Thousands of people across the United States enjoy ice hockey, and there are nearly 30,000 registered players in Illinois. The pace and ferocity of a typical hockey game can easily lead to injuries, but that doesn't mean you can automatically file a personal injury lawsuit against somebody. In Illinois, ice hockey is subject to a legal exception that restricts your ability to file a claim against someone for your injuries. Learn more about this exception, and find out how it could affect a potential lawsuit.
How the contact sports exception works
A normal personal injury lawsuit in Illinois works on the basis that somebody's negligence caused your injury. While you don't have to prove that the defendant was negligent, you have to present a reasonable case that shows he or she had a duty to care towards you and did not take all reasonable steps to protect you. For example, if a shop owner did not repair obvious damage to the floor in his or her store and you tripped over, you could normally file a personal injury lawsuit.
When it comes to contact sports, Illinois state law makes an exception. In these cases, the law understands that contact sports are naturally dangerous and that players face a serious risk of injury every time they practice or play. As such, the contact sports exception means that the ordinary negligence rules don't apply.
According to this exception, you cannot file a lawsuit against somebody for ordinary negligence. For example, in a game of ice hockey, you cannot generally sue anyone who knocks you over during a match and injures you if this is an ordinary part of the game. However, you CAN file a lawsuit against somebody if they are willfully or deliberately negligent.
Why the exception exists
Contact sports are all athletic, vigorous and relatively dangerous. If the normal personal injury statutes applied during a contact sports match, almost all the players would at one time or another become legally negligent. Realistically, these lawsuits could cripple the sport and would ultimately mean that hardly any players could take the risk of playing. As such, Illinois adopted this exception to allow players to take part without facing the insurmountable risk of legal action.
Extension of the contact sports exception
The Illinois Supreme Court has now extended the exception to include certain sports organizations. In the case of Karas v. Strevell, 227 Ill. 2d 440, 884 N.E.2d 122, 318 Ill. Dec. 567 (2008), the plaintiff filed a complaint on behalf of his son, alleging an injury that occurred when two opposing players body checked the plaintiff. The lawsuit alleged that the players, the players' team, the governing association of the referees and the amateur hockey league were all negligent by failing to take steps to prevent this movement.
In ice hockey, body checking is a defensive move that the rules do not allow players to carry out from behind another player. In this case, the opposing players had broken the rules. However, the Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiff, stating that rules violations are inevitable in contact sports. As such, the Judge extended the contact sports exception to the other players and the organizations involved.
Important things to note about the contact sports exception
As you would probably expect, the Illinois courts will treat any negligence case based solely on its the merits. Nonetheless, there are several other important considerations.
The exception only defines the scope of a defendant's duty. In a personal injury lawsuit, the court will not need to examine if the plaintiff was aware of the risks of playing the game. If applicable, the exception assumes that everyone knew and understood the risks.
There is increasing demand for a review of the exception in Illinois, as ice hockey is a full-contact sport. This definition means that the players must purposefully collide with each other as part of the game, further increasing the risk of personal injury. As such, where conscious disregard for the other players is part of the game, even the contact sports exception becomes problematic.
The exception does not exonerate anyone from dangerous conduct that falls outside the rules of the game. For example, the exception would not protect anyone who attacked another player in a fit of rage.
The contact sports exception protects ice hockey players from legal action if they injure somebody else during normal play, but the rules are complex. If you or somebody you love suffers an ice hockey injury, talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer for more advice about your legal options.