The Law of Torts in Contact Sports

The Sports Industry is starting to gain a lot of importance in mainstream culture as well in the Economy of nations. Therefore, it’s not surprising to find several legislations, laws, rules and other forms of Legal bindings within the Sports Industry. For example, the concept of Contracts as a promise that the players and sporting staff of a team will remain loyal to a specific team, the concept of Trademarks on Celebratory Sports Moves for a sports personality etc.[1]

Most Contact Sports are usually quite aggressive. In fact, most of the philosophies of having to play such games are to induce aggression in order to play effectively. For Example, the position of a Linebacker or a Safety in a typical game of American Football or even the role of the Defensive midfielder in a Football game represents this. The position of the players in the game itself encourages to get in contact with other players and prevent them from achieving a particular role, say holding a Football or passing the ball around in a region dominated by the opponent.

Understanding of a Tort in Sports

Before trying to understand the implementation of Contact Sports in Tort, a clear idea of Torts must be understood. According to some of the top jurists of our nation, tort is a legal wrong, essentially being a branch of civil law having two core branches that consist of contract laws and property law. With respect to torts, the plaintiff is the victim of an alleged wrong and the defendant, if he is convicted of the proposed charges, would be directed by the court to pay damages to the plaintiff or else will promise to desist from the wrongful activity, or in better words injunctive relief. Some examples include intentional torts like defamation, battery, invasion of privacy and unintentional torts such as negligence. The contemporary tort theory focuses on the legal aspects of accidents and the potential consequences of it, where the relevant forms of liability include negligence and strict liability, where the focus is on these forms of liability. Mishaps often tend to happen and when it does the victims incur the maximum loss and bear all the costs. Those costs can continue to remain the burden of victims or they can be shifted to the perpetrators of the mishap.

Taking statistics in hand, it is clear that the number of fouls and tackles committed by these kinds of players is significantly higher than the other teammates around them. With the English Premier League’s 2019-20 statistics as a measure, it can be seen that Defensive Midfielders and deep-lying Playmakers have the top foul numbers and the highest number of bookings. This only goes to show that certain types of sportsmen in the game are usually susceptible to committing harm to other players.

A theory that must be kept in mind is the Jural Postulates theory. Since all these players are Humans and they live in a civilised society, they all have a right to be secure from being fouled or tackled. This would imply the following conditions:

  • They would have a No-Right to injure other players but within certain prescribed parameters.
  • They would have a Duty to make sure they don’t impeach on another person’s right to safety
  • They would thus commit a Wrong by not following the duty of injuring other players.

Further, there are additional deterrents apart from a philosophical sense. There are certain penalties given to players in case they violate these rights. To understand this issue better the best example of this would be football. If a player tackles another player by certain foul means, then he would be given a yellow card. If that player had committed a serious injury to another player he would be given a red card. Further suspensions are also given on players who further commit such incidents.

Kinds of Torts

Generally, sports pose a serious danger not only to the participants but also the spectators of said sport. A person suffering from a sports-related injury may claim monetary benefits as damages for the medical expenses and other losses he/she may incur if the injury was caused by the negligence of another party, which in this case is typically one of the performers of the sport. Injuries and damages from intentional torts such as Battery or Assault are also suitable to claim damages from.[2]

Suits may be of many types-Injuries to athletes, spectators, and other parties involved in sports. Fortunately, the fallacies in the tort are dealt in the courts according to basic tort laws. If in a situation a party owes a duty of care toward another party and if that said duty is breached, the losses suffered by the first party shall be compensated by the second party. This entails one of the key aspects of Tort law.

The intensity of care that needs to be exercised depends on the situation at hand-on the danger involved in the situation, a requirement that needs a high degree of care, whereas in the opposite case a less dangerous situation mandates less care. However, this does not cover the expectations aspect of the matter at hand. For example, a spectator who is hit by a ball from a sixer while sitting in the stands at a cricket game cannot recover for injuries because most fans know that stray balls in the stands are an inescapable by-product of cricket. However, a patron standing in the interior walkway of a stadium concourse may recover for injuries resulting from a sixer. A spectator in unfamiliar conditions of a stadium is typically not aware of the dangers and thus is owed a greater duty of care by the aforementioned cricket organization in the example.[3]

Similarly, Athletes also have certain rights which allow them to recover from injuries resulting from another party’s negligence or intentional acts. In both professional and amateur contact sports, it is a given understanding (and sometimes explicitly mentioned in the contracts/agreements) that athletes consent to some physical contact, but courts have always deemed that participants do not consent to contact that goes outside the bounds of the game. When it comes to the rights of minors, the institutions or schools may be held liable for injuries to their athletes. If an employee of the school, such as a coach, teacher, or referee, fails to correctly supervise the students and the result of that negligence leads to a student suffering an injury, the school may be liable for a suit on the employee’s negligence. Generally, coaches, teachers, and referees have been trained to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injuries and avoid any unnecessary petitions as such.[4]

Despite the seemingly insurmountable favouritism the courts have shown towards the victims of Torts arising from sports-related personal injury, the Defendants in such suits may possess several defences. One of the most well-founded of these defences is that the party assumed the risk of being injured by playing in or watching the sporting event.[5] Defendants, in several cases, have also argued that only a portion of his damages or a complete reduction of the damages must be taken as the plaintiff themselves were negligent. Additionally, corporate bodies usually have a common defence in such situations: a plaintiff may have ignored warnings or signed a document that waived the defendant’s liability for any injury suffered by the plaintiff. Finally, public institutions may argue that they are immune from suit under the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity, a judicial doctrine that prohibits suits against government entities unless such suits have been explicitly authorized by the government. Legislators have made many public institutions open to lawsuits, and in cases in which a public institution still enjoys Immunity, courts often find ways to circumvent immunity and attach liability.


This article provides a general idea of the concept of torts in Contact Sports. There are several other intricacies involved in resolving issues concerning Torts in Contact sports, however those are typically dealt with respect to the circumstances. Additionally, a trend that has been noticed quite often in Sports-related legal issues, is that they are dealt in Courts of Arbitration. The consensus among litigators and jurists is that Sports should always have a sense of inherent arbitrariness in them as the very nature of sport needs to have a little unpredictability. Hence, by the very nature of the field, excess research can only lead to the rigidness of the freedom of the sport.


[1] Vishal Aditya K, “Protecting a Celebration: An Insight on the Possibility for IP Protection on a Celebratory Move in Sports” MCI Chair on Intellectual Property Rights and Centre for Intellectual Property Rights Advocacy, November Edition 2019.

[2] Torts in Sports Law, American Law and Legal Information- JRank, available at: (last visited on 27th December 2020).

[3] Law of Tort And Sports Litigation, LegalServicesIndia, available at: (last visited on 4th January 2021).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Id.


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