Personal Injury: Sporting Accidents Among Minors

By: Donna Russo, Esq.

             In C.J.R., a minor vs. G.A., a reported decision by the Appellate Division (A-2771-13T, December I, 2014), the Court decided the issue of the standard of care to be used in sporting accidents between minors.  C.J.R. and G.A, were 11 year old minors on opposing teams in a lacrosse match.  Near the end of the match, C.J.R. had the ball.  G.A. ran full force diagonally across the field towards C.J.R., who was trying to keep control of the ball,  and hit him on the back and his left arm.  C.J.R. sustained a fractured arm.  C.J.R. sued G.A..   The trial court dismissed the complaint on summary judgement.  The Appellate Division affirmed.

The Appellate Division determined that there are no reported decisions analyzing the alleged tort liability of a minor who injured another minor while participating in a sporting activity.    The Court examined two strands of law: the law of sporting injury between adults and cases that limit liability of minors depending on their age and other characteristics.

In sporting injuries involving adults, the Court found that liability can be imposed if there is reckless conduct because “… it may reflect a conscious choice of  action with knowledge or reason to that the action will create serious harm to others.”  citing Schick v. Ferolito, 167 N.J. 7 (2001).  The Schick Court explained:

an actor acts recklessly when he or she intentionally commits an act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great to make it highly probable that harm would follow and which thus is usually accompanied by a conscious indifference to the consequences…Reckless conduct is an extreme departure from ordinary care, in a situation in which a high degree of danger is apparent.  Id 14.

The Court then addressed the second strand which is the law generally governing the potential tort liabilities of minors.  Children under the age of 7 cannot be deemed negligent. For those older than 7, the Court, following precedent, found that a child’s conduct is to be measured in light of the capacity to exercise care under all attendant circumstances. The Court further found that the younger the child, the greater the risk as younger children are less likely to discern danger and that children have a known proclivity to act impulsively without though of the possibility of danger.

The Appellate Division held:

Distilling these authorities to a cohesive rule of law to apply when, as here, a minor injures another minor in sporting activity, we adopt ‘a double-layered’ approach.  The two layers of that analysis are as follows: (1) whether the opposing player’s injurious conduct would be actionable if it were committed by an adult, evaluating whether there is sufficient proof of the defendant player’s intent to inflict bodily injury or recklessness; and if so, (2) whether it would be reasonable in the particular youth sports setting to expect a minor of the same age and characteristics as the defendant to refrain from injurious physical contact.

The Court took judicial notice that children and especially young children need years of coaching and experience to learn and adhere to the rules of the sport.  The Court, having found no reckless or intentional conduct on the part of G.A. and considering his age, affirmed the trial court’s finding of no liability.