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Recent Sports Injury Case may Lead to Significant Change in Personal Injury Law

Ever since Dale Hackbart, an NFL defensive back, took the Cincinnati Bengal’s NFL franchise all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in a personal injury lawsuit, the law surrounding injuries that occur on the field of play has been pretty stagnant. But that could all change very soon.

In 1979, the United States Supreme Court created a ruling that included language establishing the fact that when a person is injured on the field of play during the normal course of an athletic competition, he or she may not have standing to bring a personal injury claim for the harm caused because he or she inherently accepted the risk of injury by participating in the game.

But recently the Baltimore Sun reported on an injury on a soccer field that has the potential to remake personal injury law in several states.

Illinois law follows a system known as Modified Comparative Negligence which means that, so long as the plaintiff was less than 50% liable for causing or contributing to cause the accident giving rise to his or her injury, he or she may have standing to sue for damages resulting from the harm caused.

But that’s not the rule in all States; many States use a structure called Contributory Negligence, which means that if a victim was in any way, or by any percentage, responsible for his or her own injury, he or she may not sue the other individual responsible for causing the harm. Nevertheless, the situation at hand may lead the courts to reconsider decades worth of personal injury law in a case that could significantly improve injured plaintiffs’ chances of winning payouts.

The lawsuit arose after a 20 year-old man was initially barred from recovery from his injuries after a crossbar crashed into his face, crushing the bones around his eye. The man was at a late-summer soccer practice taking a few warm-up shots at an empty goal. He grabbed the goal’s crossbar as he passed underneath to retrieve a ball, and the goalpost fell over. In trying the case, a jury found the soccer association that managed the fields was at fault in the man’s injury because it did not properly secure the goal to the field.

But the State in which the injury occurred is one of only four States that bar injured people from winning lawsuits if they had any role in an accident – even if a jury finds the defendant in their suit deserved a much greater share of the blame. As a result, because the jury also found that the man was at least partly responsible for the accident, he did not receive any payout.

The inherent unfairness of the situation led to an appeal in which the Court of Appeals heard two hours of argument on the standard of Contributory Negligence.

If the appeal is successful, the standard could change to mimic the current standards in Illinois personal injury law. Under Illinois’ jurisdiction, if you or a loved one have been injured in an incident that was a result of another person’s negligence, contact a personal injury lawyer to be apprised of your injuries. You may be entitled to compensation under the law.

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