The Supreme Court of Illinois has recently established a standard of care owed by participants and administrators of full contact sports such as ice hockey or football. In Karas v. Strevell, 2008 WL 484755 (Ill., Feb. 22, 2008), a plaintiff sued on behalf of his minor son, Benjamin Karas, after he was body checked from behind by two players of an opposing team during a youth ice hockey game. The Plaintiff sued the two minor players for his resulting injuries, alleging willful and wonton conduct. The Plaintiff also named the local hockey league and hockey associations as Defendants, claiming certain failures to enforce league rules against body checking from behind, both negligently and with willful and wanton disregard for the minor’s safety, and for civil conspiracy “not to enforce" rules prohibiting body checking from behind.
The Supreme Court held that, “in a full contact sport such as ice hockey or tackle football, a participant breaches a duty of care to a co-participant only if the participant intentionally injures the co-participant or engages in conduct ‘totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport.’” The Court reasoned that this standard balances concerns to preserve the nature of full-contact sports, with the proposition that certain sports bear an anticipated and inherent risk for which no duty of care should attach, but that extreme misconduct during a sporting event causing injury should not go without available relief. The Court extended this same duty to the league organizations and associations, reasoning that enforcement of a sport’s rules inevitably impacts the way the game is played and that to impose an ordinary negligence standard would be too harsh for the fast-paced, quick-thinking nature of coaches, associations, and leagues. The court gave specific examples of situations where a claim may exist, but noted that insufficient facts were pled in the Complaint. The court provided that a claim may exist depending upon the position of the players at the time of the check, whether the game was in progress or in time out, and whether the checks resulted from deliberate retaliation. Therefore, in announcing its new standard of care, the Court allowed Plaintiff to amend his Complaint for specific allegations of the same, in the event they existed at the time Benjamin was injured.