — and are seriously injured in the course of a sporting event, can you sue to recover damages? Many people’s immediate answer to this question is simply “no.” As with so many things under the law, however, the real answer is “it depends.” There are circumstances where someone causes you an injury so egregious — so far outside the rules of the sport and the ordinary bounds of injuries you might expect to receive — that the law allows you to recover. If you’ve received a really serious injury in a sporting event and are facing significant medical expenses, you should consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney.

Results from Previous Case

Way back in 1983, the Florida Supreme Court confronted exactly these questions when it was called upon to make a decision in the case of Kuehner v. Green. In that case, the plaintiff and the defendant were participating together in a karate match. Mr. Green, the defendant, used a “leg sweep” takedown maneuver, which caused Mr. Kuehner, the plaintiff, to fall and sustain very serious injuries, resulting in nearly $55,000 in medical bills for his family. The question before the court was whether, by agreeing to participate in the karate match, Mr. Kuehner had expressly assumed the risk of injury inherent in being vulnerable to the “leg sweep” move. The express assumption of risk, a legal doctrine common in tort law, essentially means that, if you subjectively understood the risk of injury when you agreed to take part in the sport and the move used wasn’t objectively unreasonable, you’ve effectively contracted away your right to sue about it. A participant knew this could happen when they decided to do karate, so they can’t complain.

Until this 1983 case, this issue was an open question under Florida law, and it doesn’t seem to have been revisited since. Perhaps most people injured while doing contact sports just assume that they aren’t entitled to compensation.

Verdict in Favor of Defendant

The Florida Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Mr. Kuehner, explaining that the jury had been properly asked to consider whether he had expressly assumed the risk of injury from the leg sweep. In effect, the Court said, the jury had found both that Mr. Kuehner subjectively knew what could happen to him in the course of the karate match, and that the move wasn’t objectively unreasonable. The Court left open the possibility, however, that in other cases — such as when someone deliberately tries to injure you in the course of a sporting event — there could be liability for egregious transgressions of the rules. Moreover, the Court held, if someone did not actually understand the risks of injury, he or she could recover.

Although Mr. Kuehner lost his case, it remains true that there are some sports injuries that are so severe that the injured person deserves compensation. Contact sports are inherently dangerous; but the question of how much danger you accept is a delicate one. If you’ve been injured in such a manner, contact experienced personal injury counsel — contact the lawyers at Gary Roberts & Associates.

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