Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Use those sideline ropes

Many sports related law suits involve injury (that's why there are lawsuits to begin with). I am happy to say that most lawsuits do not involve rugby. However, there are still important principles at play that have implications for the rugby community. In Shain v. Racine Raiders Football Club, Inc., 2006 WI App 257 a coach was injured while standing on the sidelines of a youth (11-12 year old) football game.

Multiple youth teams were playing games on a football field with the youth fields laid out running from side-line to side-line of the full-sized field. As a result, the middle fields shared a sideline. The coach was injured when a player from the adjacent field ran out of bounds and struck the coach, injuring his knee. The coach sued, alleging that the the organizers were negligent in not laying out the fields to allow a safety zone between fields.

The court tossed about whether the coach was a spectator, and therefore subject to the "Baseball Rule" or a participant, and therefore subject to Wis. Stat. s. 895.525(4m) which allows for recovery for injuries in a contact sport "only if the participant who caused the injury acted recklessly or with intent to cause injury." cf. my prior post. The "Baseball Rule", in brief, is that a spectator assumes the risk of attending a sporting event and, therefore cannot sue if, for instance, they are hit by a foul ball or some other foreseeable consequence of attending a particular type of sporting event. Ultimately, the court concluded that the coach was a hybrid spectator/participant and that his own negligence precluded recovery. In other words, when standing on a sideline between two fields, the coach should have known that he might get run into by a player from the other field.

Youth rugby guidelines recommend laying out youth fields in a similar manner (i.e. two fields running width wide across a rugby pitch) -- but suggest having a 5-10m safety zone between the sideline and the field goal posts and a 10m safety zone between the youth pitches -- if only they had been playing rugby this all could have been avoided. More importantly, the court's holding in Shain is directly applicable to the involvement of coaches in rugby in the event a coach (or spectator) is injured on the sideline -- when attending a rugby game -- people standing on the sideline should know that players may run about of bounds and you may get hurt. Therefore, it is best for spectators to stand behind the sideline ropes and for people in front of the sideline ropes to pay attention to the game, so that injury can be avoided.

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